WHEN I think of BBC4, I think of Danish imported dramas, very earnest documentaries and, if they’re feeling a bit mainstream, compilations of Pathe video footage from the 1930s.
I certainly don’t expect to find a comedy gem like Bob Servant Independent (Fridays, BBC4, 10pm).
And had it not been for the iplayer, I probably wouldn’t have found it.
Heading off travelling for a couple of days, with several hours of train travel on routes where wifi is more a distant dream than a living reality – even though it doesn’t stop the rail companies taking your money for the alleged service – the iplayer can be a godsend. There are only so many emotional relationship breakdowns via mobile phone in an area of poor reception you can take on one train journey.
“It’s not me, it’s …. hello, hello, are you still there?” and so on.
Anyway, back to Bob. I found it when looking for comedies to download to my computer – it’s safe to say that when in the mood for comedy, BBC 4 is one of the last places I look. BBC 3, BBC 2, E4, Sky 1, Comedy Central, Gold … they all do comedy, and tell people about it. But BBC4? Turns out they do, too.
Bob Servant Independent is built around the lead character of the same name, a well-known and wealthy local man in the Scottish town of Broughty Ferry.
He’s made his fortune – and name – from selling cheeseburgers, and is now retired.
Servant (Brian Cox) is bored – so when the chance to stand for election to parliament comes to pass, he’s straight away into the fray, thus setting the premise for this six-parter.
Bob Servant Independent is one of those comedies where you find yourself wondering if the joke is actually on you at first. Is this really funny? And, after 10 minutes, the answer could easily be ‘no.’
Fifteen minutes in, however, and you start to understand the subtleties of the key characters, which in turn makes the absurd comments and conversations all the more amusing.
At first, it felt like The Thick Of It at the blunt end of politics – local people doing local politics. But in terms of character construction, it’s more Alan Partridge gone north.
Servant isn’t aware of how absurd he is, and in sidekick Frank (Jonathan Watson), he has someone who always tells him what he wants to hear – as Partridge did too.
There’s even a barman called Stewpot on hand to tee up a few jokes and situations, much like the Geordie handyman at the travel tavern in Norfolk.
That said, such comparisons took a fair bit of thought on my part – and came to me hours after watching it.
So by no means is this a rip-off of something else, it just calls on the same techniques as previous comedies but does it in a very different way – and adds more complexities into the mix too.
Partridge, for example, was always very hard to have empathy for. Cox, on the other hand, not only makes a fool of himself regularly, but does so in a way which makes you want him to do well.
To that end, why it’s lost on BBC4 is anyone’s guess. It deserves a better show – can I suggest the slots occupied by Mrs Brown’s Boys on BBC1? Please?
What I’ll be watching next week: Penguins: Spy In The Huddle (BBC1, 9pm, Mondays): Last in the series. The brilliant nature documentary which relied on remote controlled penguins to gain access to real penguins has been little short of stunning.