I say involving, because there is a staggering number of (colourful) characters to keep track of in this well-realised six-part comedy series. And yet, each is given a distinctive character and an extraordinary degree of development over the course of the story, through a plethora of inventive incident and credible interaction. The cast (lots of familiar faces) are uniformly excellent and you very quickly get to know everyone in Fogburrow, a town almost as odd as Royston Vasey (from The League of Gentlemen) but a country mile more attractive.
I say witty, because the pin-sharp dialogue fires off the jokes thick and fast. Perhaps a bit too fast - this programme would stand up to repeat viewing. 'Northern humour' (as some insist on calling it) is big these days on British TV. I'm talking about character-led, sarcastic, well-observed and inventive humour. For me, it scarcely comes better than this (and I'm from Hampshire). As well as the general cleverness and depth of character, there's some slapstick and a streak of the ridiculous in the mix. It reminded me of Paul Whitehouse's brilliant Happiness as much as it did Phoenix Nights or Craig Cash's sublime Early Doors (no-one called happiness 'Southern humour', incidentally).
And I say surprising, because who'd have thought a sitcom set in the office of a provincial newspaper would turn out to be a science-fiction drama as well? And one making a bit of a timely political point, at that. I don't know why people elsewhere have called this 'dark' comedy, either; it's not, it's warm and accessible if, in places, adult fare.
Anyone who's ever worked in the parochial press knows that finding things to publish week in week out can be a bit of a chore. Dave Spikey, fairly fresh from his hugely successful turn starring as Gerry 'The Saint' StClair in Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights - which Spikey also co- wrote - takes the old (actually offensive) cliché that 'nothing ever happens in small towns' and runs with it. Although the story is actually fairly straightforward when you look back over it, the sheer amount of invention along the way kept this viewer watching and laughing along - despite ITV moving the last episode to a different slot. If that betrayed a loss of confidence in the programme, then I hope this doesn't mean we won't be returning to Fogburrow. That would be a shame, as although the story was all told and the resolution highly satisfactory - and although I am sure Spikey will be inventing many more amusing characters and scenarios in the years ahead - there is definitely more mileage to be had in the loveably optimistic Lewis (Duncan) Donat (Johnny Vegas on fine form), forthright if overwrought Gordon Garden (Spikey), Paul, surely the world's worst pub landlord (Tim Healy) and the rest - from the method-acting no-hoper to the obscene-caller appreciator and everyone else getting, er, legless in the Douglas Bader tavern playing increasingly insane contests.
Paging the talented Mr Spikey: More of the same please!
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