mon 22/12/2014

PhoneShop, E4 | TV reviews, news & interviews

PhoneShop, E4

Is it worth signing a six-week contract with this sitcom sales team?

Are you being served? The Sutton branch of PhoneShop
Are you being served? The Sutton branch of PhoneShop

For a workplace sitcom, an endorsement from Ricky Gervais must be a double-edged sword. On the one hand Gervais’s seal of approval seems to have helped persuade E4 to commission an entire series of PhoneShop even before its pilot aired as part of Channel 4’s experimental Comedy Showcase season last November – Gervais having been so excited by the early draft sent to him by his old friend Phil Bowker that he became the nascent sitcom’s script editor. On the other hand, Gervais’s involvement inevitably raises expectations that PhoneShop will at least approach, however distantly, the dizzy heights of The Office.

On the evidence of this opening episode those hopes will have been cruelly dashed. Except for a few brief moments of respite (most of them supplied by Emma Fryer, but more of her later), I just didn’t find it in the slightest bit funny. Not a smile did I crack. The Office can be glimpsed, Mount Everest-like, on the horizon, but PhoneShop rarely ventured out of base camp. Is Gervais losing his touch, or was there an element here of helping out an old mate? And as we know from his continuing involvement with Karl Pilkington (from Sky1’s quite amusing An Idiot Abroad), Gervais can be laudably supportive of his old muckers.

Phil Bowker’s background is in comedy production – he was responsible for the first two series of BBC Three’s Pulling and BBC Two’s 15 Storeys High, unfairly neglected gems the pair of them. And while at Avalon, Bowker was responsible for getting Gervais his first job in television, as a writer and then performer on The Jim Tavare Show. The two have been good friends ever since, and now that Bowker (since 2008 the Comedy Editor at Talkback Thames) has moved into comedy writing, you can't entirely avoid the suspicion that Gervais is returning the earlier favour.

It seems that when Bowker finished his script for PhoneShop he became alarmed that the shop manager Lance (played by Martin Trenaman, pictured below) might be regarded as a variation on David Brent. You can see his point, but you could equally say that Bowker should be so lucky. Compared to Brent, Lance is a cipher, and that goes for most of the other characters inhabiting the Sutton branch of this mobile phone emporium. One of the many great joys of The Office was the recognisable workplace types and the recognisable manner in which they interacted. Bowker and his co-author John McQueen may have researched phone shops to within an inch of their lives, but beneath their no doubt accurate observations of life in such an establishment, they don't seem to have created credible characters. And it's not as if high-pressure salesmen can't be funny and touchingly human – take Barry Levinson’s 1987 movie Tin Men for starters.

CF013459I just didn’t believe in these people at all – not Lance, not new boy Christopher (Tom Bennett), who first we meet stuck in the staff loo; and certainly not Ashley and Jerwayne, the former a white guy old enough to know better who, over a decade after Ali G first made the “wigger” a figure of fun, comes on with the Jamaican street slang that has been colonised by Britain’s teenagers.

Only Emma Fryer, as Janine, seemed to show any real comedic spark – but then Fryer is an original talent, as she proved in her self-penned BBC sitcom Home Time. There was perhaps an element of improvisation in Fryer's performance (the opening credit informed us that there was “additional material from the cast”), and she managed to sneak in some promising bits of business amongst this uninspiring ensemble.

Workplace sitcoms don’t necessarily have to resemble the real world, of course. No computer backroom staff would operate like Roy, Moss and Jen in The IT Crowd, but Graham Linehan’s sitcom does capture, in exaggerated form, truths about certain geeky, under-socialised techie basement dwellers. But then not every sitcom can star the wonderful Richard Ayoade, or have Linehan’s zestful lightness of touch.

The best line of the night came at the very end – when the Sutton branch was visited by their hyper-competitive rivals from the Croydon branch. “Oh sorry, I thought this was a charity shop,” says one of them. “Guess I’ll have to come back in six months.” It’s notoriously difficult (though not impossible) to judge a sitcom from its first episode, but a few more lines like that, and a touch more subtle detailing in the other characters, and PhoneShop might just be worth ringing back. Strictly pay-as-you-go only, however; I doubt I’ll be tying myself into a six-week contract with this bunch.

