A legend of the entertainment circuit, he’s respected by the likes of Robert Webb and Frank Skinner and admired by the TV execs who know he can still bring in an audience. Fame may be fading and pay cheques dwindling, but life is good for Paul – until, early one morning, a knock on the door from the police threatens to destroy his career and his family.
He’s clearly done his homework; the opening episode is peppered with keen touches and observations. The Sun front page, suspiciously timed to coincide with the initial police interview. The smug taxi driver, who announces with glee that he’s left the meter running all the time that Paul has been fighting through the media scrum. The Channel 4 executive, who tells Paul that he’s bringing in a new face to front their daytime quiz show: “Just someone to keep your seat warm until you come back,” he says, full of forced regret.
Did he do it? Does Paul Finchley really have something terrible in his past to hide? It’s uncomfortable playing a straight whodunit game here, but that’s what the writing forces you to do: piece the evidence together, pick up the scraps of information that the drama drops you.
“Never could tell when you were joking,” Paul’s comedy partner Carl (Tim McInnerny) says pointedly. It’s a line that will resonate throughout National Treasure. Is he being straight with us? Is he being straight with himself? Is he brushing off terrible accusations the only way he knows how, with a joke? Or are we the fools for believing him?
Comedy conceals, covers over our darkest thoughts and wishes. But what happens when the laughter stops?