Diane Morgan left her co-stars standing in Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, where she was the gormless pundit Philomena Cunk, and as Liz, the hatchet-faced single mum in Motherland. She was also quietly magnificent in Ricky Gervais’ After Life, where she played Kath, an elaborately coiffed ad saleswoman.
A mordant stare from Morgan can do the work of 20 pages of script, so a show of her own has been long overdue. Now, at last, we have Mandy (BBC Two), a bite-sized comedy series (each episode is 15 minutes) that is written, directed by and stars Morgan.
Mandy Carter is a woman trying to stay afloat in the age of the gig economy. She isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, and, in an ideal world, she’d rather not work at all. She totters around in skinny jeans, vertiginous heels and the kind of burnished puffer jackets that EastEnders’ Bianca might deem too garish. With her messy blonde up-do and rictus grimace, Mandy is Ab Fab’s Patsy if she were born in Bolton and on her uppers, rather than propped up by a rich best mate.
In the first episode her despairing benefits adviser, played by Tom Basden, sends her to work in a fruit processing plant where her task is to lay waste to the deadly spiders lurking among the bananas. After a mishap that leaves several co-workers dead, he dispatches her to a chicken shop, run by The Room Next Door’s Michael Spicer. When she goes to the toilet for a sneaky smoke, her hair gets caught in the air-con, she drops her cigarette and, well, you know where this is going.
It’s to Morgan’s credit that she manages to make her anti-heroine, who lies compulsively and has no discernible conscience, remotely sympathetic. When an old nemesis, Susan Blower (Maxine Peake), turns up and tries to thwart her plans to win a local line-dancing contest, you root for Mandy to emerge triumphant.
Nonetheless, this is a show that provokes wry smiles rather than belly laughs. As ever, it’s hard to take your eyes off Morgan’s endlessly expressive face, but her character is deliberately one-dimensional and the comic denouements announce themselves long before they arrive.
I’d still like to see Morgan in something meatier and more befitting of her talents – an episode of Inside No 9, perhaps, or in one of Alan Bennett’s rebooted Talking Heads. Mandy is fine in small doses but she could easily outstay her welcome.
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