Reviews

TV Review – The Bridge

The Bridge - close-up
The Bridge Trilogy (but there is a fourth series!)

Introduction

Writing this review is difficult for two reasons. One: I’ve just watched the final episode of The Bridge series 4, and although we are in a golden age of television, I’m a little sad that I may never watch a show this good again. It’s a bold statement, but I’ll come back to this point later in the review. The second thing that makes this review difficult is how best to capture the show’s brilliance and excitement without spoiling it for potential viewers.

The Bridge is a Scandinavian drama that focuses on police departments from Copenhagen and Malmo as they collaborate on a series of murder investigations. It’s an indication of how good the concept and storyline are that it has been remade several times for US, British (as The Tunnel), German, Russian and Asian TV. However, having watched the original, I don’t think that I could bring myself to watch the others. This is not to disparage the remakes, as I’m sure that they are good shows that have their own strengths, but after watching four series of brilliant performances by the actors in the Swedish-Danish original, I’d be forever comparing with the original (and probably complaining about the remakes!)

Series One

The opening scenes of the first series explain the title of the show. The Øresund Bridge links the Swedish city of Malmö with the Danish capital, Copenhagen. When a body is found on the bridge – sliced in half at the waist and positioned so that each half lies on either side of the Sweden-Denmark border – both the Danish and Swedish police must be involved in the investigation. Saga Norén from the Malmo police department (played by Sofia Helin) and her Danish counterpart Martin Rohde (played by Kim Bodnia) meet on the bridge when the body is discovered, and this is the start of both the investigation and an intriguing working relationship between the two.

Martin comes across as amiable, but it’s quickly clear that Saga is socially awkward. Her forthright conversation astounds Martin, particular when it comes to questions about his private life and Saga’s brutal assessment of the situation. Despite this awkward start, it works because Martin somehow gets Saga, eventually warming to her outwardly cold, yet unique personality. Saga is also supported by her boss, Hans. As the series progresses, it is clear that Hans is a father-figure for Saga, often willing to take her aside for a quiet chat or relax procedure in order to get the best out of his star detective, accommodating her social inadequacies. We are also introduced to John, the IT specialist with the Malmö police, whose job it is to track mobile calls and scan CCTV footage; Jair, the pathologist in Malmo, with whom Saga appears to share a good working relationship based on her willingness to learn more about the science of his job; and Lillian, the head of police in Copenhagen.

Working together, the Danish and Swedish teams make good progress on the case. The killer phones a local journalist, using him to spread the message that he, the killer, is trying to highlight various social problems. But as the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that there is a more personal motive behind the crimes.

Like the three series that follow, series one of The Bridge is a superb piece of standalone television. It tells the story of a murder investigation from day one, right up to the shocking conclusion. The fascinating characters give the show a depth that is as good as any show that I’ve ever seen. Outstanding performances from Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia, and the unique chemistry that they bring to the screen, make this a must-watch.

When the series finishes, you’re left with the impression that you’ve just witnessed one of the best TV shows; that it’s a lightning-in-a-bottle moment that the makers would do well to even get close to again. And then you watch the second series.

Series Two

As previously noted, the second series tells its own complete story, but the events of the previous series continue to shape what happens in the lives of Saga and Martin. Once again, we have a killer who seems hell-bent on proving a point. The police teams are fleshed out by Danish detective, Pernille, who becomes friendly with Martin, and Rasmus, a cocky young Swedish detective whose determination to succeed sees him prefer to act on impulse as opposed to following the rules. Both the new characters have significant roles as the series leads to a conclusion that is at once satisfying and devastating.

Series Three

So, that’s two series gone, and you start to experience the same feelings that you had at the end of the first. Surely, they’ve set the bar so high with the climax of series two that they should just stop. Well, my friends, gather in close for series three, because it’s a humdinger in which the events in Saga’s life that have been boiling away in the background start to affect her in significant ways. Naturally, there is another killer trying to get his message across via a series of bizarre killings and if watching Saga’s personal struggles as the police try to solve the latest crimes was all that series three offered, it would still have been a worthwhile endeavour. But that’s not all as we are introduced to The Bridge’s third major character: Henrik Sabroe.

