Grace Dent on TV: Peter Kay's Car Share made me genuinely LOL

Here is a comedy about the restorative joy of friendship

Grace Dent
Sunday 03 May 2015 10:20
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It’s a total gas: Peter Kay and Sian Gibson in ‘Car Share’
It’s a total gas: Peter Kay and Sian Gibson in ‘Car Share’

I rarely laugh at modern sitcoms. Statisticians could prove this with a graph. Gosh, I want to laugh. And many times while watching a celebrated writer's latest labour of love a willing smile will dance around my mouth. Still, a genuine LOL (as the hip things say) is rare.

But I laughed over and over again, loudly and gracelessly, during BBC1's Car Share, Peter Kay's new, pared-down comedy project. Curmudgeonly John (Kay) has been allotted a chipper colleague, Kayleigh (Sian Gibson), as his car-share buddy as part of a corporate bid to save on parking spaces. The rest is simply wittering on. The complete series premiered on iPlayer, drawing a record 2.8 million viewers. I gobbled up the whole series in one afternoon. One serving wasn't nearly enough.

Clearly, admitting to gurgling with glee at Peter Kay is the antithesis of hip behaviour. At some point in recent history – probably around night 789 of Kay's "My Mum Wants a Bungalow" tour – the accepted wisdom became that Kay's humour was too "obvious". It was just anecdotal minutiae, silly faces and Northern prattle.

The hip things had spoken. Thus the brilliance of Kay's C4 Comedy Lab, The Services, was forgotten, along with his effortlessly sublime Live at the Top of the Tower set. We no longer admitted that C4's That Peter Kay Thing set him out as one of Britain's finest comedy character actors, or that Phoenix Nights – featuring Brian Potter, Keith Lard, and Paul Le Roy – was a multi-layered marvel.

On reflection, Kay probably shouldn't have taken to the Live 8 stage in 2005 and sung "Is This the Way to Amarillo". But, in fairness to him, the crowd had just cheered a shirtless Johnny Borrell doing scissor-jumps, so he could be forgiven for misjudging their tolerance.

And now Kay is back on BBC1, in a simple format, written by Paul Coleman and Tim Reid, reminding us exactly what he excels at: playing the much put-upon Everyman, wrestling with the modern world. As John and Kayleigh chatter away en route to work, discussing dogging, funeral plans, and removing the smell of fish from work shirts, their shared silliness is infectious.

They laugh, they bicker, they play car games and they sing along to Forever FM's easy-listening hits by Sad Cafe. John wasn't looking for a new best friend, but he has no choice in the matter. Kayleigh is chipper, naive and never backwards in asking questions. Why is John not married? When did his dad die and what of? How can he not like Christmas?

Driving force: Peter Kay stars in and co-wrote ‘Car Share’

Like those lovely warm bits in Ricky Gervais's Extras when he and Ashley Jensen would blether on the sofa about superheroes and favourite soup flavours, here is a comedy about the restorative joy of friendship. In Marion and Jeff, Rob Brydon made the car feel like a lonely place, but in Car Share it's a sanctuary.

In later episodes Reece Shearsmith, playing a whiffy and weird co-worker, attempts to hijack their arrangement. I was amazed by how much I disliked the thought of him as a regular in their back seat. John and Kayleigh had a good thing going on and here he was spoiling it. Get out!

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With every car-share trip – over six episodes – John's love of life and laughter begins to re-blossom. Meanwhile, pithily observed, spoof, low-budget local radio ads for weight-loss clubs and car showrooms play in the background.

"With this new weight-loss plan," chirps one terrible radio advert actor, "I can eat literally anything I want. As long as it's not things that make me fat."

Sometimes, when the pair aren't chatting, Kayleigh drifts off, lost in the gentle sounds of Forever FM's hits from yesteryear, staring out of the passenger window. In her mind's eye, we see Kayleigh starring in the "I'm Outta Love" video replacing Anastacia. Or standing in for Cindy Lauper in her own version of "True Colours".

This is Peter Kay's first sitcom in a decade

"Kayleigh? Are you listening to me?" says John, and suddenly his friend is back in the car, on her way to an eight-hour shift dispensing free liquid-softener samples to shoppers.

Of course, the engine powering this gentle drama is the thought of a blossoming romance. In the opening episodes this was absurd. He's a man with hairy shoulders who thinks all women are "nuts". She's a woman with verbal diarrhoea who has just spent £50 on an online dating membership.

"We talked about looking carefully at their usernames before agreeing to a date, didn't we?" John consoles Kayleigh after another disastrous date. "I mean… Pussy Lover?"

"How was I to know he wasn't a cat fan?" she says. "What is wrong with people today?"

More episodes please, BBC, I've finished all of these ones.

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