The first episode of The First Team was pretty bleak when it came to toxic masculinity, the lead’s a smart individual who’s pretty likeable and his two friends are sometimes amusing, but way too many of the rest of the characters were quite obnoxious and it was full of laddish, sexist humour. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise as it was from Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, the writers of The Inbetweeners, but I had hoped they’d had something more to offer than a mixture of cringe comedy and possibly ironic sexism this time around.
I heard it’d improved over the next couple of episodes as well, but the second episode didn’t suggest that as team bully Petey (Theo Barklem-Biggs) planned to prank Benji (Shaquille Ali-Yebuah), Jack (Jack McMullen) explored dating using Tinder, and Mattie (Jake Short) attempted to make friends with a player who was deeply weird, it raised the odd smile but no more than that. The third wasn’t much better either as it dealt with sexual harassment, once again Mattie was the voice of reason but there was still a fair amount of unpleasantness from the other characters as they presumed a fan’s mother wanted to have sex with them and they ended up being bullied by a school kid. It had the odd funny moment at least, but both episodes were pretty weak, and suffered from a distinct lack of Will Arnett and Chris Geere which felt weird as both are bloody great comic actors.
As always I try to go in to a sitcom with an open mind though, after three dodgy episodes that was admittedly difficult but hey, I really did want to like it. But I didn’t. Oh christ no, as once again most of the humour came from Petey being an absolute cunt to other people, this is a show which seems to think it’s hilarious to watch someone bully others and be an all round turd, but for me it’s abhorrent and painful viewing. Petey’s like a super confident, even more unlikeable version of Jay from The Inbetweeners, albeit one who everyone fears and so for that reason he’s able to get away with his repellent behaviour and it’s odious and repugnant material as we see our three leads suffer his abuse.
Petey’s not the only bully present in this episode either, unfortunately, as there’s a subplot with Jack’s father Darren (Peep Show’s Neil Fitzmaurice) exploiting his son’s fame, with him being needlessly horrible to Chris Geere (who once again is disappointingly in it for only about ninety seconds), though this story line isn’t resolved, and that also applies to a weak plotline with Benji who gets confused between Guyana and Ghana and accidentally signs up to play international football for the much, much smaller country. Presumably both will be returned to in future episodes but it’s an odd decision given how rubbish the plots are, and they really don’t deserve to be dragged out over two or more episodes.
It’s weird though, as whenever Will Arnett turns up it feels like a completely different sitcom, and a much funnier one as it’s more absurd and silly. He only has about five minutes worth of screen time in this fourth episode but it makes the show finally watchable, as his idiotic team owner moans about “overpaid former communists” being signed up to play, needs to be told by Mattie exactly what scoring a goal is, and does a terrible impersonation of the now fired manager Cesare right at the end.
Unfortunately the plotting for this final part is weak, meaning that despite finding it far more enjoyable it’s not enough to make up for the loathsome behaviour with Petey and co beforehand. Maybe the toxic masculinity aspects are true to life but this would work much better if it lent in the sillier aspects with Will Arnett’s owner, and the occasional glimpses of just how stupid Jack is, but Beesley and Iain Morris clearly prefer lazy, unpleasant cringe humour, and I’ve gone from being unimpressed with the show to mildly hating it as its worst it’s truly ugly comedy.