TV Review, Porridge, BBC1

For this new version of Porridge the original writers, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, are back on board which should be a good sign. The difference is that the original set-up has been updated. Fletch played by Kevin Bishop is now Nigel Norman Fletcher, the grandson on Ronnie Barker’s Norman Stanley Fletcher.

And boy are those big shoes to fill. The script here is OK if you can get past the topical references to gluten free food and Sepp Blatter (and in fairness there’s a great line about shaved fennel), but Ronnie Barker casts such a big shadow it is tough for Kevin Bishop to put his stamp on things.

Bishop’s Fletch is a cybercriminal and thus is very popular when anyone inside who needs something hi-tech done. Hard man Richie Weeks (Ralph Ineson) wants Fletch to doctor his prison records while soft warden Mr Braithwaite (Dominic Coleman) has a sticky widget or something. When Fletch needs some extra parts to sort an issue there is the inevitable joke about them being smuggled in up someone’s bum. Of course, if this was really bang up to date there would be a gag about drones dropping hard drives in.

The script is fine and there is good support from Mark Bonnar as no-nonsense warden Mr Meekie, an update of Fulton Mackay’s stoney-faced role. Dave Hill as old lag Joe Lotterby is good too - Hill is not to be confused with Dave Hill from Slade, although with his bald pate and long straggly black hair at the sides I did wonder if that’s what the Slade guitarist looks like these days.

But this is very much Bishop’s show and he doesn’t quite cut it. He is pretty handy at playing the cheeky chappy and there’s some nifty physical comedy from him, but he is too hyper. He seems to rattle through his lines as if he has got an urgent appointment somewhere else. There is also the problem of the laughter from the audience. Yes, I know it’s not canned laughter but we are so used to post-Office sitcoms without laughter it just feels strange.

Unlike a lot of critics I’ve got no real axe to grind against this Landmark Sitcom Season taking money away from new talent. If a programme is good enough it’s good enough. End of debate. But in this case it is just a curiosity. You’d laugh more watching the original episodes on reruns even if you’ve seen them endless times before.



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