Steve Coogan plays a character – called Bing Crosby – who spends half the time goofing around like a poor man’s Alan Partridge; the other half living up to his wife’s declaration that he’s a selfish bastard. Should we laugh at his exuberance? Should we feel for him, being lad astray by his jolly mates? Should we hate him for being a selfish compulsive gambler ? In the end, we decided we’d simply rather avoid him.
What was good about it?
• The mouth organ theme tune, which heralded a nice cosy, nostalgic opening – dad playing cards with son for chocolate buttons – before the realities of modern life intruded.
• The scenes that didn’t include Coogan, especially the ones that featured his son Joe aka Sunshine (Dominic Senior) listening to stories from his granddad (Bernard Hill) about how he invented Concorde and got Hitler to surrender by giving him a Chinese burn.
• The warning of the pitfalls of gambling: Bing wins enough to pay for everyone’s fish lunch one memorable Friday afternoon; but it’s only a matter of time before he’s robbing from the housekeeping and holiday fund.
• There were some good jokes – Bing’s mobile phone commentary on his son’s birth to his mates in the pub; the miserable house vendor who was leaving nothing behind for the purchasers apart from a turd in his toilet; “It’s a boy, George.” “A Boy George, I bloody well hope not.”
• Top of the World by the Carpenters was on the soundtrack.
What was bad about it?
• Coogan’s best successes have come from flawed characters. He’s forced us to be on their side before, even if it is with reluctance. This time, it was impossible for us to like him – when he was being funny we didn’t laugh (his mates did but they were easily pleased), we never found him charming (we were supposed to) and when he was being nasty he didn’t have an Alan Partridge-like comeuppance and we just had to seethe at his insensitivity.
• We could not be persuaded to believe Bernadette (the lovely Lisa Millett) would stand by useless boyfriend Bing, even when he serenaded her on karaoke night with a performance of Can’t Smile Without You. Her character is merely a long-suffering foil, never properly rounded out or given a real reason for her loyalty.
• Writers Craig Cash and Phil Mealey again capture northern pub/club life where pain and boredom is subsumed beneath booze, banter and a good old singalong. In Early Doors, they create a warm community that we might like to be part of; in Sunshine, they create a hell we’d run a mile from.