The opening salvo in the BBC’s landmark Sitcom Season sees Benidorm creator Derren Litten take on Croft and Lloyd’s department store classic Are You Being Served?, with a new episode set just a few years after the original closed its doors.
Right from the start, you can tell that this is a revival written very much with the original in mind. The dated but still funny innuendo is there in spades, and it’s still a relatively gentle and easy going sitcom that relies on character interactions in a limited setting rather than elaborate set-pieces or shock humour.
Despite this, at times the episode feels at pains to reinforce that this is a continuation set in the late ‘80s, with Mathew Horne’s Young Mr Grace being a swaggering Thatcherite businessman determined to bring Grace Brothers into the 20th Century, and floor manager Mr Rumbold (Justin Edwards) battling with an Amstrad computer.
The episode rattles along perfectly well elsewhere since Are You Being Served? is intrinsically character-based and not rooted in any one time period.
It does feel a little aimless sometimes with no real story, and an overall structure that feels more like the set-up for a full series than a one-off episode. It also, at times, feels very self-aware with Mrs Slocombe’s pussy being used far too much for an easy laugh (and yes, that was deliberate), and the last line being a pretty cringe-worthy “Are you being served?” from Kayode Ewumi’s Mr Conway.
Elsewhere, the casting is definitely one of the strong points but some of the cast seem a little limited in performing well-established roles that have been a part of British comedy for over four decades. But this is something that was going to happen regardless of who was cast and isn’t a reflection on the actors in question, who acquit themselves very well.
The real standouts are Jason Watkins as Mr Humphries and Roy Barraclough as elderly Mr Grainger. Watkins in particular slots into his role very well and comes across as being able to put more of himself into the role than some of the other cast and isn’t so much an imitation of his predecessor John Inman.
Despite its flaws, this is an undemanding piece of television that has a clear understanding and appreciation of the original (right down to using the original typeface and theme tune), and manages to pay tribute to it while maintaining some originality.
It’s by no means a five star laugh riot, but it does the job and feels like it could comfortably stretch to a six episode run at some point.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 28 August 2016 on BBC One.