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See Danny Dyer lose his head...
on 24 April 2013
This sitcom, set in Ancient Rome, is clearly aimed at a youngish audience rather than middle-aged fogies like me. I sit through most modern TV comedies with a stoney face but I like all things Roman so I thought I'd give this one a whirl. Well, mirabile dictu, as the Romans used to say, Plebs made me chuckle and even got a few good laughs out of me, especially when cockney gladiator Danny Dyer parted company with his head in the arena (nothing personal Danny, it was just gruesomely funny.) I guess you could describe the series as a kind of Inbetweeners in tunics and togas and the level of humour is rather similar veering between schoolboy lewdness and something rather more sophisticated. The comic star of the show is undoubtedly Ryan Sampson, effortlessly funny as the gormless and totally useless slave Grumio with his hangdog face, pudding basin haircut and deadpan delivery ("Go on, then, try and sell me " he says to his exasperated owner, "no one will buy me.") Grumio's attempt to eat the newly introduced pineapple also got a laugh out of me - "It's not bad, that" he says, crunching into one of the spikey leaves. But all of the regular characters are smartly cast and sharply etched, and it was good to see Yootha Joyce's old partner from George and Mildred making a guest appearance as a bolshie old army veteran, and likewise comedy stalwart Janine Duvitski as a demented old crone spouting apocalyptic nonsense.
The series serves up a clever mix of the authentic and the anachronistic and each episode zips along at a brisk pace with many scenes lasting barely seconds. I particularly liked the final episode in which the festival of Saturnalia is celebrated in the style of New Year's Eve, complete with a midnight gong in the forum, whilst the hapless Grumio gets involved in the Scientology type cult of the goddess Cybele, only to find out that castration is one of the rites of initiation. There's also a funny episode in which Thrace has just joined the Roman Empire and the city is inundated with Thracians talking with Polish accents. And it's not often you notice the production values in a TV sitcom, but the forum set, crowd scenes, costumes and interiors certainly suggest the series cost a denarius or two to make. Indeed one wonders why or how Plebs made its debut on ITV2, a channel chiefly renowned for endless repeats of unoriginal low budget fodder such as the Jeremy Kyle Show
I actually watched a few episodes twice which is the sort of thing I normally only do for comedy greats like Fawlty Towers or Father Ted. I'm not sure yet whether Plebs has the makings of a classic sitcom but it's certainly good fun and anything that wrings a few laughs out of me and keeps me smiling can't be bad. So let's have another series, and let it be even funnier.