When I watched the first series of Lee and Dean last year, I have to admit that I wasn’t fully on board from the start. Initially, I was bothered by the mockumentary style − why would someone be making a documentary about the private lives of some builders? Once I got past this, however, and started thinking of it less as a mockumentary and more as a comedy with talking heads (like Human Remains or Modern Family), I began to relax and enjoy it a lot more.
Judging from the reaction on social media at the time, some viewers were also put off by a few quite vulgar jokes in the opening episode. But anyone who didn’t get past episode 1 ended up missing out because the show soon revealed itself to have a significant amount of heart underneath its coarse surface. At the centre of this is the relationship between Lee and Dean.
The men behind the characters, Miles Chapman and Mark O’Sullivan, are long-term friends in real life and this comes across on screen. The softer of the two, Dean, is about as far from a stereotypical builder as you can get. And although Lee is more brash and laddish, his love for his best mate redeems him somewhat. Given the choice between a night out with the boys or an evening of bark rubbing with Dean (their unusual hobby of choice), you get the impression he’d go for the bark rubbing every time. There’s a running implication that Dean feels something more than just friendship for Lee, but this isn’t played for laughs and it makes us really root for sweet Dean to find happiness.
Just as engaging are the leading women of the cast – Camille Ucan as Nikki, Anna Morris as Pippa (or Mrs Bryce-D’Souza as she’s most often referred to) and in series 2 Cariad Lloyd as Dani. All fantastic character comedians in their own right, they bounce off O’Sullivan and Chapman very well (a lot of the show is improvised), and dim but good-hearted Nikki in particular gets some of the best lines. At one point she states: “I feel like I just need a complete reset. You know when someone’s on life support and they turn the switch off for ten seconds then back on again? That’s what I want to do.” To begin with, Pippa and Nikki are rivals for Lee’s affection, although Nikki isn’t aware of this, and Pippa only befriends her in an attempt to suss her out and get closer to Lee. However, this soon develops into a genuine friendship, with real stakes as Nikki could find out about her new friend’s history with her boyfriend at any moment.
Contributing to the naturalistic feel of the show is the fact that many of the builders are played by O’Sullivan and Chapman’s real-life friends, including scene-stealing Eoin McSorley as a man we know only as ‘Nightmare’. There’s also Ricky Grover playing against type as Nikki’s sensitive dad, and Colin Hoult makes an enjoyable appearance in series 2 as a power-crazy DIY store manager.
British comedy often excels in depictions of eccentric people living in very ordinary places, and Lee and Dean does for Stevenage what This Country has done for the Cotswolds. From the peculiar locals at a poetry night, a car boot sale and Stevenage’s Got Talent, to Lee’s mum who will only communicate through her front door letterbox, it builds a cast of colourful characters. Series 2 also takes us to a hilariously bizarre funeral, featuring an organ rendition of Blue (Da Ba Dee) and a coffin personally designed by Dean that really needs to be seen to be believed.
If you’ve never watched Lee and Dean, or if you tried but didn’t make it past episode 1, I wholeheartedly recommend you give it a go. After bingeing the second series, I’m now impatiently waiting for a third…
Lee and Dean is available to watch on All4 or Thursdays at 10.00pm on Channel 4