tue 22/10/2019

Bob Servant Independent, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

Bob Servant Independent, BBC Four

Bob Servant Independent, BBC Four

Brian Cox excels as Tayside's dodgy burger king in whimsical comedy

Brian Cox as Bob (left), with Jonathan Watson as the devoted Frank

As political campaigns go, Bob Servant's bid to win a by-election in Broughty Ferry (a real-life seaside suburb of Dundee) looks more like a drunken practical joke, or the result of an ill-judged bet. A fluent and shameless liar whose only credentials are a lifetime of dodginess, Servant's motives are venal and his ambitions entirely self-centred. He knows nothing about politics or, apparently, anything else, expect perhaps selling hamburgers, which he has done for many decades.

Adapted from Neil Forsyth's books, Bob Servant Independent is low-key and low budget, but looks capable of building a quietly obsessive following. Much of its charm, if that's what you'd call it, stems from having the burly Dundonian Brian Cox in the central role, whose understanding of what makes Servant tick is so instinctive that it verges on the unhealthy (Cox had a brother who apparently shared some of Servant's ducking-and-diving characteristics, which may help to explain it). 

When irate dog-owners phoned in to protest, Servant offered them five grand to walk their pets elsewhere

The series arrives in all-too-brief half-hour slivers, and in this first episode no time was wasted on back-story bloat. Instead, we zeroed straight in on Servant, lounging at his unfeasibly well-appointed waterside home on a stunningly sunny Tayside (clearly there is some profit in being the potentate of Bob's Burgers), as he enunciated a preposterous and bombastic campaign manifesto. "Obama, Gandhi, Burt Reynolds - that's my mob right there... It's time to start the engines, full steam ahead!"

For an audience, he had only Frank (Jonathan Watson), his doggedly loyal yet uncomprehending assistant. He has spent 30 years in burgers with Bob, confides Frank at one point, his loyalty earning him the honorarium of a promotion to Director of Sauces. The contents of which one would no doubt defy analysis. 

How Servant has conceived this notion of becoming the local MP remains, for now, unexplained, though you'd think a man of his character and background would be better advised to keep as far away from media scrutiny as possible. But no. Already convinced that social networking means getting "young people" to "phone the internet and tell their pals", Bob had no hesitation in accepting an invitation to appear on Broughty FM radio to expound his policies.

The series looks set to function as a series of small-scale encounters among a minimal cast - chamber TV, if you will, albeit amplified by some visually alluring location shooting - and the encounter between Servant and radio presenter Anders (Greg McHugh) was a peach. Anders, at first merely dismissive of his interlocutor and his patently absurd campaign, found himself crashing up through the gears of surprise, shock, outrage and disbelief as Servant charged about like a rhino in a minefield.

He would please everyone, all the time. When a caller complained about "dog mess" in Dawson Park, Servant promised to ban all dogs. When irate dog-owners phoned in to protest, he proposed to pay them five grand each to walk their pets elsewhere. When a female motorist expressed indignation about receiving a parking ticket, albeit three hours after her parking time had elapsed, Servant boasted that he would champion her cause fearlessly, and would bung her a fake disabled parking permit into the bargain. Later that day, the police popped round to caution him against "declaring criminal acts on local radio."

We shall see if Bob Servant will be brought to earth by logic, facts and the huge budget of his political rival, Nick Edwards. I do hope not.

Comments

Great stuff, episode 3 the best yet. Watched it twice, equally good.

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