TV Review: Jack Dee's Election Help Desk, BBC2

When I first saw Jack Dee’s Help Desk onstage in Edinburgh last summer I wrote that this comedy agony uncle format was clearly a TV show-in-waiting. The surprising thing is that the BBC is trying it out for the first time with an election theme. Compare this to C4, which has given an election theme to a tried and tested vehicle, The Last Leg. Though, of course, that too started out as a specialist show covering the Paralympics, so maybe there is a weird logic here and if Dee's format works it will return.

So has Jack Dee’s show got legs? Well the first edition didn’t exactly stick to the political brief but it was pretty good as a cross between a generic piss-taking panel show and Question Time. The audience asked their questions and the guests – Romesh Ranganathan, Claudia Winkleman, Aisling Bea and Jeremy Hardy – answered, while Jack Deembleby chipped in with the funnies too.

The press information says that this is live and if it is and was unedited and unscripted it was particularly impressive. Shows such as Have I Got News For You have to be whittled down. Here an audience member would ask, for instance, which party would help them lose weight and the panel simply piled in.

It certainly felt pretty spontaneous, even if I could see Romesh Ranganathan’s gag coming a mile off when a woman talked about wanting more toilets for the ageing population and he thought she had said “Asian population”. Ranganathan is a real star in the making, with an excellently expressive televisual face and a way of being misanthropic and charming at the same time. 

Dee is a pretty seasoned host these days so barely broke sweat, while Hardy was as sharp as he has been on the circuit for over three decades. Bea was quick and Winkleman was on good form freed from the tyranny of scripts on her umpteen other shows.

There are a lot of election comedies coming along at the moment. There’s the aforementioned Last Leg, the topical Newzoids and Ballot Monkeys from the writers of Outnumbered. It will be interesting to see which one wins the satire race. At the moment Help Desk gets my vote. But then I haven’t seen the others yet 

Jack Dee's Election Help Desk, Mondays, BBC2, 10pm. Watch the first episode on iPlayer here.

Read a review of Newzoids here.

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