Damien Love’s TV highlights plus seven-day programme guide
THE UK’S BEST TV CRITIC DAMIEN LOVE RAMPAGES HIS WAY THROUGH THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
10pm, Channel 4
SPORTING heroes get all the plaudits for sweat and determination, but if there is one person in the UK who really deserves to be held up as an inspiration to the rest of us just for energy, hard work, perseverance and putting the hours in, it is surely Stephen Mangan.
His latest sitcom, Hang Ups, is the third entirely new series
Mangan has appeared in since the turn of the year, following the BBC’s horrendously bad drama, The
Split, and Sky’s impressively unmemorable weeping bigamist romp, Bliss. Add in that Mangan also did his thankless duty earlier this year in the fifth series of the life-sapping Episodes, and that works out at him launching a whole new multi-part show once every two months – although I’m plagued by the feeling that he might actually have done a couple more I’ve forgotten about.
Thing is, I – along with, apparently, many of the people responsible for commissioning new TV productions in Britain – quite like Stephen Mangan. And I would certainly never grudge anyone taking any paid work they can get their hands on. Still, there comes a time when you have to wonder: is a strategy of continuing to throw
Mangan at the wall to see if any of it sticks really the best way to go about things?
In common with the other Manganese outings of these past eight months, Hang Ups isn’t all that good, although connoisseurs of the bountiful 2018 Mangan harvest might appreciate the way the show subtly calls back to themes familiar from the earlier pieces, as if the whole thing were one vast, unfolding symphony. For several confusing moments, watching the opening scenes of Mangan running around a house as a harassed and hapless father outclassed by his wise wife and sassy/sulky teenage kids, I was convinced I’d started watching Bliss again by mistake, because it opened exactly the same way. Unless I’m thinking of The Split.
In fact, though, the earlier show Hang Ups most resembles is Web Therapy, the comedy about a therapist treating patients online that Lisa Kudrow made around 10 years ago, when webcams were still almost new enough to nearly get away with hanging a tired gimmick on. A loose remake, Hang Ups takes the outline of Kudrow’s series, but changes the tone and content to make it more Manganable. Viewed entirely via webcams and mobile phone screens, Mangan plays Richard, the luckless therapist, with a host of guest stars popping up as his clients, with each remote appointment playing out like a splitscreen sketch.
There are excellent people: Richard’s correspondents include David Tennant, David Bradley and, playing Richard’s father, Charles Dance. But, mostly, the therapy skits are strained, tending to involve the patients stretching out one underwritten gag until it expires, while Mangan – given no other option due to the claustrophobic webcam filming shtick – makes mild faces in response. (Worst offender in the first episode is Sarah Hadland as a woman who swears unconvincingly while shouting at an offscreen cat. It’s painful.)
But then, something happens. Popping up on Richard’s Skype comes a character called Neil Quinn, played by Steve Oram, one of the current British masters of unease. Richard is in debt to Neil, and Neil is a very nasty piece of work. If there’s a reason for hanging around Hang Ups, this stuff between Mangan and Oram is it. Suddenly, for a moment, the entire show feels different, and you actually begin to care about what might happen. Whatever does, though, one thing seems guaranteed. Stephen Mangan will return.