Kate & Koji | TV review by Steve Bennett
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Kate & Koji

TV review by Steve Bennett

Whisper it, but ITV could just have created that rarest of creatures – a mainstream sitcom that’s constantly funny; deserving of critical praise as well as strong audiences.

And they have basically done so by going back to the 1970s and reinventing their best ever sitcom, Rising Damp.

Kate & Koji revolves around the stingy, stuck-in-their-ways, old and white owner of a down-at-heel establishment, and their interactions with an erudite, educated, well-spoken black immigrant who is effortlessly better than them in every way.

In the Rigsby role is the marvellous Brenda Blethyn, the grouchy, grudge-holding owner of a struggling seaside cafe. She gets some decent lines moaning about the state of the modern world, but writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin – of Outnumbered fame – also aren’t afraid to give her a slightly unpleasant edge, casually racist and especially dismissive of asylum-seekers.

And that’s exactly what Koji (Jimmy Akingbola) – the ‘snooty and sarky’ customer who sits in her empty greasy spoon establishment for hours, nursing a cheap coffee, studying and tackling The Times cryptic – turns out to be. Kate is definitely more a Daily Express reader.

Koji turns out to be a doctor, unable to work and having to survive on a meagre £37.75 a week – too much in Kate’s book. Yet when he starts giving out free medical advice, customers start flocking to the cafe, and he and Kate come to a symbiotic tolerance. 

It doesn’t take too much to see the lessons being taught here, of the foreigner helping support the health service and bringing economic benefit to a host who would rather not have him there. Koji is understandably keen to be seen as a person, not just a refugee, and a comedy like this is likely to sneak a positive message through to people who would never think of tuning in to Rufus Jones’s similarly well-intentioned Channel 4 comedy, Home. 

Kate is more than her stereotype too, not least because of the humanity Blethyn brings to the role. She’s not just narrow-minded; there’s something to be admired in her no-nonsense attitude, if not some of her more whiffy views.

First and foremost, though, this is a comedy built on gags. There’s a high joke rate with a spark coming from the clear conflict between the two leads. The laugh track initially feels intrusive, but once the viewer relaxes into the story as much as the studio audience, it is full of chuckles. Plus Hamilton and Jenkin show they’re capable of compiling a cracking crossword clue.

Props, too, to Blake Harrison, finally breaking free of his Inbetweeners pigeonhole, to play Kate’s affable nephew ‘Normal’, a go-between across the divide that splits her from Koji.

• Kate & Koji starts tonight at 8pm on ITV.

Review date: 18 Mar 2020
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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