The Armstrongs (2006– )

TV Series  -   -  Documentary | Comedy
7.7
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2006  
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Ann Armstrong ...
 Herself (2006-) (unknown episodes)
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22 February 2006 (UK)  »

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(12 episodes)

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Featured in Room 101: Episode #11.3 (2007) See more »

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Wonderfully mad documentary-come-car crash in the mould of The Office
19 April 2006 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

U-Fit is one of the largest double-glazing companies in Coventry in the British West Midlands. At the head of the company are married couple John and Anne Armstrong who run the business with the rather down-to-earth madness that you tend to find in English SME's! Sales are down though and things do not look good. The sales team are about as demotivated and as ineffective as you could imagine and, with no new customers coming in, the manufacturing staff have nothing to make and things are looking bleak. This documentary series follows the pair as they manage their business.

It doesn't sound like a comedy but let me assure you that my plot summary does not in any way manage to convey the sheer, jaw-dropping wonderfulness of this series. Essentially it is like a SME (Small to Medium Enterprise) version of The Office – in many ways it is not as good but it has the added value in the fact that it is "real". Now I'm sure that parts of it are not as natural as they would have been without the cameras but the company is definitely real, the people real and the world of the small business convincingly real. For those of us who have worked with small manufacturing firms, we know there is much to respect in the Armstrongs, who have built a business from nothing and done well from it. However it is hard not to wince whenever they open their mouths and you do have to wonder how on earth they have managed to survive longer than a week as heads of a company.

Without a laughter track or even "jokes" the approach of the series is very much like The Office in the way that the management clichés, bad decisions, random phrases and sheer cringe-worthiness of the characters are the driving force behind the show series. And we aren't let down very often in this regard because U-Fit has it all. We have John, full of inspired madness, wonderful sayings (eg "some of the trees in the forest need to be moved to another forest") and the sort of people skills that would make a ticking bomb seem like a better dinner companion. Meanwhile Anne is a strange woman who at times seems like the saner of the two but effortlessly reveals herself to be just as unhinged. I don't mean to be cruel to them as people and, like I said, it is them that made the company, but it is hard not to see them Brent made flesh. They are matched wonderfully by such a collection of staff and consultants that you are spoilt for choice. There's the hilarious Basil Meaney, who gives the narrator a verbal spasm every time he introduces him. The man is a motivation consultant but he merely spits out a load of clichés and collects big checks – speaking as someone who has had this sort of "team building" sh1t, it is hard to watch but funniest from the outside looking in! The star of the show is the frightening Michael Handel; know-it-all and Othello master, he grates everyone up the wrong way and is just the type of waif/stray you expect to find in double-glazing. In fairness to him, he isn't helped by John, who promotes him one minute then thinks he is a "w*nker" the next! He is hilarious but not someone I'd like to work with. The sales team are a good presence even if they are not great characters – their sheer lack of pride, concern, interest, talent, motivation or life-signs make it easier to side with John – they really are a waste of space and it is hilarious to hear them moan about the management as they sit on their asses doing nothing for hours on end! Bill Nighy's narration is great value and he is a joy to listen to – near choking with joy at some of the things that he has to narrate! Overall then this is a really fun series for those who are into The Office; it maybe isn't as strong in structure as that but this is because it is real and it certainly delivers on the cringe-factor. Some viewers may not see the humour and some viewers may find the work place too recognisable to be enjoyable but for many this may be a reason to watch it. The characters are so wonderful you couldn't have written them and, although I didn't always like the music and the forced presentation, the essence of the show makes it. Not everyone will like it but it is worth a look – after one episode I was drawn in and, like a car crash, couldn't look away again till the series ended!


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