Last night's viewing - London Irish, Channel 4; The Wrong Mans, BBC2
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Wednesday 25 September 2013
The first episode of brand new Channel 4 sitcom London Irish opened and closed with the four twentysomething Northern Irish expat protagonists getting bladdered in the pub. That's right, writer Lisa McGee (a Londonderry woman herself) isn't afraid to confront those national stereotypes head on. This would also explain the scene riffing on a certain budget airline's baggage policy, and the cameo from Father Ted's Ardal O'Hanlon.
It was sweet of Mr O'Hanlon to bestow on this fledgling show the blessing of the Irish sitcom elders, but if the ultimate aim was to fool us into thinking London Irish owes something to Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthew's work, the ruse failed. As with any sitcom about a mixed-gender group of twentysomethings made at any time since 1994, it's to Friends that London Irish must pay reluctant tribute.
This weight of influence bears down heaviest of all on Kat Reagan, whose character Niamh is a mildly irritating kook in the tradition of Phoebe Buffay. Television doesn't need any more mildly irritating kooks – Zooey Deschanel in E4's New Girl has seen to that – so the angry, sweary, pathologically stingy Bronagh (Sinéad Keenan) was a particularly welcome foil. Ostensibly, there were also two male leads, the garrulous Packy (Peter Campion) and childlike dreamer Conor, but McGee's script betrays her obvious preference for writing female characters and they barely got a look in.
It may be unchivalrous to note it, but, at 35, Keenan is knocking on a bit for a role as studenty as this. It's testament to her energy and talent, then, that her performance was so enjoyable, regardless. Bronagh's righteous indignation at the one-handed man who failed to inform her of his missing appendage before they had a drunken "ride" at a party was easily the best thing in this opening episode.
It's also the strongest hint that McGee's writing might be ballsy enough to eventually transcend the over-familiar setup. If you must make yet another sitcom about the messy social lives of twentysomethings, the Nineties institution on which to model it is not mushy Friends but misanthropic Seinfeld. Might the characters of London Irish all turn out to be shallow, sex-obsessed reprobates with no moral compass to speak of? We can but hope.
I'm also holding out hope for BBC1's The Wrong Mans. Mathew Baynton from CBBC's Horrible Histories plays Sam Pinkett, an employee of Berkshire County Council who gets mixed up in a thriller plot-line entirely at odds with his mundane existence to date. Gavin & Stacey's James Corden (who also co-wrote the script with Baynton) plays his colleague Phil Bourne, a man who makes up in enthusiasm what he lacks in common sense.
Wisely judging that the Hitchcock reference will go over our heads, this first episode of six spent much of its time in setting tone. Thanks to slick direction and, one suspects, a large chunk of the BBC's autumn budget, it certainly looks as good as a Hollywood thriller.
It's only a shame that the combination of ordinary blokes and extraordinary setting won't feel original to anyone who's seen Shaun of the Dead or any other Simon Pegg/Nick Frost collaboration. Unlike Pegg/Frost, Baynton/Corden isn't yet a natural double act with natural chemistry. Instead, they came across like the straight man(s) in search of a comedian.
Still, if Baynton and Corden don't do it for you, we're promised forthcoming episodes will include a supporting cast of contemporary comedy talent to compensate. There's Him and Her's Sarah Solemani, The Thick of It's Paul Higgins and Dawn French, among others. As the trail for next week's episode revealed, Lock Stock's Nick Moran will also be stomping around doing his well-worn cockney gangster bit. But don't let that put you off.
TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp
Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Sarah Vine criticises lesbian mother Jack Monroe: 'If she was unsure about her sexuality, she should have taken greater precautions'
- 2 Black Friday 2014: Opening times for Asda, John Lewis, PC World, GAME and Argos
- 3 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 4 Jeremy Hunt: 'I took my children to A&E because I didn't want to wait for GP appointment'
- 5 Girl, 7, gets Tesco to remove 'stupid' sign suggesting superheroes are 'for boys'
Jurassic World trailer: Chris Pratt stars in full-length trailer with Bryce Dallas and Ty Simpkins
I'm A Celebrity 2014: Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp
Zoella: YouTube sensation Zoe Sugg's debut novel set to become bestseller
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs
Naked free runner captured in breathtaking photographs above London's streets
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police