A STRONG SITCOM?
When I first saw the TV version of “Count Arthur Strong” I laughed a lot in patches but wasn’t too sure overall. Now I’ve seen a few more episodes I’m still laughing and I’m still not sure.
I was a big fan of the Count’s radio show. It seems strange that such a bumbling, harmless character should be described in the Radio Times as “divisive”. The nearest character to him (and this goes way back) was Harry Worth in the 1960s, who also either delighted you or made you want to slap him. But how does the Count’s show come across as a TV sitcom?
Strong’s a great character. He’s a failed music hall star, lost in the modern world, exasperated but terrified underneath, bombastic, tongue-tied, but strangely affectionate. Stephen Delaney’s terrific delivery painted a vivid picture for radio. His TV performance loses none of the vocal nuance, but is physically very mannered. He twitches and blinks and always seems as if he’s about to trip over his shoulders. And, looking at Delaney, you see he’s thirty years younger than the Count.
And I can’t get a hang on Rory Kinnear’s Michael Baker, the new character created by co-writer Graham Linehan. He’s been wisely added so we can see the Count and his consortium of 1950s throwback freaks through his eyes - but is he normal? Is he a neurotic hysteric? At times he’s sensible, at others he over-reacts to the madness round him. The problem’s not Kinnear’s performance but the concept of the character, who doesn’t seem to belong to the same sitcom as the rest.
While Baker is rounded, the Count teeters on the brink of caricature. The malapropisms at times are overused: I couldn’t buy him thinking “Twitter” was to do with Hitler. Some of the jokes are signalled with the subtlety of a Brucie gag on “Strictly”.
But then…. watching the Count perform “Windmills of Your Mind” as he twirled his brolly before the captive audience trapped by the riot had me nearly breaking springs on the sofa. He has the makings of a great sitcom character. He has a life outside each individual episode. You can hear his voice in your head as you go through your day, you ask yourself “How would he react to that?” at things going on around you. At least I do.
I just wish his vehicle carried him a bit better.