Bliss | TV review by Steve Bennett

Bliss

TV review by Steve Bennett

It’s the perfect premise for farce, so it’s a surprise that bigamy hasn’t really been the subject of a TV comedy before.

Last year, Rebecca Front starred in Holly Walsh’s The Other One, about two half-sisters who only found out about their shared father’s double life when he dropped dead.  But the ironically titled Bliss, from the mind of Arrested Development’s David Cross, puts our two-timer at the centre of the action, focussing on travel writer Andrew’s agonising efforts to keep his two families apart, despite them living in relatively close proximity

His job enables him to live the double life. He says he’s off travelling when he’s merely nipping across Bristol (which is looking very photogenic here) to enjoy his alternative existence, and turning  to TripAdvisor to cobble together the next ‘first-hand’ piece. Although ‘enjoy’ is definitely the wrong word, given that he sobs whenever he’s alone in the car at the situation he’s got himself in. 

We do need to sympathise with him, after all. We need to know he’s a victim of his own weaknesses, as sitcom convention dictates, rather than some sort of arrogant, swaggering playboy. Which is a very good reason for casting the always likeable, and often put-upon, Stephen Mangan in the lead role.

The set-up unfolds at a rather languid pace, making this feel like a half-hour comedy filling to an hour-long comedy-drama, with the gags subsequently stretched out. The tone is often on wry lines rather than laugh-out-loud funny ones. ‘You’re such a terrible liar,’ one wife tells him Denise  (Jo Hartley) tells him, in innocence/ While earlier the other spouse Kim (Heather Graham) nags on him to make a decision. It’s only about kitchen taps, but we know.

Eventually circumstances build towards a dinner date with Denise and two friends, with Andrew afraid that Kim will walk in.

His various attempts to avoid the meal fails – again stringing out the situation more than it needs, even if the slower pace does emphasise the strains Andrew has put himself under. It’s definitely the comedy of cringe as the excruciating stress becomes palpable, our dubious ‘hero’ driven to the edge by his fear of discovery.

It leads him to desperate measures, right up to feigning racism, to try to extract himself from the situation, bringing out the farce, and with the stakes dramatically high. This is only episode one, too, so viewers can probably expect his evasive actions to become even more drastic  –  and outlandish –  as the season progresses.

• Bliss is on Sky One at 10pm tonight. Here is David Cross talking about the show.

Review date: 14 Feb 2018
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