A sitcom pilot from Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin can't fail to raise expectations, as the writers were responsible for Drop the Dead Donkey and Outnumbered. Just Around the Corner is an idea that's apparently been swimming around their minds for awhile now, so I'm not sure if its inclusion in Channel 4's "Funny Fortnight" season is them scratching an itch or a serious attempt to launch a new show. The thing about this pilot is that, rather like The Function Room, it felt like a one-joke idea that will get repetitive fairly quickly, but as a one-off it was an enjoyable and imaginative experience.
Edward Pilch (James Fleet) is a single father living with his rebellious teenage daughter Kia (Jennie Jacques) and father-in-law Mick (James Bolam) in a suburban home. As sitcom setups go, it sounds depressingly sedate, until you factor in the high-concept idea that the Pilch family are living in a dystopian near-future; a world where global warming's brought the UK's coastline further inland, idyllic English towns have thrice-weekly floods, batteries have become currency, dead bodies wash up on lawns, you have to power household appliances by pedalling on an exercise bike, street kids fear having their organs stolen by neighbours, dentistry is done at home with self-help tapes, Holland has been eradicated (meaning emigrant Dutch people are the new hate-figures), and the local authority is an illiterate Area Controller called Delia (Daisy Beaumont).
Just Around the Corner had a great deal of fun creating its dingy world, and was largely convincing thanks to brilliant production design and ideas that were comically heightened but not totally implausible. This was a nightmare version of The Good Life, with a dysfunctional family struggling to cope in a dog-eat-dog world with no police, banks, or mains electricity. It felt like fresh and creative ground for comedy writing, and the script certainly found plenty of opportunities to advance its milieu and craft an amusing alternate-history (where, for instance, Tony Blair was assassinated and the Shard fell down).
The trouble is, Just Around the Corner felt like a repository of funny post-apocalyptic ideas and situations, but there wasn't too much that was inherently funny about the Pilch household. I didn't dislike the performances the actors were giving, but the comedy stemmed less from the characters and more from the situation. A better balance is required, and there was a glimpse of that when the excellent Daisy Beaumont dropped round o ask Edward if he'll teach her to read and write. Shame that scene came five minutes before the end credits, because it marked the first time I was engaged with the characters and story over the grim setting. But, to be fair, it's understandable Hamilton and Jenkin would want to make a good impression with their unusual concept and perhaps develop the characters later.
If Just Around the Corner becomes a series—which I hope it does, if only because I love high-concept sitcoms—then I hope the Pilch's become a bigger reason to tune in... because, once the novelty has worn off, that's what will keep audiences coming back. Oh, and I hope the show gets a little nastier with its representation of a post-disaster England on the verge of irrevocable collapse.
written & directed by Andy Hamilton & Guy Jenkin / 23 August 2012 / Channel 4