Alan Partridge has always been the king of zeitgeist but in his latest media endeavour, he’s really moving with the times. The broadcaster’s seen that every single slightly famous person is making a documentary and he also wants to be “in with the kids.”
But naturally, it’s got to be a moral, worthy TV show, because he called a child a “chav” and now everyone’s angry at him. So he leaves his big luxurious house (the mortgage may have crippled him but he does own it, he assures us) behind to make Alan Partridge’s Scissored Isle (Sky Atlantic, May 30th). The documentary sees him spend time with the people of Manchester, who he talks about as if they’re an RSCPA dog that badly needs adopting.
Never one to blow his own trumpet, Alan reluctantly shows us just how selfless he is to have left his riches (cue lots of shots of his shiny car and his red chinos) behind for a whole week to meet the Real People of The North, where he ingratiates himself with a gang of kids whose crimes include playing loud ball games and talking back to a policeman. He tentatively hands them a carrier bag of cigarettes to preempt an attack, mentioning that one pack is made from chocolate because some of the gang members might be under 16.
And it turns out that Alan is pretty good at slumming it as he has a go working on the Tesco check-out. He acquires a zen-like ability to chat and scan at the same time, which really astounds the rest of the staff. “Watch how you go, love” he says on cue to every customer with impressive chirpiness. Those red chinos and lovely house (his name IS on the deeds, he reminds us) seem a world away now.
But even though Alan copes surprisingly well with the murky Manchester underworld, he’s still as funny and heart-stoppingly awkward as ever. Taking his media star out into the big bad world of TV documentaries, Coogan plays his (slightly) more introspective yet confused character with absolute brilliance.
The documentary will keep old-school Partridge fans happy while taking the character into a new, rather refreshing realm. Writers Coogan, Rob and Neil Gibbons have hilariously observed the trend for Conservatives to present themselves as socially liberal while staying economically right wing. And Alan has very much embraced the idea that it pays to seem more liberal than he is, “bonding” with the gang while wearing a bullet-proof vest.
And sure enough, Alan visits a stately home because of course, to learn about the have-nots, you have to learn, spend time with, eat with and enjoy the company of the haves too. He’s shown around by the custodian of the house, played by an excellent Miles Jupp, who he tells, with a shudder, about the time his gardener and cleaner turned up on the same day.
Alan Partridge’s Scissored Isle shows that the media star can shine at whatever he does, even when aspiring to the broadcasting greatness of Louis Theroux.
So what next? Well, Coogan told the audience at the BAFTA screening that he might get Alan doing a chat show again at some point. Whether this would be with celebrities or more of Jeremy Kyle affair we don’t know, but he’s certainly proven that in the 21st Century he’s not just a face for radio.