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Episode 4 seems to be conclusive proof that Saxondale is unlikely to improve. But that's not to say it's bad; in fact it's very enjoyable and sporadically brilliant. Steve Coogan is magnificent in the title role, every tic and mannerism brilliantly observed and acted, but Tommy Saxondale remains little more than a decent sketch show character coasting along in a sitcom.
The plot this week, and I use the term loosely, involves Tommy's daughter Stevie visiting home with her boyfriend Matt. The obvious generation clash ensues between Matt and Tommy, although not in an overt way akin to Meet The Parents. The fascinating thing about modern father/(potential) son-in-law relationships is that most hip twentysomethings have a respect and appreciation for the 60's/70's culture their new father-in-laws grew up in. Who doesn't like Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Sex Pistols?
So, as beautifully depicted in this instalment, Matt actually gets on quite well with Tommy when discussing his roadie days with Deep Purple, etc... and the relationship only sours when Tommy isn't as keen to hear about Matt's extreme-sporting lifestyle –- mainly because it makes his unspectacular life seem that more boring. It's a classic case of male posturing across the generations, sidestepping the expectation of Matt being a total pain and Tommy being the voice of concerned reason for his daughter. Watching Tommy try and assert himself on others is the series' main source of comedy, and the interplay with Matt is wonderful in this episode.
Four episodes in and Ruth Jones doesn’t look to have been given a comic character, really, but she's brilliant as Tommy's girlfriend despite this. A scene where Magz steps in to save Tommy's pride is a great insight that their relationship actually works, as is a shared laugh when Tommy spouts his anguish at Matt's boasts. They seem to have real respect and love for each other's quirks, which makes a change from traditionally nightmarish comedy marriages like Basil and Sybil Fawlty.
Montserrat Lombard as Tommy's daughter Stevie isn't given much to do within the story, but she at least resembles Tommy and isn't the expected characture she could have been. There was a time when the easy route would have been to make her a female version of Tommy, with similar views on life and personality, so it's testament to the writers belief in the show's reality that she's normal. Tommy is the only obvious exaggeration in the world of Saxondale, and even he is clearly more grounded and realistic than other Coogan creations –- most notably Alan Partidge. Of course.
James Lance, playing Matt the potential son-in-law, is very good and drawn realistically. Lance appeared in I'm Alan Partidge (where he played a wry, condescending Travelodge porter) and Matt is essentially a nicer, cleverer, version of that persona. He's good, but it's a shame more comic potential wasn't mined by revealing his thoughts on Tommy (was he purposefully making Tommy feel inadequate? Did he like Tommy?) Well, we never really got to know...
But this is Coogan's show... and therefore the emphasis is too often on Tommy's viewpoint, almost as if Coogan's scared to let the other characters get a look in without him being present. This is perhaps by design, or maybe it's because Coogan is just used to Partridge dominating all the scenes in I'm Alan Partridge by default. Whatever the reason, someone should tell him Saxondale could survive by occasionally letting us into the supporting cast's lives. Even the legendary Alan Partidge had his comic support (indecipherable Mike, meak Lynn), but Tommy isn’t really afforded such backup.
Tellingly, Coogan even guest stars as a flop-haired teen in a council flat -– for no particular reason, other than to remind us how gifted Coogan is at mimicry. We get it, Steve. The teen character is good fun, but it's also an unnecessary presence that steals screen-time better served with the main cast -- particularly as they're already malnourished with their own gags!
Overall, this was another perfectly enjoyable 30 minutes, but Saxondale sorely lacks the storytelling prowess to lift it beyond observational comedy. The "plot" here is basically just another incident Tommy is faced with, acting as an excuse for Coogan and Maclennon to flex their dialogue-writing muscles. The craftsmanship of Saxondale's jokes has never been in doubt, but Saxondale could be so much more if the stories were multi-layered and involved actual progression and twists. At the moment, things just move in a linear fashion, with a few diversions (Morwenna Banks' secretary gets to spit venom again), until the episode just ends...