Bob Servant’s got all the answers until, you know, someone asks him a question.
The star of a new BBC Four three-part sitcom, Bob Servant Independent, he’s standing for a by election in his home town of Broughty Ferry near Dundee. His experience? Running a cheeseburger van. Oh, and having opinions. He would possibly feel having a nice extension also counts. His campaign manager’s experience? Doing the sauces in said van.
The set-up has so much potential – the deluded man has plenty of comic mileage. Pathos, too, when he comes up against a hard world he doesn’t understand. Let us bow our heads quickly in memory of the sacred Alan Partridge.
Local politics, with all its grudges, single-issue nutcases and tiny stakes, is ripe for satire, too. The gap between overweening ambition and the sort of thing a prospective parliamentary candidate has to go through to get elected is tailor-made for this kind of excruciating comedy.
Unfortunately, I only winced twice. I also cracked a smile, twice.
I don’t like Comedy of Embarassment. If I want to cringe about someone’s inept dealings with the rest of the world, I go out in public. But I do know how it should be done: our anti-hero wades in deeper and deeper until his ambitions, and his self-respect, are swimming with the fishes.
The final, climactic humiliation should see him having no option but to have his pride pricked in public, but with just enough self-belief remaining to get up and do it all again next week.
However, the quiet ratcheting-up of every tiny indignity is missing. When a caller contacts Bob to complain about dog mess in a local park, we’re straight into the absurdity of offering dog owners £5,000 to walk their pets elsewhere, while at the same time saying all dogs will be banned from the town.
There are some marvellous moments. During the rest of the radio phone-in that takes up half the episode, Brian Cox (not that one) as Bob also takes a call from a lady voter. He grabs the mic and seduces it – metaphorically, of course. This is BBC Four, not Three. At that moment, I saw in Bob the smug, irritating ‘man of the world’ he aspires to be.
The campaign manager, Frank, is happy, enthusiastic, and, of course, utterly incompetent. The dynamic between him and Bob could be mined for tension and plenty of humour. Instead, Frank is a one-dimensional yes-man.
One of my smiles came very early on, when Frank unveils a poster: ‘Vote for Bob Servant: you know him and he’s ok.’
Politics, local and national, in a nutshell.
Next week seems to promise the introduction of the rival candidate, Nick Edwards. Perhaps giving Bob someone – other than the public – to rail against will provide more shape to the character and some actual laughs.