`It's not like I went into a pet shop and said: `I want this gorgeous, exotic creature' and they said `You have to take this horrible, scaly old racoon'.'
If they had needed to cut the episode for reasons of length, this parenthetical little exchange would have been a prime candidate. But its superficial pointlessness was entirely to the point, because it is just such conversational detritus that reveals how a relationship has had time to set, to congeal into a shared body of associations. It took less than three seconds on screen, but it confirmed that this is a comedy that wants its characters to be more than mere robots for gag lines.
Obviously it couldn't have done the job on its own. But then, astonishingly, everything else works too (I say "astonishingly" because even very good comedies need some time to build up a momentum of affection - whereas this is at cruising speed within minutes). Ian (Dylan Moran) is a bemused city mouse, wrenched from the tatty urban paradise of a comedy club to live in the country with his wife Lisa (Charlotte Coleman) and much of the humour arises out of his glum attempts to reconcile himself to the atrocities of life in someone else's idyll - from the banality of the local headlines ("Oh look! 'Scouts clear path of bindweed'") to a village librarian who could teach the Stasi a thing or two about intelligence- gathering. There was actually a drunk scene in last night's episode, when Ian attempts to bond with his repulsive brother-in-law, but Moran's charm is to appear permanently fuddled anyway, as if he's just been nudged awake and has to pretend to be abreast of a conversation already in progress. Even when fully alert, though, he has the sort of ambiguous wit which is liable to get him beaten up by those too stupid to know exactly where the joke is pointing: "Can I have a pint of your most amusingly named local bitter?" he says, facing a palisade of unfriendly stares in the local pub.
Inside the air of put-upon bemusement there is a steely resistance, though. The funniest line came when he was attempting to make peace with his vile father-in-law (Frank Finlay) and was stung into protesting at the very idea of in-laws: "It's not like I went into a pet shop and said `Oh, I want this gorgeous, exotic creature' and the guy says `You have to take this horrible, scaly old racoon and the mangy jackal and those disgusting hamsters'." The metaphors did not prove soothing, naturally, but it's another mark of the programme's confidence that Nye did not try to sweeten the resulting ill-feeling with a nervous, last minute punch-line. The song that plays over the end credits suggests this is just another dumb sitcom; absolutely everything else, from the casting to the direction, insists that it isn't.
Premier Passions (BBC1) would look a great deal fresher if it hadn't followed the recent series about the fortunes of Bath Rugby Club, not to mention around sixteen zillion soap docs. But although John Alexander's film is very close to The Rugby Club in its texture - the pure devotion of fans, the mercenary ambitions of the professionals, the highs and lows of the changing room - it is very well done in its way. The rhythmic appearance of supporters, each draped in a Sunderland scarf (whether they are behind a fish-shop counter or up a decorator's ladder) is an important touch, reminding you all the time that everything you see is sustained by the intense loyalties of those who will not only pay pounds 25 to have a named brick included in the new stadium, but will then pay through the nose to enter it.
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