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TV review: The Old Guys | Al Murray's Multiple Personality Disorder

The Old Guys, Saturday, BBC1 Al Murray's Multiple Personality Disorder, Friday, STV

I THINK I'm correct in saying that BBC1 has never before broadcast an episode of a prime-time sitcom in which two lead characters sleep with a prostitute. Or did Birds of a Feather do that one already?

Either way, the final episode of The Old Guys was fairly daring plot-wise, as Tom (Roger Lloyd-Pack) tried to assuage the sexual frustration of Roy (Clive Swift) by finding him a prostitute, or "courtesan" as the latter preferred to term them.

It's to series creators Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain's credit that they even attempted to pull off such a storyline in the first place. Unfortunately, they failed to strike the right balance between queasy reality (lonely old men + prostitutes > a Ken Loach film) and agreeable farce (lonely old men + prostitutes > comic hilarity), resulting in an episode that didn't really work either thematically or structurally.

There were still some chuckles to be found throughout, and in general this has been an enjoyable series. But while it's all too easy to dismiss this BBC Scotland production as merely Armstrong and Bain's "Peep Show – The Stannah Stairlift Years", there's no denying that Tom – reckless, immature – and Roy – conservative, uptight – are essentially just Jeremy and Mark with creakier bones.

The only real problem with this is that the dialogue, written by youngish men with a distinctive sense of humour, sometimes sounds awkward when delivered by these ageing thesps.

Although he's improved as the series has progressed, Lloyd-Pack in particular seems slightly uncertain at times, as though he's not quite sure how to handle lines that appear to have been written with Robert Webb in mind.

Then again, his deadpan delivery of the all-but closing line – "We're moving to Belarus to live in a log cabin with a hooker" – was perfect. Hopefully he'll be more settled in once the second series – which is surely a certainty – comes around.

As an experiment into whether the comic sensibilities of "edgy" young writers such as Armstrong and Bain could be successfully adapted towards a mainstream audience, The Old Guys should be considered a qualified success.

Furthermore, it's impossible to disregard any programme that uses an Ivor Cutler song as its theme tune.

So while it's no instant classic, compared to Al Murray's Multiple Personality Disorder, The Old Guys is like the best of Galton and Simpson and David Renwick combined.

There was once a time, not so long ago, when Murray used his Pub Landlord character to mount a pointed satirical assault on English bigots, while managing to be very, very funny at the same time. But now that the character is long past its sell-by date, Murray – in the guise of his new, awful personae – is just a one-schtick pony searching in vain for further inspiration.

From its horrendous techno theme tune, to every one of its crass, one-dimensional characters, this catastrophic sketch show is a stain on the art of comedy.

Murray's pink PVC-clad gay Nazi is undoubtedly the worst comedy character in the history of civilisation. I enjoy a well-turned double entendre as much as anyone, but the writing here is shockingly poor (homosexuality is hilarious!), and Murray's performance is horrendous, an utter embarrassment.

It's a depressingly soulless and lazy series, its star contemptuously content to merely don some wigs, spew some catchphrases, and pick up the paycheck. The only outrageous thing about it is how insulting it is.

 
 
 

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