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I think it's fair to say we haven't had many new funny and original sitcoms in recent years, the I.T Crowd about it. Miranda is sweet and funny in its own way but nothing edgy and different out there. The enjoyable Red Dwarf replacement Hyperdrive had potential but was canned after just one series and the same fete befell the tongue-in-cheek Gareth Marenghi's Dark Place, the excuse offered that they didn't catch an audience to justify a second series. How that is supposed to happen after just six episodes is anyone's guess. If you watch the first series of Only Fools and Horses you would expect that would never get a second series today. Unless you're an instant hit like The Office then forget it seems to be the message. TV channels much prefer to commission new series of old favorites to guarantee a safe audience and keeping all concerned their jobs. Gavin & Stacey is what they want, inoffensive blandness that will target the widest possible arc because of that and earn a decent audience through sheer numbers. I have yet to laugh at that show.
So along comes PhoneShop, perfectly placed on the Friday night slot straight after the excellent and often hilarious Ricky Gervais Show, Ricky actually commissioning the six episode series after the show had a great pilot on Channel Fours Comedy Showcase, a ready made audience demographic ready and waiting after the success of the IT Crowd in the same slot, Phone Shop effectively the I.T Crowd in a phone shop and so filled with similar laughs to keep that audience. It's rather cheeky and silly and I suppose original in its own way and so easily harvested people like me desperate for new comedy shows to actually laugh at.
The basic set up is that we are invited into the lives of five employees and their adventures in a spoof mobile phone shop on Sutton high street, the boys and girls sharp selling practices as smooth as brushed velvet, the boys particular street patois patter the running gag of the piece, white thirtysomething salesman Ashley (Andrew Brook) talking like a jive talking black guy, his best mate and fellow salesman Jerwayne (Javone Prince) the jive talking black guy he models himself on.
The series builds around the arrival of mature university graduate Christopher (Tom Bennett) as a replacement for the shops star salesman Ravi Patel, who was arrested in the pilot episode, revered by the staff and so a lot to live up to. The boys must teach Christopher the trick of the trade fast or rival phone stores staff will be soon dropping by to mock their falling sales figures. Embattled and stressed manager Lance (Martin Treeman) and company girl Janine (Emma Fryer) make up the remaining staff.
Emma Fryer ... Janine (6 episodes, 2009-2010)
Tom Bennett ... Christopher (6 episodes, 2009-2010)
Andrew Brooke ... Ashley (6 episodes, 2009-2010)
Javone Prince ... Jerwayne (6 episodes, 2010)
Martin Trenaman... Lance (6 episodes, 2010)
The six episodes and the pilot revolve around teaching Chris and the boys trying to get girls and sell phones. But phone shop men have standards and label all the girls like their phones. Their highs street dating etiquette is unique. The guys are involved in various run ins with other phone shops and their dating exploits inevitably suffer blowback for various slapstick situations. The theme for each episode is as limited as the budget and so the jokes very much in the dialogue and silliness of it all, well observed situation stuff. Although most sitcoms like this are designed to be the lowest common denominator this is smarter in the way it is silly, some in-jokes and rye smiles to be had amongst the obvious set pieces, again very much in that I.T Crowd way.
Its good fun and one to watch out for second time around, fitting in nicely with Channel Fours heritage of encouraging new and alternative talent and ideas. The jokes are mostly simplistic and the target audience young adults but you can't help but like it for its anti-sitcom stance, whatever age you are. With no laughter track it's confident enough in itself to make you chuckle at the right times without being asked and the characters able to hold your attention. There are no token gay, ethnic or senile sitcom cliché characters to beg a bigger audience and the writers confident in what they have.
It's not belly laugh stuff in any way and a one trick pony but its self aware and superior to the idiot sitcoms you get on ITV and the BBC. Can you believe My Family lasted that long???
On the whole, though, it's quite funny in a dessert of bland sitcom on terrestrial and if you are pulling your hair out because the tedious No Going Out is feted by the critics then this maybe for you, Channel Four getting its game back after a long barren spell of cheesy US imports. PhoneShop may well be for you if you are fed up of with the niceness of Gavin & Stacey. I know I am.
Season 1, Episode 0: New Man: Pilot
Season 1, Episode 1: Doctor Who
Season 1, Episode 2: Never on a Tuesday
Season 1, Episode 3: The First Temptation of Chris
Season 1, Episode 4: Bear Bad Man
Season 1, Episode 5: Salesman of the Month
Season 1, Episode 6: Soldier, Swinger, Shelley, Shelley