There was a time where only the gloomiest of us would have imagined we would be sat here now, watching another season of David Tennant and Michael Sheen's comedy Staged.
When it first arrived the series was a brilliant bolt of joy in amongst the misery of 2020, but it felt so inextricably linked with the pandemic and lockdowns that one would have had to believe we'd still be confined to our houses for another season to be on the way.
As it turns out, this has not been an issue. In spite of the world moving on from COVID-enforced isolation, plenty of us still conduct a number of our relationships almost entirely over video calls. Staged season 3 does have some fun with the idea of Tennant being trapped in a room once more, but in truth there was no need for such a narrative device to be used. It's not difficult to imagine these two preferring to enjoy each other's company from a distance.
This season finds David and Michael in the present day, going about their everyday lives and having cut off all contact from their former director Simon. However, as his career remains stagnant, Simon plots to rope the pair back together to record a new radio play just in time for Christmas.
Much like how the idea of regeneration expanded the lifespan of Doctor Who indefinitely, the key to unlocking Staged's long-term future arrived unexpectedly at the start of season 2, when it was revealed that the first season was now a show within a show – Staged season 2 revolved around the actors reflecting on having made the series' first outing.
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This review won't spoil the new season (and in fact wouldn't be able to – only two episodes have been made available for review ahead of their release on BritBox), but it's fair to say there are some more fantastic experimentations with form, keeping the audience on their toes and the narrative hilariously, purposefully convoluted.
As you might expect, there are also some more incredibly game guest star appearances, but the focus remains as always on the central pairing of David and Michael, and rightfully so.
The two them are clearly still having so much fun as their bickering alter egos, riffing on improvisational games, owed favours and hair dye.
Meanwhile, Simon Evans, Staged's creator both inside and outside of the show, continues to provide a great foil for the pair, and their partners Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg also continue to do sterling work. A particular sequence surrounding Georgia's birthday in the second episode is a particular highlight, and an example of how great actors can still turn old-fashioned farcical miscommunication storylines into gold.
The first episode may not be the show's best ever - the aforementioned reason for David's isolation adds a layer of (initially) distracting unreality to the proceedings, and the instalment feels like more of an easing back in when put in comparison with season 2's blisteringly funny and experimental opener.
Regardless, it's still frequently, reliably amusing, and the show's new Christmastime setting gives the whole endeavour a slight festive feel – something which will surely be to this season's benefit when it comes time for potential yearly re-watches.
With only two episodes to go on, it's hard to say whether season 3 is as great a success as the first two. It certainly hasn't dipped off in quality in any considerable way so far, and one wouldn't expect it to. What Evans has created is a brilliantly and surprisingly malleable formula, which retains the show's initial charm while still managing to move things on in new and unexpected ways.
All this said, fans of the series know that the real reason they tune in is to watch Tennant and Sheen's inimitable chemistry and farcical squabbling – and the joy of watching that in any form certainly doesn't seem to be at risk of diminishing any time soon.
Staged season 3 will stream on BritBox UK from Thursday 24th November 2022 – you can sign up for a 7-day free trial here. Check out more of our Comedy coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.