Right now Aisling Bea and Sharon Horgan are currently making the second series of the hit comedy drama This Way Up, but back in 2012 they took on the role of siblings for the first time in this BBC3 comedy. Since then both have had extremely successful careers, with Horgan’s shooting to fame mostly thanks to the superb sitcom Catastrophe, and Bea’s received acclaim for both her stand up and various acting roles.
Horgan’s the slightly more famous of the two however, partially because of the sitcom Pulling which was her first minor hit back in 2006 – 2009, and so she was quite well known when Dead Boss aired in 2012, though unfortunately it wasn’t a success with the viewers. This is yet another example of why the public can’t be trusted in general however, as it’s a smart, involving show and it was extremely frustrating that it was cancelled after only six episodes.
Written by Horgan and stand up comedian Holly Walsh, in the show Horgan stars as Helen Stephens, a woman accused of murdering her boss. Aisling Bea’s her sister Laura who is completely self obsessed and not really doing much to help Helen at all, and Helen also has a fiancée who can provide her with an alibi, the problem being that he’s currently missing. Helen shares a cell with Christine (Bryony Hannah) who is a little bit obsessive about her, which Helen struggles with because “Now just isn’t the right time for me to take on an emotionally disturbed arsonist as a best friend”. Christine’s not her only problem though, her lawyer Tony (Geoffrey McGivern) is pretty damn useless and only cares about the money, admitting “In all honesty it’s going to be half arsed at best” when it comes to his work. Which is the only shortcoming the series has, as it’s one of those times when you wonder why Helen doesn’t hire someone competent, but hey, it’s a sitcom and such logic rarely applies.
Also an issue is that the Prison Governor (Jennifer Saunders) doesn’t care about those she looks after at all, and actively tries to prevent Helen from appealing her case, and fellow prisoner Top Dog (Lizzie Roper) also takes an instant dislike to Helen. Though when the latter recognises the former as her old supply teacher in the end this actually works in her favour, as Top Dog doesn’t want the inmates to know what once wet herself in front of a class of fifteen year old girls, though their relationship throughout the series is an understandably complicated one. Meanwhile Henry (Edward Hogg) used to work with Helen and is madly in love with her and is trying to solve the case, though whether or not he can be trusted is open to question and he certainly doesn’t have the backing of the other members of staff.
The thrust of the series is a mixture of Helen trying to get her lawyer and sister to prove her innocence, and Helen’s attempts at surviving in prison, with some reality stretching but very funny plotlines involving the Governor setting up an annual prison quiz, Helen having to look after a German prisoner who’s staying as part of an exchange programme and may possibly be a cannibal, while a prison choir competition has a very fun cameo role for Caroline Quentin.
Unsurprisingly given how great the two creators are it’s a show which is packed with memorable characters and dialogue, and the central mystery is an extremely intriguing one, with little clues and hints given as to what really happened in each and every episode. Unfortunately because this wasn’t supposed to be a show which only ran for one series it ends with Helen still in prison, and a whole number of questions unanswered, including why Helen’s former fiancée never visited her in prison and explained his disappearance, what happened to the winning lottery money, or who the body is that we see in the storage locker in the final episode.
Though Dead Boss was never going to be something that ran for decades it is enormously annoying we didn’t get at least one more series, partially to wrap up the mystery but mainly because it was just very, very funny. Everyone involved has gone on to even bigger and better things so I suppose I can’t complain too much, but it’s a definite shame that this didn’t become the much loved series that it deserved to be.