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I’m Alan Partridge

Monday, November 11, 2002 by

Timing, as Alan will tell you, is everything in show business. In what is being hailed as a “golden year” for situation comedy, the long awaited second series of I’m Alan Partridge forms the final part of a quartet of highly praised sitcoms that have graced our screens in the last few months. First of all there was the return of Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights, followed closely by the third series of The League of Gentlemen, and the second series of The Office (whose slot I’m Alan Partridge has inherited).

Neither Phoenix Nights, nor The League of Gentlemen has succeeded in scaling the comedic heights of earlier series. The latter, in particular, has diminished thanks to its transition from quasi-sketch show to quasi-horror. Perhaps any thoughts to let the grotesque caricatures of Royston Vasey have “more space to breathe” should have been suffocated at birth. In addition, both The League of Gentlemen and Phoenix Nights appear to suffer from too much affection on the part of the series’ writers.

Meanwhile, The Office has returned to a level of acclaim that has continued to bemuse this reviewer. David Brent is – in many ways – an indication of how little comedy has changed since the last series of I’m Alan Partridge. Inadequate men striving to create a false impression of their own importance was funny back in the days of Knowing Me, Knowing You, and still seems to be funny now. Gervais’ trick is simply to heighten the realism of the production, reduce the grotesqueness of the central character and allow the overall product to strike deeper chords of recognition within the audience as a result.

Viewed in an utterly contemporary context, the new series of I’m Alan Partridge looks curiously dated. Recording it on video and including an audience laughter track flies in the face of recent comedy tradition. The genre of the docu-soap (whose artifices form the basis for much of The Office‘s believability) was not so prevalent back in 1997. In this sense, Alan’s return is reminiscent of Bj√∂rn Borg’s short-lived tennis comeback, in which the Swede insisted upon using his trusty old wooden racket, whilst all of his competitors had long since graduated to graphite.

Unlike Borg though, Alan looks in with a shout of being able to fend off the opposition. The series’ first episode, although somewhat disjointed, included enough good material to compensate for some of the new series’ situational weaknesses. In particular Alan’s exchanges with rival DJ Dave Clifton are just as hilarious and competitive as ever they were.

What’s still no good however (and might even be getting worse) is Felicity Montagu’s performance as Alan’s harassed PA Lynne. Whilst attempting to portray her as extreme a personality as Alan, Montagu brings little variation or depth to her role. Unfortunately, the signs are that such shallow characterisation is to be found elsewhere in this new series. The inclusion of a secondary character in a sitcom who just happens to be foreign, is almost always bad news, and Alan’s girl-friend (played by Amelia Bullmore) has done little yet to disperse these doubts, drawing upon the much mined seam of cultural misunderstandings as a source of comedy.

That said, I’m Alan Partridge is not yet a moribund vehicle. Making much of the introduction of new catchphrases (“cash back” and “back of the net”), the humour is in truth much the same; but thankfully the jokes are all new. So all hail the return of Alan. The only place that you’ll hear the phrase “not literally – that would be hideous” this year is in The Office.

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