Guess who’s big in the back time?
Yes it’s the one, the only, Alan (Gordon) Partridge who, as you’ll be intimately familiar with if you’ve been following our deep dive retrospectives on his career, has been waiting for a call back from the BBC for two decades, ever since that fateful moment in 1997’s I’m Alan Partridge where the late BBC Commissioning Editor Tony Hayers denied Alan a second series of his chat show, Knowing Me Knowing You. We’re not sure Alan accidentally assassinating a food critic and punching his boss with a chicken carcass live on air warranted this but, hey, that’s entertainment!
This Time With Alan Partridge feels, in retrospect, an inevitable culmination of a career over the last 25 years which has mostly had troughs as opposed to peaks, as Alan has ventured back into local radio with North Norfolk Digital, developed live specials for Sky Atlantic as a roving societal explorer in shows such as Scissored Isle, and memorably graced the silver screen in Alpha Papa, becoming the key figure in a high-intensity siege of his radio company amidst a corporate takeover. Alan has never quite faded from the public consciousness, either in the world Steve Coogan and his co-writers have carefully nurtured over the years, nor in the minds of comedy viewers. Alan’s adaptability to the world around him, or more appropriately the comedy from his in-adaptability despite chronic attempts to do so, has made him perhaps the most enduring and chameleonic comedy creation in British television history.
READ MORE: The Road to This Time With Alan Partridge #7
This Time is a fictional hybrid of BBC’s magazine series The One Show, ITV’s Good Morning Britain and, its now clear, Partridge’s own fictional series Knowing Me Knowing You. A half hour blast of random stories from how to properly wash your hands through to taking on dangerous ‘hacktivists’, This Time is predicated on the idea that Alan has been draughted in by the BBC as a last minute replacement for the regular host opposite comely young host Jennie Gresham (Susannah Fielding, playing a hybrid of Susanna Reid & Christine Bleakley).
This perfectly is in tune with an age where all kinds of talentless blowhards are on TV, whether presenters or from the political arena; often middle-aged men with an inflated sense of their own self-importance and misplaced confidence. For all Coogan’s performance may delight and Alan may be quite loveable in an awful kind of way, This Time is at pains to remind us the man is a dinosaur – powerfully out of step with modern trends, presentation styles and utterly incapable of preventing himself rambling into non sequitur holes of gibberish.
It is, as you might expect, just glorious to watch unfold. There is a sense with shows such as The One Show that they have absolutely no self-awareness of just how wilfully strange they are, in attempting to condense the oncoming rush of information in our social media age to a format which feels strangely out of step and out of time. Alan’s return to the BBC, even temporarily, to co-front a show as open to being weird and politically incorrect as Knowing Me Knowing You ended up a quarter of a century earlier, makes a world of sense in an age where broadcast television is ever more desperate to chase ratings by allowing loathsome, objectionable figures on screen.
You almost suspect as much as Jennie clearly thinks Alan is an idiot across this first episode, the producers of This Time would be rubbing their hands with glee at Alan going ‘off grid’ to pursue a hacktivist whose identity he’s just exposed live on national TV, only to end up brown-nosing Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis in a lift. It’s the sort of behaviour that, if a Piers Morgan pulled it, would be all over social media the next morning and give the show a huge boost in the ratings.
READ MORE: The Road to This Time With Alan Partridge #6
The great thing about This Time, and about how Neil & Rob Gibbons—the custodians behind the scenes of Partridge since Coogan revived the character for 2011’s web series Mid Morning Matters—craft Alan for this new series is that while we as an audience may understand the wider context of the show and his return to the BBC, Alan remains blissfully ignorant that he is a product of a broken media age.
The series, in an inspired move, uses VT breaks to switch between presentation of the show and ‘off camera’ moments where Alan’s anxieties and ego are counselled by his ever-faithful PA, Lynn (Felicity Montagu), and the nuance of Alan fearing he’s out of his depth but not for the right reasons become awkwardly, painfully apparent. He may have railed at the BBC for years but he desperately just wants acceptance, even though he will never understand that he has no place in the cut and thrust modern media age. It makes for, as ever, incisive, layered comedy with genuine pathos.
Though it needs to make sure it doesn’t end up becoming a re-tread of Knowing Me Knowing You for the modern age, This Time on the basis of this opener feels like another slice of Partridgian brilliance. Peppered with great jokes, lines and Coogan on blistering form, this is comedy working on all kinds of levels that feels earned over two decades of careful development.
Things can surely only get better as Alan gets even worse.
This Time With Alan Partridge airs on Mondays on BBC1.