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Saturday 19 April 2014

Foolish Bob gets our no vote

It's always wonderful to see Brian Cox on our screens. The Scottish actor, that is, not the stargazer -- though he's good too.

He's one of those people I'd watch in anything, whether it's Manhunter (where he played the original Hannibal Lecter), X-Men or the Bourne movies. If he made a toothpaste advert, I'd watch him in that as well.

I think I'd make an exception for Bob Servant Independent, though, his new BBC Scotland comedy series. It's easy to see why Cox was attracted to the role. It gave him the chance to work in his native Dundee and the character has a good pedigree.

Bob, created by writer Neil Forsyth, first appeared in a celebrated series of comic emails. Forsyth decided to find out what would happen if he started replying to those irritating spammers, usually from Africa or Germany, who ask you to provide you bank account details in return for a slice of a dead millionaire's fortune.

The ongoing exchanges, which Forsyth signed "Your servant, Bob Servant", grew increasingly more bizarre and surreal. He eventually collected them in a book called Delete At Your Peril, which was then adapted into a BBC radio series that also starred Cox. But whatever worked on the page and on radio, where you can create a whole imaginary world with just some microphones and actors, has fallen desperately flat on television.

There's barely a laugh in Bob Servant Independent, in which our hero is a burger van magnate -- a survivor of "the cheeseburger wars" -- who decides to run as a candidate in a by-election in his native Broughty Ferry.

The best moments, if you can describe them as such, all come in the first few minutes as Bob, a deluded idiot, describes his political philosophy, which stresses the importance of "having a good walk".

His posters, drawn up by his inept campaign manager Frank (Greg McHugh), read: "Vote for Bob Servant because you know him and he's OK." From those tepid beginnings, things go rapidly downhill.

During a phone-in on a local radio station, Bob tells a caller who's received a parking ticket not to pay it. He also promises to wangle her a disabled parking sticker.

He incurs the wrath of dog-walkers -- and the police -- when he says that, if elected, he'll ensure they're banned from a popular local park. Once the law has been passed, any dogs found there will be shot. As enraged dog-lovers besiege the studio, Bob and Frank have to be smuggled out in the boot of a taxi.

It's all deeply foolish. There's nothing wrong with foolish comedy as long as it's funny, but this is embarrassingly bad. Cox, as ever, gives it his all and then some; the script, however, gives him nothing in return.

Even if Bob Servant were a work of comedy genius, I doubt you'd see it turning up at next year's British National Television Awards. Voted for entirely by the public, they're all about popularity over quality.

To judge from last night's interminable shindig at London's O2, hosted by the preening Dermot O'Leary, you'd swear the only dramas of worth in 2012 concerned boy wizards (Merlin), time travellers (Doctor Who), brilliant detectives (Sherlock) and country house toffs (Downtown Abbey, the eventual winner).

I've no problem with any of these, and I absolutely love Sherlock, but they're hardly representative of what was a well-above-average year for British TV drama.

Mrs Brown's Boys, inevitably, took the sitcom award, beating out the tiresome Absolutely Fabulous, the appalling Benidorm and the brilliant The Big Bang Theory. So no room, then, for Twenty Twelve or Fresh Meat.

The genuine highlight of the night was the outstanding achievement award to the wonderful and versatile Joanna Lumley.

She's been a true star ever since she first fuelled the imaginations of a generation of boys as the gorgeous, high-kicking Purdey in The New Avengers.

Real tears, as opposed to the fake ones that drench reality shows, flowed during her gracious and moving acceptance speech.



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