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Monday, 15 June 2015

MAN DOWN (TV 2015 - SERIES 2/ EPISODE 1: "PERFECT WOMAN") . . . Dirty, Desperate Dan finds a crazy kind of love - and a cure for his swollen prostate! S@TB verdict: "Perfect subversion . . " // Featuring the dirtiest conga dance ever witnessed on the small screen!


The latest episode of the Greg Davies-starring, best British comedy series on TV (that, a few decades ago, would have been put down - literally - by Mary Whitehouse . . ) finds a plump middle-aged man fall in love with a much younger woman . . it can only end in tears all round. Or something even wetter - and worse!

The hugely addictive, if low-key and indescribably silly, first series of the Greg (Inbetweeners) Davies scripted and starring (as "desperate" Dan - a lovestruck, hapless "teacher") Channel 4 comedy series Man Down, was pretty subversive. It also had - running through the surreal anarchy - a vein of pathos that at times became arterial. It's also best remembered, perhaps, for a co-starring (if brief, but undeniably dominant) role for ex-Young One Rik Mayall, who appeared as Dan's psychotic dad. Psychotic being the right word - most episodes Mayall's pervy patriarch would ambush his son in the street and try his best to beat him up. Well - it's better than telling him to do the dishes or pay the rent . . 


The legendary Mayall sadly died (and as "Young One" Vyvyan might say - bastard!) before the second series. His character was written out in a rather fine way by having his son have to earn the legacy of a home to inherit by participating in sing for his supper-style really hungry games at the farmhouse retreat of his barmy aunt - Nesta (played by Stephanie Cole OBE - yes, that's OBE! - adding a touch of sheer, if slightly sinister, class to the whole filthy thing).

Mayall's presence was expected to be missed in Series 2 of Man Down, and while it is, there are enough crazy, but lovingly-scripted characters remaining to keep this chugging boat nicely upright. In fact, the first episode of Season 2, has seen the show reach new heights of low. And perfect subversion. In fact - I don't think I've ever seen an episode of TV comedy that stretches good taste quite so tautly and mixes a sense of real horror with the comedy in such a perfect, unholy marriage of mayhem.



Dan's found love with a much younger (than he is) woman, called Lottie (Sara Vickers) with a quiet smile and sensible (if kooky) demeanor. They meet in a library (she's looking at a book called "England's Prettiest Market Towns" and he asks her out on a date in a fitness centre (having been told by the instructor that he's gone past the "able to be helped" stage). Over a pint of wine (necked back in one go) at the local bistro, it's all getting very "Annie Hall" - but boozy British  willy joke style!

While Dan is constantly worried about his expanding waistline (and Davies is more than happy to bare all for his art in showing us just how expanding) it doesn't seem to bother Jessica, who still follows him around like a loyal, giggly puppy. The sight of Dan in a two sizes too small Shed Seven t-shirt doesn't even put her off. Dan's mum (played by Grange Hill veteran - remember Mrs McClusky? - Gwyneth Powell) and Aunt Nesta (who has now moved in with them all) only encourage Dan's new youthful, teenage kicks by . . dying his hair a spivvy jet black. Nice . . ! 


Of course, all Dan's friends (well - the slightly weird Jo and Brian) and staff room colleagues (mostly as rabidly deranged as he is) as well as his entire class at school mock his new found love and forced shedding (even Shed Sevenning) of the years. His sceptical pupils include Karen - a snide, foul-mouthed girl with a sly wit, played by Madeleine Harris (Judy in the recent, brilliant, big screen Paddington outing).

