Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Other One

The Liar 'imself

Pleasant, excruciatingly dull, slightly simple

Esmonde and Larbey were never dark writers but there is an edge to their best work which takes it out of safe, standard sitcom land and into something odder and more nuanced. Their characters are rarely everymen, and are often not so much flawed as irreperably cracked. Just as Tom Good can be a selfish bastard, and Martin in 'Ever Decreasing Circles' is, effectively, psychotic, Ralph Tanner and Brian Bryant are strange, lonely, unloveable, unbearable people, which makes 'The Other One' such an interesting show.

Originally broadcast in 1977, 'The Other One' is fascinating: purely by chance, an insufferable fantasist and a crashing bore meet at the airport whilst waiting for the same package holiday flight. Ralph (Richard Briers) is the self proclaimed 'Lone Wolf', bon viveur, world traveller and compulsive liar; Brian (Michael Gambon) is the nice but dull as ditchwater naif who is utterly taken in by his bullshit. A friendship develops, based on desperate loneliness and symbiotic need: Brian thinks Ralph is exciting, someone who 'makes things happen' (he isn't; he doesn't); Ralph simply needs someone who doesn't think he's a prick.

Two fools sitting in a house they think is a restaurant

Ralph sets off in search of 'gut Spain'

Consequences of a lost donkey

The show is slow moving and melancholic - gentle, certainly, but with none of the magnolia wash that word conveys - and the story is a series of small disappointments and humiliations that Ralph is too resilient to be destroyed by and Brian is too unworldly to notice. Both characters are extraordinarily isolated, and the show works as a kind of perverse love story - they need each other, and they end up together, achieving an importance denied them in the real world by creating their own.

Richard Briers is brilliant as Ralph, the man who dies a thousand social deaths but always bounces back, as boorish and ridiculous as ever, managing to convey the broken man behind the bravado with the merest of gestures - an intake of breath, a slight glaze in the eye. The young-ish Michael Gambon has the less showy role, but does great things with it - creating a character who provokes a mix of sympathy, pity and annoyance. Both men have their chances to have a proper life: to sleep with women, have normal friends, experience things, have fun, but they almost always fuck it up - pre-destined, pre-programmed to fail. They are what they are, but at least they have each other.

Love affair betwen idiots

'The Other One' was popular but was ultimately too brittle and lacking in big laughs to challenge the huge success of its smash hit predecessor, 'The Good Life', and only ran to two series (the second was 'funnier', and not so good). Here's the opening titles and first eight minutes of the opening episode to give you a flavour. The music is by Ronnie Hazlehurst and is simple, subtle and typically brilliant.

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