written by Charlie Brooker, Daniel Maier & Boris Starling | directed by Jim O'Hanlon
What's essentially the British version of The Naked Gun trilogy returns for its second two-part special (with a third, filmed simultaneously, hopefully due to air sooner than next summer). It's alarming we've had to wait so long for A Touch of Cloth II, but that perhaps demonstrates how busy writer Charlie Brooker is juggling other projects. However, the slow drip of Cloth is perhaps for the best, as this quick-fire style of comedy overstays its welcome once it starts to feel gruelling—like watching a long weekend of Tim Vine stand-up. For that reason, I'm grateful A Touch of Cloth: Undercover Cloth is now airing across two Sundays, rather than two consecutive days...
Alcoholic, widowed, maverick cliché DCI Jack Cloth (John Hannah) returns to solve another case, after a bank robbery goes wrong and results in the death of actor-turned-cop Todd Carty (himself); forcing Cloth out of early retirement to go undercover in a gang run by mobster Macratty (Game of Thrones' Stephen Dillane), all while dealing with the awkwardness of returning to work alongside love-interest DI Anne Oldman (Suranne Jones).
I was one of the few critics who didn't unreservedly love A Touch of Cloth last year; mainly because the storyline didn't grab me and too many of the jokes felt forced and simplistic. It was clearly made with love for the crime and spoof genres, and knocked spots off what Hollywood parody's become post-Scary Movie, but it also had a slight feeling of desperation. A sense that quality control was lowered because they wanted to cram the screen with as many jokes as possible and didn't care too much about them truly earning their place. It was the scattergun approach with gags as ammo, in the hope enough laughs will occur to drown out the silences.
Thankfully, I found Undercover Cloth a more satisfying hour of silly comedy than its predecessor. The story was more engaging and most of the material felt worthy of The Naked Gun movies, although never as inspired or charming. Brooker's show will always be in the shadow of David Zucker, Phil Abrahams and Jerry Zucker's ouevre, as it's ultimately just a tribute act with Britishisms. Too many of its joke are tweaks of material Airplane! did three decades ago; meaning most melt from your memory the second they've made you giggle. But at least you did giggle, which is more than many other British comedies are managing lately. Undercover Cloth certainly contained some lovely comic moments, too: like Jack Cloth choosing his undercover alias ("Jacques" pronounced "Jack" so he'll remember it), or the pleasingly bonkers idea that Tom Boss (Julian Rhind-Tutt) is still employed, despite being revealed as the psychopath behind the first two-parter's killings that included Cloth's own wife!
My only major complaints are that Suranne Jones had less to do than before; although she's involved in a sub-plot about a lesbian politician called Hope Goodgirl (Anna Chancellor) running for mayor, so I'm guessing that will become more prominent next week and tie into the Macratty storyline. And the whole Cloth saga is too self-referential for my taste, with characters practically acknowledge they're in a TV show every few minutes—which, on the whole, just distances me from things. I know it's just a zany comedy, but you need to feel some kind of belief in this bonkers world, so anything that punctures its reality shouldn't be so noticeable and blunt. In The Naked Gun, Leslie Nielsen once walked around the outside of a set's interior wall, but only eagle-eyed viewers noticed. He never once mentioned the end of Act One to OJ Simpson.
Overall, while a definite improvement over last summer's instalment, Undercover Cloth still retained the issues that prevent me from loving it. For every brilliant joke there are three that feel half-hearted, the actual drama kind of gets lost in the mix because it all feels pretty weightless, I don't find Cloth or Oldman inherently funny characters in their own right, and I still think it would be more digestible in faster thirty-minute chunks.