Great Night Out, ITV's new Friday night comedy, began with an expression of frustration at regional caricature.
Reeling away disappointed from a football match, the four Stockport friends at the heart of Mark Bussell and Justin Sbresni's comedy bump into jubilant fans from the visiting team, who unleash sneers about mushy-pea consumption and Northern joblessness. Great Night Out then proceeds to replace these malignant stereotypes with more benign ones of its own, not much fresher or more directly related to the real world but a bit sweeter in their flavour. We're in the realm of an old-fashioned kind of male mateship, built on a quasi-reverence for the local team and a wary terror of the needs and desires of the women in their lives. There's a whiff of Cold Feet about the set-up, not just because of the Mancunian location, but also because this is about couples negotiating that tricky transition between liberty and commitment.
Lee Boardman plays Hodge, whose fifth anniversary supplied the basic plot for the opening episode. It's a celebration Glyn (Craig Parkinson) hopes to attend with Julie, if he can pluck up the courage to ask her, and to which Daz is going to bring Colleen, provided they can iron out her unconscionable request that he accompanies her on a company junket to Old Trafford (cue looks of horror on his friends' faces). Beggsy (William Ash) is helpfully between partners, his ex having departed to Australia with a daughter he Skypes whenever the drama needs an injection of pathos. And Ricky Tomlinson is on hand as an intrusive pub landlord who appears to have elected himself as a spare wheel.
It's likeable enough, I guess, but its comic situations are dependent on an effortful gormlessness on the part of those involved and quite a lot of indulgence from the viewer. The misadventure concerning a drunken bridegroom at the hotel where they were having the anniversary was a little too predictable to be hilarious, and the sexual politics of the thing feels either tired or psychologically unconvincing. But some of the incidental roles in the episode – a camp train guard and an over-boisterous friend who gatecrashes the party – were filled in with enough comic detail to give you hope that the series might ripen into something stronger. A passable night in, anyway.
World without End – a mini-series adaptation of Ken Follett's historical bestseller – is set in Kingsbridge, a fictional medieval town groaning under the yoke of Queen Isabella and also grievously afflicted by conversational anachronism. Ben Chaplin plays Sir Thomas, fleeing from the doubtful patronage of Isabella to claim sanctuary in a local priory ("There's a knight. He's in the kitchen," says one of the characters matter-of-factly). Sir Thomas finds himself a tug-of-war patient, pulled between the deadly ministrations of Brother Joseph ("here's a lovely dung poultice fresh from the privy") and Mattie the herbalist, played by Indira Verma as a kind of Nigella Lawson of alternative medicine. Peter Firth is the wicked Sir Roland, who waves his gauntlets around and shouts "Seize him!" in a manner redolent of deep black-heartedness.
I couldn't entirely work out what was going on in the first half and just couldn't bring myself to watch the second for further clarification. But Miranda from Sex and the City is poisoning people with mushrooms for some reason and Charlotte Riley is making cow eyes at a dispossessed local squire called Methin. My favourite moment was an informative post-orgasmic yelp from Isabella's lover Mortimer: "He's buried. We won. England's ours!" And I enjoyed Aure Atika's assaults on the English language as Isabella ("You know first and furrymost I yam your mother"). But neither were much compensation for the unfavourite moments. If you like swords and beards and chain mail, try Game of Thrones instead.
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