How Do You Want Me?

Wednesday, December 22, 1999 by

The second series of Simon Nye’s rural sitcom ended last night with something resembling a bang. Yet this is a series that seems to have gone largely unnoticed. Certainly is not one that has passed into bar-prop parlance.

These are heady times for British sitcoms. Much of the talent that has been allowed to flourish within the sketch show format have been directed at this decried element of TV. The work of Aherne, Wood and Pegg have met with popular approval, and at last there appears to be a way forward. How Do You Want Me? has largely missed out on the hype. Yet it is far better thandinnerladiesThe Royle Family or the really rather pisspoor Spaced.

Nye’s sitcom background further separates him from his bedfellows. It is perhaps more useful to compare him to the only other post Young Ones sitcom writer to attain a large, credible audience with a long running sitcom based on new lads. However, whilst Doug Naylor has continued to flog Red Dwarf for all it’s worth (and you may not like it, but it still gets a sizeable BBC2 audience) he has failed to produce anything else of lasting value. Nye seemed to recognise how stale Men Behaving Badly had become and realised it was best to give it up. Consequently, How Do You Want Me? has benefited from a writer once again seemingly fresh with ideas. Gary and Tony were his adolescence, this is for the big boys.

Tonight’s episode was beguilingly good. Nye was able to trot out a typical soap opera “will they get back together again” storyline and yet ensure that the audience remained concerned. The difference lay in the motivation: soap opera conflict is contrived and meted out to characters by rote. Nye’s scripts come about as a result of a journey lead by his characters. And what characters! Dean is the boorish flipside to Men Behaving Badly‘s Gary: physically sinister, whose childish mentality is more threatening then amusing, Frank Finlay’s Astley Yardley is unremittingly unpleasant, and unable to compromise one iota of his prejudiced beliefs. There is detail in the writing and the performing and this allows the humour and the drama to emit from the people and not the plotlines.

Tonight’s episode continued to dodge dramatic convention yet was able to adhere to a typical end of series motif: namely, allowing the lead character to challenge the central dilemma thus threatening the continuation of the series. Ian’s temporary submission to the hostility of his environment was understandable and something of a relief for those of us who have suffered with him throughout the last 12 episodes. Yet his reversal at series end was equally understandable. Those who live amidst difficult situations assess their life in markedly different ways depending on their state of mind. It’s this kind of perceptive writing – along with top jokes – that has made How Do You Want Me? something of a treat. Let’s hope for more, but not for too much more.


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