Saxondale is the new 7-part series from Steve Coogan, the man behind Alan Partridge. Although he probably doesn’t want that as his epitaph, it will be, as Partridge is one of the great comedy creations, starting out on radio, in On The Hour and Knowing Me, Knowing You …, through the television incarnations. He has created other memorable characters, notably Paul and Pauline Calf, and some not so memorable characters (in Coogan’s Run and, most infamously, Tony Ferrino), but he is very good at what he does, which is inhabiting odd people and making them funny, tragic and real.
It is a surprise, though, to see him back on the small screen in a co-written sitcom. His ventures onto the big screen (the good – A Cock and Bull Story, 24 Hour Party People; the okay – The Parole Officer, Coffee and Cigarettes; and the not so good – Around the World in 80 Days) suggested that film was where his career was heading. I’m not complaining that he has decided to change his mind, because Saxondale is the best new comedy on television this year.
Tommy Saxondale is a former roadie (the non-cliched version, if you read this article from The Guardian), now pest controller, with anger management issues. He has an ex-wife after 20 years of marriage, owns a Mustang, and lives with his new girlfriend, Magz (Ruth Jones, recognisable as the long suffering barmaid, Myfanwy, in Little Britain), who makes rather odd t-shirts. Other characters include the deliberately annoying Vicky (Morwenna Banks), the receptionist who sorts out the work for Tommy, and Raymond (Rasmus Hardiker), who becomes Tommy’s newest assistant, allowing the audience a viewpoint of this new world.
This episode introduces us to the characters well, sets up the world in which they habit, and makes the crucially important job of remembering to be funny. It is not perfect off the bat, much like The IT Crowd but, like that sitcom, the potential is there and the characters are amusing. Saxondale, while having some character traits in common with Partridge, such as the love of cars and the short temper, is a different type, with a sense of humour, some intelligence and is a pro-active participant, rather than just a reactionary character. Some of his lines are hilarious, especially the scene at the end confronting the animal protesters at the pigeon job, meaning that this show is warming up to be the comedy highlight of the summer. (It seems a little odd that the programme is being shown in June, especially with little publicity, but what do I know about marketing a sitcom?) Now, all they have to do is get the wig and beard right from show to show, so it doesn’t look rather odd (as it did in the clip for next week’s show).