Sunday 1 February 2009

Lead Balloon

I am an irregular viewer of Lead Balloon on BBC Four. Last night, I watched repeats of all of series one on the Dave channel. This took some four hours and prevented my usual dash to my local for a couple before closing-time. But it was worth it. Lead Balloon makes wonderful comedy.

Jack Dee is superb as not-very-funny comedian Rick Spleen. Rick seems to be in a permanent state of irritation, but his melancholic lethargy normally prevents this niggling torment from exploding into anger. He is a complete shit! He is tight (despite somehow managing to earn a good living), and he lies and cheats incessantly in his usually-unsuccessful attempts to save money or advance his career.

His partner Mel (
Raquel Cassidy) seems oblivious to the worst sides of his character. She prefers to view him as a lovable if trying child and veers between treating his antics with resigned acceptance or mild but stifled amusement. She is like a mother who doesn’t shout because it's not the done thing for good parents.

But for me the star of the show is probably Magda (
Anna Crilly), their Russian au pair. She permanently has a face like a smacked arse. But she is clever. By being so morose, she erects a barrier between her and Rick and therefore avoids being manipulated by him. Then there is Marty, his American scriptwriter who I find just slightly irritating, but I am not sure why. There is Michael, the painfully-sensitive and wet owner of a café whose establishment Rick and Marty seem to visit every day. Rick has a daughter, Sam, who continually scrounges off her dad, ably assisted by her boyfriend, Ben. The only other regular in the cast is a neighbour, Clive, who periodically rings on Rick’s door to complain about something.

The programme is very middle class. It is set in a comfortable London suburb where the sun always seems to shine and the trees are always in leaf. The café is not my idea of a kaff. Bacon, eggs, bubble, black pudding and a fried slice are not on the menu. Poncy and pretentious twaddle such as ‘aubergines with parmesan cheese’ is. There never seems to be a shortage of money despite Rick’s frugality. Apart from the main characters, there a few cameos from people representing the lower orders - delivery drivers or shop assistants.

But I find it hilarious. The humour is subtle rather than in-your-face. There is no canned laughter, or sexual innuendo to get cheap laughs. If you never tried
Lead Balloon, I suggest you catch up on it. For me, it is probably the best comedy show I've seen in recent years.


Phil said...

Good stuff, Brother S.

The marginalisation of the 'lower orders' in Lead Balloon is pretty much typical of BBC drama as a whole. How many series feature characters who work in a factory or supermarket, for example?

Even Eastenders is not immune. At first glance you could not have a more working class programme. But look at the main occupations of the majority of its leading characters - pub landlady/lord, cafe owner, night club proprietor, market trader, self-employed hairdressers and mechanics. What other working class community has such a disproportionate amount of small business people?

It occurs time and again on the BBC, and is too frequent for it to be a coincidence.

Walton said...

I enjoyed this too.

I had the flu over Christmas and watched all of them, on BBC iPlayer on my laptop, curled under the duvet.

It was brilliant, and yes, Magda is the best character.

The only sensible character in the film is not only working class, but a woman migrant worker. That must count for something!