By Laura Denby
Lockdown comedy Staged returned to BBC One this month with eight more short episodes. Focusing on actors as they navigate their way through the country’s pandemic-induced restrictions, series two continued the narrative with a different (meta) approach. There has been no word yet on a possible third instalment, but the show really shouldn't get one.
Staged follows David and Georgia Tennant and Michael Sheen and Anna Lundberg, who all star as exaggerated versions of themselves, communicating via video calls. Writer and director Simon Evans also co-stars alongside his sister, actress Lucy Eaton. Filled with plenty more fun and wit, the second season expands on series one in every possible way, also ensuring that Georgia, Anna and Lucy get their own storyline.
In the opening minutes of episode one, we see David and Michael discussing Staged in an interview with comedian Romesh Ranganathan – acknowledging its existence as a scripted show. Later, discussions grow heated over an American remake in which David and Michael are set to be recast.
This inventive twist puts a fresh spin on the show, but could limit the team’s options if they look to surprise fans further in the future. Each episode is so action-packed that, by the end, Staged has reached its peak and come to a natural conclusion.
An impressive number of celebrity guests appear throughout the season, all said to be in the running to play David and Michael in the US adaptation. It’s a brilliant chance to see a variety of actors as themselves, with a little creative license, of course. But the show can't up the ante on this without losing its sense of self, moving away from the magic of the show and becoming centred around the cameo experience.
As it is, Staged is still able to give plenty of screen time to the likes of Jim Parsons, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Hugh Bonneville while maintaining the premise that made it so popular in the first place. But now these stars have fulfilled their purpose here, both as an accompaniment to the storylines and by giving us a glimpse into their lives.
Of course, the comedy could find a way to continue, particularly now that we have entered yet another lockdown. But there is a risk of repeating itself. The introductory episodes of Staged perfectly summed up our feelings in the early days of the COVID crisis, while the new series deals with that “will this ever end?” mindset. Beyond that, the show could end up going round in circles.
We are all switching back and forth between the thought processes illustrated across both seasons; desperate for distractions, then just desperate to go out. It's appropriate to revisit the existing episodes, rather than attempt a new exploration of lockdown. The beauty of Staged has been its companionship as we traverse this pandemic together. That novelty could wear off and the series should be left alone to enjoy its inevitable positions as a key piece of television history.
The final episode of series two also delivers a definitive ending as the actors meet up without relying on Zoom for the first time. This means leaving behind the format that dominated the whole show, giving off a very ‘last chapter’ vibe.
David and Georgia speak to Michael from inside their car, while he stands outside in a mask. They emerge from their confinement in much the same way we did last year – chatting awkwardly through face coverings and marvelling at the renewed ability to see people in the flesh.
There is authenticity in moments like this that cannot be recreated, and we don’t need to see them reverting back to conference calls – as much as we would love to be endlessly entertained by this dynamic.
As they ponder whether their camera has recorded correctly in the last scene, David and Georgia break character. This brief behind-the-scenes moment provides closure for the story, separating the actors from the fiction in a glimpse at their role as co-producers.
It’s a fitting way to bring the whole show to a close, perfectly matching the ongoing uncertainty we’re facing. “Good luck!” David tells the camera, in reference to whether or not their footage has recorded. Still, it feels more like an appropriate way of saying goodbye to the viewers.
Staged season 1-2 are available to watch on iPlayer. If you're looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide.