13 August 2020 22:30
I have long nurtured the theory that we will know we have reached true sexual equality in this – so far unpromising – world only when women are, in the same numbers, allowed to be as daft as men. It was a glorious abandonment of uncountable numbers of shackles and seeing it felt like a liberation of some kind. I hope it is a theory that rings true outside my own head, because I would like you to consider a new contender for a place in the nascent tradition: Mandy (BBC Two). It is written and directed by its star, Diane Morgan, the mistress of the deadpan arts who is known for Philomena Cunk, the sub-moronic interviewer and thorn in the side of any expert/celebrity without a sense of humour, and Liz, the icy blade cutting through the overheated panic of other parents in Motherland. The six 15-minute episodes of Mandy, which recount the misadventures of the eponymous heroine, who dreams of raising doberman pinschers, but in the meantime must get on with ordinary life, require you to accept a certain level of daftness from the off.
After an impressively desultory meeting with her work coach at the job centre ("I like mindless tasks," she says when asked what kind of employment she is seeking), she becomes an arachnid control officer at the local banana packers. After initial success, diligently smashing with a mallet the tarantulas that cover the conveyor belt, disaster comes calling and 17 people end up dead. "I like fried chicken," she offers, when asked for her credentials. "I like people who like fried chicken. "I'm not a grass." Alas, she sets fire to the loo during a fag break, after getting her hair trapped in the extractor fan.
What if everyone amounted to something? Then amounting to something wouldn't be special. Your constant failure allows other people to shine." That was the well-meaning advice offered to the hapless heroine of loveable new sitcom Mandy (BBC Two). Boltonian comic Diane Morgan has become a cult favourite for her brilliant portrayal of gormless dimwit Philomena Cunk, a scene-stealer in Charlie Brooker's satirical shows and star of her own spin-off mockumentaries. Morgan also won fans for her supporting turns in parenting comedy Motherland and Ricky Gervais's After Life. Deservedly offered her own vehicle, she grabbed it with both hands – creating, writing, directing and starring in Mandy, and a full series has now arrived after a successful pilot last year. To differentiate the character from Cunk, Morgan pulls a sort of permanent lopsided pout. There was something endearingly cartoonish about Mandy, like a Viz comic come to life. In the opening episode, which was unlikely to be enjoyed by any arachnophobic viewers, Mandy was offered the "Sophie's Choice" of a factory job or attending an adult training course to improve her interview technique. A clue as to why came when she was asked about her strengths and replied: "I'm not a grass. More tragically, Mandy had to find another job. Diane Morgan left her co-stars standing in Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe, where she was the gormless pundit Philomena Cunk, and as Liz, the hatchet-faced single mum in Motherland. A mordant stare from Morgan can do the work of 20 pages of script, so a show of her own has been long overdue. Now, at last, we have Mandy (BBC Two), a bite-sized comedy series (each episode is 15 minutes) that is written, directed by and stars Morgan. In the first episode her despairing benefits adviser, played by Tom Basden, sends her to work in a fruit processing plant where her task is to lay waste to the deadly spiders lurking among the bananas. When an old nemesis, Susan Blower (Maxine Peake), turns up and tries to thwart her plans to win a local line-dancing contest, you root for Mandy to emerge triumphant. I'd still like to see Morgan in something meatier and more befitting of her talents – an episode of Inside No 9, perhaps, or in one of Alan Bennett's rebooted Talking Heads.