Springing from the successfulicious Radio 4 series Bleak Expectations, and after a Christmas episode full of merrisense and hilariousment, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff returns to BBC Two with made-up words and Dickensian nonsensitude aplenty. We promise to stop talking like that now.
A send-up of Dickensian TV adaptations with a smidgen of This is Jinsy-ness poured into the mix; the success of TBoSoS lies in its ability to appeal to people who love or loathe Dickens by taking the most recognisably melodramatic parts of the author’s work, then smelting them down and remoulding them into a new, ludicrous shape.
If you love Dickens, it’s comic homage; if your memories of him are just dusty school lessons then it’s a straight-up piss-take. Either way, there’s enough fun here for everyone to stroke their mutton chops in amusement.
Mark Evans’ script skews firmly towards the cast-iron bonkers, and as a writer he has a fantastic ear for the ridiculous. The result is a story peppered with curios such as Fish on a String, the Mechanical French-hater, and lines of dialogue which circle such lunacy you’d think they were written whilst in the grips of an opium dream: “You remind me of myself at your age. For when I was your age, I was the same age as you are now.”
Some may find the sheer amount of twisted novelty Victoriana a little forced, others will love it. Much like the cabbage launched from the ‘luncheon cannon’, it’s an acquired taste.
The cast has a fine comedy pedigree behind it and each actor plays to their comic strengths: Robert Webb, successfully separated from the conjoined entity of Mitchell & Webb, is the wide-eyed dim hero Jedrington Secret-Past, while The IT Crowd‘s Katherine Parkinson quietly steals the show as his long-suffering wife Conceptiva.
Tim McInnery, no stranger to playing the odd slimy cad, is in natural territory as ‘boo-hiss!’ villain Harmswell Grimstone, an amalgamation of every Dickens villain from Messrs Tulkinghorn to Gradgrind, all under one top hat. Unfortunately, as a villain Grimstone is written much as Stephen Fry’s Malifax Skulkingworm was in the Christmas special, and it’s difficult for anyone to follow Fry’s inimitable onscreen presence. McInnery does a good job though.
And in the great tradition of Dickens adaptations we’re left on a cliff-hanger: Has Conceptiva Secret-Past drowned at the End-It-All Dock? Will the dastardly Grimstone’s wicked plan come to fruition? And will young Victoria Secret-Past ever learn proper posture?
It’s a good start to a show that brings some welcome humour to the laughter wasteland that Monday nights have become. Don’t worry, we’re not going to say ‘Please sir, can we have some more?’, but TBoSoS is a comedy that definitely warrants seconds.
Aired at 8.30pm on Monday 20th February 2012 on BBC Two.
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