This Time with Alan Partridge

This Time with Alan Partridge (BBC One)

A quarter of a century after accidentally shooting a guest dead on live TV (a historic low point for the British chat show, with the possible exception of ’Davina’), Alan Partridge is back on primetime. 

Well, temporarily, anyway: with the regular host of magazine show This Time currently indisposed, our hero (the exceptional Steve Coogan) has been recalled from exile on North Norfolk Digital and given a shot at redemption.

Clearly, this is a big deal – ‘I’ve not been on HD before,’ he told his perky co-presenter Jennie Gresham (Susannah Fielding) anxiously – with nerves only serving to amplify his natural boorishness. He’s a Partridge in the headlights, stumbling through a disastrous - and highly libellous - riff on the Exxon Valdez oil spill, telling a rambling anecdote about his Grandad Graham, and enduring a frosty exchange with a reporter (Lolly Adefope) he believes is holding a grudge because he once splashed shandy over her at the Pride of Britain Awards.

His use of a ‘huge, interactive touchscreen digiwall’ went about as well as every other attempt to harness iPad technology on TV (looking at you, Peston), while Coogan reminded us of his gift for physical clowning with a painfully protracted mime demonstrating how to use a train toilet without touching anything.

It’s brilliant, obviously, with This Time itself a pin-sharp parody of The One Show (though there’s also something of the Piers Morgan-Susannah Reid dynamic between Alan and the quietly mortified Jennie, while Richard Madelely has clearly been in the character’s DNA from the start.) But it’s also hide-behind-a-cushion excruciating: without the luxury of escaping into the next scene, we’re forced to watch the whole car crash unfolding in real time (and, indeed, in HD).

What’s really clever, though, is that, however much of a pompous, self-sabotaging, bloviating buffoon Alan Partridge is, Coogan and co-writers Rob and Neil Gibbons somehow engineer it so we’re always on his side. As much sinned against as sinner, there’s a touching vulnerability to the character that makes us root for him, despite everything. Especially when, this time, the only person dying a death on live TV is Alan himself.

TV extra:

 

Warren (BBC One)

Martin Clunes is stuck in first gear as a man behaving very badly in this woeful new sitcom about a misanthropic driving instructor. The hackneyed script - revolving around such hilarious suburban concerns as garden pond envy - belongs in a museum (while also dropping the occasional F-bomb in a misfiring attempt to appear more edgy). Why cast someone as likeable as Clunes in such an utterly charmless role? I spent the whole thing desperately hoping someone would bang on the dashboard and make it stop.

 

Russian Doll (Netflix)

The premise of Netflix’s latest water cooler hit - in which a woman is fated to re-live variations of her final hours - isn’t hugely original (the sequel Happy Death Day 2U, currently in cinemas, offers a similarly fatalistic spin on the Groundhog Day formula). But Russian Doll twists off into strange and unexpected directions, anchored by a magnetic, career-making performance by co-creator Natasha Lyonne as the caustic, smart-mouthed Nadia. A puzzle that rewards your patience.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, February 28, 2019

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