TV Review, Puppy Love, BBC4

puppy love

Ever since The Thick Of It there has been a trend for smartarse, slightly superior sitcoms without laugh tracks to tell you when to giggle. W1A was a smartarse sitcom skewering the BBC, while Getting On did for the NHS what The Thick Of It Did for Westminster office politics. Rev frequently did a similar thing with the church.

So I was pretty sure that Puppy Love, created by and starring Getting On’s Vicki Pepperdine and Joanna Scanlan, would be taking the same sort of cleverer-than-thou potshots at the world of dog training. Particularly as it is on BBC4, the natural home of brained-up comedy. 

But not at all. I was, no pun intended, barking up the wrong tree. Judging from the first episode at least – always a tough call as I found with Detectorists, which was in the same slot and veered off in an unexpected direction – Puppy Love is a pretty conventional sitcom set on the north-west coast about relationships across class, cultural and canine divides. Albeit one without a laugh track. It could certainly sit comfortably on BBC2, Maybe even BBC1.

Scanlan plays against type as Nana V, a working class dog trainer – “all your dogging needs “ – who lives with her clinically obese ex-husband in a caravan and has constant financial problems. Pepperdine plays more to type as Naomi Singh, a nice but stressed middle class mum with a decent but dull husband and a sulky daughter from central casting. Sorry, I should have said Scanlan and Pepperdine play the leads. You can’t have a review of a comedy about dogs without a few puns.

The drama comes from their collison course when Naomi brings her new puppy Charlie to Nana V’s class. There also happens to be an eligible widower Alex (Tobias Menzies) on the scene who they both take a shine to, although there is no sign that Naomi’s marriage is particularly on the skids. In the opening episode the sparks start to fly as they vie for Alex’s attention.

The humour is not particularly subtle but then it needs to be reasonably broad to take the attention away from the dogs. There’s that old saying, never work with animals or children and it doesn’t just apply to the pornography industry. There’s a constant risk that the cast is about to be upstaged by a furry creature scuttling around their feet. Alex’s fluffy dog Toffee is the main charmer here.

Puppy Love looks like it could be a grower if it finds its feet over the next six weeks. At the moment it feels like it could go in either direction, it could be mainstream or it could be something more subtle. But as far as I can tell it isn’t heading in the smartarse direction. A bit of a mongrel then, but like most mongrels it’s easy to like.

Puppy Love, Thursdays, BBC4, 10pm.

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