The final episode of a hit comedy (Friends, The IT Crowd, Gavin and Stacey) is usually a lap of honour round the media, collecting the valedictory gifts of extended episodes and spin-off documentaries in which celebrities nominate golden moments.

But there’s another sort of show for which the laments of the goodbye back-slappers risk being drowned out by the backlashers holding their own leaving party. It will happen to Mrs Brown’s Boys and Derek and it happened to Miranda.

At 8.30pm, the final episode of Ms Hart’s self-starring, self-written and self-named comedy ended with the bulky, clumsy title character finally hooking up with Gary, her hot-and-cold chef boyfriend. Like spectators at an Olympic slalom race, the studio audience ooohed and aaahed at the engagements and break-ups spread through the two-part finale before cheering as Miranda, after six years of being comically mistaken for a man, married one, with her hero Gary Barlow, continuing his rehabilitation from complex tax arrangements, playing the piano at the ceremony.

The fact that Miranda’s farewell was spread over the two most coveted winter holiday slots – peaktime BBC1 on New Year’s Day and Christmas Day – is a measure of how the show is treasured. But, despite the millions of viewers who enjoy Hart’s combination of slapstick and social satire, there seem to be many who find it silly and soppy.

The complaints of the opposition mainly involve the alleged retro nature of her comedy. Familiar aspects include slapstick that follows in unsteady, Morecambesque footsteps – Miranda rarely remains vertical for the full half-hour – and characterisation through catchphrases: a mother who prefaces everyday words with “what I call a” and a posh friend from whose mouth, for instance, “no way” becomes “noweiderhosen.”

Those of us who are fans of Miranda would argue that high-class homage is preferable to fitful invention and each of the old-fashioned elements – prat-falls, signature sayings and love story – is handled with panache. Also, Hart is echoing TV comedy’s past not from conservatism or laziness but a scholastic fascination with the conventions: the key to her comedic instincts was a recent Christmas documentary in which she profiled Morecambe & Wise, more or less positioning herself as a female reincarnation of Eric: baffled, tactless, awkward, sardonically catching the camera’s eye: the series ending with a “love you” to us, the viewers.

But, though following in a tradition, the show also contains originality, in such painfully funny sequences as Miranda pretending to be on an exotic holiday while staying in a hotel round the corner from her flat and a weird storyline in which she and her mother are confined in the office of an almost-silent family therapist, who was brought back for the final scenes.

The two-part finale contained prime examples of the elements that have polarised the show’s reception. There was more elaborately choreographed catastrophe of lankiness, in which the protagonist found herself being dragged up a shop escalator, forced to talk in a strangulated upper-class voice while accidentally hooked to the coat of a shopper deafened by headphones. And the mood shifted from sitcom to romcom and, eventually, just rom as Miranda and Gary ended the penultimate episode with a bleak falling-out over commitment and then the ultimate one with a sweet reunion at a gay wedding.

So, if Hart sticks to her retirement of the franchise, her eponymous comedy will total 20 episodes, a familiar sort of figure in contemporary British TV. Whereas hit American comedies have often run for a decade or more – partly because acting contracts there routinely include long-term options and a large volume of episodes makes re-run syndication more lucrative – the younger generation of UK comedians seem increasingly influenced by the example of John Cleese, who halted Fawlty Towers after only two runs consisting of 12 episodes.

Another factor is that stars now tend to out-grow sitcoms very fast. Actors in top comedies have always done other things: the cast of Dad’s Army and The Good Life were frequently to be found on West End and regional stages. But a successful telly comedy can now launch arena comedy tours, best-selling books and even Hollywood or Broadway careers.

This model was established by Gervais (followed by his Office co-star Martin Freeman) and then by Chris O’Dowd and Richard Ayoade of The IT Crowd and James Corden from Gavin and Stacey. Miranda Hart hasn’t yet become an American star – although she has a role in the Hollywood film Spy, due to open in May – but has accumulated all of the other trappings of the portfolio comedian: stand-up tour (the cannily branded “What I Call My Tour”), books and other TV roles, including Call the Midwife.

As admirers had hoped, Miranda ended up on the floor twice in her comedy send-offs. But her expanding career, of which her inventive and well-acted sitcom is only a small part, suggests that her detractors are unlikely to get their wish of her falling metaphorically flat on her face.

Contributor

Mark Lawson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
What we liked in 2013: TV box sets

You might think Breaking Bad would top the television box set charts, but you'd be forgetting how many people watch Mrs Brown's Boys and Miranda, says Stuart Heritage

Stuart Heritage

28, Dec, 2013 @9:01 AM

Article image
Miranda Hart: 'I used to think fame would justify my whole existence'
The much-loved actor has conquered much of British culture, moving from radio to TV to comedy and drama

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

26, May, 2017 @2:51 PM

Article image
Miranda Hart: Call the Midwife delivers fans for BBC's latest comedy eccentric

Self-deprecating former PA follows long tradition of comedians going straight for hit Sunday-night drama

Vicky Frost

01, Feb, 2012 @6:00 PM

Article image
Moore: ‘Miranda will bring a different flavour to The Generation Game’
BBC1 controller on pushing the boundaries, Harry Hill, Mrs Brown’s Boys – and Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who. By John Plunkett

John Plunkett

17, Aug, 2014 @5:01 PM

Article image
What we liked in 2013: television

Were we glued to Doctor Who or Downton? Did we want reality shows like X Factor? Or would we rather escape with Miranda? John Crace reveals 2013's top TV shows

John Crace

28, Dec, 2013 @9:00 AM

Article image
Debut standup comedy tour puts TV star Miranda Hart on the spot

Nation's pratfaller-in-chief gambles on shift from eponymous sitcom and Call the Midwife to live show in UK's largest arenas

Brian Logan

28, Feb, 2014 @7:00 AM

Article image
Christmas Day TV ratings fall to lowest on record
BBC’s Call the Midwife topped ratings but UK audience of 9.2 million was smallest for most watched show since records began

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

03, Jan, 2017 @6:47 PM

Article image
BBC criticised for failure to provide abortion advice
Healthcare organisations say not including abortion on Action Line site is stigmatising

Amy Walker

14, Feb, 2019 @3:19 PM

Article image
Doctor Who and Call the Midwife: Christmas TV turns into a weep-along
Sentimentality ruled this year's Christmas specials, so thank goodness for Room on the Broom's grouchy cat

Vicky Frost

25, Dec, 2012 @11:00 PM

Article image
Homeland enters Sunday TV tussle as Coronation Street forces BBC reshuffle
Call the Midwife pushes back opening episode of Upstairs Downstairs on key evening for high ratings

Mark Lawson

17, Feb, 2012 @4:00 PM