What is it?
BBC1’s cult (but strangely, primetime) sitcom about a superhero from the planet Ultron living in Northolt, Middlesex (well we did say it was a cult show).
What to say if you like it.
An hilarious meeting of Red Dwarf and Terry and June.
What to say if you don’t like it.
Red Dwarf meets Terry and June.
What’s good about it?
• It’s developed from a vehicle for comedian Ardal O’Hanlon (Thermoman) into the best ensemble piece on the box, with a defrocked superhero cousin, a vain doctor and evil receptionist, in-laws from hell and a barking-mad neighbour all contributing strongly to the comedy.
• It co-stars Emily Joyce, who manages to combine perfect English womanhood with a hint of the seriously deviant. She’s simply irresistible.
• For a supposedly gentle show, it has two of the most challengingly nasty characters in British sitcom – Mrs Raven, the hate-filled, patient-taunting receptionist, and Dr Piers Crispin, the GP for whom fame and gain come before medicine every time. The endless mother-in-law jokes are a bit un-PC, too.
• This week Piers (Hugh Dennis) ended up on I’m A Celebrity, stuck in a box full of live snakes after Mrs Raven conned into thinking they’d be plastic. Serves him right.
What’s bad about it?
• The plots can be, er, thin. This week’s was about their creepy, new, future-predicting superbaby foreseeing mass deaths (not perhaps in the best of taste right now), but turning out not to have realised that everyone was actually asleep. Still, the quality’s in the detail, as they say.
• Nastasha Kaplinsky had a cameo role.
What makes a good sitcom? If there was a simple answer to that one then we probably wouldn’t have the dire My Family or the truly dreadful Eyes Down. My Hero doesn’t provide many clues either, because on paper it’s even worse than the other two, while on screen it’s actually quite good.
The basic idea is, quite simply, rubbish. An intergalactic superhero takes on the form of a bumbling Irishman and operates out of a flat in north London, where he lives with his Earthling wife and talking baby. He has in-laws straight out of Keeping Up Appearances (domineering mother, hen-pecked father), while his wife is a nurse at a health centre populated by a vile receptionist and an arrogant doctor. Oh, and there’s also a mad Scouser and a fat American (married to the receptionist), who are somehow mixed up in the superhero business.
So far so what’s-on-the-other-side then, but somehow this lot shakes out into an enjoyable half hour’s viewing. Ardal O’Hanlon is, of course, perfect for the part of Thermo Man, the superhero who hasn’t quite got the hang of electric toasters, while Emily Joyce is the wife every man secretly wants to marry, all 1950s-typist sensuality in tight jumpers and over-ruffled hair. The doctor’s surgery, meanwhile, is satirised as a place of unremitting vindictiveness, greed and incompetence, a cruel depiction guaranteed to have NHS patients tuning in by the million.
The quality is all in the detail then, but what really makes My Hero likeable is the fact that, like Ardal O’Hanlon’s persona, it’s very unassuming. Utterly dependent on getting the audience on its side, it does so by not pretending to be anything other than a slightly patchy script with daft plots and occasionally funny jokes, solidly played by a cast who bring personality to their roles and seem to enjoy doing it.
You can see the same quality in shows such asTwo Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, contrasting sharply with the slick self-satisfaction of My Family and the patronising aren’t-proles-funny attitude of Eyes Down. Perhaps that’s a good starting point for a General Theory of (Relatively) Good Sitcoms.