Saturday, 3 October 2009

Benidorm, ITV1

Here's a review of Benidorm I wrote last night for Orange. I'd never seen the show before, and was pleasantly surprised by how sharp it was. As I say below, there wasn't much of a plot for an hour-long episode (including a couple of lame set-pieces), but the strength of the banter and characterisation just about made up for it.

After the high drama and helicopter rescue of the summer special – and the small matter of winning Best Comedy at the National TV Awards – the sitcom Benidorm is back for a third series. And not only that: despite its well-publicised financial problems, ITV has such faith in the expat chucklefest that it has bumped it up to hour-long episodes.

Following their hostage ordeal, the regulars at the Solana Resort have turned up to take advantage of the free holiday being offered as compensation by the management. So, we bump again into the argumentative Garvey family, middle-aged swingers Donald and Jacqueline, awkward southerner Martin and his new Scouse girlfriend Brandy (Nicholas Burns and Sheridan Smith, pictured above), and sniffy gay couple Gavin and Troy.

What plot there is focuses on the opening of a mobility scooter shop, but the show is more about well-observed family tensions and distinctly off-colour banter. It might sound like an updated version of 80s classic Duty Free, but it soon shows a bit of edge. The opening scene on the airport bus sets the tone, as three generations of the Garvey family enter a ping-pong match of foul-mouthed abuse, kicked off by nasty gran Madge (Sheila Reid).

In addition to creator Derren Litten's zingy scripts (he previously co-wrote The Catherine Tate Show), the strong ensemble cast is one of Benidorm's strong points. Steve Pemberton probably steals the show as under-pressure family man Mick Garvey, while Johnny Vegas continues to plumb the dark side as the unappreciated pub quiz champion known as The Oracle. Sheridan Smith also stars as the foul-mouthed dog-rough Brandy.

Everyone involved is probably sick of the comparisions, but Benidorm has got the same kind of bittersweet northern flavour as The Royle Family or Early Doors. It may not ring quite as true as those series, but it strikes a nice balancing act by showing us a recognisable warts-and-all vision of Brits on the Med while not inviting us to sneer at Dirty Working Class People.

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