Brian Cox destroyed Deadwood along with a tailspinning David Milch and Aerial Telly has never forgotten it. We find him now on the East Coast of Scotland, Broughty Ferry specifically where the death of the local MP has triggered a by-election. Local burger van kingpin Bob Servant Independent (Cox) will be standing as a man-of-the-people candidate. So it’s the little man taking on the political machine, putting people first and snatching the hearts of the public along the way? Not quite.
Because Bob has no politics, no love of the public and no real reason to be doing this other than a desire to be seen as a bigshot who makes things happen. His campaign manager is his friend, neighbour and one-time burger van employee Frank (Jonathan Watson), an enthusiastic but none too bright tub of shit. He’s got his work cut out handling Bob who is nine-tenths bullshit and 100 percent bluster. He runs his mouth in haste and repents at his leisure. This is well demonstrated on a local radio phone in with DJ Anders (Greg McHugh who you’ll know as Howard from Fresh Meat). He tells a caller with a speeding ticket to rip it up, bribes another with the prospect of a counterfeit disabled parking badge and tells another he’ll shoot his dog. He generally makes one outlandish statement after another. There are consequences to this. Consequences of comedic note? Not really, no.
"You had several hours to tell him, the media of SMS messaging, telephony, e-mail and face-to-face talking yet for some reason you couldn’t manage it. But then I forget – you’re not real are you Frank? You are comic setup incarnate."
He remains unbowed though and is particularly keen to engage with young voters. To this end, Frank sets up a meeting with some young people. Can you guess what’s coming? Bob thinks it would be great to meet with them wearing a hat with a prosthetic hand with a middle finger raised on the top. When he enters the room it turns out he is addressing seven-year-olds. Once there, he leaves it on while he says hello. Frank says "I tried to tell you!" What did you try and tell him, Frank? That you had booked an audience with infants? You had several hours to do so, the media of SMS messaging, telephony, e-mail and face-to-face talking yet for some reason you couldn’t manage it. But then I forget – you’re not real are you Frank? You are comic setup incarnate.
"Nothing they do is plausible – this means you don’t believe in them. Bob is just a buffoon marionette spinning into whatever outrage the lack-brained joke requires."
Bob’s opponents in the by-election will be slick career politician Nick Edwards (Rufus Jones) who should absolutely wipe the floor with Bob which means he absolutely won’t. His campaign manager is his wife Philippa Edwards (Pollyanna McIntosh who you may remember as the ooga-booga lady in The Woman), and she outwits Bob at every turn. He’s really up against it and if he pays the giant tax bill his accountant keeps reminding him of he’ll have no money left to fight his pointless losing campaign (that he will obviously win).
So here’s where we are with Bob Servant Independent: the stakes are low, they could barely be lower. This means there’s no tension. None of the characters are likeable – this means there’s no warmth. Nothing they do is plausible – this means you don’t believe in them. Bob is just a buffoon marionette spinning into whatever outrage the lack-brained joke requires. A show like this can run forever and never make you laugh. It belongs to an earlier time – a time when even highly regarded sitcoms were shite. There are no depths it won’t sink to for a cheap non-laugh. Bob Servant originally started out as scam-bait – an outrageous character spinning implausible tales to waste the time of Internet spammers and this would go some way to explaining its problems.
Whatever their origin stories you’ll find a lot of comedies like this – rolling around in their own leavings as if Armageddon were approaching and they had voided their bowels in anticipation. For the man who stank out Deadwood it’s a fitting end.
The verdict on Bob Servant Independent: Independent of laughter.
Marks out of 10: 3
Imagined: Friday 18 January 2013