Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 8.5/10
Cast: David Mitchell, Gemma Whelen, Liza Tarbuck, Harry Enfield, Paula Wilcox, Helen Monks, Tim Downie, Dominic Coleman, Mark Heap, Rob Rouse, Steve Spiers, Jocelyn Jee Esien, Adam Harley.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Ben Elton, one of the prestigious and prolific comedy writers of his generation, was asked to step in and take what was a perhaps seen as a series that confused some, baffled others and had those who had the wherewithal to not only admire Rowan Atkinson but who also understood the intricacies of historical comedy, heavily borrowing dialogue from William Shakespeare, to the absolute heights of the British comedy mountain.
Ben Elton was not everybody’s cup of tea, arguably to a portion of the British television public he is still part of the brigade that spelled the out the end for shows like The Two Ronnies and The Good Life, but that would be doing the genius of the writer much disservice; for in being part of the brilliant team that saved Blackadder, for in bringing the comedy past the age of comfortable and well versed, the laughter has been incredible, perfect satire, the textbook heir for writing edgy, faultless situation comedy, one on which the late great Ronnie Barker would now nod approvingly at.
This satirical touch is what has been missing from television comedy for a while, the chance to take down, not people such as William Shakespeare, Will Kempe and Kit Marlowe, but those that suggest the son of Warwickshire has no place in modern life, that the writer of Hamlet cannot be made to be a funny, unspoiled and gut wrenchingly funny addition to the pantheon of television comedy.
It is arguably a natural progression from Blackadder to Upstart Crow, the feel of the comedy is pretty much in the same vein as practised thirty years ago with Richard Curtis, the difference being that, and despite the sometimes poorly received shows in between, there is now a man to whom the 23 year old writer of The Young Ones can look to with a knowing smile and say “See, sometimes it just takes parody and the wisdom of satire to make something great.”
The cast of the show is spot on, even if there is the obvious connections in mannerisms that might have been introduced with Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry or Gabrielle Glaister in the roles, but with David Mitchell playing the part of Will Shakespeare with incredible foresight, Gemma Whelen in suitable and enthralling “Bob mode” as the young woman who wishes to become an actor, and Harry Enfield, assuredly in his best role since the days of his own Harry Enfield and Chums, as Will’s loutish but wealthy father John, Upstart Crow is the one that is the natural heir to one of Britain’s much loved and often quoted historical comedies due to both its clever dialogue and Tudor references to parts of the anatomy but most of all its defence that Will Shakespeare was and remains the definitive writer of the human condition in all its forms.
A fantastic second series of Upstart Crow deserves praise for its comic timing, if there is not a third on the back of this, then the B.B.C. has lost its way completely.
Ian D. Hall