Early in proceedings, Danish detective Henrik asks his boss, Lillian, if she will send him to Malmö to help the Swedish police crack the case. As you watch the early episodes, you’re going to be asking yourself a lot of questions as the pill-popping Henrik coolly talks to his wife before heading out into the Copenhagen night to meet other women. Once in Sweden, he asks Saga for help with an old case that he’s been working on, and as his backstory is slowly revealed over the first half of the series, it’s compelling television. For me, Thure Lindhardt’s performance as Henrik is one of the highlights of the series. He plays the role with a wonderful balance of aggression and humility, making the viewer totally buy into his story. He works well with Saga, encouraging her when she needs help but isn’t above poking fun at her – calling her “Wikipedia” when she quotes some fact at him. Also in this series, Hans and Lillian get their own story, and IT specialist John gets a nice little personal connection to the investigation.

Series Four

The final eight-episode series is every bit as good as what has gone before, and in some ways is a continuation of the previous series. As Saga helps the Danish police track down yet another killer with a grudge, the major story arcs are given a satisfying conclusion and if it feels like you’ve lived every minute of Saga’s trials and tribulations through all of the thirty-eight episodes, it’s hard not to have a lump in your throat for that final scene on the bridge. Her closing words are a stroke of genius from the show’s creator and writer, Hans Rosenfeldt.

Analysis

I’ve specifically not talked about the plots and killers in too much detail so as to avoid any spoilers, but rest assured, in each case, there is a dazzling array of characters that will keep you guessing as the police come up against lots of dead ends and red herrings. One of the show’s many strengths is how characters are fed seamlessly into the mix, quickly engaging you in the plot of their daily lives whilst wondering how, and if, they are connected to the wider story that is unfolding. Things that may seem significant often peter out whilst the reverse is also true, so keep your eyes peeled!

Not only are the writing and performances top-notch, but the production team bring a lot of style to the show. For the most part, the show is filmed in the city at night, although there is the odd excursion into rural fringes. The camera shows us modern cityscapes that appear to be in the permanent grip of autumn, a beautiful combination of Scandinavian grim and cool. There are plenty of drone shots of the city from up above, including the majestic Øresund Bridge itself. Then there is the theme song, “Hollow Talk” by Danish band Choir of Young Believers. The theme sets the tone and follows the pre-credits sequence at the start of each episode. An instrumental section reappears at the end of the episode, rising to a crescendo as, more often than not, the characters make some startling discovery that makes us re-think what we’ve seen or become excited at what this means for the next episode.

In watching The Bridge, I’ve noticed that the police officers are portrayed as normal people, dealing with many problems that, at least some of the time, regular people will be able to empathise with. However, the killers are played out more like caricatures. Although the reasons for their killing sprees are grounded in reasonable grudges, the murders are exaggerated, and the murder scenes themselves often staged, presented as artistic tableaus with some message for the police to figure out. It’s another quirk that gives the show its unique look and feel.

No overview of The Bridge would be complete without making specific reference to Sofia Helin’s performance as Saga. This must feel like the role of a lifetime to the Swedish actress. She’s playing a character suffering from a chronic social issue, and more often than not, this is written across her face. She rarely smiles across the four series, often wearing a puzzled look or fixing her features in a permanent mask of confusion or concentration. I wonder if she often went home with a headache after filming. As her story arc progresses, she brings the required level of emotion to the role, making us believe in Saga’s problems. Whilst it’s just one of the many outstanding aspects of The Bridge, there’s no doubt that it’s her show.

So, let’s get to the nub of what may be a problem for many British viewers: this is a show presented in the native languages with English subtitles. I used to have the view that I couldn’t be bothered spending my time reading subtitles, but once I watched a few films, I found that it became an automatic process, and in some ways, enhanced the experience because you were constantly focussed on the plot and what the characters were saying. The fourth and final series of The Bridge was shown last year on the BBC – the reason that I’ve taken so long to get around to watching it was that I persuaded my wife – a previous subtitle-avoider – to give it a try. “Just watch a few episodes of the first series, and see what you think,” I’d said. Naturally, she was already hooked by the end of the first episode! For various reasons – nothing to do with lack of interest – we watched the first three series over the last twelve months or so, and so I was only in a position for the grand finale recently.

