It's not surprising that there is a strong whiff of deja vu watching Uncle, the first episode of the new sitcom starring Nick Helm written by newcomer Oliver Refson. A one-off pilot went out on C4 in 2012 and the first episode of this BBC3 series is basically the same scene-setting plot, tarted up and with Helm sporting a slightly tidier haircut.
There is also a whiff of deja vu because there are all sorts of echoes of other comedies thrumming away like a bassline in the background. Helm plays Andy, a boozy, burly slob who is on the cusp of ending it all when his sister asks him to look after her spoddy schoolboy son Errol (Elliot Speller-Gillott), who turns out to have a similar page boy haircut to Nicholas Hoult in About A Boy.
Helm's character, however, could not be more different to Hugh Grant's character if he was a serial killer, but there are still some odd resonances. At one point Andy tells a new mate he writes annoying jingles – Grant's character lives off the royalties from an annoying Christmas single written by his dad. I'm not sure if this is an unconscious homage or a coincidence but it feels like a nice touch. As is the line when Andy picks Errol up and tries to be funny only to be met with a stony face, to which he replies: "I'm only your chauffeur, I'm not a bloody comedian."
But Helm is a bloody comedian and a bloody good one. While there are elements of his boorish, comi-tragic stage persona in Andy, he is not quite the same gold standard loser. Andy is a little more fully rounded. The script also has some nice idiosyncratic moments. When he tries to win back his ex-girlfriend Gwen (shades of Man Down) she works in a male lap dancer club run by her dad played by Con O'Neill, who wears make-up and a long black wig and looks like Noel Fielding's mum.
I'm not sure how much input Helm had with the script but I presume he was involved in the dream sequence song complete with choreography that comes towards the end of the episode (editor's note - yes indeedy, he wrote all the music in the series). He is more like his stage character here, donning a glamorous white spangly outfit and throwing rock star shapes. Once again, this is clearly pure accident of timing, but it is interesting that Uncle follows hot on the heels of Toast of London in which the similarly burly Matt Berry also had a habit of breaking into ballsy showstopping songs.
All of these coincidences don't really matter one jot of course, because Uncle is, quite simply, a great big glorious laugh. Helm has plenty of onscreen presence and his friendship with Errol is strangely touching and, most importantly, it makes you want to keep watching. By the end of the first episode you can see that there is only one person who needs to do some growing up. And it isn't the 12-year-old.
Uncle is on BBC3 on Mondays at 10pm. Read an interview with Nick Helm here in which he discusses Uncle and his stand-up career and reveals some unlikely influences.