What is hard in comedy is to be very funny AND to have emotional depth; the default is to be have some jokes and lurch to an awkward sentimental moment, with neither section working very well. However, Free Agents manages this feat, made even more impressive by the fact that it was written by a former talent agent himself.
Unlike Entourage, where Ari Goldman is the scene-stealer, Free Agents is about talent agents themselves – Stephen Mangan plays Alex, going through a terrible divorce after he had a nervous breakdown and left his wife and two kids, and Sharon Horgan plays Helen, whose fiancée died a few months before their wedding – who work at the same agency (for their sex-obsessed boss, played in great form by Anthony Head). There are scenes to do with the business, such as poaching talent from a famous agent’s funeral, but it’s more to do with the almost-relationship between Alex and Helen – they had a one-night stand but Helen obviously can’t do a relationship after the recent death of her fiancée; however, it is clear that there is something between them, even if admitting it is difficult.
But it’s not all about this potential relationship – it is also hilariously and viciously funny. There is a lot of dark humour but also big belly laughs, something that is helped by the great cast. Mangan and Horgan are absolutely perfect for the roles: Mangan shows humanity in the anguish and pity, while Horgan has the perfect balance of anger and comedy. Head is wonderfully over the top as the perverse boss, and there’s a great supporting role from Matthew Holness (from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace) as another talent agent in the company.
The writer, Chris Niel (who wrote a good article about being an agent and turning to writing [LINK]), has created some real magic here: it was a pilot last year that was rightfully commissioned for a full series of six episodes, and he obviously knows the world in which the series unfolds. But it is the real emotion that is surprising, especially after all the smutty sex jokes, the wonderfully filthy language and the exquisite moments of cringe-worthy humour – there is a scene in the last episode of the (hopefully) first series where Helen opens up to Alex after an accidental session with a therapist that is pitch-perfect in its darkness and honesty but with humanity and humour (as they kiss, Alex’s son shouts out – at a wedding party – ‘Get away from my dad, you slag!’). This has been a great series and I can’t wait for another series. Now, all they have to do is get rid of the naff opening credits sequence …