Prime | ★★★★✩
Apologies for not being Josh Howie. Your normal, which is to say also very special, TV reviewer is next door dissecting something else. He can’t review the show I’m writing about because he’s in it. Plus, he’s also friends with its writer-director Gary Sinyor.
So the JC has asked its theatre critic, who has very few friends either in or outside showbiz, to take a look at the second series of Sinyor’s Finchley-set Curb-like comedy of eight episodes.
Sinyor’s place on the Mount Rushmore of Jewish filmmakers will always be assured because of his breakthrough hit Leon The Pig Farmer, which I remember as vividly for the circumstances in which I saw it, as for the lovely movie itself.
I was spending a lot of time in Rome where my (then) wife had a job. One evening I made my way to the only cinema in the Eternal City that showed films in English to watch one about which much fuss had been made back home.
I had to fumble my way to my seat because the lights were down and my eyes had yet to adjust.
When they did, I looked around the auditorium to see that I was the only person in it. Except, I soon realised, for one other viewer in front of whom I had sat. His glare through the gloom was enough to shift me along the row.
This is the kind of hapless thing that happens to Paul Green, a journalist nicely underplayed by the charismatic Tim Downie who works for a fictional, but faintly familiar, newspaper called the Jewish Enquirer.
I say faintly because unlike the Chronicle, the Enquirer has all the integrity of a collapsing kebab. Paul has a diverse brief: interviews, reviews (arts and consumer) and he writes investigative features about such pressing matters as weddings and how much they cost.
A typical brief from his barking, in both senses, editor Sam (voiced by Sinyor) instructs Paul to give at least four stars to his movie review because the producers have bought advertising.
This will also help land an interview with its star Ronni Ancona who plays a bitter version of herself and who is one of an impressive smattering of guest star cameos in the series. Sally Phillips, Linda Robson and Ed Stoppard (son of Tom) are among others.
Work and domestic plots are woven together allowing Paul to share screen time with friends and family, including his sweary single parent sister Naomi (Jeany Spark who takes over from Lucy Montgomery from the first series).
There is also his best mate played by Howie whose Simon has something of a guileless Stan Laurel quality. Can greater praise be heaped on a comedian who is not even a friend?
With their neurotic banter Downie and Howie are East Finchley’s version of Curb’s Larry David and Richard Lewis. But Sinyor’s writing is some way off.
Set to a gentle score of pizzicato violin, the comedy is unhurried, deliberately discomforting fare. In one scene, Paul and his family stuff courgettes: food has not not been so sexualised since Philip Roth’s Portnoy eyed a piece of liver.
Other situations are generated from human behaviour that is conveniently either inept (Paul’s interviewing technique wouldn’t pass muster at a school rag) or downright inexplicable.
Yet there are laughs of the out-loud variety (Ancona’s gratuitous Olivia Coleman is jaw-droppingly good) and, a bit like watching a three-legged dog cross the street, such bold if raw material filtered through a north London Jewish sensibility is oddly riveting.
But if it were truer the show would be even funnier.