TV Review: Camping, Sky Atlantic

I have a bit of a confession to make. I was never a big fan of Hunderby. I liked it but was not devoted to it is many were. For some reason – Blackadder excepted – I like my comedy to be wearing modern clothes. So it is fills me with joy that Julia Davis is back in the modern world for Camping.

Not that there is actually much joy on display in Camping. We are back in Nighty Night/Human Remains terrain again here, with mismatched, often hideous, selfish people rubbing along together and not really making the best of things. 

The setting is pretty simple – a group of middle aged friends on a summer camping trip. It would be glamping but bossy Fiona (Vicki Pepperdine) won’t let anyone use the actual kitchen unless there is an emergency. Everything has to be cooked al fresco. Preferably at dawn. Fiona is one of those classic sour-faced TV monsters, controlling everything, planning fish dinners a year ahead and not allowing for the slightest change to her plans. One instantly has bags of pity for hen-pecked hubby Robin (Steve Pemberton).

Not surpisingly Fiona is even more sour-faced when Kerry (Elizabeth Berrington) and Adam (Jonathan Cake) turn up with an unexpected stepson. And she is positively explosive when newly separated Tom (Rufus Jones) arrives with girlfriend Fay (Julia Davis), pausing to say hello before shagging, which is what they embarrassingly do for most of the first episode.

This is very much a comedy of English manners. Feelings are repressed and only hinted at rather than actually expressed – in the first episode anyway. Davis' script is brilliant and packed with both unforgettable lines and horrible visual asides. At one point we see the local campsite/farm owner Noel (a sublimely bleak cameo by David Bamber) hosing down a shitty toilet seat. And then Davis pushes it further later when we see the skid-marked underwear on the washing line. It has been washed and is still stained. 

There is something of an elephant in the room though in the shape of Mike Leigh. There is not much chance of escaping the spirit of his Nuts In May here. It’s not even this outdoor setting that evokes that classic tent-based comedy drama. It’s the forensic portrayal of human interaction in all of its cringeworthy horror that recalls Leigh at his best. Maybe it was just me though – I do remember seeing Elizabeth Berrington in a brilliant stage revival of Leigh’s Abigail’s Party so that may have nudged me in that direction too. 

Camping is clearly very much a Julia Davis creation though. Her writing and an excellent cast – particularly Pepperdine’s germophobic, homophobic Fiona – make this a hoot from start to finish. I loved and laughed at every minute. Even the bits I had to watch through my fingers.

Sky Atlantic, Tuesdays, 10pm.

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