On the day of Alan Partridge's final broadcast on the BBC in This Time With Alan Partridge (BBC One, Monday, 9.30pm) – perhaps, once again, for the very last time – it was hard to say if the stumbling broadcaster's towering self-assurance and radiant incompetency in the face of a crisis was any more preposterous than what had just happened in the House of Parliament.
In the real world, British MPs had wrested control of Brexit and its humiliating disarray to propose four viable alternatives, and then shot down all of them. Even as he walked the awkward, two-step staircase of the This Time studio (the most happily revived joke of Knowing Me, Knowing You) towards another hapless interview, Partridge seemed – if not more statesmanlike, then certainly no less.
Partridge’s latest incarnation, as the accidental co-host of a fabulously asinine afternoon show (“How did you get this job?” asked his partner on the sofa, Jennie (Susannah Fielding). “Did you win a competition?”) has somehow again made him England’s man of the moment.
Cocksure, bitterly aggrieved, but ultimately resigned to perpetual humiliation, Steve Coogan’s proud charlatan has acquired a more unsettling status in these chaotic times. Once a pitiable figure of fun – there, but for the grace of god, goes Piers Morgan – these days he may as well be running the show.
The series finale ended with no classic bombshells – no fatal gun shots or poultry-fisted assaults – but by then Alan’s casual damage had been done: sternly revelling in the sexual harassment allegations against his predecessor; jousting pettily with a contrarian reporter; allowing his celebrity lookalike’s rendition of Come Out Ye Black and Tans turn the mild magazine show into “an advertisement for the IRA”.
In a debacle that should have delighted him, the final broadcast was all Alan. Abandoned just before broadcast by Jennie (actually, a sad loss for the viewer), he must steer the ship alone, straight into the nearest rocks.
He camps it up instinctively through a fashion segment, and somehow still manages to refer to "a decent bit of skirt". He volunteers for a crotchety sleep therapy examination that turns both hilariously slapstick and shiveringly sinister. And he uses a wholesale re-enactment of a minor traffic offence to settle some personal scores. "I may be Vin Diesel, " he tells the arresting officer, "but you're being vin-dictive."
It says a lot about Coogan and co-writers Neil and Rob Gibbons’ real feeling for the character, that they allow Alan a solid retort with absolutely none of the satisfaction – the copper doesn’t get it.
We’re always allowed much more insight into Alan than he is, of course. Just watch as he comes face-to-face with his hand-selected doppelganger, a buff young male model standing – for no particular reason – naked before him. Alan stares importantly into his eyes, never letting his gaze drop.
Alan, with his uncontrollable media voice and ungovernable thought pattern, may as well be the new emperor of England, and even he knows he isn’t wearing any clothes. Not This Time. Not ever.