Saturday, February 16, 2008

Never Better

I just thought I'd repost my TVScoop post about Never Better here, as I want to spread the love a little bit...

Why I Love... Never Better

Yes that's right, I *love* Never Better. That apparently insignifcant half hour of telly that you may or may not endure Little Miss Jocelyn to get to. Everything I read about it seems to assume that everybody agrees that it's slow, inconsequential and underwhelming. Well you know what? I really don't agree. When I said in my review of the second episode that it was better than its nearest equivalent show on TV, Lead Balloon, I was merely talking in degrees. But I was wrong - it is much, much better. Streets ahead, in fact.

Lead Balloon, we hear, is coming back for a third series, probably in the Autumn, but I'm concerned that the lack of 'buzz' around Never Better will mean that it doesn't even get the chance to return for a second. That's why I'm nailing my colours to the mast now, and saying, unashamedly, that I love this comedy, and that I really want to see more of it.

I'll agree that the series started off in a way didn't immediately grab you - we didn't know why the main character Keith had been drinking, for a start, and at the time things like that mattered, because you felt you wanted to get a handle on where you were. But when Stephen Mangan said in our interview that "[Alcoholics Anonymous is] just a good setting to put this character into because he's dealing with a lot of people who have a lot to lose" you realised that *that* was in fact more the point.

Each week, Keith has come into contact with people who have had the same problems as he has - and often much worse - and for one reason or another, he has often affected how they continue with their battle against alcohol addiction. It's important that while he habitually says the wrong thing at AA meetings, he's actually usually saying something that everyone else is thinking - the problem is that he doesn't have the same filter between his mind and his mouth.It does mean, however, that people are rather drawn to him, in a moth to the flame kinda way, not realising that Keith's having just as much trouble being sober as they are. But fundamentally he's a kind soul, and we've seen him genuinely trying to help his fellow AA members. That he often fails, and that one of them ends up dead is entirely beside the point - he's a good man. A good man who makes bad decisions for good reasons.

It's not just Keith's character, and Mangan's wonderful performance, that makes this such an enjoyable show, however - the script is absolutely top class. Each episode ended with different strands of the plot coming together in one final, usually laugh-out-loud gag, and you can tell that every single word means something. Often the jokes were so subtle, and the word-play so intricate that I've no doubt that I've missed a lot from just a single viewing of each episode, and that makes me eager to watch them again. The writer, Fintan Ryan, deserves a hearty slap on the back for this.

He also deserves the same for giving the series as a whole real structure. At first, it seemed quite acceptable that AA leader Doug wass short with Keith, because, as I've said, he often comes out with things that most of us would keep to ourselves. But as we learn more about Keith, find that he's essentially a good man, and realise that he's generally spot on in what he says, so too does Ryan allow us to see that Doug is actually a bit of an idiot who thrives on being looked up to by his members, who can't accept that he's ever wrong, and who has rather unfairly taken against Keith. As our affection for the main character grew, and as we came to the end of the brief series, I began to trust that Ryan would give us the positive pay-off I said I wanted. He left it late, but when Keith got stabbed while standing up for his wife... well you couldn't help but feel rather proud.

Every week I have looked forward to this show, and I have never been let down. Not only did it make me laugh out loud, I was also constantly impressed by the dexterity of the script, and actually felt something for Mangan's character. Others may be underwhelmed by this, but I think it's something of a low-key triumph.

No comments: