tue 22/09/2020

Damned, Channel 4/ Morgana Robinson's The Agency, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Damned, Channel 4/ Morgana Robinson's The Agency, BBC Two

Damned, Channel 4/ Morgana Robinson's The Agency, BBC Two

Social comedy and sketch impressions

Jo Brand and Alan Davies as caring but careworn social workers in 'Damned'

Damned (★★★) is the third comedy drama in what could be termed Jo Brand's social/healthcare triptych (after Getting On, set in a geriatric hospital ward, and Going Forward, in which she appeared as a care-home worker). Damned, in which she also stars, is set in a child protection social services unit.

Damned (★★★) is the third comedy drama in what could be termed Jo Brand's social/healthcare triptych (after Getting On, set in a geriatric hospital ward, and Going Forward, in which she appeared as a care-home worker). Damned, in which she also stars, is set in a child protection social services unit.

Co-created with Morwenna Banks (who appears as co-worker Ingrid), Damned follows in the tracks of Getting On and Going Forward by being low-key, dark-humoured and full of throwaway lines, but - on the evidence of last-night's opening episode (of six), has yet to reach the former's superb heights of pathos and bathos.

The opener was essentially an office comedy, with the social services aspect merely a faint hum in the background. The people staffing this department alongside Brand and Alan Davies as caring and care-worn social workers Rose and Al would be recognisable in any workplace; Ingrid, telling everyone about her upcoming hysterectomy, ditzy temp Nat (Isy Suttie) - “they call us interim workers now” - well-meaning busybody Martin (Kevin Eldon); office snitch Nitin (Himish Patel), and manager Denise (Georgie Glen), fluent in management-speak, as she has been “tasked with” creating “streamlined cluster teams”.

Add to the mix Aisling Bea's single mother, who has a stalkery crush on Al, and Rose's waste-of-space ex- (Nick Hancock), and there are any number of permutations to be worked. The writers certainly nailed the irritations of office life - broken lifts and out-of-order loos, incomprehensible phone systems and smelly communal fridges - but there was very little in the way of social commentary or bittersweet comedy.

It's early days, though, and it could be that Brand, Banks and co-writer Will Smith are softening us up for some comedy with a real emotional punch, glimpses of which we saw only very late in this first episode, when Rose came into contact with an old flame, whose family is now mired in ill health and drug abuse. I certainly hope so, as the performances, perhaps needless to say with such a talented cast, were wonderful.

Morgana Robinson's The Agency (★★★), a new sketch/impressionist show, uses a narrative format to showcase her talents. It's set in Mann Management, a talent agency run by Cavan Clerkin's Vincent, who has let documentary cameras in; Robinson plays his clients.

Some impressions work better than others - Robinson's Natalie Cassidy (Sonia from EastEnders), Cheryl Cole and Fearne Cotton are uncannily good - while others (Danny Dyer, Gregg Wallace) are surprisingly off the mark. Where last night's opener (of seven) did score, however, was in the fantastical writing (five writers are credited) - imagining an endlessly disappointing suburban existence for the always optimistic Cassidy, or the rather creepy menage imagined in the scenes chez Mel and Sue (Robinson as them, pictured above left), where Mel's husband has to grit his teeth at their relentless punning.

It could be that the writers are softening us up for some comedy with a real emotional punch

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