This Time with Alan Partridge
Steve Coogan's greatest comic creation Alan Partridge returns to the BBC with incredible results
Alan Partridge has always been deeply concerned with status. It wasn’t enough to have his own chat show, he had to establish that it was not “moribund”. He needed to go on a self-flagellating tour of the North in Scissored Isle, while patronising as many socio-economic groups as possible. He was compelled to repeatedly point out the success of his military-based general knowledge quiz show Skirmish.
So it's a stroke of genius for Partridge to begin This Time standing in for the show’s regular presenter John Baskell, only to get the gig full-time following Baskell’s death (and some Partridge-led revelations about the departed). Steve Coogan’s performance is a delight, Partridge visibly growing in unwarranted bravado and 'I've made it' smugness by the week. His co-host, Jennie Gresham (Fielding), is every inch the ‘proper’ presenter, a simmering mixture of charm, professionalism, and confusion as to how she’s wound up paired with this chump.
Parodying The One Show’s head-spinning mixture of banal entertainment, celeb patter and ‘serious stories’ almost feels like cheating, but This Time is a perfectly absurd riff on the formula. The set is just slightly too big, leaving Alan spinning on a pin as his links to camera constantly come up short. Leaps from segment to segment are fantastically overdone – a chat with Britain’s latest centenarian runs into news of multiple homicides, followed by Alan’s attempt to stitch up Monty Don in a hidden camera sting.
And the further things are pushed, the greater the results. Alan’s face freakishly superimposed on to a schoolboy's head is a genuinely shocking bit of Chris Morris-style surrealism; Partridge nodding along as his Irish doppelganger breaks into a medley of Republican rebel songs is on another level entirely.
When our antihero's luck finally runs out in the series finale, it does so in a brutal manner that evokes the classic Partridgeism, "do you slow down for car crashes?!?" It's a slow-mo house collapse, a victory lap in which the runner raises his arms in the air, gets caught on a washing line, and winds up garroting himself. A full half-hour of horrific comeuppance, with only a blinky, jibbering Simon (Tim Key) for company.
This is a show stuffed with laughs, riddled with tension, and imbued with the sense that it could all fall to pieces at any moment. In short, it’s classic Partridge.