Having already cornered the majority of the British marketplace when it comes to sports, movies and premium US drama, Sky are now making headway into domestic comedy and drama. Eight-part supermarket comedy Trollied is their latest venture (with Mount Pleasant, Hit & Miss, This Is Jinsy, and Spy still to come), ironically starring a few actors from Asda/Tesco commercials, set in the fictional north-west supermarket Valco. The store's tagline is "serve you right", but thankfully I wasn't left thinking the same thing to myself after watching it.
Jane Horrocks plays acting Deputy Manager Julie, a brittle woman covering for maternity leave but determined to keep the job, which means trying to impress Store Manager Gavin (Jason Watkins) at every opportunity. They're joined in the store by lonely heart butcher Andy (Mark Addy) and his laddish young assistant Kieran (Nick Blood); stuck-in-a-rut checkout girl Katie (Chanel); lazy, disobedient shelf-stacker Colin (Carl Rice); aged, dotty store assistant Margaret (Rita May); gossiping customer service duo Sue (Lorraine Cheshire) and Linda (Faye McKeever); and spaced-out trolley collector Leighton (Joel Fry).
They're a believable and amiable bunch of actors/characters, and certainly the prime reason to keep watching Trollied—which only suffers because it's at that embryonic stage where it almost has to empty its system of obvious supermarket-themed jokes (customers returning half-eaten produce, staff getting stage fright when asked to use the public address system, etc.) It'll be interesting to see how Trollied fares when it's exhausted that top layer of unavoidable japes the audience are almost expecting to hear, and is then forced to get imaginative and rely more on the characters for material that isn't tethered to the environment.
This is still a show where the familiar milieu is the star, see—partly because we don't know the characters that well yet, but I'm hopeful the writing will get stronger. There are definitely signs of potential greatness: such as the wonderful, easy chemistry between butchers Andy and Kieran. In particular, a scene where middle-aged Andy was challenged to chat-up a customer to prove he's still a virile man worked very well. Those characters also walked off with the premiere's funniest moment: having fun at Julie's expense with the homonym "interim-ing" and "into rimming". A laugh-out-loud misunderstanding that, frankly, kept me watching and actively willing the show to deliver a few more belly-laughs like that. None really came, but it wasn't a bad viewing experience. In fact, Trollied is already the best new British comedy I've seen in a very long time, but perhaps that just underscores how uninspired recent British comedies have been.
It's also nice to have a sitcom on TV that stands a real chance of becoming that rare thing in the UK comedy landscape: a show that speaks to multiple generations, thanks to how supermarkets are themselves melting pots for millions of different people. Younger viewers can attach themselves to the ennui of checkout operators, middle-aged viewers can enjoy the management shenanigans, and the elderly can enjoy seeing a few people their own age being represented. The supermarket backdrop also ensures a steady and ever-changing supply of one-off and recurring guest-star customers, albeit without much scope for big storylines because shopping's generally a brief activity.
Trollied certainly got the atmosphere of a supermarket just right, too. It was filmed on a replica set in Bristol, but you'd never tell. The performances were also good—although there were times when it felt like a few of the actors (Horrocks, Watkins) were playing things a little broader than their colleagues. Maybe some people were convinced this is the retail equivalent of The Office (seeing as they've even gender-reversed that show's Tim/Dawn/Lee love-triangle), while others are treating it as something more lightweight and cartoonish. Like a sitcom version of Coronation Street's Bettabuys storylines from the '90s, with gurning Reg Holdsworth and gangly Curly Watts. And to be fair, the show itself felt a little unsure what the tone should be. Fairly adult jokes about sexual acts like "rimming" suit the post-watershed 9pm timeslot it was in, yet the overall tone and style of the show was screaming family-friendly 8pm.
If Trollied can settle on what kind of show it wants to be, while also remembering that all the great sitcoms had complex characters you cared about or sympathized with, I envisage this working rather nicely when the birthing pains are over. I'm not sure the writing's good enough for it to become Dinnerladies-in-a-supermarket, but thanks to a strong premise and excellent cast, I think this could grow to become a perfectly decent and inoffensive sitcom.
written by Julie Rutterford / directed by Paul Walker / 4 August 2011 / Sky1