"At least it's made by somebody who cares," said up-and-coming 52-year-old sketch comedian Kevin Eldon at the start of his first solo series, just after a giant boxing glove had appeared in shot to punch him in the face. This was the joy of It's Kevin: silly set-ups other sketch shows wouldn't consider, executed with a level of care and expertise other sketch shows can't match.
Eldon has appeared in Brass Eye, I'm Alan Partridge, Fist of Fun, Harry & Paul, Nighty Night and countless other revered British comedies, its creators all knowing that his impeccable timing and oddball menace would lift their projects. Big names like Julia Davis have reciprocated by guesting in It's Kevin, but they're not just doing Eldon a favour, and this isn't just a chance for a technically gifted supporting actor to have a go at being the lead in a bunch of sketches. Eldon boldly put himself centre-screen as the host and creator of a programme that lovingly, caringly turned the sketch show inside-out. His writing is as impressive as his acting.
It began with a song-and-dance number in a bright white studio, with ticker tape, Cockney walkabouts, puppets and a thrash-punk interlude. If it had stopped there it would still have been the comedy of the year so far, but on it went, often staying in the white studio with sketches sidling in and out of Eldon's interactions with a cast of helpers. His maintenance man couldn't find the lost property office. His wardrobe assistant spoke only in screams (taken, I think, from that "goats shout like humans" YouTube video). The perfect sandwich was made by Hosni Mubarak, a curt young man with a massive dagger. A man played by David Cann explained that the best sandwich he ever had was one a found under a train seat. "I don't know what was in it. Orangey, yellow sticky stuff."
There hasn't been a sketch show with ideas this good since Big Train in 1998 - Eldon was in that as well. He reprised his famous impression of George Martin, giving the Beatles producer's voice to Hitler reminiscing about annexing the Sudetenland ("I immediately knew that we were onto something big"). But the biggest laughs were stupid visual jokes, superbly performed. The bit where Eldon failed to replace a microphone back in the stand went on for an extremely long time, but I could have watched it for longer.
The scheduling at 10.30pm on a Sunday, and the lack of on-air promotion and advance marketing, suggest BBC2 thought they had a weird dud on their hands, until scores of comedy pros shouted about It's Kevin on social media, and every broadsheet ran a profile detailing Eldon's impeccable pedigree. Then there was the odd flicker of support from the BBC online, too late: only 430,000 people tuned in according to overnight figures.
Those ratings are on a par with Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle - so it was that another original comedy by a rare talent pouring his heart into his career peak was seen only by the niche audience who were already on side. If people who aren't comedy nerds miss It's Kevin, they have really missed out.Jack Seale, Radio Times, 24th March 2013
Julia Davis is certainly no stranger to black comedy, having already appeared in twisted shows like Human Remains and Nighty Night, but it's a little surprising to see Spaced's Jessica Hynes (nee Stephenson) partnering her to write and star in a black-hearted tale of suburban revenge...
Lizzie (Davis) and Sarah (Hynes) are two fiftysomething housewives living in suburbia, both married to loathsome husbands who treat them with callous disregard and sneering contempt. Lizzie's husband John (David Cann) is having an obvious affair with their corpulent, lazy housekeeper Branita (Jessica Gunning); Sarah's husband Michael (Mark Heap) has taken to having meaningless, functional sex with her while he hides her face behind a pillow. Both introverted women are cowed into submission and have allowed themselves to accept their lot in life, as unloved slaves whose only escape from tedium and bullying is an amateur dramatics society. However, after a day of particularly unforgiveable treatment by their other halves, Lizzie and Sarah find themselves pushed to breaking point and, having come into possession of a handgun, decide to enact their revenge...
Lizzie And Sarah is of a particular style and content that many people just won't find particularly funny, that much is certain. Indeed, the BBC were allegedly so dumbfounded by this pilot's depressing tone that they scheduled it for a Saturday night graveyard slot of 11.55pm, so the chance of a full series doesn't look likely. If one is even necessary, as the story appeared to reach enough of a conclusion that I can't imagine what else Lizzie And Sarah would have to say. It was effectively 15-minutes of matrimonial bullying that segwayed into a domestic revenge scenario that lacked imagination because it was basically comprised of shooting their psychological aggressors dead with a gun they'd stolen from a thief.
The titular characters themselves were interchangeable; having no meaningful differences in temperament, accent, lifestyle, or taste in men. Their horrid husbands were likewise peas in a particularly odious pod. A subplot involving a memorial for a girl ran over by her own father's (Kevin Eldon) car, which inspired a musical memorial performed by two teenage classmates (Davis and Hynes), who gyrated to the Sugababes' Hey Sexy for the approval of a talent scout in the crowd, just felt misplaced and could have been cut entirely.
As a fan of Davis, Hynes and black comedy in general (which nobody does quite like us British), Lizzie And Sarah certainly had decent moments of chilling humour, uncomfortable bad taste, and jokes so near the knuckle they drew blood. However, a feeble storyline, near-identical characterisation for the leads, and unimaginative vengeance (just shoot the browbeaters), dealt enough blows to make this pilot feel like a wasted opportunity. I'd like to believe Davis and Hynes knew there'd be little hope of a full series, so opted to complete their story here, because I don't see any reason or need for more.Dan Owen, Dan's Media Digest, 21st March 2010