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“I’ve never seen Coogan better” – This Time with Alan Partridge

Although Steve Coogan’s comic creation may have hung up the double-breasted blazers – frequently over-sized and often in bold colour blocks – the character’s first proper run-out since his 2013 feature film Alpha Papa proves to be some of the best Partridge ever made.

When it was first announced that Alan Partridge would make his long-awaited return to presenting gigs for the BBC – standing in for John Baskell on This Time – I doubted that the hapless North Norfolk Digital radio DJ would be able to cut it in 2019. It seemed to me that the monkey-tennis pitcher would do better confined to brief sketches – like Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield mostly did with the cheesy has-been DJs Smashie and Nicey. How wrong I was.

It’s fair to say that Partridge (Rover enthusiast, Abba fan, wearer of string-back driving gloves, and staunch opponent of the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre) left the BBC under a cloud after accidentally shooting one of his guests – restaurant critic Forbes McAllister – with an antique duelling pistol during an interview on his chatshow, Knowing Me, Knowing You. His subsequent, desperate attempts to gain a second series ended in ignominy when he forced a whole stilton (a nice one, with walnuts in it) into the face of Tony Hayers, the BBC commissioning editor, with the immortal cry: “Smell my cheese, you mother!”

Norwich’s most famous fictional son had me limp from laughter almost immediately

After years in the wilderness and 182 days in the Linton Travel Lodge (off the A11 midway between London and Norwich) Alan Gordon Partridge has made a welcome return to primetime BBC television.  Norwich’s most famous fictional son had me limp from laughter almost immediately. Malapropism was used to great effect within the first five minutes when Alan introduced a naturalist named Alice Fluck as Alice Clunt. Despite being the oldest and most basic of comedy tropes, it’s one which I find most separates the genius from the chaff. For me, the high-watermark in this regard was set by Larry David with his accidental obituary in the first season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but this was certainly up there.

Susannah Fielding puts in a stellar performance as the young, pretty, and deceptively charming Jennie Gresham. Complete with perma-grin and platitudinous conversation, Fielding’s well-overserved Alex Jones meets Susannah Reid certainly hit its target. This was complemented by occasional but sublime turns by a peerless Tim Key, who returns as Sidekick Simon. Originally Alan’s co-host-cum-whipping boy on Mid Morning Matters, he accompanies Alan to This Time to take a “sideways look at the news.” Described by Partridge as “the man Friday to my Robinson Clouseau,” Simon Denton apparently “dissects, satirises, and lampoons the news in a manner every bit as funny as a Radio 4 panellist,” yet can’t operate the studio’s “digiwall” and has forgotten to upload the tweets. These exquisitely painful, embarrassingly amusing sequences were precious. Felicity Montagu reprising her role as Alan’s assistant (no longer mere PA consigned to fungal foot powder buying duties) was another personal highlight.

I’d recommend you give this genuinely funny and clever show a try

The One Show parody serves as a platform for Alan’s eternal on-screen optimism (“Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at Shell”) and his common sense scepticism (the World Health Organisation? “Here we go again…”). What’s more, as a sort of idiot savant poet of the news magazine format, Alan excelled. A reference to agriculture causes him verbally to sketch “a tumbledown farmhouse nestled in the cleavage of bosomy downs” whilst a walk round Soho prompts something about “pole dancers from Lapland, and lap dancers from Poland.” If that’s not premium Partridge from the top drawer, then what is? The final sequence – an interview with a “hacktivist” wearing a giraffe mask – sees Alan unmask the cyberterrorist in classic Partridge style, reminiscent of when he exposed Lt Col Kojack Slaphead III as Martin Dwire.

Watching This Time with Alan Partridge, I often felt I’d never seen Coogan better or Partridge funnier. Having scriptwriters who don’t hate him certainly played a significant part in this. The Patrick Marber and Armando Iannucci approach to Partridge, Coogan told last year’s Edinburgh Television Festival, felt “a bit like pulling wings off an insect. It was fun but quite cruel.” The new writers – Cheshire brothers Rob and Neil Gibbons – have a much more sympathetic approach. “Although he’s a fool, they don’t want him to be destroyed, they don’t want him to fail completely. He’s well intentioned even if he’s wrong.” On TV, this translated as a character more rounded and involving but still endearingly silly and oh-God-did-he-really-just-say-that? So, whether you’ve got the Alan Partridge tie and blazer badge combination pack or gone the whole hog and indelibly inked Alan’s face on your abdomen, I’d recommend you give this genuinely funny and clever show a try. And that’s considering no one even thought of saying “Ah ha!”

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