The First Team | TV review by Steve Bennett © Fudge Park/BBC
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The First Team

TV review by Steve Bennett

 The Inbetweeners rightly raised Iain Morris and Damon Beesley to the comedy nobility. But with The First Team – another examination of young male relationships – they’ve missed the goal, certainly judging by a relatively flat opening episode.

It revolves around Mattie, played by Jake Short, a nobody from the American leagues who’s been signed by an unnamed Premier League club, but isn’t quite sure why he’s there. Viewers might experience the same sensation, as we’re introduced to the comedy’s only faintly engaging key characters, all of whom lack the crucial vulnerability that made the Rudge Park sixth-formers so haplessly endearing.

The young players here might be ill-equipped to cope with the world, but their wealth makes it hard to emphasise. Benji (Shaquille Ali-Yebuah) has to deal with which gorgeous Instagram model to date and the practicalities of insuring a shiny silver Bentley. He does, for some reason, still live with his mum, which might offer more comic promise later, but isn’t explored much in the series opener.

Jack McMullen plays Jack, so unsuited to the real world that he’s got nothing in the kitchen cupboards of his massive house, not even a glass to drink from. He’s supposedly petrified of what being seen buying toilet paper will have on his image – even via online delivery.  It’s the sort of character flaw you really only get in a sitcom, as is the improbable solution: that he’s persuaded to buy hundreds of rolls in one go… which of course backfires.

A rant from a fan during that shopping trip rather blatantly serves to show the sort of pressure these youngsters are under, but it’s not really enough to make you care.

Along with the toilet paper, other unsophisticated jokes revolve around nudity and foreskins. Although there’s some bonding between the key three when they finally get together, the mood in the changing room varies between depressing - since the team are on a losing stream – and aggressive, thanks to hardman Petey (Theo Barklem-Biggs). 

That doesn’t create much joy, in a show whose tone is uneven. Mostly scenes played in a relatively naturalistic way, but as chairman Mark Crane, an eccentric with preposterous ideas, Bojack Horseman’s Will Arnett seems to have stumbled in from a louder, more cartoonish show, as do a couple of comedy policeman.

In interviews, Morris and Beesley have spoken about how they were struck by the odd lives of young soccer stars, mixing mundanity with the celebrity trappings, and conducted quite some research into the ‘sit’. That authenticity seems to come though, but it doesn’t gel so well with the contrived comedy.

The result is a show in which not much of consequence happens and isn’t especially funny. More Isthmian League than Premier League.

• The First Team  is on iPlayer now.

Review date: 28 May 2020
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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