With all of Brassic Season 1 available as a box set, we binge through Sky One’s new original comedy.
Read our interview with Joe Gilgun
Working-class life is so often represented in a grim, bleak fashion on screen, with these impoverished communities given very little to smile about. In this respect, Brassic (coming from the Cockney rhyming slang for being skint) immediately feels fresh, placing the humour, warmth and tight-knit friendships of these communities at the forefront.
The show is the brainchild of Joe Gilgun (best known for his work as Woody in This Is England) and is based upon the mishaps and hijinks of his own Northern upbringing. Gilgun stars as witty troublemaker Vinnie, who spends the majority of his time scheming and committing a variety of petty crimes with his five working-class friends in the fictional town of Hawley.
The gang are a dysfunctional lot to say the least: there’s sex addict Tommo (Ryan Sampson), who has found his calling running the local adult dungeon; kind-hearted yet overweight simpleton Cardi (Tom Hanson), who is named after the cardiac arrest he’s clearly headed for; strongman boxer Ash (Aaron Heffernan), who comes from a traveller background; corrupt car mechanic JJ (Parth Thakerar) and, lastly, Vinnie’s best mate, Dylan (Damien Molony), who’s torn between a life of criminal frolics with his friends and a family life with his girlfriend Erin (Michelle Keegan) and her little boy.
The first episode opens with a brilliantly staged high-speed police chase through the Lancashire countryside while Vinnie’s friends reassure him over his receding hairline. This is just another day at the office for the group and they evade the police with nonchalant ease by hiding in their underground bunker/cannabis farm. Brassic is full of such giddily entertaining comedy set pieces and the gang constantly become embroiled in an array of ludicrous capers. The opening episode alone sees them steal a Shetland pony, misuse chloroform on themselves and create an enemy of a shady crime boss. Latter episodes see the crew steal prized fish, fake a funeral and, in one of the season’s standout sequences, undertake the robbery of a safe in a strip club via a series of underground sewer pipes.
Brassic is at its best during these fast-paced escapades, driven along by a pulsating soundtrack and with the talented ensemble’s infectious camaraderie to the fore. When Brassic puts a serious face on, it just doesn’t land as well. The show addresses mental health issues through Vinnie, who suffers from bipolar depression – a condition which Gilgun also lives with in real life. Although it’s refreshing to see this represented in a mainstream comedy programme, Brassic never properly unpacks the illness. While Dominic West is delightful as Vinnie’s self-obsessed, grossly inappropriate GP, any meaningful or insightful conversations around mental health are often side-lined.
The show’s biggest through-line explores Erin’s attempt to change the destined course of her life by going to college. But her partner, Dylan, struggles to keep out of trouble, finding himself caught between the conflicting loyalties of friends and family. It’s a rather well-worn trope that fails to leave much of an impact, despite some committed work from Keegan. Brassic hits home when addressing more political matters, particularly during Vinnie’s expletive-ridden Trainspotting riff, which acutely tears apart middle-class preoccupations and bemoans the lack of opportunities his hometown has offered him.
Hawley is a town that has been left behind and neglected yet Vinnie declares: “We’re not victims, we just have a different way of living. It’s about having your mates, having a laugh and just finding a way to survive.” This segment of dialogue acts as Brassic’s manifesto; it’s a show that excels in illustrating the optimism, laughter and togetherness many of these working-class communities are founded upon.
Brassic is bolstered by the easy chemistry and natural wit of its talented cast of comedic performers, but it is Gilgun’s electric turn that shines through. His charismatic, funny and empathetic performance gives the show real momentum as well as a beating heart. There’s a host of glorious minor roles too, with Steve Evets giving a hilarious turn as disgruntled farmer Jim and Tim Key popping up as wizard-costumed computer hacker Vortex in a typically zany role.
While it indulges in slapstick and toilet humour at times, Brassic never feels throwaway thanks to the authenticity and passion Gilgun lends the show. With a second season already commissioned, let’s hope Gilgun has more absurd experiences to draw upon.
Brassic Season 1 is available on Sky One. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month (until 9th October 2019, when the price rises to £8.99), with no contract and a 7-day free trial.