This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 15 April 2017.
PETER KAY’S CAR SHARE: Tuesday, BBC One
BUCKET: Thursday, BBC Four
Like a great phoenix night rising from the ashes of obsolescence, the artistic rebirth of Peter Kay has been something to behold.
Despite his continued draw as a stand-up, his reputation as a great observational character comedian had become tarnished – seemingly forever – by years of cynically repackaged DVDs, slapdash memoirs, self-serving chat show appearances and turkeys such as Max & Paddy’s Road to Nowhere and that mirthless X Factor parody.
Even previously loyal fans had begun to regard him as a lazy sell-out.
But then – as Adam Curtis would say – something happened that nobody expected. In 2015, Kay returned with two delightful hit comedies.
In Danny Baker’s Cradle to Grave, he focused solely on acting to marvellous effect. Even more impressively, the BAFTA-winning PETER KAY’S CAR SHARE proved that Kay could still co-create a warm, rich, laugh-out-loud sitcom.
Any concerns that he couldn’t sustain this comeback were cheerfully vanquished by Car Share’s return. It’s just as charming and funny as before.
Picking up where series one left off, it gently toyed with the burgeoning romance between bumptious supermarket manager John (Kay) and his sweetly daft, naïve employee Kayleigh (Sian Gibson, who co-writes with Kay and Paul Coleman).
Though set almost entirely within the confines of John’s car, the series occasionally finds new wrinkles in its premise. So, John and Keyleigh spent most of episode one chatting via phone on their respective journeys to work. These subtle difference are seismic in Car Share’s little world.
Kayleigh’s new digs might’ve scuppered their old routine, but they clearly can’t live without their daily conversations.
John was reticent to admit that his heart was lifted by Kayleigh’s gift of a Now 48 CD – only Kay could derive cockle-warming mileage from Pure and Simple by Hear’Say – but that didn’t dent their natural chemistry. It was like being reunited with two old friends.
And that’s the modest magic of Car Share, it’s a pure and simple comedy about two likeable characters shooting the breeze.
Even the broader sitcom twist of John’s altercation with a belligerent cyclist going viral on YouTube didn’t feel out of place, as it supported the show’s basic humanity: in its unfussy way, it showed how innocent people can become internet villains/laughing stocks by being subjected to duplicitous editing.
If Kay and Gibson make it look easy, new sitcom BUCKET proves just how hard it is to get laughs from two people talking almost uninterrupted.
Writer Frog Stone co-stars as Fran, the reserved, virginal daughter of Mim, a septuagenarian free-spirited hippie played by Miriam Margolyes, an actress upon whom the euphemistic terms “irrepressible” and “redoubtable” are permanently affixed like warning signs.
Their dysfunctional relationship is driven by one joke, hammered into the ground: Mim won’t stop talking frankly about sex, much to Fran’s understandable exasperation.
Old women saying “hilariously” inappropriate things is one of the laziest comedy clichés, but I suppose we should be grateful that she didn’t get high or do a rap. Not yet anyway.
Another insurmountable problem: their nasty bickering is depressing, and no amount of laboured, unconvincing, last-minute pathos can atone for that.
I’m all for black comedy, but Bucket reminded me of how much Steptoe and Son made us care about those characters, even when they were behaving despicably to each other.
We’re supposed to find Mim charmingly eccentric, but she just comes across as an unbearable nuisance. Bucket is inept, a clumsy stab at rude, broad comedy with delusions of depth.