Saturday, 12 January 2008
Lead Balloon, BBC4/BBC2
A wry, acerbic diatribe about how miserable life is for a gloomy, middle-aged man with a chip on his shoulder and a sense of charity that would shame King Herod.
What was good about it?
• Jack Dee is hardly stretched playing a sneering, pessimistic comic Rick Spleen, but he adds layers to the superficial gloss of his stage act. The miserliness of Fagin burrows its way believably into the plot like a wasp pupae sucking out the nutrients of a paralysed caterpillar, before spreading its wings into the so-far hilarious denouements.
• Raquel Cassidy is an excellent foil and a well-written role in her own right as Rick’s partner Mel. Forever mirroring the audience’s exasperation with Rick’s penny-pinching through a roll of her eyes or a barbed riposte; it’s perhaps the attrition of living with Rick that has made her the most cynical character in the comedy.
• The artfully crafted scripts that start from points of little promise – in the opener it was Rick and Mel being invited to a christening, Rick doing an advert for recycling that “made him look like a prick”, and exquisitely neurotic café owner Michael foisting one of his homemade cakes on Rick – and are then skilfully woven together, ultimately conspiring to humiliate Rick or leave him out-of-pocket.
• The scariest derision (we think that’s the collective noun for shopkeepers, if it isn’t it should be) of shopkeepers this side of Royston Vasey. Rick’s nosing around a shop selling christening presents was disturbed by the disturbing Maureen (Miranda Hart) who would oscillate spasmodically between matronly empathy and banshee-like hysteria. As she tried to flog a £140 teddy bear to Rick, he claimed that “they sometimes have spikes in them.” To which she shot back. “Well, no. It was made in Austria.”
• Meanwhile, the electrical goods shopkeeper and paper shop worker in the second episode could have crawled from the pages of Franz Kafka.
• Magda, Rick and Mel’s home help, plays the role of the straight-talking stooge whose naivety or bluntness is often as the root of Rick’s problems. It was she, for instance, who threw Michael’s treasured cake in the dustbin.
• Rick’s daughter Sam (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) and her boyfriend Ben (Rasmus Hardiker). It’s worth noting that Rasmus Hardiker appears to be turning into the new Nicholas Lyndhurst; both are painfully thin and very talented actors and seem(ed) to vacuum up all the roles as hopeless maladjusted teenagers. It’s only hoped that Hardiker doesn’t get unjustly typecast, though.
• Rick’s enduring efforts to spend as little as possible such as ruining the christening present by trying to engrave the baby’s name on it himself rather than pay the extra £20 or going to extraordinary lengths to repair the broken toaster rather than buy a new one. But is frequently duped by Ben into giving him money. “I didn’t know that Ben smoked dope!” exclaimed a dismayed Mel to a sheepish Rick. “I wonder where he gets the money.”
• Rick setting his alarm clock obscenely early in the morning just to see if the paper boy would have woken him up after he had a word with his boss; spying through the curtains as Wayne lumbered along the street.
What was bad about it?
• The argument and quips provoked by Rick’s junk mail lacked the sharpness of the rest of the script.
• The frequent decamping to the café, which is fine as we get to see more of Michael, but seems like a rancid organ donation from Seinfeld.
Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, BBC1
Friday 8 September 2006 Did we like it? The first show of the new series varied from the sublime to the ridiculous. Give Jonathan a decent...
Thecustard Chats to Sharon Rooney ahead of My Mad Fat Diary DVD release
Monday 25th February sees the DVD of E4's comedy drama My Mad Fat Diary . The series, based loosely on the real life diaries of Rae Ea...
First Look: Peaky Blinders
The BBC have released the first trailer for new BBC2 drama Peaky Blinders The story begins in 1919 in the lawless slum neighbourhoods of...
BBC1's Musketeers gets off to swashbuckling start.
With the mammoth rollercoaster that was the Sherlock finale just past and the UK still reeling in the aftermath, the BBC have followed i...
The Custard Chats to Sara Martins of Death in Paradise
Earlier this week I was given the chance to chat with Sara Martins of upcoming BBC1 drama Death in Paradise. This 8-part series (Starting...
Jonathan Creek: Should it have returned?
BBC/John Rogers Jonathan Creek made an impressive return to BBC One last night with overnight ratings of 33m/29.2%, over 4m more than an...
Silk: What we know about series 3
BBC Monday sees the return of our favourite legal drama. Yes, Maxine Peake, Rupert Penry-Jones , Neil Stuke and Frances Barber don th...
Line of Duty Series Two: This superb police procedural is the first great drama of 2014
As the end credits rolled following the first episode of Line of Duty's second series I sat in front of the screen open-mouthed. Beca...