TV review: Alan Partridge: Welcome to the Places of My Life; Veep; Walking and Talking

Alan Partridge and Veep were hilarious but why show them both on the same evening?

You wait weeks for one decent comedy show to come along and then three turn up on the same night and same channel. First up was Alan Partridge: Welcome to the Places of My Life (Sky Atlantic). By rights, Alan Partridge should have been dead as a character years ago, the last drops of humour long since wrung out of the local radio presenter from Norwich, but Steve Coogan keeps finding ways to make him feel fresh.

It's not so much a reinvention as a layering process. Coogan knows we know Partridge, so he doesn't waste time or insult his audience by writing unnecessary scenes to re-establish his character: rather it feels as if we are starting where we last left off and the pleasure comes from Partridge continuing to reveal more of himself than he actually intended. As the cracks in his public persona widen, he becomes a genuinely darker, more complex, more interesting character. And more sympathetic – though that could say more about my attraction to the twisted.

The set-up was a parody of any number of early evening TV documentaries in which a minor celebrity fills an hour of screen time by pottering around some fairly dull places, talking to fairly dull people while trying to convince everyone it's all enormously interesting. On its own, this would have made good comedy, as there were also sideswipes at Bear Grylls' and Dan Snow's annoying presentational tics of adding drama to the tediously mundane. But with Partridge it's always what you don't expect that makes him so well worth watching. His piece about Norwich city hall that started off as a riff on The King's Speech and ended with him fantasising about Hitler making a victory speech from the balcony with the bronze lions below raising their paws in Nazi salutes was just wonderful.

There were any number of other great moments, such as Partridge taking over the fruit and veg market stall and saying: "I had a go at doing the things it's taken Mike 25 years to learn, and it was a piece of piss. But I like Mike. He's a sort of village idiot from years gone by"; or Partridge test-driving a Range Rover, saying: "I bet you think we just included this because I wanted to have a go in one"; you just know there are out-takes like these in every documentary maker's editing suite.

I also laughed my way through Veep (Sky Atlantic), Armando Iannucci's transposition of The Thick of It to the US vice-presidential office. For those who don't know quite how pointless the American vice-president really is – he or she spends four years praying for the president to die, while the rest of the world prays he doesn't – then imagine Nick Clegg; though the British symbol of impotence might have more going for him if he were played by the charismatic Julia-Louis Dreyfus, who stars as vice-president Selina Meyer.

It's an inspired piece of writing and casting, as Veep moves the Yes Minister/The Thick of It political sitcom on from the standard format of blundering minister and devious, more intelligent, spin doctors. Meyer is a far sharper, more intelligent character than her British counterparts; she gives as good as she gets with her back office, and her awareness of the fundamental irrelevance of her job – that her ambition has driven her into a cul-de-sac – gives the show an extra twist.

I found Walking and Talking (Sky Atlantic), Kathy Burke's new series about two 14-year-old girls in 1970s London who walk and talk adolescent angst less compelling, though this might have been because I was all funned out by then. I know TV channels like to have themed evenings and load their schedules accordingly, but it's not how I like to watch television. I don't get home from work on a Monday evening and think, "Tonight, Matthew, I shall just watch comedy", in much the same way I don't choose to watch only documentaries on a Tuesday, crime dramas on a Wednesday or panel quiz shows on a Thursday. I like variety. And even if I didn't, almost any comedy won't seem that funny after Alan Partridge or Veep.

Walking and Talking had its moments and I suspect it will be a show that creeps up on its audience rather than wows it from the off. Personally, though, I could have done with a few more laughs. Most of the ones I did get were from Burke's own cameo as the Angry Nun in the school playground. More of her and I could be persuaded.


John Crace

The GuardianTramp

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