The role of Karen is inspired - a continuing standout performance from the young actress - bringing both touching affection and clear disdain (and nemesis-like baiting) towards her clumsy, hopeless class teacher. In a way - she also appears to be the only one who gets the man, even when he's down (every episode in fact) despite being the most vocal in her ridicule. Does she feel sorry for him - protective? In the same way - it struck me - as Captain Mainwaring felt, towards stupid boy Pike, in BBC wartime sitcom Dad's Army. You could see it through Mainwaring's eyes, in some episodes; that protection - mixed with equal pity and some genuine spite.
Meanwhile, mostly oblivious to the mounting chaos of Dan's loved-up status, "sensible best friend" Brian (Mike Wozniak) has discovered - to his horror - that his family tree reveals a legacy of refuge collecting, and decides to embrace that legacy by taking up a new career on the trucks. He does so is as refined, and as culturally significant a way as possible - much to the bemusement of the grittier, harder-working team he is emptying out the bins with.

Direction, it should be mentioned here, from Al Campbell (Screenwipe/ Newswipe) is inspired in its creative set-ups for shots and just as suited to a movie feature as it is to a comedy show off the telly - one moment framing cast through a luminous cocktail glass, the next having characters fade in and out of focus from interior to exterior shots as a dustcart illuminates the quiet night with a wonderfully vibrant reverse light, street light and headlight haze . .   

But this episode is owned by Dan and Lottie's blossoming romance (two characters who should have met on a pay-per-view porn site for the criminally insane and socially unstable, instead of the - huh? - local library).  OK - just Dan then. Because Lottie does seem rather nice, and strangely attractive, despite her rather prissy, bashful appearance. What does she see in him? It reminds me of another Dad's Army moment - Mrs Fox's upcoming marriage to local butcher Corporal Jones in the very last episode and the famous, terrifyingly sad quote from Jones (Clive Dunn): "Is Mrs Fox in love with me for myself, or is she in love with me for my meat?"

The "Perfect Woman" of Dan's dreams, may well be the perfect cure for his middle-aged crisis involving an unruly prostate. In a standout sequence, Dan visits his chuckling, wisecracking GP Dr Baxter (Michael Cochrane) to discuss his prostate problems and never has the offer of a physical examination been a more terrifying threat than it is here.

But there's more revolting moments to - ahem - come. A laugh-out-loud scene set in a nightclub with Dan (acting young) and Lottie (not needing to act) meeting up with best friend Jo (Roisin Conaty - whose latest trick is to turn up at places of work without being invited and join the staff rota on spec; so here she's mixing cocktails behind the bar!) ends with a conga from hell.

Small spurts of comedy juice and inspired ideas splash across the Man Down half hour runtime in an almost flippant way, but only showing how increasingly inspired and confident this show has become. Dan struggles to keep up with the hip young crowd of course, but even worse, upon starting up an old-school conga for the sceptical young clubbers, the dreaded prostate meds kick in and he has to find a urinal - bloody quick!

The conga goes in and out (of the toilet) waiting for Dan to shake it all about and is probably one of the funniest, crudest comedy scenes I think I've seen on TV - maybe ever. The payoff is drop dead brilliant - but you ain't seen nothing yet. The next scene has Lottie reveal something to Dan that she hasn't revealed before (in a rather dramatic and horrific twist that allows the hilarity to get a bit more serious). A final "money shot" involving Dan's mother and aunt walking in on him in bed the morning after (and a gag involving a tried and tested method of contraception) is sheer dirty-minded stuff (and jaw-dropping for TV) - and wrong. So very, very, wrong . .
So Series 2/ Episode 1 of Man Down: "Perfect Woman" ends - suitably - on a quip about the joys of a swollen prostrate that sends you away pretty numbed, if happy with the ending. You just don't get TV like this very often; TV that pushes limits as far - and in such a polite way. The natural charisma (and obvious niceness) of Greg Davies, and his character of clumsy, Dan (that I like to imagine may not be too far removed from the actor himself) will allow you to forgive just about anything - in the same way Python got away with so much or how The League of Gentlemen did much the same (riffing not so much on institutions, as Python did - but almost exclusively on the horror  genre). It's the art of being so nice about being so offensive. And that, of course - is the secret of how to be properly subversive when seen on TV!

Dirty minded thoughts: Mark Gordon Palmer

Directed by: Al Campbell
Written by: Greg Davies, Sian Harries, Stephen Morrison
Produced by: Spencer Millman

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