Bob Martin

Sunday, May 7, 2000 by

“‘Phone Ainsley Harriott’ – great”

After six weeks, Bob Martin has turned out to be both an amusing, sharp series, and also a massive flop for ITV. It’s ironic that a series that has been one of the most truthful looks into the world of television should also be subjected to some subtle rescheduling by ITV, with seemingly every episode ending with an apologetic “Next week’s programme will be at the slightly later time …”

The slightly dodgy first episode didn’t help matters, as it took a while for the programme to work out whether it wanted to be totally cynical about the industry, or just a funny series. In the event, it moved towards the latter, which is a welcome change. Most other attempts at fiction set around television have been so cynical that one wonders exactly why the people involved are working in the industry in the first place, as in Guy Jenkin’s recent Sex ‘n’ Death. However, Bob Mills and Jeff Pope seem to be enthusiastic about the medium. The two were previously responsible for Channel 4′s The Show in 1997, where a straightforward chat show was married with some incredibly candid behind the scenes sequences. The series was fascinating, but also, eventually, pretty pointless – the chat show was constructed purely for the series, so the anxieties about making a good programme seemed false, because everybody only watched it for the behind the scenes stuff.

So this series wisely sticks to fiction. In doing so, they’ve constructed a very believable office setup – Denis Lawson, Keith Allen and Tracy-Ann Oberman bantering away as if they’d been working together for years. As for Barrymore … in some situations it’s been hard to tall whether his character is supposed to be a Partridge-style git or a more sympathetic, almost empty character. In the “party” episode earlier in the run, Bob seemed to be a well-meaning guy getting jerked around by others, which didn’t seem to fit in with the publicity (especially ITV’s “Hear Barrymore say ‘fuck!’” trailer) which painted him as an egotistical, foul-mouthed bastard. So are we now seeing a truly three dimensional character, who has these “grey areas”, or just someone poorly defined? Hard to tell, but Barrymore has certainly acquitted himself well in his first acting role, managing to put 15 years of a career behind him to create a character that could be empathised with, and he hasn’t come over just as “TV’s Michael Barrymore”.

Later trailers for the series have concentrated on how “all our favourite stars” are appearing in the series, as ITV try desperately to convince us to watch it. Celebrities playing themselves have always been a problem for sitcoms – I’m reminded of Kylie Minogue’s appearance in The Vicar of Dibley, where all trace of wit was removed to avoid upsetting her. Most of the cameos have moved away from the “do you see?” school, some working brilliantly well – for example, Jamie Theakston, who did his own career no harm by taking part in a storyline that amusingly took the piss out of his private life.

Despite the ratings, a second series is in the pipeline, although this is more likely to do with over-enthusiasm for the concept before transmission, rather than any attempt by ITV to give it time to build. However it came about, though, it’s good to see – because any series that includes the exchange “Shall I get John Leslie on standby?”/”I will never, ever be that ill” can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.


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