Porridge | TV review by Steve Bennett © BBC/Scott Kershaw

Porridge

TV review by Steve Bennett

The announcement that Porridge was to be rebooted was greeted with almost universal cynicism. How could the BBC possibly recreate anything like the genius of the original? Who does Kevin Bishop think he is to step into Ronnie Barker’s prison-issue shoes? And doesn’t cyber-crime,the offence Bishop’s Fletch was banged up for, sound like desperation in modernising the setting?

Well, the truth is that Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais have written an episode that could sit very easily next to their originals.

Very little has changed; certainly not the screws. It doesn’t take much to see wily Scottish guard Mr Meekie, played by Catastrophe's Mark Bonnar, as a descendant of Mr Mackay, with the softer-touch Braithwaite (Dominic Coleman) as a modern Mr Barrowclough. And Bishop’s Fletch, grandson of the original, is not that different either.

What is different is the cell dynamic. Before, Fletch was the habitual criminal, showing naive young Godber the ropes. This time around they are both schemers, but Fletch is the junior partner to career villain Joe Lotterby (Dave Hill), who was once banged up with his grandfather. 

The new version takes a scene to find its feet. Pre-credits we see Fletch being sentenced, giving his plea that he was guilty of a ‘victimless crime’ harming only greedy banks. It’s laugh-track heavy and doesn’t add much in the way of scene-setting that a judge’s summing-up over footage of doors slamming misses.

Fast forward a few months to inside HMP Wakeley, and we could be in Slade 40 years ago, with Meekie trying to intimidate the mischievous Fletch:‘I know you’re at it and I will bring you down if I ever find you up to something larcenous.’ 

‘Then I won’t Mr Meekie.’

‘Won’t what?’

‘Let you catch me’

As always, Fletch gets caught between hardened criminals and trying to to score little victories over the guards. In this plot, prison bad boy Richie Weeks, intimidatingly played by Ralph Ineson – Finchy in The Office – with his henchman Scudds (Ricky Grover) want Fletch to hack into the prison files to help his parole board hearing. But attempts to crack the system with a smuggled-in smartphone and an improvised transmitter backfire.

There are a few missteps in modernising. Harman Singh as Aziz trying to teach Fletch how to dance to hip-hop, especially. But once the rhythms and characters are settled, it’s like the old gang had never been away. And, yes, that means accepting Bishop as the new Fletch.

At the end of the episode, after being defeated but not quite sure how, Meekie snarls: ‘I will have you, Fletcher.’ It’d be nice to see him try.

Review date: 28 Aug 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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