Unusually this week we’ve had two really good sitcoms, something that is a rarity in 2012.First up is the new, and final, series of The Thick of It which this time looks at a coalition government. Yes things have changed in DoSaC since we last visited and Roger Allam’s Peter Mannion is now in the chair previously occupied by Nicola Murray. However he is annoyed that he has to share his office with junior minister Fergus Williams from the so-called ‘Inbetweener Party’. The two couldn’t be more different, with long-in-the-tooth Peter wanting to do as little as possible while Fergus is full of ideas. His newest concept is silicon playgrounds a scheme which will see young people design apps which will earn them digital dividends which in turn will go towards their university fees. Despite this being Fergus’ scheme, it is decided that Peter deliver the concept even though he thinks this is a bad idea. Inevitably the pitch goes wrong and Peter is described as both a ‘digitard and a casual racist’ after he mispronounces the name of an Asian student. Eventually Fergus and Peter present the idea together but by this point the prime minister has lost faith in the scheme and scraps it completely. This first episode also sees Glenn now working for the ‘Inbetweener Party’ and vocally opposing the idea of a coalition in which he finds himself working for the people he once despised. Terri is still around of course but is wanting to be made redundant so is trying to appear less professional, it’s a shame nobody notices.
I feel Armando Iannuci has made a bold move by not having Malcolm Tucker in every episode, instead splitting the series between the new government and the opposition. This initially gave this episode a fairly jarring feeling as you tried to accept a lot of former supporting players as main characters. Thankfully Iannuci’s dialogue was still present and as ever there were plenty of quotable lines, my personal favourite was when Fergus likened explaining silicon playgrounds to Peter to ‘explaining the concept of Norway to a dog.’ Iannuci is also keen to point out the differences between the two parties namely that the former opposition are all a bunch of world-weary posh boys while the Inbetweeners are fist-bumping tech-heads. While its odd not having Peter Capaldi in an episode of The Thick of It, the newish cast do their best to make this episode as great as possible. Roger Allam is absolutely great in everything and here adds more dimension to Mannion by making him a man whose thirty year marriage may be on the rocks. Vincent Franklin is equally brilliant as new-school spin doctor Stewart who is the complete antithesis to Tucker. Due to the great cast and excellent scripts, I don’t miss Tucker as much as I thought I would but at the same time I’m still greatly looking forward to seeing him in next week’s opposition episode.
Next we head to Northern Ireland in 1989 for Sky One’s Moone Boy which is the latest addition to their comedy line-up. Moone Boy is the semi-autobiographical sitcom from Chris O’Dowd, who writes and stars here, and is based on the actor’s 2010 short from the Little Crackers series. O’Dowd stars as Sean the imaginary friend of 11 year old Martin Moone a boy whose adolescene is tough what with three older sisters who don’t care that much for him and the fact that he is often bullied at school. The first episode plays into that theme as Martin receives a bike for his 12th birthday, which his parents have afforded by collecting tokens on the back of Readybix breakfast cereal boxes, only for it to be destroyed by a pair of brothers who are intent on ruining his life. To counteract this Martin looks for protection from Declan Mannion the coolest bully on the playground, who will steal your lunch money but give it back if he wins money on the bet he put down with it, and he agrees to do this as long as he can have a feel of one of Martin’s sister boobs. After a rather hilarious scene in which Martin stares at the bras on the washing line he decides that his most violent sister Trisha has the biggest boobs and therefore goes about setting them up on a date. While Martin tries to get protection from the bullies his dad Liam seeks out their father Gerry who invites him into the house for a chat and eventually he ends up joining a group of disillusioned dads who get together under the pretence of fishing or playing poker. As a big fan of O’Dowd’s work I thought that he would be the draw of Moone Boy however he gives a fairly restrained performance as Sean who often disagrees with Martin’s hair-brained schemes but goes through with them because after all he’s part of his imagination. David Rawle, who plays Martin, is fantastic and not nearly as annoying as I thought he would be I think this is probably due to the fact that the person who he is playing the younger version of his right beside him. Moone Boy his brilliantly paced as it whizzes by and includes both sketches and animated sequences to add to the sense of fun of the piece while O’Dowd’s mischievous voice-over also fits in well. The supporting cast are also fantastic especially the secret society of dads with some of the best jokes coming from these men trying to hide from their misbehaved kids plus I enjoyed some of the recurring gags such as the Moone family having to constantly eat Readybix for every meal after collecting the tokens for Matin’s bike. Overall Moone Boy is incredibly funny and also warm with O’Dowd’s experiences of growing up both being somewhat embarrassing and fairly relatable at the same time as the majority of us have been through the same experiences as young Martin. Moone Boy is another example of how good Sky have got at producing quality British comedy by seemingly letting the artists involved having as much creative freedom as possible.
