We know the moves of Alan Partridge, Steve Coogan’s Frankenstein, like the back of our hand. And we also remember that on the backs of his hands Partridge likes to show off mesh driving gloves.
Coogan is terribly aware he will never get shot of the berk. He will be slipping into Partidge’s blazer, loafers – and those driving gloves – for ever.
But like all actors he craves variety, the chance to do something different, show that he can. Coogan has played serious before, but never quite like DCI Clive Driscoll in Stephen (ITV).
Stephen is Stephen Lawrence, the teenager murdered on a London street by racist thugs, a case which became a cause celebre, and Driscoll is the officer who, 13 years after the killing and eight after a public inquiry concluded the Metropolitan Police were incompetent and institutionally racist, set about trying to achieve justice for the dead boy’s family.
Only once, when Coogan has Driscoll swelling his chest and pushing out a grimace, am I reminded of Partridge. But these could be Coogan tics and not Partridge ones.
The performer isn’t thinking of his alter ego at this moment; the fault is mine for knowing too many of the latter’s lines – for being able to parrot Partidge, a-ha. But the moment is quickly forgotten.
There is no comic relief in the first of Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s three-parter – how could there be? – and Coogan doesn’t strive for any, or indulge in grandstanding or important speeches.
It’s a completely unshowy portrayal; the people who matter here are Stephen’s parents, Doreen (Sharlene Whyte) and Neville (Hugh Quarshie). Driscoll is not a hero; he’s about “common sense coppering”, saying: “If we can’t solve a murder like Stephen’s, what’s the point of us?”
Driscoll’s involvement begins in 2006. He’s clearing out an office when he notices that all the files – 540 boxes – relate to the one investigation, “Operation Fishpool”, the name given to the Lawrence inquiry.
Colleagues on the force sympathise with him for being “landed” with a review. No, he volunteered for it. He plunges right in, finds officers willing to start again and returns to the crime scene. “This has just happened,” he says.
Those 540 boxes throw up many frustrations. Delays in questioning witnesses so they ended up being intimidated. Delays – two weeks – in arresting the suspects, even though detectives had their names within hours of the murder happening.
Then there’s the language the Met used first time around. “A ‘small’ chance isn’t no chance, is it? A small chance is still a chance,” asserts Driscoll.
And there’s the description of the fatal assault as “brief”: “Stephen was attacked by five lads, for God’s sake. What’s brief times five?” Driscoll gets his men to mime each blow, a black officer playing the victim. The drama hasn’t recreated the murder, but even this is chilling. And it’s far from brief.
In the genre of Comedians Doing Other Things, Coogan has just raised the bar.
Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse, though, continue on their own sweet way, ruminating on life in rubberwear, joking and joshing, competing and carousing, and being amused and bemused by almost everything.
And, every now and then, over a “heart-healthy” dinner, they’ll wonder how long they’ve got left.
Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing (BBC2) has reached series four with no prospect of it jumping the shark or the opener’s great quest, the sea trout.
Not just any old seat trout either, but the ones found in North Uist. “Little burns tumble down the hills from the peat bogs straight into the sea,” explains Whitehouse, “and the fish come roaring up, fresh off the tide.”
Mortimer in too-short waders, despite literally letting a catch off the hook and twice falling over, declares the Hebridean excursion one of their best-ever and having watched all of them I’m bound to agree.
The scenery, even from a squelchy standpoint, is drop-dead gorgeous. It makes them feel like picking up paintbrushes, so they do.
In their bothy, Whitehouse admits to a morbid thought: “I suppose I’ve got 20 more years of looking out of a window like this.”
Mortimer, giggling, thinks he’s over-estimated. Does Whitehouse feel he’s slowing down? “Not me. I’m like an atomic bomb every morning.”
Mortimer, the amateur psychologist, wonders if his friend’s hyperactivity is a front for “avoiding something”. Whitehouse counters: “You’re the classic avoider, Bob. The other day you said you were sat on the sofa watching TV, just ‘passing the time’. I ain’t got any time to pass. I’ve got an eight-year-old daughter, my exercises, my work.”
Mortimer, guffawing: “You don’t work!”
If like me you missed the first series of Back to Life (BBC1) then you might be surprised by Daisy Haggard’s forceful language and the sudden lurches from dark to comedy then back again.
But then her character Miri has only recently got out of jail after an 18-year stretch. She’s trying to rebuild her life by the seaside with the help of a job in a supermarket, her Tamagotchi, friend-with-benefits Bill and probation officer Janice who, just as forcefully, says of this relationship: “You haven’t even seen his cocky yet.”
Janice is played by Jo Martin who steals the show though Geraldine James and Richard Durden as Mimi’s crabbit parents run her close.