Matt Lucas has been off-screens for quite a few years now, perhaps chastened by the mixed reaction to his Little Britain follow-up, Come Fly With Me. Now he's back, sans double-act partner David Walliams, in BBC2's "silent comedy" POMPIDOU—a sort of upper-class Mr Bean, with Lucas as the eponymous aristocrat, who's fallen on hard times and now lives in a caravan on the grounds of his estate, with his befuddled butler Hove (Alex Macqueen) and an Afghan Hound.
The best thing I can say about Pompidou are that its intentions are noble and goodhearted. The BBC hasn't produced an all-visual comedy for decades, and a whole generation of families aren't growing up with Mr Bean to keep them giggling. Nicely scheduled for early-evenings on Sunday, there's nothing wrong with making a straightforward silly sitcom that's clearly designed to travel far-and-wide because 90% of it's spoken in a gibberish language with only occasional English words and phrases slipping out. Added to that, everyone around the world understands the stereotypes of the stupid English noble and a bumbling butler.
Pompidou has been designed to work, but someone really needed to consider the quality of the script. This opening episode, "Hunger", concerned Pompidou and Hove feeling famished and looking for free grub—which brought them into contact with an exasperated fisherman (Roy Barraclough), before Hove accidentally swallowed a live bird and had to be rushed to hospital for an operation. There was the occasional moment that made me smile wryly—like the live-action cartoon of Hove's x-ray showing a bird literally flying around his stomach and pecking his spine—but for the most part Pompidou wasn't tickling any funnybones.
I think it was partly because the gibberish language just sounded irritating (perhaps it should have gone completely silent?), but it was mainly down to Pompidou himself being dislikeable and the situations weren't clever enough. There was an underlying layer of ingenuity and childish brilliance in the best of Mr Bean's adventures, but very little sense of that here. I could imagine "Mr Bean Goes Fishing" filling an entire half-hour with laughter, but Pompidou barely raised a giggle with its own man-child's trip to a riverbank. It's all very well watching a egg-like toff wearing tweed being ridiculous in public, without much of a straight man (Hove was similarly stupid) or any madcap intelligence operating behind the 'sketches', I can only see Pompidou entertaining the very young. Maybe CBeebies would have been a better platform for it.
written by Matt Lucas, Ashley Blaker, Julian Dutton, Jon Foster & James Lamont • directed by Charlie Hanson & Matt Lucas • 1 March 2015 • BBC2