“It’s so unfair,” goes an early line in VICELAND’s new comedy Bobby and Harriet Get Married. “Bobby’s had sex with so many people and I’M the one who gets chlamydia!” Harriet – posh, earnest, disappointed – stares dry and deadpan to camera next to her incredulous, scarecrow-like American fiancé Bobby. For this couple, a rogue bout of chlamydia is par for the course, as minor an inconvenience in their relationship as leaving the toilet seat up.
Dysfunctional relationships have been mined for comedy on television since time (or telly) anon – picture the screeching wives and hapless husbands in early years of Coronation Street, or more recently, Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan’s deliciously vulgar courtship in Catastrophe.
Most of the time, though, those relationships are pure fiction. Stand-up comedians Bobby Mair and Harriet Kemsley really are getting married – at least we think so, at least, hopefully – and this lively, intriguing ‘structured reality’ takes us along as the pair attempt to scramble together the money and organisational dexterity for their big day, as well as keeping their relationship on track. Which could be quite the obstacle: these two have previous when it comes to high drama – his former problems with alcohol and drug addiction once led to an unfortunate transgression with prostitutes, and she has struggled with anxiety disorders and an obsessive personality.
In the opener, they’re on the hunt for a location. He wants a dingy Soho comedy club, she wants the expansive lawns behind her parents’ Kent home. There’s the cake, too, about which Harriet has grand, ornate visions but Bobby, alarmed by the cost, steamrolls their tasting in a bakery by forcing a supermarket sponge into her face.
When it comes to cutting costs, the pair meticulously comb their bills, and find that his alcohol and drug addiction has been replaced by a £4,000 “Uber problem”, while she’s been buying books on “how to deal with an angry partner”. Though the lines between fiction and reality are never quite clear, their chemistry is patently obvious, even if it’s fraught with tension, and fractious conflict, for much of the episode.
Bobby has the kind of cantankerous, curmudgeonly mien that may be familiar and is well-trodden comedic territory, but threatens to tip into the realm of obnoxious on more than a few occasions. Harriet, on the other hand, is knowing and measured, desperate to prove to everyone how soft and loving Bobby really is, all the while breathing deeply, attempting calm resolution and stoicism.
She, with her straight-faced delivery and faux-vacancy steals the show. One scene has her attempting to use Bobby’s credentials of one appearance on Never Mind the Buzzcocks to get a glossy magazine to pay for her wedding. The guileless Harriet’s attempt to spell a name down the phone is simple, daft, and perfectly pitched. This lively, intriguing opener – wry in places, a smidge hackneyed in others – shows much promise for the rest of the series, (which will feature comedians Romesh Ranganathan and Katherine Ryan), but I suspect its greatest strength lies in the performance of Harriet Kemsley, a quirky, refreshingly charming comedian at the dawn of her TV career.
Bobby and Harriet Get Married starts tonight on VICELAND at 10pm