The first series of Wild West didn’t exactly receive a storm of critical acclaim, but some decent ratings, plus (probably) the clout of writer Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly) and star Dawn French, won it a second series. So far, it’s looking as if it deserves it – just.
The show is set in a Cornish fishing village, and centres on the quirkiness of the local inhabitants. The first series trod just a bit too carefully in this respect, but this time round Nye is clearly more relaxed about targeting the twin Cornish obsessions of money and big cities (they don’t have much of either), which makes it less of an unfocussed, general-purpose lampoon of rural life.
The central characters of Mary (French) and Angela (Catherine Tate, now a sketch-show star in her own right) have been re-oriented too, with Mary now in a torrid relationship with the local policeman. This is a good move, since Dawn French is excellent at challenging her audience with the idea of a large woman having a strong sexuality (as she did in the Vicar of Dibley).
That said, it’s all still just a bit low-key, with an oddly remote feel and not quite enough actual laughs to make it stick in the memory. Comical things happen – the pub landlord goes mad with Cornish Flu, a coachload of Rotarians fight over the handfuls of cash he throws in the air, Mary’s sightseeing boat, overloaded with a party of middle-aged women, sinks in the harbour – but somehow an overall sense of flatness dampens it all down.
Strangely, the show seems to suffer from not having a canned laughter soundtrack, something we normally hate (especially when the volume’s overdone). In this case though it might help to remind us that some of the lines are really quite funny.