Dark thoughts

Hartley Pool reviews Lizzie And Sarah

If you rolled home after a few bevies last night and turned on BBC2, you could be forgiven for assuming you’d passed out in front of the TV and been subject to a bizarre, absinthe-induced dream.

Lizzie and Sarah is a 30-minute pilot made by Spaced’s Jessica Hynes and Nighty Night’s Julia Davis, and far darker than anything either, or in fact, almost anyone at all, has been involved with before. It’s the kind of thing you might joke about with your mates, but never imagine seeing on mainstream TV.

Clearly working on the correct premise that tragedy makes the best comedy, the first quarter of an hour is almost flawless. In a world where it appears all men are self-obsessed arseholes, we meet the titular ladies and watch them being subject to increasingly sob-worthy indignities.

The bleak tone, and dark nature of the situation the girls have somehow managed to survive is, presumedly, what caused BBC Two to dump it in such a late night slot. Simon Pegg, among others, has criticised the channel for this, but in the days of iPlayer and YouTube, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. The show is funny enough to find an audience through word of mouth. and BBC is probably correct in making sure that youngsters – or the even slightly sensitive – don’t end up accidentally watching Jessica Hynes being shagged hard with a pillow over her face.

Although the first half showcases a great premise, some wonderful creativity and a lot of very funny writing, there is an unnecessary sub-plot concerning a musical memorial which appears to owe something to Chris Lilley’s mockumentary Summer Heights High (worth buying off iTunes, despite the £15 price tag). That aside, the first 15 minutes sets things up to unravel beautifully over, say, a further five episodes.

Halfway through, though, things peak in a very funny breakdown and the show ‘jumps the shark’, as the pair move quickly from cathartic bra-shopping to a killing spree. There is certainly enough in the first half to endear us to the characters, and carry us through the rest of the programme, and yes, there are still some very funny moments to be had as they wreak their revenge.

Julia and Jessica – who also wrote the show – seem to have fudged the initial promise. Perhaps they felt that such a dark tone could not reasonably spin out into a long-running show to rival, for example The Vicar Of Dibley and decided to give us the whole lot in one go.

Ultimately, then, it feels like a beautiful idea, and a great example of edgy, inventive comedy that simply went for the money shot too soon. Perhaps, in this case, we really do need an American remake. Given the number of episodes they can churn out on very shallow premises indeed, they should be able to make a couple of dozen series out of this one.

Published: 21 Mar 2010

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