It’s Monday morning, and Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville), the BBC’s Head of Values, is chairing a meeting inside Mary Berry. (Don’t be alarmed, it’s just one of New Broadcasting House’s celeb-themed huddle pods.) Head of Better Anna Rampton (Sarah Parish) is outlining the Corporation’s new More of Less strategy – which is about ‘identifying what we do best and finding more ways to do less of it’ – when a potential diversity-stroke-inclusivity PR disaster emerges: apparently an ex-footballer, rejected for a pundit’s job because he was too boring ‘even for Match of the Day’, is claiming the BBC won’t employ him because he’s a cross-dresser. Hashtag crisis.
Meanwhile, bibbling PR dimwit Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes) and her team of vapid Millennials are busy brainstorming new ideas, including a news broadcast consisting entirely of emojis (‘Syria: droopy mouth, Russia: angry face’). ‘That’s not an overstatement,’ Sharp declares at one point. ‘It’s an uberstatement.’
Just another day at the office in W1A, then, as the Beeb’s brilliant, self-flagellating satire returned for its third run. Though the show is very much the vision of one man – writer-director John Morton, who invented the fly-on-the-wall mockumentary years before The Office – it’s lifted to greatness by one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled in the service of comedy, with at least eight characters who could comfortably carry a series on their own. When the likes of Bonneville, Parish, Hynes, Jason Watkins, Monica Dolan, Hugh Skinner, Nina Sosanya and Rufus Jones are in a room together – with all their tics and twitches and silly, parroted nonsense platitudes – the sound you hear is the rattle of a comedy train at full speed.
Also, while you have to applaud Auntie for so willingly thrashing herself with birch twigs – the scene where the exec team desperately tried to wriggle out of a trip to Salford was particularly telling – W1A is really a cri de coeur against modern workplace, groupthink madness in general; one that will be as horribly familiar to Swindon council workers as Soho media types.
For me, it remains one of the finest comedies of the age – and that’s no uberstatement.
The return of Martin Clunes’ grumpy GP – the man with the worst bedside manner since Crippen – brought a welcome blast of Cornish sunshine to a TV drama landscape dominated by serial killers and psychos. This week’s dose of light farce revolved around a disastrous wedding where the groom had to pass a kidney stone mid-vows, and the curate suffered a psychotic meltdown at the altar. The latter was a star-making turn from newcomer Lucy Briggs-Owen – the campaign for a spin-off starts here.
Do not adjust your set: that really is Rutger Hauer playing a sinister hospital orderly in Dave’s new sitcom. And yes, that really was Kelsey Grammer, Frasier himself, guesting in this week’s opening episode. Even without the Hollywood star wattage, though, this pitch-black comedy is wickedly funny stuff from TV’s go-to medicine man, Dan Sefton (Trust Me, The Good Karma Hospital), who has somehow found time to write three shows this year while also being a practising A&E doctor.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, September 21, 2017
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