Still Game

Friday, May 7, 2004 by

Choo! Choo! All aboard the Craiglang Express! Rockets, nuggets and bawbags step right up for another magical mystery tour penetrating deep into the heartland’s (and the badlands) of the modern, everyday working-class pensioner. Prepare to have your ears bashed by Isa, your guts battered by Boaby’s manky pints and your funnybone tickled to extremis by the entire cast of the BBC’s finest sitcom of recent times. The return of Jack, Victor and the inhabitants of the mythical Glasgow housing of Craiglang means gloriously good times ahead for viewers in Scotland whilst the rest of the UK is denied the wondrous pleasures of Still Game. Hurdy, hurdy gurdy.

Now, I’m as nationalistic as the next man (as long as he’s not Jean Marie Le Pen) but I do feel somewhat aggrieved that the genius of Still Game has been so shoddily treated by the BBC. If ever a show demanded a simultaneous transmission across the United Kingdom, then it’s this corker of a sitcom. In fact, the treatment of Still Game amply demonstrates the condescending, patronising, metrocentric attitude of the BBC to perfection. Given a derisory five episode run on BBC2 earlier this year, Still Game was, at last, finally scheduled nationwide. Despite being played alongside the far more heavily trailed Grass (which predictably had the darlings of the media creaming themselves) the antics of Jack, Victor and their egregious cronies – to be perfectly blunt – kicked the arse out of Grass. Taking the audience up from 1.2 million to 1.4 million, it became BBC2′s most-watched evening show. In simple terms, a humble Scottish offering wiped the floor with London’s great hope. Why the BBC continues to commission and heavily publicise Grass and the savagely bad Lenny Henry Show is beyond me, and also contempt.

The third series of the first genuinely great Scottish sitcom since the days of Para Handy returned to our screens neatly commencing where the second finished. Arriving in Canada, the opening line neatly underscored the entire episode and set the tone wonderfully for the next 30 minutes. On seeing her father arrive, Jack’s daughter stopped and muttered “My dad got old”. Delivered with enough nuance to convey shock, you realised once again that here we have two men who are not going gently into that good night. Too often, Still Game is dismissed as the antics of two grumpy old men. The reality is that it’s the tale of two men who, though sometimes grumpy, are happy in their ordered world and do so much more than merely live day to day, merely marking time until the Grim Reaper arrives. If anything, Jack and Victor are a wonderful representation of the modern day OAP, managing to portray the difficulties faced by the average pensioner in today’s society.

The only grouch that I had with this episode was that it really should have been a 60-minute special. For those of us who have witnessed the stage version of Still Game (which occurred before Jack and Victor popped up on Kiernan and Hemphill’s Chewin’ the Fat sketch show and embedded themselves in a nation’s consciousness) we have always longed to see the irascible duo visit Canada. The idea and the images were already there and there is certainly enough comedic gas in the tank to make an hour long special a workable possibility. Mind you, Kiernan and Hemphill have publicly stated that they’d love to take Jack and Victor to Las Vegas. That I’d love to see.

As ever, the joy of Still Game is both in the writing and the cast. The characters are all so well defined and the interaction between them is, more often than not, verging on the hysterical. This is always the case when Naveed’s shop comes into play. Arguably the scene of the best lines, the humble grocery store is, in effect, the nerve centre of Craiglang where gossip is traded and insults hurled. Tonight, we had Isa, Naveed and Winston (three superb performances incidentally) combining to perfection with a little sketch in which a level of coarse swearing that Gordon Ramsay would have blushed at was brilliantly achieved. In any other show, a white pensioner calling an Asian shopkeeper a prick would be met with a barrage of righteous indignation but here it makes for genuinely funny viewing. As does said Asian shopkeeper calling his customer a mad shagger. And all this is before we get to the resurrection of the word pie as a naughty word. Genius.

The beauty of Still Game is in its inherent ability to merge comedy with both farce and tragedy. The scene in which Jack’s daughter asked him to move to Canada to live with her was quite moving. Jack listened to her plea then rendered a little soliloquy in which he confessed that he couldn’t do without his late wife, and that he wanted to go home was beautiful. There was an air of poignancy that moved the viewer. Then, just as the scene was resting in a sea of serene solemnity, Jack opined that he had to go home anyway as he had £8 left on his powercard. Once again, genius. Likewise Jack throwing up on his grandchildren whilst visiting the CN Tower. The line, “Calm doon – it’ll wash aff”, seems certain to be reverberating around the bars of Glasgow for quite some time.

Every scene, every subplot was suffused with greatness. This was a genuinely brilliant episode of a genuinely brilliant sitcom. From the unsaid sadness of the opening line to the after-credit coda scene (the regulars in The Clansman comparing crap presents in a sweep – which Isa won with a gloriously tacky and risqué Big Beaver T-shirt) this was just a delight to watch. Apparently, audience research carried out in England after the five episodes were screened on BBC2 earlier this year showed that 80% of the audience thought so too. We can’t all be wrong.


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