TV Review: Upstart Crow, Series Three, BBC2

David Mitchell returns as aspiring playwright/superstar William Shakespeare in Ben Elton's return-to-form sitcom. I say return-to-form with a couple pf caveats. Firstly, it's way, way better than his last BBC outing The Wright Way, but that was simply bloody awful. And secondly Upstart Crow does owe a huge debt to Elton's finest half hour (aided by Richard Curtis), Blackadder. You can almost hear a young Rowan Atkinson delivering Mitchell's adjective-laden and metaphor-heavy running gags about diversity, privatisation and his regular commuting issues on crappy broken down coach replacement sevices: "I hardly think such issues will concern travellers centuries hence." Oh, and Tim Downie's Christopher Marlowe still seems to be channeling Rik Mayall's Flashheart, albeit a tad more dialled down this time round.

In the first of six new episodes, entitled Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be! Will is just finishing writing A Midsummer Night's Dream, a tale of love potions, enchantment and a wood full of fairies. He is very pleased with how grittily realistic it is as he based it on his own experience. But Burbage (Steve Speirs) and the other actors tell him it lacks a little comedy, like say a character with a funny name or a big visual joke. Meanwhile back in Will's lodgings where on earth is his servant Bottom (Rob Rouse) going to put that donkey head?

Kate (Gemma Whelan) has problems of her own, because Lord Egeus (a pustule-covered Nigel Planer), "the richest man in Southwark" who owns chez Shakespeare, has taken a shine to her, and Robert Greene (the brilliant Mark "give him his own show"  Heap) is determined to be the matchmaker. Along the way we learn a little more about how Will and Anne (Liza Tarbuck) found love in a neat flashback scene, and how Will managed to get hold of a love potion...

Upstart Crow, Wednesdays at 8.30pm from August 29, BBC2.

Watch here after broadcast.


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