Wednesday, 4 October 2006
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.
In the Flesh: Why we should be shouting about this more
Amid the tremendous bevy of high quality programmes delivered over the past few months – Prey , Happy Valley , From There to Here ...
What to Expect from The Lady Vanishes
Sunday night has long been the home of period drama on BBC One with recent examples being Upstairs Downstairs and Call the Midwife. Thi...
Win 1 of 4 copies of Peter Kay's Car Share on DVD!
You can win 1 of 4 Copies of Peter Kay's Car Share on DVD. Answer the question below to Enter!
Toast of London: Matt Berry is as funny as ever as Clem Fandango and the rest of the gang return
I think the mark of a popular sitcom is when at least one of its catchphrases enters the popular vernacular. So as the line 'I Can Hea...
Matt on the Box: London Spy, Unforgotten, Josh and Peep Show
Hey folks, welcome back to another review of some recent TV highlights as I cast my withering gaze over what the small screen as offered us ...
The launch of BBC Store
The BBC have launched a new way to buy and keep your favourite BBC shows BBC Store makes it simpler for audiences to buy, watch and k...
BBC One announces cast for new police drama Cuffs
The cast has been announced for BBC One's new fast-paced contemporary cop show Cuffs ; which commenced filming this week. Former Hus...
Sherlock and Luther Headline the BBC's Christmas and New Year Line-Up
The BBC have revealed that their Christmas line-up will be headlined by the final two episodes of Luther and the Victorian special of Sh...