Basically, what I’m saying here is that if you only ever watch one subtitled film or TV series, make sure it’s the first episode of The Bridge. I’m willing to bet that you’ll be hooked.

Final Thoughts

At the start of this article, I made some comment about being sad that I may never watch a show this good again. Each series of The Bridge was consistently excellent, and whilst there are other shows that you can say this about, I’ve not seen one where the characters are so complex yet compelling, having you emotionally invested not only in the murder case but their lives as well. Totally different type of show but Game of Thrones, for example, is a show that I love: it is consistently good across its entire span of episodes, has stupendous production values but doesn’t have me feeling the same way about the characters that The Bridge does.

Again, a different show, but since 2001, I’ve always thought of Band of Brothers as the high watermark in television – a true story that got you to engage with the characters and also had the production values of a mega-budget film. The fact that I’ve mentioned The Bridge in the same breath as these other two excellent shows demonstrates how highly I rate it. Whisper it quietly, but series 1-4 of The Bridge, a subtitled Scandinavian police drama, may be the greatest TV series ever made.

Rob Campbell is the author of “Monkey Arkwright” and “Black Hearts Rising”, part of a mystery series that will appeal to fans of 80s films such as “Stand By Me” and “The Goonies”, where people stumble across strange things in the woods or uncover dark secrets hidden in the abandoned places around a small town.

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Reviews

Album Review: The Unseen In Between – Steve Gunn

The Unseen In between

Although he has been releasing music for over a decade, I’ve never had the pleasure of listening to a Steve Gunn album. However, after hearing his latest offering, The Unseen In Between, I can confidently state that I’m looking forward to exploring his back catalogue. A quick search reveals that his resume includes several solo albums, collaborations and for a short time, he was a member of Kurt Vile’s band. Gunn is an American singer-guitarist whose music has been said to have a sensibility that echoes the sound of English singer-songwriters, despite the fact that he hails from Philadelphia.

This is a wonderful album that grabbed me from the opening song, “New Moon”. Like every song that follows, the production is top-notch, with vocals and guitars nicely balanced so that one doesn’t overpower the other, and there’s just enough colour provided by other instruments to fill out the sound. Gunn is a competent rather than outstanding singer, but his stream of consciousness lyrics backed by mesmeric guitar patterns elevate the songs on this album.

Although the album is a mere nine songs long, two-thirds of the tracks run longer than five minutes, and there’s not a weak link to be found. One of the strengths of the album is that longer songs allow Gunn to stretch out with arrangements that invite the listener to become immersed in the unfolding sound, but they’re not so long that they become boring or self-indulgent. Being able to find this balance is a skill in itself.

“Vagabond” is a chipper little number that features lyrics about being “camped up in a graveyard / Took a job to clean some tombstones”. This is as close as you’ll get to a commercial-sounding song, and enjoyable though it is, the real gems are the contemplative laid-back folk-rock songs at the core of the album. “Stonehurst Cowboy”, a tribute to his late father, featuring lyrics that recall his time in Vietnam, is a strong contender for best song on the album. However, it has several rivals. That Steve Gunn is a superb guitar player is obvious, but he’s rarely flashy, often favouring a fingerpicking style on both electric and acoustic guitars, and it’s always in service of the song. “New Familiar” features hypnotic picking that loops for most of the running time before the sublime solo brings the song to a close. “Lightning Field” takes its inspiration from an art installation featuring 400 metal rods in the ground in a field in New Mexico, and like “New Familiar” closes with the guitars letting loose in the coda.

