Lead Balloon. Rick Spleen (Jack Dee). Image credit: Open Mike Productions.

Lead Balloon

Sitcom starring Jack Dee as Rick Spleen, a grumpy misanthropic stand-up comedian whose life is plagued by let downs and embarrassment

2006 - 2011  (BBC Two / BBC Four)
27 (4 series)
Jack Dee, Raquel Cassidy, Sean Power, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Rasmus Hardiker, Tony Gardner, Anna Crilly
Jack Dee, Pete Sinclair
Open Mike Productions

Rick Spleen is a successful but disillusioned stand-up comedian. He spends his days hosting corporate events such as The Heating and Ventilation Awards, arguing with his co-writer Marty and trying to hide his incompetence from Mel, his partner.

Rick is a habitual liar, but as he is not a very good one it is a trait which more often than not lands him in a deep hole... which he invariably then digs himself into even deeper when he piles more flimsy lies on top of the previous ones.

Being out of pocket is something that particularly riles Rick, but with his laid-back daughter Sam and her equally lazy boyfriend Ben always coming up with excuses for needing money, his wallet is rarely full.

Ironically it is Rick's tightfistedness that causes him the biggest financial losses though; eventually he always ends up paying for the damage his lies have caused.

In the final fourth series of Lead Balloon Rick tries to write a book, he becomes a presenter on a downmarket shopping channel, and sets up a stand-up comedy workshop. There's also an episode in which for a full half-hour Rick is stuck in a room with a prisoner (special guest star Robbie Coltrane).

Our Review: This sitcom, which it is probably fair to say is at least part based upon Jack Dee's own life, is quite similar to the premise of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The embarrassing situations that Rick Spleen finds himself in couldn't be more British though.

We initially didn't think that much of Lead Balloon, however after a couple of episodes we started to 'get' Rick... and then the second series came along, at which point we realised just how great a sitcom this was. In fact, after the third series, we'd say it had one of our favourite sitcoms.

Lead Balloon demonstrates some excellent sitcom writing - the way different seemingly un-connected plot strands skillfully are brought together at the end of each episode is the mark of greatness, and there's some very sharp lines to back this up ("Mother was great at making fruit cakes" is one such example).

Café owner Michael was a big of a classic sitcom character - we often had to look away when Rick came in close proximity to him as the scene was inevitably going to end in some embarrassing way; whether it be Rick trying to find a way out of sponsoring Michael, or trying to explain how all the cafe's teaspoons ended up at his house.

Lead Balloon is now finished. The fourth series received a mixed critical response (with some reviewers saying it had become to formulaic) suggesting it had past its peak, and - even if that wasn't the case - before the series even aired Jack Dee announced a wish to return to live stand-up touring, which means he won't have time to write any more anyway.