Lots of laughs on the couch, but missing Fingers makes the blood boil
Life couch: Gary Cooke and Barbara Bergin not only wrote the script but also play all six characters in TV3's properly funny new comedy
New comedy is rich with dark comic potential and the acting is spot on – especially from Barbara Bergin
New Irish comedy. Now there are three words to make your blood run cold. But On the Couch (TV3, Tuesday) is funny – and not in a good-for-an-Irish-comedy sort of way but properly funny.
It’s a simple one-camera, single-location set-up – I’m guessing the budget was two washers and a jam jar – and Barbara Bergin and Gary Cooke (from Après Match) not only wrote the script but also play all six characters.
The couch is in a therapist’s office, and the action intercuts the sessions of three couples in crisis. There’s newly posh but dead-rough Dubliners Dudley and Sylvia – he’s “in security, the solutions business” – who are trying to move on from his affair with a young one; flinty workaholics Graeme – in “financial services and a humanitarian” – and Moya, who are trying to prove they are good parents after their 14-year-old was taken into care after a drunken assault (“they say the other boy is brain damaged; well then, he won’t remember what happened, will he?”); and anorak-wearing Brendan, who can’t come to terms with his meek wife Carmel’s weight loss. “Change only causes people anxiety and stress. I don’t know why people have to change,” he harrumphs, not missing the chance to undermine her achievement.
Each story is rich with blackly comic potential. The acting is spot on, especially from Bergin, who is a terrific character actor, and the writing is subtle enough that by the end of the first episode the dynamics between the couples have shifted – and look set to shift again next week. You mightn’t recognise everything in all the characters, but they seem very real all the same.
The first trio of the Black Mirror dramas, standalone stories with an undertow of suspense, like a cross between the Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected, had a dark satirical bite.
This new series, written by Charlie Brooker, looks to be different if the first drama, Be Right Back (Channel 4, Monday) is anything to go by. The satire is gone; this is almost sweet while still being creepy and unsettling. We meet loved-up couple Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) and Martha (Hayley Atwell) as they move to the country.
Subtly, the technologies they use reveal that the drama is set in the future: the TV in the car reports on a medical discovery to regrow flesh, Martha programmes the car for “Drive Safe”, and Ash’s phone is wafer thin.
This imaginably nearish future – Twitter still exists, and cars and clothes are the same – and naturalistic acting and direction add to the pervasive creepiness. The following day Ash is killed in a car crash, and soon Martha discovers she’s pregnant.
Mired in grief, she agrees to sign up for a new service that allows communication with the dead. In this future, software can trawl though all the social media people posted in their lifetimes and mimic them after death.
First Martha is happy to communicate via email with this reimagined Ash, but she soon opts for the delux service, a clone who arrives in a box and must be rehydrated in the bath.
He emerges smooth faced and slightly better looking than she remembers, because, as he points out, we tend to keep only good photos of ourselves, and he has been remade from all the images stored on their computer.
But the clone isn’t like the real Ash. He has no imagination, spontaneity or authenticity – the sum of our social-media parts maybe.