Daily Mirror Review

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Count Arthur Strong may have begun as a slow burner, but it proved to be an absolute TV comedy gem
15 Aug 2013

Comedy on British television can be as divisive as choosing to support Manchester City or United, Everton or Liverpool, Arsenal and…you get the point.

With the age of social media, particularly Twitter, shows are judged immediately and aren’t always allowed to be slow burners. Unless they’re really bad, like Ben Elton flop ‘The Wright Way’.

BBC2’s Count Arthur Strong, with a second series confirmed, could have been lost to the Twitter critics. Yes, it had good pedigree as a much-loved Radio 4 show that won plenty of awards, and it also had Graham Linehan, creator of two of the best comedies of the last 20 years in Father Ted and The IT Crowd, on-board to ensure a smooth transition to television.

Add in Rory Kinnear, one of the finest actors in Britain – and son of excellent and much-missed comedy performer Roy – and it’s chances of success were good.

While this acts as a pretty decent launch pad, it is creator Steve Delaney’s deluded, exasperated, confused but ultimately brilliantly loyal Arthur, a former radio star and failed actor, that makes the whole thing enjoyable.

Despite never seemingly knowing what exactly is going on in his day-to-day life, he holds together his motley crew. There’s John, a diminutive cockney geezer who loves ‘One Born Every Minute’. Eggy, whose ability to get through life constantly astounds the viewer. Bulent, the angriest cafe owner ever who loves and hates Arthur in equal measure, and his sister Sinem. And then there’s Katya, Arthur’s friend and biggest fan.

The gang is completed by Michael, played by Kinnear, son of Arthur’s former comedy partner and who is writing about his dad.

The show started well enough – the scene was set well, with some superb cringeworthy set-pieces, particularly Arthur’s more-than-suspect Jack the Ripper tours. Michael, who is clearly clever but lacks anything representing common sense and logic, became entangled in Arthur’s confusion and is both fond of and frustrated by the ‘Count’ – especially as he just wants his memories of the dad he didn’t like.

But as the series grew, so did the characters and while some of the scenarios were far-fetched – as you’d expect – Arthur’s gang became more believable. I’ve worked in pubs that have a John, eaten in cafés with a Katya, and seen an Eggy stroll down a high street with his sandwich board.

Sentiment doesn’t always work in comedy, and (look away now if you haven’t seen them), but the final ten minutes of episode five hit me like a freight train. The jokes were there, but not when I expected them. Arthur’s reaction to Katya’s death carries the right tone – emotional, serious but still surrounded by chaos because Arthur is a chaotic man.

This week’s final episode had me laughing out loud. I was staying in a hotel room and my neighbours must have been very scared at the large belly laughs throughout the show.

It was brilliant because the affection for the departed Katya was genuine, the support for Arthur as he realised his only fan is gone genuine, and a little respite for Michael as the sidekick as he gets the girl, quite literally sticking two fingers up at the ever watchful Bulent.

The script was exceptional, the delivery doubly so, but Linehan and Delaney delivered one final emotional kick up the bum, without going over the top with it, that felt genuine and warm.

Arthur hasn’t won everyone over, I understand that. But he’s stuttering, confusing and bumbling his way to doing so.

Sometimes the wordplay gets so far ahead of itself, the viewer doesn’t know where the plot is. But I genuinely believe it’s worth sticking with and am looking forward to more of the ‘Count’.

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