The set-up of Alan’s new outing on the Beeb, co-written by Coogan and longtime Partridge collaborators Rob and Neil Gibbons, is that he’s been drafted in to co-host The One Show-esque This Time due to one of its usual presenters falling ill.
Dropping Alan into this live magazine show format quickly proves to be an ingenious move, because as you’d expect, he’s almost constantly saying the wrong thing (at one point responding to his co-host joking that she’s a married woman with “I was told you were separated”) and frequently misjudging the tone of the programme. In what is supposed to be a light-hearted discussion about a cutesy seal documentary, he can’t stop interjecting with facts about what vicious creatures they are… but when he eventually realises his mistake and starts cooing over the seals instead, his overcompensating somehow makes things even more cringe-worthy.
Even when Alan’s keeping his mouth shut, there are plenty of laughs to be had from his forced smiles and the look of absolute terror in his eyes at being on live TV. Not to mention the silent fury on his face when his co-host steals a joke he said off-air.
This is a show so gag-packed that it benefits from repeat viewings, revealing new little details each time you watch it. For example, while introducing a segment about hygiene (which will ensure you never think about hand washing the same way again), it can be easy to miss that not only is Alan awkwardly hovering his hands next to the tap water, rather than actually washing them, but he also can’t decide whether he should be looking at the camera in the mirror or over his shoulder, leaving his eyes darting back and forth between the two. Incidentally, this segment culminates in Alan demonstrating how to use a train toilet without touching anything with his hands, which really has to be seen to be believed.
Susannah Fielding proves a perfect foil to Alan as his co-host Jennie Gresham, who’s more cunning than her smile would have you believe. She clearly thinks Alan’s a moron but is far too professional to show it on air, although she takes opportunities to subtly undermine him where she can. There’s also a welcome return from Felicity Montagu as loyal assistant Lynn, seemingly a bit less mousey than before and unafraid to shoot passive-aggressive comments at Jennie, plus Tim Key as Alan’s incompetent North Norfolk Digital sidekick Simon.
In this first episode of the series, comedy fans will be pleased to see appearances from Cariad Lloyd as documentarian Alice Fluck, or Alice Clunt as Alan mistakenly calls her, Lolly Adefope as a presenter determined to disagree with everything Alan says (apparently he once spilled shandy on her at the Pride of Britain Awards) and Liam Williams as a ‘hacktivist’ with whom Alan attempts to conduct a hard-hitting interview. In a half-hour that’s jam-packed with memorable moments, this final interview might just be the highlight, from Alan getting the contents of his emails and search history revealed on live TV, to his increasingly tragic pleas for the hacker to “finish the interview now please”.
This Time with Alan Partridge continues Monday at 9.30pm on BBC One.