Sometimes when a beloved character returns after a few years away, what with three years having passed since the last series of Mid Morning Matters, I’m a little nervous that it might be a disappointment, that the writers have gotten lazy or complacent, or that the actor can’t quite recapture what made his role so great. But with Alan Partridge I had no such concerns as ever since Neil and Rob Gibbons have taken over co-writing Partridge with Steve Coogan it’s gone from strength to strength and is even better than the Peter Bayhnam and Armando Iannucci years, which I don’t say lightly as everyone knows how much of a genius Iannucci is, and Baynham’s also created a lot of impressive work as well and only doesn’t make genius status because he scripted the Russell Brand version of Arthur.
There really isn’t a character quite like Alan, who started out so long ago way back in 1991 when he was originally written by Stewart Lee and Richard Herring for the Radio One show On The Hour which all but introduced Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci and Steve Coogan to the world. Back then I don’t think anyone could have predicted that twenty eight years later he’d still be going, and also the veteran of several tv shows, specials, stand up performances, another radio series, a film, two amazing books and one slightly dodgy episode of TFI Friday. Over that time he’s become an incredibly nuanced creation, and the best thing the Gibbons brothers have done is to slightly soften Alan, and made him more likeable so that you actually root for him and hope that his life doesn’t go terribly wrong. Back in the Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge all of the fun came from Alan’s idiocy and terrible presentation skills but here it’s a case of wanting him to succeed despite his foibles and quirks. Of course he still has the ability to be twattish, it wouldn’t be Alan Partridge if he was a completely sympathetic character, but this more complicated version is the funniest yet.
The show starts with Partridge preparing to co-host a The One Show type magazine programme called This Time as the normal presenter John is unwell, with it being Alan’s first appearance on BBC1 in twenty four years. After the other regular co-host Jennie (Susannah Fielding, perfect in the role and a fantastic foil to Partridge) introduces both the show and Alan to the audience a quick piece of VT is shown, but we stay with Alan in the studio as he chats with Jennie and once they return she steals one of his phrases, which is clearly going to be an ongoing element in the show. But before that plot strand develops Alan introduces wildlife expert Alice Clunt, who’s actually Alice Fluck (Austentatious‘s Cariad Lloyd) with Alan realising why he made a mistake instantly and creating the first big laugh out loud moment, though prior to this I’d been grinning inanely as it was so fun.
During this segment Alan’s fake sincerity about leopard’s seals is hilarious, as is his comment “I don’t know whether to eat him up or wear him”, while his going off on a strange tangent about his grandfather is lovely stuff too, Coogan’s at his best when he’s rambling away all but nonsensically and he does so delightfully here, and I’m sure the phrase “Smooth fat teenage boy” will be the kind of thing fans will quote for aeons. During another piece of VT Lynn takes to the floor to tell Alan how he’s doing and it continues to entertain enormously, and just gets better with a scene which features Alan trying to talk to a tweet and doing his usual shtick of advertising companies he loves despite such a thing breaking the ITC code.
Cringe comedy has always been a big part of Partridge but in this episode it’s surprisingly light on such an element, but that’s no bad thing as comedy is always best when it takes on a variety of styles. That said there is some, with the most painful bit being when Alan introduces his sidekick, Simon (Tim Key), and for once Simon’s at a bit of a loss as he can’t use the touchscreen tech well. Fortunately it’s painful in an extremely amusing way, even if I did feel sorry for Simon, and it wouldn’t be Partridge if something didn’t go wrong.
A section on hygiene followed and though it might be hard to believe, it was even funnier than the previous footage. Alan’s Pee and Poo related nursery rhyme is still making me giggle now, as is the fact that the VT featured a guy shouting “Partridge you wanker” in the background. Partridge’s comparison of antibiotics and chocolate was amazing, as was Alan’s various examples of when you should wash your hands and his example of how to go to the toilet without using your hands is surely advice the nation will take if only because it looks so gloriously ridiculous.
The only predictable moment followed when Jennie stole one of Alan’s best lines a second time, much to his annoyance on this occasion as he realises she’s doing it deliberately, but I’ve no issue with this as it’s clearly going to be something they play around with during the rest of the run and I can’t wait to see where they take the concept. Plus it allowed Lynne to return during another piece of VT and attack Jennie for stealing Alan’s lines, calling her “Like Delilah, the slag from the bible” and then insinuating that Jennie looks like a prostitute, all of which was glorious stuff, as it’s always great to see Lynne stand up for Alan.
The final part of the show saw Alan interview a “Cyber terrorist” played by Liam Williams, who’s as superb as everyone else even though he has to wear a giraffe mask to supposedly protect his identity. It’s a piece which allows Alan to pretend he’s a serious interviewer which becomes the highlight of an astonishingly funny episode as it’s revealed that the cyber terrorist hacked Alan’s emails and he proceeds to read them out, but then ends up storming out of the studio when Alan puts on a mask which reveals his identity. Magnificently Alan dashes after him, replicating Paxman’s infamous skills at repeating a question over and over again except that this is a rubbish question making it all the more amusing, as is the fact that it takes place in a lift with random people asking him to push the buttons.
This is admittedly a gushing review and I did try and think of some issue that I might have had with it, but for once there are only tiny silly things I could point out, like the “Hi Jean” joke being a bit on the nose, but it’s extreme daftness still made me laugh, so, well, it’s not exactly a problem. And for Alan the show itself was a massive success too, with only one guest walking out of the studio in disgust and no one was harmed or shot dead on air, so even if his final moments didn’t go well it’s still something of a win, and dear lord after everything he’s been through over the years he really deserves such a thing.
To see Alan back on tv, and the BBC at that, is a real joy but it’s superseded by the fact that he’s better than ever. Coogan, Rob and Neil Gibbons have done what many thought might be impossible and taken a creation this old and made him better than ever. Hopefully in twenty eight years time he’ll still be going strong, and if that is the case Coogan will no doubt go down in the history books for taking on this iconic role and performing it so beautifully, if he hasn’t done so already. Thankfully we know that at least one more series is coming as Rob Gibbons recently revealed “Filming will soon start on a different Partridge series, a Dimbleby-style grand sweep of British history in which he will “probably bite off more than he can chew” and if it’s as fantastic as this it will be a truly majestic beast.
You can watch the show on BBC iPlayer by clicking here.