The Rebel | TV review by Steve Bennett

The Rebel

Note: This review is from 2016

TV review by Steve Bennett

’Television is obsessed by the youth,’ says Simon Callow in Gold’s new sitcom The Rebel. True, maybe, but one place those of advanced years still get a look-in is comedy, where the grumpy old man is a dependable warhorse of an archetype.

Victor Meldrew is the king of the cantankerous, of course, and now Callow steps into similar brogues as the 70-year-old Henry Palmer, who has never mellowed with age. Instead he maintains the renegade ways of his youth, taking things into his own hands when he sees injustice.

That’s the key difference with The Rebel and One Foot In The Grave: Meldrew was battered by external forces driving him to distraction, but  Palmer is the architect of his own fury. 

Plus you could never  see Meldrew pogoing to The Jam in his living room.

Palmer sums up his attitude as: ’What’s wrong with wanting to give the world one last kick up the arse before my my hips finally give out?’ Meanwhile, his medical notes are marked WGPA, meaning Weapons Grade Pain In The Arse.

The script, by Andrew Birch and based on his long-running strip cartoon of the same name in The Oldie, offers a slightly reactionary commentary on the state of Britain that nonetheless rings true.

Episode one revolves around Palmer trying to be a have-a-go hero in apprehending a petty crook. Needless to say the damp squib police officer he calls on for help ends up making excuses for the criminal and turning on Palmer. A strong slapstick scene follows, although another melee later in the show is a lot more contrived. 

Palmer’s run-in with the law leads to a rather too long court scene in which the show loses its already loose tether on reality, but again offers an opinion on how the accused can cynically play the system using false sentimentality.

Elsewhere Palmer berates hipster coffee shop types, a world run by Bullingdon Boys or churches that won’t conduct gay marriages – while refusing to be terrorised by the skateboarders who speed through his Brighton hometown.

Sometimes he tackles the blights on society in a way we all might wish to, if we had the guts– though that would probably stop short of some of the more random acts of criminal damage Palmer indulges in, just for giggles.

Callow gets all the best lines by far –  and the comedy does flag whenever we’re listening to another character, which are universally two-dimensional, despite a fine cast.

His old hippy mate Charles, played by Bill Paterson, starts off with cliched dialogue like: ’Heavy shit man.. it totally freaks me out.’ While Anna Crilly as daughter Cath and Amit Shah as her ineffectual husband, Jeremy, have the flimsiest of personalities, just obsessed with dumping him in a retirement village. Anita Dobson as  charity shop boss Margaret is a fun cameo, though.

But Palmer himself has the potential to be a classic British sitcom character, and The Rebel is certainly a better cartoon adaptation than Harry Enfield’s version of Celeb from Private Eye.. Remember that? Exactly. 

• The Rebel is on Gold at 10pm tonight. Click here for an interview with Simon Callow.

Review date: 20 Jul 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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