Monday, 27 August 2012

Review: BAD SUGAR (Channel 4)

Monday, 27 August 2012

Peep Show creators Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain return with a one-off special for Channel 4's "Funny Fortnight" season, and if there's any justice a full series will follow. Bad Sugar concerned the Cauldwell family, whose ageing patriarch Ralphfred (David Bradley) made their fortune in mining. These days the Cauldwell dynasty is mostly comprised of schemers, bitter idiots, and gold-digging bitches. In this episode we meet Lucy (Sharon Horgan), who's just joined the family after getting hitched to repressed homosexual Rolph (Peter Serafinowicz), expecting a big inheritance, until it becomes clear that cantankerous Ralphred is still alive and kicking. Shortly after, Lucy makes an immediate enemy of bitchy sister-in-law Daphne (Julia Davis), while trying to recommence her efforts to get hold of the Cauldwell fortune. Throw in naïve younger sister Joan (Olivia Colman), Daphne's bitter paraplegic husband Greg (Reece Shearsmith), and dimwit gardener Simon (Kayvan Novak), and the scene was set for a juicy Dynasty-esque melodrama played for laughs.

Bad Sugar was great fun from start to finish, with a premise that begs to be taken further. I've always enjoyed shows with large family ensembles, and this could very easily become the British soap-y answer to Arrested Development in some ways. It just felt very at ease with itself, and the excellent cast were on top form—particularly the heavenly pairing of Horgan and Davis, themselves purveyors of jet-black comedy in Pulling and Nighty Night. As rival sister-in-laws, they were clearly having a huge amount of fun giving each other frosty looks, looking ridiculously glamorous in various slinky dresses, and getting to do naughty things like seduce a vicar for information or heat a boule ball in a bonfire for a cruel game of catch.

As good as they were, the real standout was Olivia Colman as timorous, kind-hearted simpleton Joan, who's oblivious to the nastiness that surrounds her, or how much her life's been manipulated by a jealous sister. (She's actually a prodigious pianist, but keeps having "accidents" that mangle or scald her fingers.) Colman gave a tremendously funny performance as a sweet innocent, somewhat stuck in childhood with a naïve view of the adult world—perhaps psychologically scarred because she was blamed for poisoning her twin brother (although I doubt she did it.) The scene where she decides to take care of genial workman Simon, treating him like a pet rabbit, was wonderful. After Peep Show, Rev, and various dramatic roles lately (Tyrannosaurus, Accused), I think it's safe to say Colman's a major talent.

I sincerely hope we get more helpings of Bad Sugar, although potentially it will be difficult to bring this eclectic cast back together regularly. I hope everyone's schedule has an appropriate gap, because it definitely deserves a longer run. It had Peter Serafinowicz as a gay man denying his love for a judo-playing manservant, Julia Davis crunching her way through an entire boiled egg, and Horgan in lingerie standing over a clergyman's head to prove she's not wearing knickers. What more do you want? I hope to see more of this twisted telenovella and the outrageous Cauldwell clan.

written by Jesse Armstrong & Sam Bain / directed by Ben Palmer / 26 August 2012 / Channel 4