TV Review: Porridge, Episode 3, The Minder, BBC1

I'm not going to attempt to mount a huge defence of this current series of Porridge. In fact I can totally understand the bile that gets lobbed in its direction on Twitter when it is being broadcast. People care passionately about sitcoms in the way they rarely care about dramas. This reboot was always going to be on a hiding to nothing, trying to recapture the magic of the original Ronnie Barker version.

Yet if you judge it alongside other contemporary mainstream comedies there is something to be said in its favour. There are more laugh-out-loud actual gags here than in, say, Jack Dee's Bad Move. It is not as crudely naff as Mrs Brown's Boys.

And, erm, well maybe that's it. In a world where we can enjoy Shakespearean gags in Upstart Crow or existential angst in Back it does feel like a bit of a blast from another era. But then writers Ian Le Frenais and Dick Clement are hardly thrusting young turks. In fact I've just checked and they are 80 and 81 respectively.

Now I'm not saying that sitcom writing contracts should replace current state pension schemes but they are doing a pretty good job. In this episode, for example, there are some decent lines of dialogue as Fletcher (Kevin Bishop) finds himself with a minder (Ricky Grover) foisted onto him after doing a good turn.

OK, there are occasional throwback quips, but even when there is a shower scene they don't resort to any of the more obvious gags that you might have found in sitcoms in the 1970s comedies. And Grover's character Scudds, while not exactly as nuanced as an Ibsen creation, is not a brainless thug either.

It's easy to knock this Porridge 2.0 with a stream of Ronnie-rolling-in-his-grave tweets. I know, I've probably posted a few myself. And this is hardly Curb Your Enthusiasm or Master of None. But – and I know it's a big but – if you can erase the memory of Ronnie Barker and judge this on its own merits as a populist prison comedy, this is not too bad. it's not must-see TV but it's not kick-the-telly-in TV either. That sounds like a backhanded insult. It is meant as a compliment.

Friday, October 19, BBC1. Or watch online now here.


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