TV review: Sue Perkins' comedy Heading Out, BBC2 was awkward for everyone involved

My New Hand, BBC1

Tom Sutcliffe
Wednesday 27 February 2013 13:00
Sue Perkins in Heading Out
Sue Perkins in Heading Out

There really should be a way for all new comedies to start with episode three, the essential nature of the characters already bedded in and the spadework of establishing the situation out of the way. But the laws of physics being what they are, there's no avoiding episode one, whatever you decide to call it. And it's just awkward for everyone involved – a blind date at which we still can't really be sure whether we have anything in common.

We have the power, of course. They're desperately looking for a long-term commitment, while we're happy to play the field. And they're doing all the talking too, which quite often means they end up trying too hard. So, how did things go with Heading Out, Sue Perkins' sitcom about a closeted gay vet?

First impressions weren't bad, though there may be people who don't feel quite the same way about the boldness of introducing your new series with a joke about feline euthanasia. Facing an owner who proposes homeopathic remedies for a cat that has been clipped by a car, Perkins' character, Sara, first tries tact. "Not a lot of quality of life there, is there?" she says, indicating the comatose animal. But when that fails she gets blunter: "Your cat is essentially a windsock!" she yells finally. If you get at all wound up about that old comedy/truth association you may have some doubts at this point. In what universe would a vet, however exasperated, say such a thing? Only the universe of sitcom, which isn't a place any really good comedy should be set.

It wasn't the last time that you found yourself wondering about the plausibility of plotting. There's an extended gag about the cat's corpse that not only requires you to suspend your disbelief but to hang it from the neck until it's dead. But more often than not the slightly wobbly construction is accompanied by sprightly writing. So while you don't for a moment believe Mark Heap as a disapproving pet cemetery owner, his lofty reply to Sara's request for a rush job is still funny: "We are not a drive-through crematorium, madam... We don't do take-aways." There's also a nice twist in Sara's male best friend – a furiously camp fuss-budget who isn't actually gay – and a promising turn from Steve Oram as Sara's work colleague. Not sure the chemistry is entirely right, but I'll definitely give it a second date.

My New Hand told the story of Britain's first hand transplant, a procedure that was once the exclusive prerogative of cheesy horror movies but will soon become routine, if Professor Simon Kay has anything to do with it. He appears rather touchy about the merits of this pioneering piece of surgery: "You've got to be a hard-hearted Jeremiah to say it's not worth the cost of a kidney transplant to do that. You've got to really have not much humanity about you, I think," he said – a surprisingly aggressive defence of a procedure that is very costly and will leave patients on a lifetime of immuno-suppressant drugs (some of which can have serious side effects).

The programme itself was – I'm sorry – a bit more even-handed, following a variety of candidates for transplant through to the first operation itself, including one who was bitterly disappointed that their blood chemistry made them ineligible and another who decided that she would be better off learning to live with what she called her "paw".

The operation itself was impressive – an eight-hour marathon that eventually left Mark with what looked as if it would be a functioning hand, provided neither his body nor his mind rejected it (both have happened). But then Professor Kay protested too much again: "I'm not collecting badges of dramatic surgery," he said, which, since you hadn't heard anyone else suggesting he was, left the question dangling rather than closing it off.

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