Compared to David Brent, Lance is a cipher, and that goes for most of the other characters inhabiting the Sutton branch of this mobile phone emporium

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Comments

I'm an American and I'm

I'm an American and I'm seeing a real parallel between british reception of Phoneshop and the reception of The Colbert Report in my country. For those of you who haven't heard of it, the Colbert Report is a show in which mock political pundit Stephen Colbert offers his ridiculously right wing views on current events in America. I have found that people tend to respond to him in three ways. Really unintelligent people tend to like him, because they think he is agreeing with them, when he is really mocking them. Middle class people with average intelligence tend not to like him, because they think he is too slapstick in his approach to humor. Intelligent upper class people tend to love him because when you get pass his ridiculous surface, Colbert offers his more tuned in viewers some truly wonderful esoteric satire. I find the same to be true with Phoneshop. Unintelligent "tuned in" youth like Phoneshop because they think it's trying to appeal to them, when the show is really satirizing their way of life. People who are what you might classify as average both intellectually and financially tend not to like it because they think it is too ridiculous and because they believe it is trying appeal to the latter group, who they for the most part despise. However the upper class and intellectually gifted person will take notice this is not a show about youth culture or being "gangster", those are nearly characteristic of the group that the show is really taking shots at (and doing so wonderfully), poor people.
I think you are taking this wonderful, refreshing new comedy show far too seriously. It was brilliant. I have not laughed so hard intentionally at anything C4 have ever done and I hope they do another series of this show. How can you not get, that these characters are caricatures and are meant to be laughed at? Of course Ashley is 10 years out of date and talking the way he does, he works in a mobile phoneshop in Sutton. What did you expect, Prince Charles on his Duchy estate? Jerwayne, being a Big Man player and still iving at home with his Mum. Newman a graduate with a degree in Hotel management and sports??? what kind of a degree is that? and Lance married 16 years to Shelley a woman he met in a hot tub on a hedinish holiday three days earlier. No, these were the same sad characters from the Office who we are meant to laugh at but this time much, much, much funnier. I really liked the Office but Phoneshop has surpassed its predecessor.
You're too old! Hahahaha.....Bad luck, your time is passing people - don't understand the youth culture anymore, do you.
Is'nt tv always the last resort for entertainment anyway.Something we all sit and watch when there is simply nothing better to do.this new tv show "phoneshop"is exactly what i expected it to be.There are plenty of laughs,like when christopher did the little brave smile thing in zizzi,or when he said do you want anything from the toilet,or the bit when he simulates a bj in the store room,the list goes on.these guys definately know what they are doing.The characters idiosycratic details should'nt be ignored.seems to me the writer of this site probably watched phoneshop once then judged it.Only after watching it twice did i pick up slight details i missed the first time round.Compared to nearly all current comedies being aired at the moment "phoneshop" is clearly the best by a long way.And comparing it to "the office" is ridiculous. After i saw the office for the second time i soon got bored.When you think about it a comedy in an office sounds dull anyway you look at it.Its obvious gervais only had control of the character christopher.and to be honest he done a real good job.i love ashley and his getto slang "ting".i love jerwayne just for being there for ashley to bounce off of.janine is histerical.What i also like about phoneshop is that it's filmed in a real shop in a real precinct.I've never seen anything like that before. Anyway i love phoneshop and long may it continue..........
Too much nonsensical slang. "Man a ting"? who are they trying to appeal to here? And don't get me started on that Ashley character, who is, as you say, an Ali G type character but unfortunately without any of the satire. Complete dross from start to finish. Not many comedy programmes infuriate me, but this one certainly did.
He's right, Phoneshop is complete rubbish. Trying desperately to substitute 'yoof culture' for comedy to appeal to the 10 year olds. Too much swearing and not enough laughs. If only London teenagers can understand the terrible dialogue and 'in jokes' it won't get very good ratings, will it? I disagree when he says it's difficult to judge a series after one episode. If it doesn't do it straight away it isn't worth watching. It'll go the same way as BBC2's truly awful 'Persuasionists'. Good riddance.

now nearly two years later i

now nearly two years later i would bet all the nay sayers on here are either completely horrified about the continuing success of phoneshop or they've been converted. i for one didn't like the look of it from the trailer and avoided series 1, however i was railroaded into series 2 and cannot believe i almost let this absolute classic pass me by. it's a satire on modern society and therefore will legitimately carry modern themes, just because they don't fit with some people's idea of what a classic sit-com should be doesn't mean a thing. this is marvellous and supremely funny, it's my current favourite show and i want more of it. well done bowksy!
Haha your problem is that you're actually reviewing this show. It's light hearted and never going to be the office lol. For a young person from London (which if your not from there most things will go over your head) it is a side-splittingly rolling round on the floor laughing show. P.S. best line was definitely 'u go tell Dr.Dre that- Man'll **** you up !

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