Scarborough (BBC One)
After 10 years of Benidorm, writer Derren Little’s new sitcom sees him swapping sunburn and sangria on the Costa Blanca for fish and chips on the North Yorkshire coast. (Fill in your own Brexit joke here.)
But while the climate might be chillier, in most other ways Scarborough sticks firmly to the broad, bawdy Benidorm template that made the show such a hit with viewers, if not with critics.
You certainly can’t accuse Little of doing things by half. You want toilet humour? The first episode included jokes about both human and feline bodily functions, plus a running gag about vindaloo pasties, and one character even carked it on the loo. LOL, etc.
It’s a good cast, though, with sitcom royalty Stephanie Cole bringing a touch of class as a proper, old-fashioned northern battleaxe and, at the other end, newcomer Harriet Webb putting in a scene-stealing shift as the brilliantly gauche Lisa-Marie.
Corrie graduate (and new Strictly hopeful) Catherine Tyldesley gives the show its beating heart as Karen, a hairdresser whose on-off relationship with amusement arcade manager Mike (Jason Manford) is currently off after she found him having a fumble behind the crab stall with local good-time girl Hayley Cox (a brassy Claire Sweeney). And yes, her surname is a set-up for a gag you can see coming from two scenes away.
Set in a world of petty criminals, feckless layabouts and bad karaoke pubs, it’s possibly not the best advert for Scarborough (no Margate-style gentrification to be found here). And yet, in wide shot, the handsome spa resort can’t help but look rather magnificent. (Though it’s possible that, as a Yorkshireman, I may be biased.)
There’s a whiff of seaside postcard about the script, too – defiantly so, in fact. Add a laughter track and a studio audience, and this could have been made 35 years ago. But at least it knows as much – when Mike tries to get through to one of his staff with the phrase “Mork calling Orson”, she responds with: “Sorry, what year are we in – 1982?” You may find yourself asking the same question.
State of the Union (BBC2)
Despite the brevity of its 10-minute episodes, this new comedy-drama is anything but a schedule-filler. Written by Nick Hornby and directed by Stephen Frears, each instalment sees Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd meeting for a quick sharpener before their next marriage counselling session. As Hornby picks away at the scabs of their shared life (she had an affair, he voted for Brexit to annoy her friends), it gradually reveals a story that’s moving and funny in equal measure.
Python at 50: Silly Talks and Holy Grails (BBC2)
The highlight of the weekend’s Python half-centenary celebrations eschewed new interviews (they did that for the 40th anniversary) in favour of a deep dive into the BBC archives. And was all the better for it: from the set of The Life of Brian to the Parkinson studio, it captured the comedy pioneers at the height of their powers (which, in John Cleese’s case, is a polite way of saying ‘when he was still funny’).
Published in Waitrose Weekend, 12 September, 2019
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