It's an original idea (unless you've seen Woody Allen's Bananas) that feels best-suited to a sketch, but Pete Vs Life hopes we'll find its central conceit hilarious over the next five weeks. The idea being that sports journalist Pete Griffith's (Rafe Spall) entire life is narrated by two commentators, Colin King (Simon Greenall) and Terry McIllroy (Ian Kirkby), who provide spoken analysis, graphs, pie-charts and slow-motion replays of Pete's antics.
You essentially get two levels of comedy: the straightforward comedy of a twentysomething bloke who can't help getting his love life tied up in embarrassing knots, and the Greek chorus of King and McIllroy interrupting the drama to pass comment and give the audience additional facts and statistics to chortle at.
The problem with Pete Vs Life, at least in this first episode (which admittedly demands the most adjustment, in the same way Peep Show's pilot felt bizarre initially), is that I didn't find the commentators very funny, and found it irritating when they'd interrupt the flow of a scene to deliver largely uninspired quips and data in the manner of a Sky Sports broadcast.
I suppose the subtext of this show is that Pete values the rigidity of rules that govern sporting events, whereas real life is far more fluid, so as the audience we're seeing Pete get himself into unnecessary scrapes and blunder into socially-awkward situations, and the commentators represent a small corner of his consciousness that demands a firm foundation to process what's going on.
In "Eco Warrior", Pete managed to get himself a girlfriend called Chloe (Susannah Fielding) whom he impressed with an opinionated lie about not wanting to travel on a plane to limit his carbon footprint. Pete's swiftly introduced to Chloe's vegetarian parents and has to maintain the appearance an environmentally-aware boyfriend, but inevitably his deception began to unravel in an embarrassing way the deeper his relationship with Chloe became.
Pete Vs Life is in an odd position, because I thought the straightforward comedy of Pete's misfortunes trying to impress Chloe were decent for a new show introducing a tricky concept (if largely unoriginal and predictable). It helped that Spall (son of Timothy) came across as a personable and appealing lead, and the surprisingly large ensemble surrounding him were likewise of good quality. It's just that the unique selling point of this show was only sporadically effective, and I thought the commentators worked better when they were just voice-overs filling occasional dead-air. Hopefully, Pete Vs Life's writers will develop a keener sense of when to interrupt the action with the commentators, because in "Eco Warrior" it felt like a sitcom with potential was being needlessly interrupted -- and that quickly became annoying because the interruptions were usually half as funny as the events to hand.
Overall, I was expecting a lot more from Pete Vs Life. This five-part comedy started life as a pilot in last year's Comedy Showcase season, but was intriguingly pulled from the schedule and promoted to series without the pilot even airing. That suggested Channel 4 saw huge potential in Pete Vs Life and thought they didn't need to gauge early audience reaction. It's nice to see a channel having such faith in a programme, but I think critical reaction to Pete Vs Life last year would have had a positive effect on its evolution. I just hope the remaining four episodes make the desired adjustments in time.
WRITERS: Bert Tyler-Moore & George Jeffries
DIRECTOR: Becky Martin
CAST: Rafe Spall, Simon Greenall, Ian Kirkby, Chris Geere, Reece Ritchie, Pippa Duffy, Susannah Fielding, Dan Ings, Joseph Kloska, Philip Jackson & Sorcha Cusack
TRANSMISSION: 6 August 2010 - CHANNEL 4/HD, 10PM