What to say if you liked it
A masterly deadpan comedy about the crumbling life of the hapless Ed Robinson, punctuated with amusing character-building sketches.
What to say if you didn’t like it
It’s not The Office.
What was good about it?
• Ed Robinson (Martin Freeman), a young-ish man drifting through life satisfied to stay in his mundane job as an actuary in a re-insurance company and to continue a doomed affair with work colleague Nora.
• The efficient and economical manner in which the principle characters were established; such as Ed’s brother George (Hugh Bonneville) and his wife Maggie. They aspire to be middle-class but holiday in caravans and she pronounces Majorca “Ma-jor-ka”. And when Ed is explaining his job at a dinner party, the conversation is killed the moment he starts to outline his duties.
• George himself is a superb comic creation, the strictly officious time management executive bores those to whom he lectures while his domestic life is in chaos largely because of his obstreperous son Albert.
• Ed’s fastidious sister Vicki (Abigail Cruttenden) who judges the suitability of boyfriends on how much they share her infuriating habit of demanding that every detail be perfect whether it’s a trip to the restaurant or to the theatre, where she doesn’t like people with long legs sitting behind her or someone with an Afro blocking her view.
• Time-obsessed George’s toyshop excursion to find a present for Albert, when he demands to see the manager after the assistant can only guarantee the duration it’ll take to play a game will be approximately an hour; George insists he needs a game that lasts exactly 70 minutes.
• Vicky’s relationship with Peter, whom she initially sees as her “Mr Right” after he pettily insists on peculiar and particular conditions for his table at a restaurant. But she goes off him when he declares a dislike for Fawlty Towers because of “Basil’s cruelty to Manuel”.
• George devising a points system to calculate whom in Albert’s class should be allowed to attend his birthday party as he is in dread of a whole horde of rampaging tots. And the cut to the children’s entertainer George wanted to hire who has hanged himself in despair at having to perform for the terrors.
• An excited Albert waking up his parents at 5.27am on the morning of his birthday Maggie offers to put a Postman Pat video on for him. But George screams after her: “Not Postman Pat, it’s only 40 minutes. Mary Poppins is two hours 20 minutes.”
• George’s strategically prepared birthday party for Albert collapsing in the face of the kids’ running amok in the living room. “Dad!” George exclaims as his exhausted father stumbles into the kitchen. “You were positioned by the grandfather clock.”
• Peter’s hilariously annoying sniff that provokes Vicky to temporarily dump him at his father’s funeral as the coffin is solemnly carried past them in the church. But she took him back as he offered to whisk her away to the Seychelles.
• No canned laughter.
• Ed removing his henna chest tattoo of Nora’s name with a washing up scrubbing brush after she simultaneously dumps and fires him after she is promoted over his head.
What was bad about it?
• It seemed hugely derivative of the excellent Arrested Development with a crooked and dysfunctional family at its core and the little fantasy films to colour in the background to the existing characters and Ed’s ancestors (such as Titus and Cedric Robinson – the first human cannonballs) who shape the way he conducts his life. The main discrepancy being, like in EastEnders and Dallas, the British clan are significantly poorer than their American counterparts.