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Hit and Miss.!
on 17 January 2004
I remember being quite disappointed by this when I first saw it as a young teen. Having been continually taken to the brink of a heart attack form the non-stop comedy cavalcade that was Knowing Me Knowing You, I was expecting another out and out laugh-riot from the great-man Steve Coogan. Instead, we get a series that attempts something different with every show, going from the straight ahead comedy of Paul Calf to the almost Ealing subtlety of Earnest Moss, and then the more problematic attempts at something darker with both Natural Born Quizzers and The Curator respectively.
Coogan is on fine form throughout, popping up two or three times per episode in various guises, whilst giving each character their own individuality and identity. This is what Peter Kay did to greater effect with channel four’s That Peter Kay Thing, but greater only because Kay’s sights were not set as high as Coogan’s are here. What Coogan IS attempting is pretty intelligent stuff, with overlapping storylines and characters, all of which exist in the fictional northern town of Ottle. The first episode takes on the continuation of the Paul and Pauline Calf saga that began with the excellent Paul Calf video diary, in which we see Paul a little older, though non the wiser, trying to escape a series of hoods by hiding out with a rather dubious religious sect.
Episode two is another standout, featuring a great script from Father Ted writers Graham Lineham and Arthur Mathews, in which Coogan takes on the role of self-obsessed business exec Gareth Cheeseman, who has to spend the weekend at the most disastrous business conference of his life. These first two episodes are the strongest in terms of pure comedy, which is after all what we are here for. From this point on the ideas become more elaborate, with the Handyman for all Seasons episode being shot in black and white, whilst the fourth episode sees all-round entertainer Mike Crystal experiment with altar-ego Clint Stallone, much to the pleasure of his beleaguered wife. This brings us to the aforementioned darker episodes, the rather poor Quizzers, and the somewhat successful Curator.
Quizzer’s is given a shot in the arm from Partridge stalwarts Rebecca Front and Patrick Marber, though the characters featured never reach beyond the realm of annoying caricature. Marber pops up in a different guise for the Curator, acting as principal writer and director with a story of murder and revenge. The character here is stronger, though the more darker elements of the plot detract from the overall comedy value... making this funnier than the majority, but nowhere near as strong as episodes one and two. On the DVD we get a running commentary from the producer and director, which gives us some technical information and some general anecdotes about what went into the series, but rarely goes beyond backslapping praise for Coogan and the writers.
The lack of involvement from the great man himself is also a sad factor, something that could be said about almost all of these Coogan reissues. With Coogan’s Run we have what will always be one of his most problematic efforts... he tired something different and for the most part it worked. Though unlike other characters such as Partridge, Calf and Tony Ferrino, this is decidedly a little more hit and miss. If you are a Coogan devotee, then this is something worth exploring, though for the casual fan there is nothing here that you can’t find elsewhere. Three Stars.