Editorial: Yes, Ministers!

Latvia doesn't lack much when it comes to the things that make life worth living, but one thing it does lack is a really good situation comedy or 'sitcom'. For that matter, even a really bad sitcom. It doesn't have a sitcom at all – until now.

The classic formula for a successful sitcom is: people trapped together, with contrasting characters all convinced of their own importance but unaware of their fatal faults. They blame each other when things go wrong. Hilarity ensues.

The funniest shows of our time: Seinfeld, The Office, Father Ted, The Odd Couple, Taxi, Frasier, all use variations on this simple but effective formula.

And that was exactly the 'situation' when the cabinet of ministers met on January 27 to decide whether or not to participate in the World Expo 2015 in Milan.

From the very beginning of the discussion it was up there with the best in comic drama. The ultimate decision was obviously going to be to cancel the agreement Latvia signed with the Expo organizers three years ago, though the government has flip-flopped repeatedly on the issue - indecision being the driving force of many comic plotlines.

The question facing the cabinet was how Latvia could back out without looking utterly ridiculous and more importantly – who would take the blame.

At times it was hard to believe this wasn't a brilliant scripted show, so finely delineated were the characters: Straujuma as a sort of head-in-her-hands Golden Girl bemoaning her childrens' silliness and insisting one of them must apologise to Italy; Dzintars Rasnacs the straight-faced Principal Skinner of The Simpsons attempting to inject some decorum to proceedings; Dana Reizniece-Ozola the sassy small-town gal from Friends who learns to get her way in the big city and - most entertaining of all - Guntis Belevics as a sort of hyped-up David Brent from The Office perpetually on the verge of a bizarre outburst.

Some of the individual lines were truly memorable and could easily become catchphrases: “I don't care if they are a Swiss company!”, “Someone has to apologise!” and “Mr Gulbis has IT solutions!”

When the conversation turned to whether Italian air force planes might stop patrolling Baltic skies in retribution for Latvia not building a shed in Lombardy, it was hard not to believe the entire routine hadn't been stolen from an episode of MASH, while the presentations about the various obscure delights the pavilion could offer was like Phil Silvers' Sergeant Bilko justifying the purchase of hairpins and chewing gum by the US Army.

At other times the debate resembled the episode of the classic British sitcom Hancock's Half Hour (which in turn spoofed the smash hit play and film Twelve Angry Men), as ministers did their best to speak in terms of high rhetoric about whether we might be better off with a vegetable patch or should we ask the Dutch to plant some trees for us in lieu of a stand.

Never has Latvia's decision to broadcast its cabinet meetings live looked like such a brilliant idea. Happily, as a result of this foresightedness the whole thing can be watched over and over again at the official government website, in just the same way that most of us watch our sitcoms these days - via download.

But the other golden rule as far as sitcoms are concerned is that there must never be any resolution. The moment the people who have been flirting give each other a kiss (Moonlighting), the sitcom is finished. Have we really heard the last of Expo 2015?

In sitcom parlance this moment is known as 'Jumping the Shark' in reference to the notorious episode of Happy Days in which Fonzie ill-advisedly donned water skis and leaped over the large marine predator, instantly destroying the show's established vibe of likable college kids in small town USA.

The good news for sitcom-lovers is that the government is still only a few months old, and this Straujuma's second cabinet. Second seasons are usually the best, so it should be some time before we see the Prime Minister jumping the shark.

Famously, John Cleese refused to make any more than two seasons of the peerless Fawlty Towers because he'd noticed that sitcoms invariably deteriorate in a third season and Ricky Gervais gave the same reason for canning the UK version of The Office when it was at the height of its popularity.

With some media reporting that LTV's new talent show Supernova is too expensive, we need to applaud the cabinet for making the decision to pull out of Expo 2015. Not only have they saved the money that would have been necessary to complete the project (though looked at the another way it means we've paid a million euros for nothing at all), but they have also proven that Latvia can make a great sitcom.

Whether this government gets recommissioned for third and fourth seasons remains to be seen, but following Tuesday's pilot episode, viewing figures are sure to be rising.

(Views expressed are the author's alone)

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