Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere

Friday, November 12, 2004 by

When the stand-out moment from a new comedy is a sequence involving funny dancing, things aren’t going great. Particularly when said comedy has been perhaps the most eagerly anticipated of the year. But then, let’s face it, when you pick over the bones the omens weren’t great for Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere.

Peter Kay engenders more affection in his audience than any comedian of his generation. But is that huge stock of goodwill now dwindling? The second series of Phoenix Nights failed to hit the heights of the first – and indeed was publicly disowned by co-star Daniel Kitson – whilst Kay’s last live tour revealed him to be a man fast approaching the fringes of his material. “Tell us a joke we know,” perhaps, but variations on “garlic bread?!” (in the act and on bucket-loads of merchandising) and that hoary old standby about Jim Bowen giving away speedboats to inner city-based contestants on Bullseye represented worrying stuff for those who’d enjoyed the comedian’s prior stock of inventive, original work.

As news of Max and Paddy’s impending “road movie” spin-off filtered out, there was gossip about problems on the production and rumours of Kay falling out with his former writing mates. In happier days – when we’d have no reason to second-guess the comedian – a spin-off centred on the duo would have been welcome indeed. But that was until those last two episodes of Phoenix Nights which saw them take-up a major storyline wherein they’d, rather improbably, become a pair of hit men. Never feeling like anything other than an empty diversion from the main business at hand, it seemed as though two minor player had stepped forward, and – getting rather above themselves – expected the audience to take an interest in them. Where Max and Paddy previously supplied punctuation to great effect (“Talent night? Talent shite”), suddenly they were (very nearly) the full story.

It was like tuning into Porridge and getting 15 minutes of McLaren instead of a whole 30 devoted to Fletcher.

Of course, this didn’t mitigate per se against a spin-off, but highlighted the fact the characters needed lots of development before we could expect them to carry a series on their own. However, perhaps they’re more effective left on the sidelines. A pair of smart, but slightly drawn figures, a useful cutaway device when the main action requires some commentary or a change in tone. A great Greek chorus, but never the whole show.

Well, whatever. One thing you can’t deny is Kay and co-writer/star Patrick McGuinness have approached this project with a lot of affection. Their love for the characters and the world that Kay’s been delineating since The Services in 1998 is obvious, and very nearly infectious. Where, for example, The League of Gentleman seemed to feel stymied by Royston Vasey come their third series, Kay still loves mooching around Chorley FM’s catchment area. But, alas, you can’t help feel that when Max and Paddy take to the road for their spurious Odyssey, the assumption is you’re already on board. No effort seems to have been spent on ensuring the audience are onside, and right from the opening self-referential bogus sponsorship message, it’s just taken as read that you’re going to buy into what happens next.

And what does happen is sadly bog-standard stuff for any sitcom. Perhaps the writing partnership felt they could provide a new spin on the tried-and-trusted scenario of a would-be charmer falling to pick up any women, but – well – for this reviewer whatever that fresh element was, it was much too subtle. Similarly, the running gag of a holidaying family mistaking the titular duo for a homosexual couple was seen-it-all-before stuff. What next, a drunken yokel electing to throw away his flagon of scrumpy after copping sight of an unexpected spectacle?

If all this seems like sour stuff (and it is), it’s perhaps because, despite the worrying signs, there was still the hope that Kay would confound our fears and really deliver here. If there was anyone who’d avoid jumping the shark just at the moment it looked like things were going to go tits-up, then he’d be your man. And even now, it seems wrong to consign the series to the dumper. Overall, the body of work that has preceded Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere has been so good and so enjoyable that it surely can’t all be over yet.

We’ll be watching, but Peter Kay should be aware that a figure who makes the public love him so much faces real scorn when he turns out a disappointment. Be careful along that road to nowhere.


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