This is followed by the deceptively simple but beautifully played meditation of “Morning is Mended” before the closing track “Paranoid”, which is reminiscent of Pink Floyd. Folk-rock with a little psychedelia thrown into the mix is about as close as you’ll get to pigeonholing this superbly crafted album. As with all the best albums, The Unseen In Between rewards repeat plays as its little melodies keep appearing in your mind throughout the day, drawing you back to the record for more. It’s early in 2019, but I feel sure that this will feature high on my end-of-year list of best albums. Don’t be surprised to see it appear in the lists of some heavyweight music magazines and blogs either.

Rob Campbell is the author of “Monkey Arkwright” and “Black Hearts Rising”, part of a mystery series that will appeal to fans of 80s films such as “Stand By Me” and “The Goonies”, where people stumble across strange things in the woods or uncover dark secrets hidden in the abandoned places around a small town.

Reviews, Writing

New Monkey Arkwright Review

Monkey Arkwright Cover

One of my three targets when I launched Monkey Arkwright has been realised today – a blogger has reviewed my book, and even better, she liked it!

I don’t just e-mail every blogger in existence. I like to do a bit of research before sending off a polite request to those that I feel would be interested in reading a Young Adult mystery. Most of my requests have fallen in deaf ears, although last year, Lorna over at The Writing Greyhound was kind enough to feature me in a Q & A on her blog.

A few weeks ago, Michelle from Curled up with a good book agreed to review Monkey Arkwright, and today she’s made good on that promise. To say that I’m pleased with the review would be an understatement. It’s a great feeling when somebody provides feedback on your work, and of course, even better when they love it. The fact that she’s specifically mentioned that she’d be interested in reviewing book #2, Black Hearts Rising, when it’s ready, is a massive bonus.

When you’re an indie author, writing is the easy part; getting people to read your work can be a real slog. I’m sure I’m not the only author who feels this way, but I truly appreciate the efforts of bloggers like Michelle and Lorna in giving indie books that chance, however small, to reach a wider audience.

You can read the review here.

Reviews

TV Review – Killing Eve

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One evening, a few weeks ago, I was about to load up Netflix in search of my next TV series to watch. Then a friend told me how much he had been enjoying a great series on BBC Three. So, instead of Netflix, I fired up the BBC iPlayer and launched into Killing Eve.

Sandra Oh plays the titular Eve Polastri in the show, which is adapted from Luke Jennings’ Codename Villanelle series of novellas. Eve is an MI5 officer who spends all her time behind her desk, but when a ruthless assassin begins to carve her way across Europe, Eve builds a dossier on the case and quickly comes to the attention of MI6 section head, Carolyn Martens (played by Fiona Shaw). Carolyn convinces Eve that she should join her at MI6 in an unofficial capacity, and soon they have put together a team that includes Elena (Eve’s assistant), Bill (a colleague from MI5) and the youthful Kenny (an ex-hacker).

Meanwhile, the viewer knows exactly who the killer is. We see Villanelle, a psychopathic Russian assassin (played by Jodie Comer in what may be the performance of a lifetime), as she makes her kills in Vienna, Berlin, Tuscany and other glamorous locations throughout Europe. Each assignment is handed to her in code by her handler, Konstantin (played by Danish actor, Kim Bodnia – best known for his role as Martin in The Bridge). As the series progresses, Eve and Villanelle develop a mutal respect and obsession for each other.

Killing Eve is terrific television. Most spy films or series fall into one of two camps: they’re either packed with spectacular stunts and thrilling action, like the James Bond or Mission Impossible films, or they go for the gritty and realistic angle like John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. But Killing Eve doesn’t fit either of these templates. With its poor tradecraft and botched assassinations, it can hardly be taken as a serious espionage thriller (although events in the UK earlier this year may suggest otherwise) and yet most of the characters play it straight, like their life depended on it, which in some cases is true. Bloody and horrific things happen, yet at the same time, the series doesn’t take itself too seriously, particularly when there are some downright unrealistic scenes for the genre.

