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Mark Peters

 

Is laughter the best medicine? Of course not, morphine is. But it's hard to argue against the healing power of a good belly laugh; and while there are many reasons to give a little chuckle, good comedy is usually the go-to guy to get the party started.

It's guffaws aplenty this week as we enjoy a Saturday night comedy double bill, with the return of 30 Rock (above; FX, 10.30pm), followed by some of the most toxic individuals to ever grace situational comedy, in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 11.30pm). The lovably despicable patrons of Paddy's Pub bring their hilarious depravity into an eighth season, still guided by a warped moral compass.

The premiere begins with Dennis and Sweet Dee deciding whether to euthanise their grandfather, while Frank (Danny DeVito; Get Shorty), Charlie and (a slimmed down) Mac go on the hunt for a Nazi painting of a dog possibly owned by Hitler. It's your typical screwed-up Sunny storyline; original, mildly discomfiting and in ridiculously bad taste.

Not quite as surreal, but equally acerbic, 30 Rock begins its seventh and, sadly, final series this week. With hardly a dip in quality, it's been blessed with stellar performances, most notably from show creator Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin (The Aviator), who offered to take a wage cut to get this season green-lit. 30 Rock continues to cram more one-liners into a single loopy episode than most comedies manage in a whole season, but a new emotional depth can be felt, as the show begins to tie up each of the character's storylines. The tears may not all be of laughter by the season finale.

If neither of these comedies tickle your funny bone, you might manage a smirk at the unintentionally laughable dialogue of sword-and-sandals epic Spartacus: Blood and Sand (FX, Tuesday at 11pm), another gala of rampant sex and pulpy gore.

Set in ancient Rome, the plot follows Thracian slave Spartacus (the late Andy Whitfield), who is betrayed by the Romans and forced into the blood-soaked gladiatorial arena, where … actually, forget the story, it's far from relevant. It's just a flimsy excuse to switch from video-game ultra violence to writhing sex dance and back again. We get the odd respite with some scenery chomping from John Hannah (New Street Law) and ex-warrior princess Xena, Lucy Lawless, but then it's straight back into the fray, and the blood is once again gushing across the screen. Even without the nudity and full-frontal action, dangly bits included, it's enough to make Game of Thrones look like slapstick.

If all this violence and smut isn't enough to put you off your dinner, maybe a visit to Dr Hannibal Lecter will do the trick.

Hannibal (AXN, Tuesday at 10pm), loosely based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, follows FBI profiler Will Graham, who has a new partner, forensic psychiatrist Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen, Casino Royale), to assist in investigating serial killers. As their relationship grows, Graham finds they have more in common than he realised, thanks to Lecter's insight into the minds of their quarry.

While Hannibal can be gruesome - its central character is a cannibal, after all - it's certainly no limb-hacking gladiator schlock and this beautifully stylised drama should please fans of both the movies and the books.

Does that make slaughter the best medicine?

 

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