Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Alan Partridge Conundrum: Or How Alan Partridge Lost His Edge


Just had my first tattoo but it was a complete accident. I managed to stab myself with a croquill when it was heavy with ink from the above cartoon. I now have a black spot on my thumb that won’t wash off. It's not too bad, I guess, unless I ever find myself in the company of pirates.

However, whist drawing, I gave more thought as to why the Alan Partridge special on Sky Atlantic, ‘Welcome to the Places of My Life’, was so spectacularly poor. I think the issue has much to do with the reason why the third series didn’t match up to the second. Alan Partridge’s greatest comedic virtue is that we enjoy his failures but only when set against the background of his greater successes. The fact that he’s a third rate Terry Wogan has always been the best joke but the fact that he uses this 'success' to settle old scores is where the comedy genius lies. His natural nemesis is the BBC and this lends his adventures a sharp satirical edge that’s missing when he’s reduced to a mere radio presenter. In Series One, the comedy was broader because the Partridge character was working within the context of his own show on the BBC. The character hadn’t quite developed but there was so much potential in what was meant to be his last chance to succeed inside the Beeb. Series Two achieved the perfect balance between the aspiring TV celebrity and the nobody, but, by the third series, the satire had become a little more shallow as Alan’s stature had been reduced.

The forty minute special continued that decline, showing Alan who is by now simply too ordinary. Though the writing was a little weak, the main issue was that there was too little of Alan doing what Alan does best. Conversely, the best parts were those moments when he again had (and demonstrated) power: the parody of BBC documentary about council business where Alan had his old cocky swagger; Alan looking at sheep which remind him of the enemies he made inside the BBC; the walk with the vicar who Alan bullies into speeding up for the cameras; Alan mocking the greengrocer simply for being ordinary. This is Alan Partridge at his best: displaying that familiar power relationship that exists between minor celebrities and their audience. It’s a vainglorious arrogance that is just a short walk from fascism, a celebrity where power corrupts quickly and absolutely. The moment that exemplifies it best was when Alan was fantasising about Hitler taking over Norwich Town Hall. So much more could have been done with this. Partridge’s comedy has always come from the fact that inside this bland TV presenter beats the heart of a tyrant.

If there is ever another series of Partridge, they need to get back to what he does best. They need to give him more power and situations to dominate. Perhaps they should make him run for political office, like a latter day Esther Rantzen. That would be a show I would happily to pay to see.

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