“Hello. Sausage rolls for the, er, wake,” is the first thing David Mitchell’s character says in Back, in a very Mark-Corrigan-from-Peep-Show-kind-of-way.
I don’t know if it’s intentional – and I sincerely hope it is – but pork (in its various forms) seems to be a bit of a leitmotif in the debut of Mitchell and Webb’s new sitcom. Sausage, ham and chorizo are all mentioned in the first three minutes of the episode, in entirely different contexts. Anyway, I digress.
Back, penned by Peep Show co-writer Simon Blackwell and starring Peep Show’s two main protagonists Robert Mitchell and David Webb is, in many ways, a lot like Peep Show. That is not a criticism, however, given that the world got a little less bright when the series ended in 2015, and it’s nice to have it back in some form.
Mitchell plays the role of an inadequate son Stephen, whose father – a legendary pub landlord – has died. Webb stars as the imposter, Andrew, who crashes the funeral and reveals himself as one of the family’s former foster children. Stephen can’t actually remember ever meeting Andrew, admitting: “There were so many of the fuckers, I lost track. Like the Sugababes.”
Stephen’s mum (Penny Downie) and sister (Louise Brealey) love Andrew straight away, but Stephen is convinced he is “a glib, dangerous sociopath” who’s going to take over his life.
And he’s right. It becomes clear that Webb’s Andrew is the leech to Mitchell’s character Stephen, which is a familiarly dysfunctional dynamic for the double act. Also, Stephen gets himself into impossibly inconvenient scenarios – such as being left with a stranger’s constantly defecating dog – like Mark, while Andrew goes around casually, obliviously ruining other people’s lives – he pretends he’s a doctor on a plane leading to the death of a passenger – much like Jeremy.
What distinguishes Back from Peep Show is that it arguably has a narrative arc more typical of a drama than a sitcom, what with a sibling rivalry over the family business being at its core. And instead of taking place within the confines of a cramped Croydon flat, it is based somewhere in British suburbia. Webb’s character is far more charming and accomplished than couch-potato Jeremy, and Stephen, while pedantic, hasn’t shown signs of any obsession with military history… yet.
Judging from the first episode, Back is also likely to be a little more PC. I, for one, can’t see any “grass skirts made of dicks” or “moreish” crack cocaine on the horizon.
Comparisons aside, it’s a strong start for Back, and Mitchell and Webb clearly still have their chemistry. Let’s hope this continues – and the mysterious pork references, too…