The hilarious This Time With Alan Partridge harks back to his 1990s heyday
This Time With Alan Partridge proves how durable Steve Coogan's creation is
For nearly three decades, Alan Partridge has remained one of the consistently funny and perfectly-pitched characters in British comedy. Squeezing and twisting a beloved comedy creation into a new format, long after their initial heyday, is far from an easy task - as anyone who sat through David Brent: Life On The Road will testify.
But across radio, a spoof talk-show, sitcoms, a movie, internet short, an autobiography and two different television networks, Steve Coogan’s most famous creation has rarely appeared in anything that has dipped below at least ‘very funny’.
And This Time With Alan Partridge, which finally hits BBC One this month, can easily sit near the top of that list.
The reason for Alan’s malleability and durability is pretty simple: there are still plenty of Alans in our country, it is just the way we view them has changed. In the early 1990s, when Alan first made his debut on Radio 4’s On The Hour, Richard Keys had just made the leap from regional sports presenter to national breakfast host. Now he’s in BeIN Sports, purgatory – a very Alan fate if ever there was one. Just this week, Richard Madeley went viral following an interview with a naked Brexit protestor on Good Morning Britain that was compared to Partridge on social media.
Our screens are still littered with agreeable, awkward middle-aged men, it's just now they are struggling to get their brain around the concept of there being more than two genders.
Alan has been the perfect vehicle to chronicle this very particular celebrity narrative. He’s hit the big time (Knowing Me Knowing You), crashed back to regional radio (I’m Alan Partridge), found peace with that (Mid-Morning Matters), and gone through scandal and the subsequent apology tour (the underrated Scissored Isle).
Now, after six years on Sky Atlantic, Alan Partridge returns to the BBC, both IRL and in kayfabe, for the next chapter. It's not quite a return to the glory days, but This Time With Alan Partridge sees Alan guest host an early-evening magazine fluff-show that is The One Show in all but the name.
The first two episodes shown to the press were both excellent. This Time most resembles Knowing Me, Knowing You in the Partridge cannon - each episode runs in real-time, and on first glance could be an edition of a real chat show.
When This Time cuts to VT packages, we sometimes get to see them. But more often than not, the action lingers in-studio on what would be the live-feed, with the awkward silences and cringe behind-the-scenes moments. We already know that Coogan and his writing team can nail all those little glances, the pauses, and bitchy adlibs, and it works exactly as well as you'd expect.
Several familiar faces return. Tim Key’s ‘Sidekick’ Simon is the show's incompetent social media correspondent, and Alan’s long-suffering PA Lyne makes a welcome reappearance after being largely absent from the Sky era. But almost stealing the show is a new addition, Susannah Fielding as Alan’s co-host Jennie Gresham.
Gresham is a great creation – seemingly bubbly and friendly, yet always on, and subtly in control. Fielding has openly admitted that her cold-eyed glances to the camera when Partridge goes off on one are based on Susannah Reid’s dynamic with Piers Morgan.
It is the perfect next step for Alan. There is only so much darkness that can be mined, sending Partridge into a deeper and deeper spiral. Old dinosaurs like him always get a chance at a comeback. Noel Edmonds had Deal Or No Deal. Bruce Forsyth had Strictly. Alan probably would become a meme, an ironic joke, a kitsch icon - but at the same time, there would be plenty of dads thinking: "That Partridge fella talks a lot of sense".
In a post-screening Q and A, Coogan explained that the current climate made sense for Alan to be brought back. "We had a gift with Brexit, we thought there might be a missive at the BBC saying that a certain area of the viewing audience has been disenfranchised and ignored, the non-elite," said Coogan.
"Alan represents that so you can imagine them thinking 'we might as well give this guy another bite at the cherry because he seems to be in touch with that worldview.'"
The second episode even goes as far as tackling the Me Too movement. When it was first revealed that Coogan was going to deal with the current focus on sexual harassment and abuse in the entertainment industry, many rightly concerned about how it would be handled. But without spoiling the episode, it deftly reveals itself to a surprisingly powerful conclusion.
Alan is a terrible person, but he is not a monster, and the episode provides him with a brief moment of doing the right thing.
This Time With Alan Partridge starts February 25th, on BBC One.