Lead Balloon, BBC4/BBC2

by | Oct 4, 2006 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

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.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

04/10/2006

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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