One dad, 2 se­cret fam­i­lies Life com­pli­cated in com­edy ‘Bliss’

The Republican Herald - This Weekend - - CALENDAR - BY LOR­RAINE ALI LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

It’s not ex­actly “Big Love” or “Sis­ter Wives,” but BritBox com­edy “Bliss” pushes the con­cept of jug­gling mul­ti­ple fam­i­lies to the ex­treme.

The half-hour com­edy by ac­tor and co­me­dian David Cross (“Ar­rested De­vel­op­ment”) was to ar­rive Wed­nes­day on the BBC and ITV stream­ing ser­vice, and it fol­lows the ex­ploits of renowned travel writer An­drew (Stephen Man­gan), who has pub­lished count­less re­views about must-visit des­ti­na­tions around the globe. But it’s his un­pub­lished, se­cret jour­neys be­tween house­holds in his home­town of Bris­tol that prove the most in­ter­est­ing. The har­ried jour­nal­ist has two sets of fam­i­lies in the re­gion, and nei­ther knows the other ex­ists.

An­drew must move with James Bond-like stealth be­tween his part­ners — played by Heather Gra­ham and Jo Hart­ley — and his teenaged kids. Yet he’s hardly a cool and col­lected char­ac­ter, at least by the time we meet him. In the first two episodes avail­able for re­view, we learn he’s been play­ing this game for al­most two decades. An­drew’s fail-safe sys­tem is start­ing to fail, and he’s a bun­dle of fritz­ing nerves.

The lu­di­crous jug­gling act is both funny and frus­trat­ing to watch but mostly frus­trat­ing. If you en­joyed Show­time’s se­ries “Episodes,” which starred Mag­nan as a British TV writer in the va­pid shal­lows of Hollywood, this show has the same thingscan’t-get-any-worse-but-theydo ap­peal. The writ­ing in “Bliss,” how­ever, is not as sharp, caus­ing early episodes of the stream­ing se­ries to teeter be­tween clever and wacky.

The clue­less­ness of Kim (Gra­ham) and Denise (Hart­ley), each of whom he has one child with, is a gift for An­drew but a prob­lem for view­ers. They don’t ap­pear to no­tice how strange their man is act­ing each time he re­turns or leaves on “as­sign­ment” — which is ev­ery other week. He’s a jumpy, sweaty mess.

View­ers get the joke, though, when he uses the same lines on his re­spec­tive part­ners as he pulls out of the drive for the air­port, “I love you both.”

Fun­nier is An­drew’s rou­tine: He has two cars parked at the Bris­tol air­port that he swaps be­tween house­holds. Each is equipped with dif­fer­ent mo­bile phones, lug­gage, lap­tops and “gifts” from what­ever re­gion he’s sup­pos­edly re­turn­ing from.

When does he have time to travel and write all those re­views for his books? He doesn’t. It turns out his fam­i­lies aren’t the only poor souls An­drew is cheat­ing.

He’s made a ca­reer as an anony­mous travel writer, which not only gives him the per­fect cover to bam­boo­zle his fam­i­lies, but also al­lows him to lift his travel dis­patches right off of user-gen­er­ated re­view sites that re­sem­ble Trav­e­loc­ity or TripAd­vi­sor.

It’s an­other ruse but in the ser­vice of mak­ing enough money to pro­vide for his fam­i­lies. Only in fic­tion can a free­lance writer make enough money to sup­port one fam­ily let alone two.

As his worlds be­gin to col­lide, he re­sorts to in­creas­ingly dras­tic mea­sures to keep the game go­ing. And it’s the ex­tremes here — hid­ing un­der restau­rant ta­bles, stag­ing phone calls from “Spain” com­plete with slap­stick sound ef­fects — that make “Bliss” more clumsy than hu­mor­ous.

“Bliss” has the cast and creator cre­den­tials to be a bet­ter se­ries, and per­haps it gets there after the first two episodes. But An­drew’s dou­ble life is just as stressful for view­ers to nav­i­gate.

And where’s the fun in that?

BIG TALK PRO­DUC­TIONS

Stephen Man­gan stars in the BritBox com­edy “Bliss.”

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