Lily Allen and Sharon Horgan should be a match forged in black comedy heaven. As a songwriter, Allen is all about ripping off the plaster and exposing the emotional welts and bruises of real life. With Catastrophe and Bad Sisters, Horgan, for her part, specialises in nettle-sharp dark humour. Put them together and you expect a melancholic laugh-fest for the ages.
Dreamland (Sky Atlantic, 9pm) isn’t quite the show you had hoped for, however. For one thing, Horgan is producing rather than writing (the series is adapted from a short film she penned for Sky Arts in 2017).
Another issue – there are several – is that it isn’t funny. It’s set in the scrappy English resort town of Margate and some of that seaside ennui of that backdrop has seeped into the bones of a dramedy which has all the punch of a melted 99 splattered over the pavement.
Allen does her best as Mel O’Sullivan, a London exile returning to her hometown on the “Kent Riveria” after her career as an assistant to a model hits a speed bump (the model has overdosed and missed a shoot). Mel is a little cloud of melancholy amid the English sunshine – and while that makes her a sympathetic protagonist, Dreamland becomes disjointed when she reconnects with her family.
The O’Sullivans are an eclectic bunch – often to a fault. There is a sense that Horgan and writer Emma Jane Unsworth are trying to bind together several different comedy genres at once. Mel’s eldest sister Trish (Freema Agyeman) is an expectant mother desperate for a daughter after two sons (and several miscarriages).
But the kitchen sink milieu to which she belongs resides in an entirely different universe to that inhabited by Sheila Reid’s Nan. She drives around Margate in a pink car and seems to be Sky television’s answer to Mattress Mick.
The script also lifts straight from Ricky Gervais’s Afterlife with the character of Clare (Gabby Best), another O’Sullivan sister, and a reporter for the local newspaper. As with the Gervais comedy, she is required to work on absurd local interest stories – such as a giant rabbit with award-winning poo.
Finally, there is Leila (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), the fourth of the sisters and the hippy in the pack with a penchant for upcycling. Their mother Cheryl (Frances Barber) meanwhile has embarked on a late-in-life lesbian relationship.
With Bad Sisters, Horgan shows that the dynamic between four sisters can make for gripping, hilarious TV. Alas, Dreamland never coalesces into anything nearly as substantial, its script orbiting the blank spaces where the jokes are supposed to go.
Margate looks like it might be a nice place in which to pass a weekend. Something similar might be said or Dreamland. It’s diverting to visit. But you won’t want to tarry very long.