Despite this refusal to be pigeon-holed, or perhaps because of it, Killing Eve is one of the most watchable British series for years. The main reason for this is the extraordinary performance of Jodie Comer as Villanelle. Whilst Sandra Oh is fine in her role of Eve, the former desk-bound agent who has to balance her home life – leaving her husband wondering whether his wife will return home safely – with her new assignment of chasing down a ruthless assassin, it’s Comer’s portrayal that catches the eye. In one scene-stealing performance after another, Villanelle effortlessly switches tack from the pouting girl who just wants to be loved to cold-hearted killer, in the blink of an eye, with many subtle variations in between. Equally impressive is Comer’s range of accents – Russian, French and when on assignment in a rural UK location, a fine cut-glass British accent (but then again, she is from these shores).

The script is whip-smart throughout, providing many memorable moments and some great dialogue between the characters, often when Villanelle is ready to dispatch one of her victims. When she throws a party for Konstantin, she appears dressed as him, complete with a false beard! In an early scene, a superior is worried that she is cracking under the pressure, and she hams this up, causing both he and Konstantin to feel sympathy for her. She turns up to the interview in a pink ballet dress and acts likes she’s falling apart only to turn the situation on its head by laughing in their faces. Throughout the series, her comedic chemistry with Kim Bodnia’s Konstantin is evident.

I have to admit that during the first episode, I found the overuse of music a tad distracting but as the series wore on, it settled nicely into a groove and it ending up being an integral part of the series in my eyes (I mean ears). When one of the characters runs down a picturesque jetty to make his escape in a speedboat, the music rises in the background, and you find the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end – it’s all reminiscent of Miami Vice except this time the action plays out on a Russian lake.
The series is not perfect: I didn’t find the ending wholly satisfactory, and there are some strands of the plot that weren’t explored as much as I’d have liked. But if there are little niggles with the series as a whole, Jodie Comer’s performance is flawless, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she is the recipient of some prestigious awards over the coming months. Given that Killing Eve has been renewed for a second season, I’m prepared to give the makers the benefit-of-the-doubt and can’t wait to see what they serve up next. In the meantime, if you haven’t watched this entertaining series, dig in via the iPlayer.

My favourites, Reviews

Album Review – “Out of the Silence” by Dare (1988)

DARE
My CD copy of the original “Out of the Silence”

A true story of my time at hospital radio, Lancashire’s answer to Bon Jovi and the early days of physicist Brian Cox.

Sometimes, listening to a song or an album just brings it all back.

This week, I have been listening to an album that was released 30 years ago, and although I don’t play it as often as I should, this record means a lot to me. This year, rock band Dare have recently re-recorded their debut, Out of the Silence (for reasons I’ll go into later) and released it as Out of the Silence II.  In addition to being a review of the original album, this article is the story of how I first discovered that album because it wasn’t via the usual heard-it-on-the-radio / read-about-it-in-a-magazine route.

Back when I was at university, I used to do volunteer work for Oldham’s hospital radio station, Radio Cavell. In addition to walking the halls of the hospital, visiting wards, talking to patients and taking their requests, I got to present shows on the radio. One day, I went down the stone steps that led to the underground studio to discover that a signed copy of a new album by the band Dare had been left by the turntable. Five moody guys photographed against the backdrop of a wintry looking reservoir stared back at me from the cover and at this point, I didn’t have a clue who the band was or why the album had been left in the studio.

The odd thing about this album was that it had been signed by the band. This sort of thing doesn’t normally happen at a small provincial hospital radio station. Whilst I was killing time before a show that night, I put the vinyl on the turntable and rather than playing it from the start, I dropped the needle on track 2, “Into the Fire”. The bizarre logic behind this decision was that Bryan Adams had released an album of the same name the year before (his last decent album if you ask me, but that’s another story). Suffice to say that I wasn’t expecting much, but what I heard blew me away. A perfect piece of keyboard-driven melodic rock. Playing a few more of the songs, I could hear that this was right up my street. I ended up playing a few songs from the album on my hospital radio shows. Who knows – I may have been one of the first DJs to play Dare!

After a few questions to other members, the reason for a signed copy of the album became clear: Dare was a local band and if I remember correctly, one of their partners was currently in hospital (I never found out if this last bit was true).

