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Between BBC Three’s People Just Do Nothing and This Country, the mockumentary is enjoying something of a resurgence on British TV. The latest to join the trend are Lee and Dean, two builders who spend their days driving around Stevenage in their white van. A pair of white van men might not sound like the most auspicious of starts, but Channel 4’s comedy wears its working class bricks on its sleeve, and uses them to build something with real promise.
Much like This Country, Lee and Dean benefits from the fact that it’s written by its cast, and you can tell that Miles Chapman (Lee) and Mark O’Sullivan (Dean) know their characters inside and out (they first graced our screens in a short on YouTube back in 2015). Lee is a blokey bloke, who spends his time laying pipe and filling cracks, to use his parlance, and Dean, well, Dean has strong feelings for his best mate.
Childhood friends, Dean follows Lee’s lead, happy to be the number two in their relationship – and so when Lee finds himself a new girlfriend, Nikki (Camille Ucan), much to the displeasure of his client-with-benefits Mrs. Bryce-D’Souza (Anna Morris), Dean gamely steps up to pretend to be Bryce’s squeeze, allowing Lee and his mistress to spend time together. But, of course, things are destined to go wrong, and the result is some of the most entertainingly awkward comedy this side of Peep Show.
While the show revels in its characters’ brash, crude comments, there’s a deceptively soft side lingering beneath the brittle brickwork. That’s what makes the thing work, even as some of the vox pop segments occasionally feel a little disjointed – a stronger sense of presence and purpose to our mockumentary camera crew might give the series a more distinct identity. Nonetheless, there are slivers of emotional sincerity among the giggles: Lee, we realise, might have found a relationship he actually wants to take seriously, while Dean brings a melancholic loneliness to every exchange. “You know what’s coming up?” he asks Lee, with an excited expression. “Me and Nikki going to Thorpe Park?” comes the dismissive reply. Lee pauses. “No, your birthday.”
Following the broadcast of Episode 1, the whole box set is now available on All 4. We recommend it.
Channel 4 has established itself as a leading chronicler of Britain’s youth, from the secret lives of tiny kids to the day-to-day struggles of secondary school pupils. Here, it resorts to a classic staple of the genre, as a group of underperforming boys are sent to India’s equivalent of Eton – Dehradun’s “Doon School” – to get their GCSEs.
There’s Alfie, who starts to learn Hindi, Jake, who’s got at pottery and cooking, and, best of all, Ethan, from South Wales, who is preparing to transition between genders and won’t accept any compromises on who he is, school rules or no school rules. Seeing them interact with Brit headmaster Mr. Raggett, by turns supporting and stern, is exactly the kind of entertaining (in a mildly exploitative way) footage that makes for such popular TV, but there’s enough sensitivity and respect for the programme to will its boys on to achieve more than one GCSE between them. Social class issues? Check. Cultural clashes? Check. Educational drama? Check. Indian Summer School certainly gets its exam questions right.
Dispatches: Russian Spy Assassins: The Salisbury Attack (All 4)
The words “like a real life spy thriller” are so cliched now that even this latest episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches uses it within its opening few minutes. But it’s entirely accurate, as the programme pieces together pieces of the mystery surrounding the recent Russian poisoning scandal with cinematic pizazz and gripping precision. We get a deep dive into the background of victim Sergei Skripal, from his espionage recruitment to his eventual attack in a Salisbury park. We also an insight into the kind of man Putin is, as he takes betrayal and anti-patriotism severely seriously. (Would it be fair to describe Russia as a mafia state? “It’s a bit unfair,” says MI6 handler Sir Andrew. “On the mafia.”)
But while the glimpses of how Russia is reporting the death of this “traitor” are chilling, and the fear of those in the local Salisbury area and the many Russians in voluntary exile in the UK is all-too-real, what’s truly haunting is the footage we’re shock of a Novichok agent in action, as a goat dies painfully and quickly in a toxic cloud of nerve gas. Balancing historical context with important details, this is a comprehensive account of something that could have been ripped straight from a spy novel – and all the more disturbing because of it.
The week wouldn’t be complete without an honourable mention to Declan Donnelly, who hosted Saturday Night Takeaway on ITV without Ant for the first time, after Ant was charged with drink driving this week. He shouldered the sole weight with aplomb, charm, some knowing jokes with guest voiceover Stephen Merchant, and no end of energy.
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