SARAH VINE'S My TV Week: Silly, Surreal…This sitcom's a HOOT

SARAH VINE’S My TV Week: Silly, Surreal…This sitcom’s a HOOT




This is my favourite kind of comedy: a silly, surreal sitcom. Fans of hit TV show Taskmaster will know Alex Horne as Greg Davies’s sidekick; theirs is one of TV’s great double acts, in the mould of Morecambe and Wise, Reeves and Mortimer, Patsy and Edina, and Trinny and Susannah.

Greg’s The Big I Am, while Alex is the fall guy – although of course it’s never quite as simple as that, and that’s the funny part.

This show takes that whole concept one step further, in which Alex, creator of a hit show, is nevertheless side-lined, frustrated and pushed around by its bullish presenter.

Alex Horne pictured, centre, with his band The Horne Section. Alex is the creator of Taskmaster (now in its 14th series)

In actual fact, of course, Alex is the creator of Taskmaster (now in its 14th series), and Greg is the bullish presenter, making the entire thing the kind of concept that could end up being rather tiresome and TV insider-y, were it not for the fact that Horne is too clever and too funny for that.

There are elements of W1A, the BBC’s brilliant parody of itself, Curb Your Enthusiasm (starring Larry David, one of my favourite shows of recent years) and Alan Partridge – only Horne is much more sympathetic than Partridge, and has none of that character’s acerbic edge. Still, the idiosyncrasies and vanity of the TV world play a major part in this, and Davies is particularly good as a monstrous parody of himself.

But the real stars, for me, are The Horne section, aka Horne’s band – Ben Reynolds (drums), Ed Sheldrake (piano), Joe Auckland (trumpet/banjo), Mark Brown (saxophone/guitar) and Will Collier (bass).

Sarah (pictured) says the plot is ‘largely irrelevant’ because the whole thing is ‘character-driven’

You wouldn’t give any of them a second glance in the pub, but stick them in a studio together and they turn into musical-comedy demi-gods.

Their talent and silliness are infectious, and they wear permanent expressions of mild surprise and amusement, as though they can’t quite believe they are where they are and they’re doing what they’re doing. In reality, of course, they’re consummate professionals.

The plot is largely irrelevant, since the whole thing is character-driven, but in a nutshell Horne decides it’s time to break free of the shadow of Davies, and pitch his own TV show, which ends up becoming reality when the producer at Channel 4 mistakenly commissions a pilot.

Needless to say, the path to success is fraught with complications – and yet, somehow, from the moment the band’s trumpet player walks into the room wearing a Henry vacuum cleaner on his head and a beach onesie – ‘Henry Mankini’, geddit? – you know it’s all going to work out just fine.





It’s taken me a while to catch up on the second series of the hit HBO show, not least because I have to watch it on Now TV, which is one of the most unwieldy streaming platforms ever invented. But I digress.

The first series was notable for its glamour and dark menace, and this is no different: we are in Sicily, synonymous with both. Beautiful on the surface, but a somewhat ugly underbelly: a metaphor, really, for the show and its characters.

There are three generations of Italo-Americans, there on a pilgrimage to the old country; there’s the annoying rich hot couple and their uptight friends; there’s the happy (or is she?) hooker and her pal. And, of course, there’s Jennifer Coolidge, reprising her role as socialite Tanya McQuoid alongside her love interest from season one – who is now her husband, Greg, played by Jon Gries.

There are three generations of Italo-Americans (pictured), there on a pilgrimage to the old country

Coolidge has become a cult figure lately. She was great in Netflix’s The Watcher as an unhinged estate agent, and seems to play every part as though she’s on her third Negroni.

Here she reprises her role as a rich, neurotic and not very nice heiress who makes the lives of everyone around her utterly miserable while casting herself as the victim.

Needless to say, she’s not the only one. Bit by bit unpleasant truths begin to emerge. Relationships form, others are pushed to the limit.

Murray Bartlett as twisted hotel manager Armond was the star of season one; Sabrina Impacciatore as his Sicilian counterpart, Valentina, is not quite as outlandish – but does have some of the best lines.

The first series was notable for its glamour and dark menace, and this is no different: we are in Sicily, synonymous with both

Tasked with arranging a Vespa for Tanya and her toad of a husband so they can enact Tanya’s Roman Holiday fantasy, she obliges.

Dressed head to toe in garish pink, Tanya asks her who she reminds her of – Monica Vitti, perhaps? ‘Peppa Pig?’ quips Valentina.

A total joy is the addition of Tom Hollander to the cast, here playing Quentin, a British expat on tour. Slick, stylish and satisfyingly wicked.

Too-chippy Brian’s not on the money 

Brian (pictured) answers that he doesn’t want it to be about him, more an opportunity to highlight injustice

At the end of the first episode of Brian Cox: How The Other Half Live (Thursday, Ch5), a series exploring the inequalities of the modern world, the show’s star – the actor who’s best-known for his portrayal of media mogul Logan Roy in HBO’s Succession – is asked what he hopes viewers will get from it.

Brian answers that he doesn’t want it to be about him, more an opportunity to highlight injustice. A noble sentiment, but not true.

This is all about Brian Cox. Which doesn’t make it any less interesting – if anything, more so, since he’s a fascinating character.

It’s just annoying that he can’t acknowledge it, because in all other respects this is a really engaging exploration of the widening abyss between the very rich and the very poor, told from the perspective of a man who has experienced both, first growing up destitute in Dundee, now as the star of a hugely successful TV show.

If he could just lose the chip, it would be well worthwhile. Sadly that’s not the case. 

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