Channel 4 often trailer their shows as being ‘revolutionary concepts’ even if the end result is something that fells fairly mundane. The latest programme to get this tagline is The Audience, a show in which a person is helped to make a life-altering decision with the help of 50 people. The twist is that these fifty people, known as the audience, will follow their subject round for days until they feel they have sufficient information to make their decision. The first episode introduced us to 48 year old Ian whose dilemma is whether or not to stop working on the farm that has been in his family for generations. The farm was owned by Ian’s uncles who had raised him for nine years of his life and in some ways he owed a debt to them. However at the same time, the uncles paid Ian very little for his work and never let him implement any new ideas. But if Ian did leave then the uncles would have to put the farm on the market and essentially be left out in the cold without a home or a business. At the same time Ian wanted his relationship with new girlfriend Sandy to succeed and contributed the collapse of his first marriage to spending too much time on the farm. Sandy also conceded that if Ian continued to work on the farm their relationship may fail as her previous relationship collapsed when her partner started to become complacent. The cynic in me felt that Ian had already made his decision prior to his appearance on The Audience and just wanted it to make it look like it was out of his hands. I’d also loved to have been in a room where the idea of The Audience was first pitched as it just sounds like a ludicrous concept on paper and its not much better on screen. If I was a betting man, then I would think that this concept has been on the Channel 4 shelf for a while and has been made as there were three one hours slots to fill in the schedules. As I wasn’t given much information about the audience members I really didn’t care about them all that much while I found some of their questions to be incredibly scripted. So, based on this first episode alone, I won’t be watching The Audience any more as I found it incredibly dull in places and found it didn’t break any ground that hadn’t already been broken.
We end with two more ITV dramas which add to their already-stacked ‘Drama Lives’ season. The first is an adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Scapegoat. Fans of the original novel may be shocked by this adaptation as writer Charles Sturridge has made some shocking changes namely changing the setting of the story, altering the ending and changing the hair colours of the central female characters. The Scapegoat of the title is Matthew Rhys’ school teacher John Standing who, by complete coincidence, meets his exact double in the form of caddish businessman Johnny Spence. After the two spend the night drinking together, Johnny swaps identities with John, meaning that the schoolteacher has taken over the life of the dodgy businessman. As John tries to fit into Johnny’s life as best he can he learns some shocking secrets about his doppleganger and he later attempts to write some of Johnny’s wrongs. But all the good John has done is erased when Johnny returns eager to resume his place with his family, however it seems that Johnny isn’t going down without a fight. Putting all the disbelief of the plot aside for one moment, The Scapegoat was an enjoyable drama that looked fantastic and boasted a fantastic cast. Matthew Rhys excelled at playing both a reserved English teacher and a loutish cad and managed to make both John and Johnny distinctive characters. Eileen Atkins was brilliant as the sharp-tongued matriarch while Jodhi May seemed to be having plenty of fun larking around in beige jumpers. My only complaint about the cast was that the currently ubiquitous Sheridan Smith was wasted as Johnny’s flirty sister-in-law Nina. Though the pace of The Scapegoat dragged slightly in the middle, Sturridge still made us eager to explore the central mystery and for that reason I feel that this costume drama at least had some merit.
This week’s other ITV offering was Leaving a so-called taboo-breaker written by Tony Marchant, who bought us the brilliant Public Enemies earlier in the year, and starring the wonderful Helen McCroy in the lead. McCroy stars as Julie the deputy manager at a swish hotel where she organises most of the weddings but gets none of the credit thanks to her smarmy boss. At home Julie’s children are almost grown up while her husband does seem to love her but it seems that the passion has gone from her marriage which isn’t a good thing seeing as she’s an old romantic which is exemplified by the fact that she knows all of the wedding vows off by heart sneaking in at the end of every ceremony to see the conclusion of the nuptials. It is at one of these weddings where Julie meets Aaron the brother of the groom and the bride’s first choice for a partner in the family however it seems that he passed her over one too many times so she found solace in the arms of his sibling instead. Inevitably Aaron gets drunk but the ever-practical Julie is on-hand to make sure he gets to his room safely and the next day gives him a lift home when he oversleeps. Through several coincidences Aaron ends up working as a waiter at the hotel making Julie uncomfortable as she realises that he has feelings for her and she’s not sure what to do about the advances of a younger man as she’s never been in this situation before. Initially she attempts to get him fired but ultimately she finds out that he’s a hard worker and the attraction starts to become mutual with Julie almost meeting Aaron for a picnic changing her mind at the last minute. Though at the end of the first episode we see Julie in one of the hotel rooms getting naked as Aaron walks in and the two passionately embrace leading us to believe that she will leave her family for this younger man. The main reason Leaving works is down to McCroy who you can believe as both the domineering manager of the hotel, at time she’s quite harsh at the two waitresses who regularly work at the weddings with her, but as well she’s great at playing the desperate romantic who doesn’t feel like she’s appreciate by her husband. Marchant really tries to get across that this is a study of female sexuality and how married women still want passion from their husbands even if the romance isn’t as strong as it was before the kids came along. The problem with Leaving is that I just don’t believe that Julie would be taken with the frankly charmless Aaron with actor Callum Turner not doing nearly enough to make his character endearing which means he comes across as a bit of a spoilt brat who believes he can get any woman he wants. I don’t really believe that any taboos have really been broken either as the couple only have 23 years between them, he’s 21 and she’s 44, which is the same age difference of actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson and his director wife Sam Taylor-Wood so in that regard Leaving would’ve raised more eyebrows if the Aaron character had been younger or the Julie character old or ideally both. That’s not to say that I’m not intrigued by where Leaving will go next however I just wish there was a bit more sexual tension and believable chemistry between our two leads even though McCroy is wonderful in every scene.
That’s your lot, I’ll see you next time.