A bit more investigation and scouring the music magazines of the time (remember kids, this was way before the internet) revealed that the band was led by Mancunian Darren Wharton, ex-keyboard player with legendary rockers Thin Lizzy, who had teamed up with local guitarist Vinny Burns to form Oldham’s answer to Bon Jovi. Unbelievably, given the trajectory that his career has taken since, the keyboard player with this outfit was one Brian Cox – yes, the Brian Cox, better known these days a physicist and TV star!

I’ve waffled on enough now about how I discovered the band and where they were from, so what about the music? Well, the opening salvo of “Abandon” and “Into the Fire” is an incredibly strong start to an album that doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses. Guitars blaze, keyboards swirl and Darren Wharton’s raspy vocals set the tone perfectly. I remember thinking at the time that the rock songs I was hearing were every bit as good as those by other outfits who were some of the biggest bands in the world at the time (Bon Jovi, Van Halen, plus a whole host of US bands, Swedish rockers Europe, Yorkshire’s Def Leppard etc.)

For me, the thematic core and heart of the album runs from tracks 5 to 7. Even now, “Under the Sun” conjures up such an emotional feeling. Vinny Burns’ stunning guitar paints a desolate picture, sounding like something unleashed from a Pink Floyd record. With its moody keyboard textures, it’s a perfect example of a slow-build song that explodes into life with crunching guitars and Wharton’s powerful voice. An epic in every sense of the word.

Next up is “The Raindance”, a joyous celebration of a song that features a jaunty keyboard motif. I love the lyrics here: “There will always be tomorrow / There will be another day / And our hearts will still be singing / And the sound will show the way” and when the background vocals kick in during the third verse and chorus, it’s truly uplifting.

Track 7, “Kind of Spades” is a tribute to the late Thin Lizzy legend Phil Lynott, who had died two years earlier. On the new recording of the album, there is an extended coda to this song that really makes it shine, but of course, the original is still a fabulous and moving song.

The whole album is the perfect mix of rockers, ballads, poignant songs and brilliant moody atmosphere. Not bad for a band from Oldham / Manchester. Listening to a recent interview with Darren Wharton, he explains that the original recording Out of the Silence is owned by a record company that has no interest in promoting Dare, and whilst I still prefer the original recording, I can understand the band’s reasons for wanting a new version that gives them more control over its promotion and distribution.

Another thing I remember about Out of the Silence was that I had to wait until January 1989 to get hold of a CD copy – how times change! Later that year, Dare supported Europe at the Apollo Theatre in Manchester, and although it’s many years ago, I remember them putting on a fabulous and energetic show for the home town crowd.

I’m glad to report that Darren Wharton and Dare are still going strong, with guitarist Vinny Burns having returned to the fold. You can read more about the band here:-

https://www.darebandofficial.com/

 

Rob Campbell is the author of “Monkey Arkwright”, a mystery that will appeal to fans of 80s films such as “Stand By Me” and “The Goonies”, where people stumble across strange things in the woods or uncover dark secrets hidden in the abandoned places around a small town.

 

Reviews, Uncategorized

TV Review – Sick Of It

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Karl Pilkington’s radio/TV career goes back more than fifteen years, but he only came to my attention through the An Idiot Abroad series. There’s something wonderful about his plain-speaking laconic wit and delivery that makes him eminently watchable. It probably helps that, like me, he is a Mancunian who is more comfortable with the simpler things in life and dispenses downbeat views on anything and everything. He likes a good moan, does Karl, and he channels this moaning brilliantly in his various TV vehicles.

In his latest series, Sick Of It, on SkyOne / NowTV, which Karl co-wrote with director Richard Yee, he plays a fictional version of himself. He’s a taxi driver and having recently split up with his girlfriend, he is living with his Auntie Norma. But what’s this? A second version of Karl? Yes, that’s right, Karl also plays the uncensored voice in his head, the manifestation of which we see standing in a mirror behind the real Karl, loping along behind him or simply sitting in the passenger seat of his taxi. So as not to confuse the two, because obviously, they’re identical and are of a similar mind and disposition, the producers have decided to kit the inner Karl out in a beanie hat. Much of the comedy derives from the conversation between the two.

