There was an episode of One Foot in the Grave that took place entirely within the confines of a car stuck in a traffic jam on a hot summer's day, and it's one of my favourites. I remember being impressed by how David Renwick managed to write thirty-minutes of comedy from just three people sweating inside a stationery vehicle, but experimental episodes like that are fairly common nowadays. A rite of passage for sitcom writers, in some respects. Peter Kay's new six-part comedy Car Share uses that One Foot gimmick as its entire concept, although the claustrophobia's leavened by brief outdoor jaunts and day-dreams to shake things up. And it's an enjoyable comedy that has charm and obvious heart, but the number of laugh-out-loud moments is quite thin—certainly compared to Kay's last sitcom hit, Phoenix Nights.
Kay co-writes, directs and stars in Car Share as supermarket assistant manager John, a genial 39-year-old bachelor who agrees to give his employee Kayleigh (San Gibson) a lift to their place of work each morning. Kayleigh's a happy-go-lucky 36-year-old entering an early midlife crisis over the fact she, like John, is without a family to call her own. The co-workers discover a shared affection for '80s and '90s music, and realise they have the same generational shorthand. Can you smell love in the air, or is that the Fiat's alpine air-vent freshener?
Each episode involves John driving Kayleigh to and from work (no petrol money ever exchanges hands, cuh!), during which time they shoot the breeze. Like Kay's stand-up material, the conversation is almost exclusively related to cheesy pop, TV nostalgia, and verbal misunderstandings. It's cruder than you'd perhaps expect, hence the post-watershed timeslot, with occasional expletives and discussion about what "dogging" means, for instance, but nothing the mainstream can't tolerate. We live in a time when mums and dads over-60 buy tickets for Mrs Brown's Boys, after all.
The difficult thing about reviewing comedy is always one of subjectivity; so if you're a fan of Peter Kay's warm and unchallenging worldview you're guaranteed to enjoy Car Share. I certainly liked it, but was also aware of its shortcomings and don't think it manages to transcend its own limited premise. There are some great touches—the Forever FM parody of local radio ads, ridiculous street signs for the eagle-eyed to spot, and a running joke where old pop-videos are reenacted during fantasy sequences (another Kay staple, as fans of his character Geraldine's duet with Susan Boyle will attest).
I found Car Share an amiable and pleasant way to spend thirty-minutes, let's be clear, but I binged the series during its pre-broadcast debut on the BBC iPlayer over two days. In weekly doses, I'm not sure individual episodes are hilarious enough to guarantee devotion, but when everything's stacked up to marathon it's a fun way to pass three hours total. It may help being an over-30 Brit, of course, as Kay's comedy is often derived from assumptions his audience grew up watching Cannon & Ball and know who Ivy Tilsley was.
The deepening relationship between John and Kayleigh tracks well, although it's a predictable arc that doesn't go anywhere fresh. There are also gags and moments that just didn't work for me—mainly because Car Share's vérité style suggests a level of fly-on-the-windscreen realism, but there are scenarios that belong in a sillier show that fit awkwardly. Such incidents (one involving a car wash freakout, the other John hiding inside a cardboard box in a shopping trolley) just break the comedy's spell, and it's a shame so many of its scripted jokes elicit groans rather than giggles. But to end on a positive, Kay's co-star Sian Gibson's a real find, and she does a lot to keep this show down-to-earth and watchable.
written by Peter Kay, Tim Reid & Paul Coleman • directed by Peter Kay • 29 & 30 Apr; 6, 13, 20 & 27 May 2015 • BBC1