Margolyes’s rude road trip left me utterly exhausted
Half an hour with Mim was like being trapped in a lift with a randy Jack Russell
Bucket BBC Four, Thursday Peter Kay’s Car Share BBC One, Tuesday Our Friend Victoria BBC One, Tuesday
Is it wrong to dismiss a sitcom after just one episode? Should you take time to familiarise yourself with the characters and with the setting? It’s true that audiences took three series to warm to the ducking and diving Trotters in Only Fools and Horses. But honestly, after half an hour in the company of Mim, the sex-obsessed, cancer-suffering matriarch of Bucket, I wanted to stick my head in, well, a bucket.
Mim is played by Miriam Margolyes, an actress now best known for appearing as herself in documentaries such as The Real Marigold Hotel. Charitably, Margolyes might be described as a force of nature; she batters you over the head with her personality.
This first episode was filled with Mim’s attempts at conversation with long-suffering daughter Fran (played by the series creator Frog Stone) as the pair set off on a road trip across Britain, prompted by her desire to tick off experiences on her bucket list. Like Margolyes, Mim speaks her mind, which means we were subjected to frequent gags about her vagina.
I have a friend who only has to hear a posh person swearing and he’s rolling on the floor in a fit of laughter. I will direct him to Bucket as a sort of aversion therapy – there is nothing funny about Mim’s endless expletives or her scatological inquiry.
The sad thing is that there were traces of a very good sitcom here. A scene in which Mim and Fran visited suburban goddess Aunt Pat (a beautifully reserved Stephanie Beacham) and her perfect daughter, Gemma (Catherine Steadman), showed neatly how those who lead conventional lives are rarely kind when dealing with more eccentric spirits. “There’s no failure, only feedback,” simpered Gemma, an HR manager, as she advised Fran on her abortive teaching career. Pat, meanwhile, glanced at her watch and prepared for her next Ocado delivery.
Bucket should be poignant; there should be a thread of silvery sadness running through it as Mim tries to find common ground with her sensible daughter. At the moment it is trying too hard to shock and the result is exhausting – like being trapped in a lift with a randy Jack Russell.
The sourness of Bucket contrasted deeply with the sweetness of Peter Kay’s Car Share, which returned for a second series this week. It focuses on supermarket assistant sales manager John (Kay) who, every day, gives a lift to his colleague, sales rep Kayleigh (Sian Gibson). John is secretly in love with Kayleigh. She is a giddy kipper, and her feelings are therefore harder to ascertain.
The first series was praised, quite rightly, for the way in which it handled John and Kayleigh’s slow-burning friendship, and the way in which Kay mixed observational humour with the (fictional) banalities of the presenters and advertisers of local radio station Forever FM (“Brillington College – where brilliant is almost our name.”) which blared out of John’s car radio.
In this latest series, such incidentals were stronger than the overall narrative. The problem was that Kayleigh, having moved in with her sister, was now making her own way to work. To keep the dialogue going, she communicated with John via her mobile phone. A full five minutes consisted of Kayleigh sitting on a bus, attempting to get a signal. John tried to phone her back, only to receive a “Call failed” message. “Call failed,” he explained, perhaps as exasperated with the padding as I was.
Much has been made of Kay’s dialogue, which is affectionate and winsome, but here it sounded like the sort of thing you might hear in a standard episode of Coronation Street. “I ate an entire packet of Maryland Cookies last night,” said Kayleigh. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me – it’s not even lady time.” It’s charming, but I don’t think it’s clever.
Kay is often seen as a descendant of Victoria Wood, but Our Friend Victoria, a homage to the comedian who died last year, proved how everybody else seems terrible in comparison. These tribute shows often struggle, mainly because they consist of celebrity chums struggling for superlatives. But here, encomia were kept to a minimum, with the great Julie Walters (the key player in Wood’s regular ensemble) guiding the spotlight towards the wit and wisdom of her friend.
The clips were aired in their entirety and you could see the full scope of Wood’s genius (for once, an accurate term): funny little songs with a bittersweet undertow, short sketches with killer punchlines, wickedly accurate pastiches, inspired physical comedy. Even Wood’s asides can make you weep with laughter. Take this one from a narrative about the ageing process: “Normally, I look like I’ve climbed up an embankment after a derailment.”
The subject of this episode – the first of six, each classified by theme – was age, and how Wood observed teenagers, the menopause and the challenges of getting old. My favourite line on the subject was sadly missing. It was from one of Wood’s stand-up shows, part of a beautifully crafted narrative on Wood’s awkward puberty. “All my friends started getting boyfriends,” she said. “But I didn’t want a boyfriend, I wanted a 13-colour biro.”
Lines like this, concise yet detailed, came naturally to Wood. It’s in a different league to Peter Kay’s Car Share and a whole world away from Bucket.
Foul-mouthed: Miriam Margolyes as Mim, with Frog Stone, in Bucket