The last decade or so hasn’t been a good one for the television impressionist, with Jon Culshaw the only real figure you see on TV on a regular basis. Those who would have otherwise replaced Culshaw have, instead, decided to reinvent themselves as character comedians. Channel 4 has tried the hardest, with The Kevin Bishop Show, The Morgana Show and VIP, but only found a working vehicle when it cast Terry Mynott in the gently funny The Mimic.
Another graduate of the channel’s retraining home for gifted impressionists is Kayvan Novak, who started out as the multi-talented voice behind PhoneJacker and FaceJacker before getting in front of the camera as a sitcom utility man. Unfortunately, shows like Asylum, Sirens and Phoneshop don’t highlight the actor’s strengths as a chameleon and, more surprisingly, as a charismatic leading man. That’s the issue that lighthearted BBC One comedy Sun Trap is hoping to remedy.
The premise is simple enough: an investigative journalist, on the run from the authorities, does odd-jobs in Spain. Take the first-person narration and disguise-heavy comedy of the Fletch movies and the “light crime capers” of EL C.I.D. and you’re ninety percent there. The plotline, perhaps obviously, is a bit thin, and in this first episode our hero is tasked with recovering a London mobster’s parrot. The path to recovery, as you can probably guess, involves Novak doing lots of funny accents in wigs and generally having the time of his life. It’s hard to recall a flimsier excuse to watch a talented comedian do bit for 20 minutes.
Rounding out the cast is Bradley Walsh, who does just enough with the limited material he’s given here, and the criminally underused Emma Pierson. It’s always baffled me how Pierson only ever gets roles as the a) nymphish eye candy b) sexless receptionist when she’s a truly fantastic comic performer in her own right. Perhaps it’s the fact that she spends a lot of time slumming it on the BBC One pre-9pm drama circuit that means that producers don’t want to take a risk on her. It’s a shame, because she’s barely window-dressing (at least in the pilot) and yet steals every scene in Up The Women. Which, I’m also annoyed isn’t getting renewed.
The screenplay is crammed full of puntastic dialogue that’s fine and, in parts, feels as if it’s better read from the written word than performed by actors. That said, there’s nothing objectionable in it, it zips along at a fast pace and tries not to outstay its welcome with any of the set pieces — except for some heavy lingering during a slapstick scene involving a baby and an eagle at a bird sanctuary late on. It’s also refreshingly free of anything too naughty, which presumably why it’s a mainstream BBC One show rather than for its more Adult neighbours.
When I originally watched the pilot, I had assumed that the show would be airing on a Saturday teatime, squeezed in after Pointless and before the evening news. When it aired, BBC One scheduled it at 10:45 on a Wednesday, which either means the following episodes get raunchy very quickly, or the show has been deemed another The Wright Way (it isn’t). Following the broadcast, there was also plenty of negative reception on Twitter, perhaps because its audience smelled the scent of blood with such disastrous scheduling.
I will admit, however, that I am judging on a curve. A BBC One sitcom is a rare beast, a funny one is even rarer, with most saddled with too many conditions or caveats. Unfortunately, programming comedy for the Daily Mail set is always a doomed road, but that won’t stop the BBC from doing its best to find another My Family (another pre-watershed show that had plenty of promise in its first years). Then again, the fact that this is a BBC One sitcom that’s both funny (in parts) and isn’t set in the home of a white, middle-class family in the leafier suburbs of London is worth celebrating in itself.
700 words and not a single mention of Mrs. Brown’s Boys. Score!