BBC One TV review: King Gary
Ivan Radford | On 16, Feb 2020Reading time: 2 mins
“If your spanner ain’t turning, you ain’t earning, my son.” That’s the sound of Gary King (Tom Davis) trying to make his mark on the world.
The series gives Tom Davis a deserved chance to take centre-stage as Gal, a builder with aspirations to achieve social acceptance and moderate material success in South London suburbia. He’s joined by his childhood sweetheart Terri, played with impeccable cluelessness by Laura Checkley (The Detectorists). Needless to say, both are them are amusingly inept at climbing the social ladder, and while the larger-than-life characters are fun, King Gary succeeds because it manages to sympathise with that universal human worry of what others think of us – and laugh at every absurd extreme that worry takes its lead couple to.
That affection for its man-and-wife double-act ensures we never chuckle cruelly at their expense. Gary, in particular, is a wonderfully observed and realised character, a balance of desperation and dated values – he’s perpetually trying to impress his dinosaur of a dad, Big Gary (Simon Day, recalling Competitive Dad from The Fast Show) and prove himself the man of the town, even though he’s visibly pained by trying to do so.
Masculinity, marital loyalty and modern social pressures all elbow each other throughout every 30-minute episode (written by Davis and directed by James De Frond), erupting into brilliant set pieces such as one awkward confrontation over a football team Gary coaches – bringing him into conflict with Romesh Rangathan’s sarcastic, woke neighbour. Trying to establish order and respect on the family building site is, through Gary’s eyes, an apocalyptic scenario, while a surprise birthday trip to play mini golf is almost as hilarious as their attempts to befriend a disdainful French couple on a beach resort holiday.
The show’s sharp writing and performances are spot-on across the board, from Checkley’s Terri, who is believably in love with her hubbie, to Riley Burgin as Teddy King, a boy who unabashedly looks up to his dad. From their obsession with designer clothes to the beer bellies and their loyal love of Pizza Hut, every detail is superbly observed. Even the name of the road they live on – Butterchurn Crescent – is perfect.
The rest of the cast only add to the affectionate reality with which working class life is portrayed, with Neil Maskell in particular acting against type with a generous supporting turn as Gary’s co-worker, Winkle, who will do anything to get the approval of Big Gary. The result is a beautifully simple yet deceptively complex comedy that gets every element just right, even down to Gary’s ridiculously over-rehearsed walk. The sitcom has laughs and warmth in abundance, making you root for their happiness, even as they go to worryingly lengths to find it. Here’s hoping Gary’s spanner keeps turning for several seasons to come.