OK, so I was a bit worried. Plebs has been one of my all time favourite comedy shows. I really, really, rate the writing and the cast performances. It is up there with Blackadder, Red Dwarf and Porridge in the list of my great British sitcoms. So the news that Joel Fry who plays Stylax was leaving was a definite concern. The cast has undergone changes before - the loss of Sophie Colquhoun and Lydia Rose Bewley as Cynthia and Metella notably in season 3 – but the show has managed to go from strength to strength. However, a change in the triumvirate of incompetence that is (or was) Marcus, Stylax and Grumio could have seriously buggered the dynamics of the show.
Fortunately that didn’t happen! The opening double bill on ITV2 both killed off Stylax and introduced us to the vacuous Jason played by Jonathan Pointing. Jason is just as sex obsessed and happy-go-lucky as Fry’s Stylax, but definitely more confident and less geeky innocence. This means that the three layers of ignorance identified by Will Hay (see here) which writer Tom Basden exploits so brilliantly, is still able to play out as the boys lurch from one disaster to the next, but we still have a new perspective. There is a move to owning a wine bar (after screwing some compo for Stylax from a crooked property developer played by Robert Lyndsey).
The second episode was just as funny, just as well written and performed, and revolved around a food critic’s visit to the boys newly opened wine bar (The Crown and Toga) and Grumio’s ‘stuffing stuff in stuff’ menu: a frog in a dog, mousse in a goose, and the classic squid inside a squirrel.
‘I wasn’t expecting that?’
‘Neither was the squirrel...’
There were returns for Doon Mackichan as Flavia, and Tom Davis and Karl Theobald as Davus and Landlord respectively (I was pleased by that as Davis must be crazy busy with the brilliant Action Team and Murder in Successville). It will be interesting to see how these characters play out with the move to a wine bar perhaps meaning we will see less of Flavia (shame). Basden’s role as the Waterboy (Waterman) is also changing with the move away from the Grain Company. He briefly moved in with Marcus before being evicted by Jason’s bonding with the other two. I was unsure of him in both the home dynamic and the wine bar (until the very end of episode 2, but spoilers...) so we shall see how he develops.
As always with this show the sets, costumes and production are outstanding. When you have genius writing with stunning performances backed up by quality production you are guaranteed a hit, I think. Plebs has been groundbreaking as a genre defining sitcom for all of these reasons, and it looks like it’s going from strength to strength. I have heard rumours that it is being developed for the US market, but I’m not so sure the very British nature of the setup can be tweaked for US sensibilities (The US Inbetweeners died for that reason). Actually, of all the shows that I have mentioned above, I think Murder in Successville has the most possibilities for being remade around the world as a concept.
Plebs is on ITV2 on Monday nights at 10pm. It’s bloody brilliant and better than ever, so watch it!
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