Image: BBC/Staged Films Ltd

The ideal lockdown TV series: ‘Staged’ review

At times, during the various UK lockdowns, I’ve found the normality of the world shown on TV to be comforting. It’s an escape, reminding me that the lives we used to lead aren’t gone forever. But recently I’ve been finding new TV quite uncanny — shows airing now are almost the same as they were before the pandemic, but I can’t quite get over the obvious differences like everyone being so far apart and separated by plastic screens. It feels strange to me that everyone seems to try to ignore the fact that that it isn’t a normal way to film a TV show.

That’s what I like about Staged. It’s a real sign of the times. Lockdown life isn’t just acknowledged in the show — it’s the entire premise of it.

That’s what I like about Staged. It’s a real sign of the times. Lockdown life isn’t just acknowledged in the show — it’s the entire premise of it

Staged is a comedy series led by David Tennant and Michael Sheen (or should that be Michael Sheen and David Tennant?) In the first series, the plot centres around them trying and failing to rehearse a play via video call during lockdown 1.0. This time, Staged series one is being adapted for an American audience. David and Michael have just one problem with the plans for the adaptation: they won’t be in it.

As in series one, David and Michael channel the chaotic, woeful experience of lockdown that many can relate to on some level. They constantly switch between deep conversation: “I move through time like a dust mote”, and fits of pure rage: “I will nail your skull onto the mast of my Viking longship!” aimed either directly at each other or at the bumbling writer of the show, Simon (Simon Evans). It’s playful and ridiculous, yet somehow brilliant at the same time. I think the video call format really works for the dynamic of the show — you can always see how every person on screen reacts to each other, and it almost feels like you’re in the call with them.

Staged is a very well-done piece of meta-drama. You’re always aware that David and Michael are playing heightened versions of themselves, but the line between their real and fictional personality traits is deliberately blurred. That aspect of the show stays constant between the two series, and is a real strength of it. But despite the continuity of characters, for me, this series was harder to get into than series one.

Staged is a very well-done piece of meta-drama

For example, the second series opens with the pair featuring on a chat show with Michael Palin, who tells them “I didn’t really like Staged”. While I understand that this scene is there so David and Michael’s egos are already bruised before they find out their bad news about the American version of the show, making that fall all the greater for them, something about it felt a bit unnatural to me. Don’t get me wrong, once the plot was set up I enjoyed the series a lot, but I did find the first episode a little disappointing.

Something that differs between the first and second series is the amount of celebrity appearances. Huge names are involved, the majority being potential replacement David and Michaels for the American version of the show. One of my favourite interactions in the series is when one celebrity has an argument with David, telling him “you ruined my career” while Simon is frantically trying to calm the situation and lead a read-through of the script.

But despite the huge amount of celebrity cameos and the new dynamic that they bring to the series, it’s still the moments where it’s just David and Michael that are the best. Their real-life friendship shines through. You can see it when they’re pretending to be cowboys, or screaming down the camera at each other for the pettiest things. It’s quite simply joyful to watch.

But despite the huge amount of celebrity cameos and the new dynamic that they bring to the series, it’s still the moments where it’s just David and Michael that are the best

I did really enjoy this series of Staged, but despite the good reviews the show has received, I’m not sure it has much longevity beyond the pandemic due to its format. Having said that, it is exactly what I need right now during lockdown.

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