With that particular problem solved, we’re off into episode one, and it’s not a happy start for anybody involved. Karl wants to sell his old sofa because it brings back too many memories of life with his girlfriend, Zoe. But in classic sit-com style, he has managed to schedule delivery of the new sofa during his Uncle Vinnie’s wake! Without giving anything away, this is a nicely constructed episode that gets a lot of comic mileage out of a very simple premise.

In episode two, Karl is forced to visit a therapist following an angry outburst when his nerves have been frayed by a crying baby. But all is not as it seems, and in this case, there’s a nice twist near the end of the episode. The crying baby next door leads us to a perfect example of Karl’s humour. When his auntie reminds him that he split up with his girlfriend because she wanted a baby and he didn’t, Karl uses this as an opportunity to poke a hole in the oft-repeated logic about having a baby because there are so many people in the world who want a baby but can’t have one. “There are lots of one-armed people in the world,” he states, before asserting that he is not going to use this as a reason for taking up juggling. Classic Karl Pilkington.

In the third episode Karl decides to take a holiday somewhere quiet, but his need for solitude doesn’t go down well with the well-meaning locals, who try to get him involved in activities. To the shy and retiring Karl, this is like being in some hellish version of the Hi-de-Hi holiday camp. Worse, his accommodation is next door to a man who takes part in “scream therapy”.

During the early episodes, the viewer might wonder why Karl’s auntie has an American accent. Nothing is said on screen, and we just assume that it was an odd casting choice, but in episode four, Karl takes Norma on a trip to Eastbourne and as part of the backstory, we find out just exactly how Karl has an American auntie. The trip comes about because in a bout of spring-cleaning, Karl has managed to give away one of Norma’s cherished photos. It turns out that the photo had sentimental value and, unable to get it back, Karl tries to make amends by taking his auntie to Eastbourne to help her relive her past. This is a great episode, nicely balancing the sentimentalism of fading memory with more off-beat observations from Karl.

In episode five, Karl gets stuck in a traffic jam at a gay pride festival and ends up crossing paths with somebody from his past. The series concludes with an episode in which he combines twin searches: a date and a cure for constipation. This leads him to a Polish (I think, it could be Ukranian or Russian) party where he doesn’t understand a word anybody is saying, but he has fun as he gets roped into a game involving vodka shots and a spacehopper. Karl and his inner voice discuss the possibility that, unlike his earlier failed attempts at dating, it’s a positive experience because nobody can understand him and therefore he can’t upset them with his innocent, off-the-cuff, yet somehow offensive remarks.

It’s an odd idea for a TV series, but thanks to Karl’s portrayal of a man trying to move on with his life, constantly fighting the negativity of his inner voice, it works brilliantly. In the press for this series, Karl is quick to point out that there’s not much acting going on. That’s true – he’s just playing the same-old Karl that has been on our TV screens for the last few years. He also points out that this is not a laugh-filled half-hour in true sit-com style. He’s right again (the episodes are nearer the twenty-minute mark) and it’s a gentler humour, although there are some laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled throughout the series.

Focussed on the idea of loneliness and depression, and a middle-aged man going through hard times, it certainly isn’t a laugh-a-minute, but crucially, it is funny. And like much of the best TV, you find yourself nodding your ahead and saying “I know that feeling, mate” at regular intervals. Whether it’s annoying recorded voices on an answering machine, reassuring you that “your call is important to us”, large groups of people talking way too loud in a restaurant or people getting in your face when you just want to be left alone, a lot of what happens on-screen will strike a chord with viewers.

Sick Of It may not stretch Karl Pilkington’s acting skills, but in terms of his writing and delivery, he is on top-form here, and I can’t recommend this series highly enough (although Karl’s inner voice would probably downplay the whole affair by just saying something like “It’s not exactly Fawlty Towers, is it?”).