TV: Back, C4

Let’s be crystal clear about this. Back is not Peep Show – What Happened Next? David Mitchell plays a feckless, inept man-child and Robert Webb plays a hopeless charmer who can’t help cocking up and landing on his feet, but that’s where the similarity ends. Almost.

OK, so the lead actors are the same and there are occasional Peep Show echoes in the Mitchell/Webb dynamic, but Back, written by Simon Blackwell who co-wrote Veep, The Thick Of It and worked on Peep Show, is very good indeed. From the get-go it has its own sense of identity. There is a moment when David Mitchell’s character finds himself walking through the streets with a dishwasher cutlery cradle in one hand and a sick dog in a carrier in the other that is totally unique.

The sit in the sitcom finds Stephen (Mitchell) taking over the rural John Barleycorn pub from his late father Laurie, who by all accounts was a bit of a local legend. Stephen thinks that this is a chance for him to make his mark with fancy paninis and that sort of thing. Then along comes Andrew (Webb) to mess with his plans. As a child Andrew was fostered for a few months by Stephen’s parents and is now treated like a returning hero. 

Of course, as a few brief early bullet point set-pieces have shown us, Andrew is more sociopath than Dragon's Den whizzkid. The scene is set for some comedic fireworks as well as pathos. But first there is the small matter of a funeral, which is always good for comedy, with emotions heightened, alcohol involved and people meeting people they aren’t used to meeting.

If anything the tone here is closer to something like C4’s Flowers than Peep Show, though it isn't quite as strange as that. Everyone is ever-so-slightly off kilter in a way you don’t often see in sitcoms. Mum (Penny Downie) is a weed-smoking free spirit, Uncle Geoff (Geoffrey McGivern) is the oldest swinger in town, flashing around his new Bluetooth gizmos with inevitable embarrassing consequences.

The mood is interesting as well as funny, with occasional flashbacks showing Stephen and Andrew as children and Matt “Garth Marenghi” Holness as their dad, treating Andrew as the prodigal son and Stephen with disdain. It is not easy for sitcoms to hit the ground running - the BBC’s recent Quacks had a good pedigree but somehow didn’t work for me. By contrast Back feels like it has been around for ages. I guess it helps when you’ve got two skilful leads who are familiar as a sitcom double act, but let’s not take anything away from Simon Blackwell’s astute writing. I expect Back will be back after this first six-part run.

Back, C4, Wednesdays from Sept 6, 10pm.

Read an interview with David Mitchell here.

Read an interview with Robert Webb here.

Read an interview with writer Simon Blackwell here.


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