Sky’s comedy-drama anthology series of “true…ish stories” from pop culture history is back, with perhaps its most entertaining batch of episodes yet.
The first of these new episodes, written by Pete Jackson, imagines what may have transpired when Freddie Mercury (David Avery) and Kenny Everett (Mathew Baynton) supposedly took Princess Diana (Sophie Rundle), in disguise, on a night out at the Vauxhall Tavern. The result is a perfect mix of humour, with Mercury and Everett constantly teasing each other and squabbling, and pathos, as Diana shares a poignant conversation with a drag queen (Richard Gadd) suffering from AIDS. David Avery also played Mercury in the ‘Backstage at Live Aid’ episode of Urban Myths and you can see why he was invited back to reprise the role. Baynton is equally good as Everett, initially keen to remain anonymous in the club, but later desperately spouting his catchphrases when he starts getting jealous of all the attention that Mercury is receiving.
Episode 2 focuses on what might sound like a more unbelievable tale, although there is more proof this one actually happened. It tells of the time Donald Trump (Anthony Atamanuik) bought a football team in the early 1980s and held cheerleader tryouts at Trump Tower for publicity, with a panel of celebrity judges including Andy Warhol (Jack McBrayer). Even more unbelievably, the pair had some history, as Trump had previously commissioned some paintings from Warhol, but never paid him for them. The script, by Ben Boyer, takes some sharp jabs at Trump’s ego and also gets plenty of laughs from Warhol’s eccentricity. Meanwhile, a top-notch supporting cast includes Pearl Mackie, Natasia Demetriou, Mike Wozniak, Rich Hall and Paul Putner.
Next, the lone pre-19th century story of the series, written by Jess Jackson, sees Hans Christian Andersen (Ian Hart) turn up on the doorstep of Charles Dickens (Stephen Mangan) and proceed to stay with him and his wife (Monica Dolan) for five weeks, significantly overstaying his welcome. Over the course of this amusing episode, Hans proves himself to be a nightmare houseguest, bringing up brothels in front of the children, walking around naked and insisting that Dickens read his lengthy new book, which he is hoping will transform his reputation “from ugly fairytale duckling to fat literary swan.”
The fourth episode, uniquely twice the length of the others, looks at the time Random House publishers took Joan Collins (Victoria Hamilton) to court in 1996, after they paid her a $1 million advance and then argued that the manuscript she delivered to them was completely unusable. It succeeds in providing enough drama to warrant its runtime and does a good job of getting across how humiliating the trial must have been for Collins, as lawyers ruthlessly debated whether her novel was sufficiently bad to be deemed unsalvageable. The supporting cast includes David Walliams (who co-wrote the episode with Dawson Bros) as Joan’s husband, and Mark Heap as her lawyer.
Episodes in the second half of the series all happen to focus on music icons, the comic highlight of which, written by Grace Ofori-Attah, sees a burglar (David Ajala) get more than he bargained for, when he breaks into the home of Grace Jones (Gloria Onitiri) and Jean-Paul Goude (Joshua McGuire). Some unusual casting decisions were made in Urban Myths Season 2, with several big names having rather distracting presences − Noel Fielding as Alice Cooper, Jack Whitehall as Marc Bolan and Frank Skinner as Johnny Cash come to mind. Thankfully, Sky hasn’t gone down the same route this time and it pays off, with Gloria Onitiri, in particular, making a perfect Grace Jones.
The casting of relative unknowns also proves to be a good move in episodes about Madonna and Paul McCartney. The former, written by Sarah Solemani, provides an interesting snapshot of the relationship between a pre-stardom Madonna (Sophie Kennedy Clark) and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Calvin Demba) who would die of a drug overdose at the age of just 27. It’s mostly a two-hander, with brief appearances from Paul Kaye and David Bamber, and takes place almost entirely on the subway during one night. The latter, written by Simon Nye, is a fun look at how Paul McCartney (Tom Connor) wrote Yesterday. Apparently, the tune came to him in a dream, but it took a while to write the lyrics, so at first he temporarily sung the words “scrambled eggs, oh my baby, how I love your legs”.
Lastly, an episode by Neil Forsyth explores how a rumoured relationship between Mick Jagger (Jamie Campbell Bower) and Princess Margaret (Kelly MacDonald) could have been the reason why the Queen kept turning down Jagger for a knighthood during the late 90s/early 2000s. It’s everything an Urban Myths episode should be, providing a rather heartbreaking insight into a woman who rarely had any freedom or privacy, along with strong central performances, witty dialogue and some great running jokes.
Urban Myths Season 1 to 3 is available on Sky On Demand. Don’t have Sky? You can also watch it on NOW TV, which gives live and on-demand streaming access to Sky’s main TV channels, including FOX UK (Legion) and Sky Atlantic (Billions, Westworld), for £7.99 a month – with no contract and a 7-day free trial.