Semi-Detached review: Promising concept and cast let down by shortage of laughs

The new sitcom starring Lee Mack too often relies on toilet humour and tired jokes, says Patrick Cremona.

Semi-Detached episode 1
2.0 out of 5 star rating

Lee Mack is comfortably one of the UK’s most popular comedians – equally at home doing stand-up, in a sitcom or appearing as a panel show guest – and so news of a brand new series featuring the Would I Lie To You? star will no doubt have been welcomed by millions of telly fans around the country.

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The new show, Semi-Detached, marks rather new territory for Mack (and we’re not just talking about his character’s moustache). Unlike his other sitcom, the long running Not Going Out, the star doesn’t have a writing credit for this series, instead acting from scripts penned by David Crow and Oliver Maltman, while it also marks his first foray into single camera fare, as opposed to the studio format he is more familiar with.

The concept behind the show is a fairly novel one: all the action in the series plays out in real time – with very little opportunity to pause for breath – a bit like a domestic version of 24 but with less high octane thrills and a whole lot more bodily-fluid based humour. It’s a decent gimmick, and certainly one with a lot of potential, as we follow the hapless Stuart (Mack), a frustrated, middle-aged wedding DJ who bumbles through increasingly chaotic 25 minute spells while struggling to cope with the plethora of eccentric characters and frenzied situations that seem to follow him wherever he goes.

Mack himself has compared the role to the sitcom equivalent of MC-ing at comedy club – he goes from door to door introducing an array of acts, each of whom does their bit, before he moves on to the next act – and its easy to see where the comparison comes from: Mack may well be the lead, but the show is just as much about the supporting players.

And certainly if this was a comedy club, few punters could complain about the line-up of talent assembled to take part. Mack is joined in the cast by an array of familiar faces from some of the country’s best loved sitcoms, with the stars including Patrick Baladi (The Office) as the new husband of Stuart’s ex-wife Kate, Ellie White (Stath Lets Flats) as his much younger second wife April, and Neil Fitzmaurice (Peep Show) as his brother Charlie – who is on the run after being duped into a dangerous Ponzi scheme. Meanwhile the ensemble also includes Game of Thrones star Clive Russell as Stuart’s gay, drug-obsessed father Willy, Sam Spiro (Sex Education) as his more straight-laced ex wife Kate and Geoff McGivern as the seemingly unstable neighbour Barry.

A neat concept and an exciting cast seem like cause for celebration, and if you throw in the fact that the series comes off the back of a successful pilot it seems like a sure fire recipe for comedy gold. Unfortunately, though, I found that the series never quite managed to come together – there are some enjoyable performances and occasionally amusing gags scattered throughout, but not nearly enough laughs to warrant calling the project a real success.

It’s a classic sitcom set-up and there’ll always be a certain joy in watching chaos unfold around an unsuspecting protagonist, and this programme’s adherence to that formula – at a remarkably fast pace no less – will no doubt see it win some fans, while Mack’s typically charismatic performance in the lead tole may also charm viewers.

But the problem here is that the situations seem far too contrived and overwritten, while there is all too often a reliance on toilet humour and tired jokes in place of anything more witty or original (one particularly excruciating scene in the first episode sees Mack’s character make fart noises using his under-arm for an agonisingly long time). As for the supporting characters, while some have their moments, they seem too obviously sketched as stock sitcom characters – meaning that even the impressive cast are unable to elevate them beyond the generic.

All in all, it’s a decent enough try – but the promising concept and cast are ultimately let down by scripts which just aren’t funny enough, meaning that Semi-Detached unfortunately falls well short.

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Semi-Detached launches on BBC Two on Thursday 6th August, 10pm. The boxset will also be available on BBC iPlayer. Looking for something else to watch? Check our TV Guide.