TV Critic Tom Denham reviews This Time with Alan Partridge and assures us that the nation’s favourite chat show host is just as hilarious and awkward as ever
‘A tumbled-down farmhouse nestled in the cleavage of soft bosomy downs. Can you say cleavage? Can you say bosom? It might not be a woman! It might just be a smooth, fat teenage boy.’
Partridge is back. Not only back, but more awkward, pedantic and unfiltered than ever before. His resurrection takes the form of This Time with Alan Partridge, acting as a stand-in on a One show-like magazine chat show. This is his first return to the BBC since accidentally shooting a guest and attacking a BBC commissioning editor in the late 90s. With Partridge’s return comes a few questions: what has changed for Alan? Has he achieved any personal development? Is his return perfect timing regarding the current British political and social climate? One thing’s for sure, Partridge is just as comical and tragic as when he first appeared on our TVs.
Here’s here how This Time pans out: amongst the hectic starting procedures of the show, Alan sits nervously ready for his big return to television. After an awkward interaction with his co-host (brilliantly played by Susannah Fielding) regarding his radio show, which she claims to have ‘seen a couple of times before'(!?), Partridge desperately and frantically pleads for a glass of water as his ‘mouth is dry!’. From here, in the classic Partridge style, things begin to unravel and descend into televised carnage. From referencing his co-host’s separation from her partner to defending Shell’s oil spill; from an unneeded and emotional anecdote about his grandad’s generosity to feigning love for a seal pup (‘I don’t know whether to eat him up or wear him!’); from misinformed/ignorant interruptions when discussing gambling machines to likening hills to cleavage, Alan provides plenty of opportunities for comical awkwardness and discomfort. More: Partridge’s despair caused by ‘sidekick’ Simon Denton’s painful interactions with a ‘digi-board’ proves very humorous. Equally, so is his segment on cleaning hands (including overdone voice-overs, interviews with BBC staff outside of toilets, and finishing with a sexually charged reaction to a hand cleaning demonstration performed by a scientist) which concludes with Partridge’s detailed physical demonstration of how to use the bathroom without using your hands. Things descend into chaos as Partridge confronts, exposes and then pursues off-set a ‘Hacktivist’. The show finishes with Partridge stuck acting as a lobby boy in a lift filled with BBC staff (with enough time for some sucking-up to the real-life Emily Maitlis).
So much golden Partridge material… it is amazing that Steve Coogan, alongside fellow fraternal writers Neil and Rob Gibbons, has been able to keep Partridge’s comic capabilities so fresh over so many years. Perhaps the comedy of the caricature Partridge is accentuated by Britain’s current political and social climate; Alan is the perfect character of satire for such slimy television figures as Piers Morgan. Yet Partridge is almost a richer character than this: he has developed. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Coogan noted how Partridge is ‘economically conservative but he understands you’ve got to be socially liberal. He tries to embrace things and tries to be ‘on message’ … but he’s not really.’ Partridge, both comically and tragically, gets things so wrong: he misinterprets situations, attempts to act in a way which will please an audience. As Coogan later notes, ‘it’s funnier to go for people who are attempting to adopt what is known as correct thinking and not quite getting it right’. Partridge’s desperation, euphemized by his claim that he is ‘keen to give [his] best’, leaks through his awkward facial expressions, movements and outbursts. He is incredulously foolish, and yet we love such folly as we squirm and cringe at his inelegance.