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I was listening to a podcast recently that featured Armando Iannucci
promoting In the Loop and during this he was talking about his past
works, which included the character of Alan Partridge. This reminded me
that I had never really given this character as much attention as he
deserved. Having watched Knowing Me Knowing You recently I was keen to
see more of the character and moved onto season 1 of this sitcom. The
most obvious thing about it is how much better the show works as a
character piece outside of the context of the chat show. We already
know the character of Alan Partridge from KMKY but seeing him in
day-to-day life just gives even more opportunity to see what a terrible
person he is.
Partridge has washed up on local radio back in Norwich and, while he is still hopefully of getting back onto the television, he is filled with a certain amount of self-loathing and hatred associated with his efforts to do so. Of course all of this is under his paper-thin veneer of superficial smugness and warmth a pretence that he cannot maintain when put under the slightest pressure. This is what makes it both funny and engaging because Partridge is a wonderful character not obviously enough of a monster to make the viewer hate him but certainly enough of one to prevent pity creeping in and stifling the laughs. And it is funny funnier than Knowing Me Knowing You. Partridge is cowardly, keen to please people while also hating them for them being in a position of power, or being in a position where he needs to be nice to them, or just when they do not treat him the way he wants in return. When he cracks it is always a joy to watch because not only is he unpleasant but he is comically pathetic with it. The writing of this is spot on and the dialogue and scripting matches the tragicomic air of the scenarios.
Of course Coogan delivers this perfectly and gives a great performance where he gets his character spot on but yet also manages to have great comic timing. The supporting cast all do good work around him with the hotel staff, fellow DJ and of course his long-suffering and put-upon assistant all being convincing in how they deal with Partridge pity in some scenes but mostly it is tolerance with a slice of mockery, which is about right.
I'm Alan Partridge is a great series. By moving out of the confines of the chat show the writers are able to do more with the character not anything that is "new" to viewers of his mock chat show but they do it in a way that is funnier, cleverer and that makes for a much more engaging and satisfying comedy series. I'm not sure about the proposed Partridge movie project on the table for the near future but certainly season 1 has been strong enough to make me look forward to getting season 2.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As word of Alan's sacking gets around, the doors begin to close for
him. At a Country Fayre in Swaffham, he is supposed to be the guest of
honour ( also one of the judges in a vegetable competition ) but is
completely ignored. Then, good news comes his way - Tony Hayers has
died ( he fell off his roof trying to remove the television aerial -
shades of Rod Hull ), and Chris Feathers ( Constantine Gregory ) has
replaced him as Commissioning Editor. Feathers is well known as a fan
of Alan's, so he goes along to Hayers' funeral to ingratiate himself
with the new controller...
Season 1 ended in magnificent style with an episode that saw Partridge both leaving the Linton Travel Tavern and ( seemingly ) getting his old job back. Susan gets her chance to tell Partridge what she thinks of him, delivering a nasty slap into the bargain. Kevin Eldon ( of 'Big Train' ) plays 'Mike Sampson', another hotel guest whom Alan invites to his farewell party, and who then is ejected after making a racist remark.
Funniest moment - Alan's attempts to get Feathers' attentions at the funeral, all the while wearing a black jacket promoting Castrol G.T.X.
Season 1 of 'I'm Alan Partridge' was a triumph, possibly the first sitcom since 'Fawlty Towers' to get everything absolutely right. It would be a while before Season 2 came along, and when it did proved highly controversial, discarding the hotel setting and introducing new characters like 'Sonja', Alan's Ukranian girlfriend ( played by Amelia Bullmore ).
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