Comedy can be a tough sell. Humor isn’t always universal – what one person finds funny, another finds quirky, while a third may find it bordering on offensive – but family comedies generally embrace the broader, farcical situations and characters in order to stay in comfortable waters. However, I’ve found that most family comedies tend to be so watered down in political correctness that they lose all ‘sense of purpose’ in favor of producing quick and convenient laughs. To my surprise, that’s not the case with SPY: SERIES 2, the award-winning sitcom from the other side of the pond (meaning Britain, folks). Created and written by Simeon Goulden, SPY effectively straddled the line between farce and comedy in such a way that its characters continuously took on a life all of their own.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read …)
Tim Elliott (played with everyman appeal by Darren Boyd) works for ultra-secretive MI5 – the British domestic spy service – and, as such, his day job must remain a secret. This presents him with some very unique challenges in juggling a chaotic domestic life, one that includes trying to retain custody over his precocious ten-and-one-half year old son, Marcus (Jude Wright). But with a little help from his coworkers and friends, Elliott tries to be the best dad he can, though it’ll usually put him at odds with his former wife Judith (Dolly Wells) and her current beau Philip (Mark Heap).
By employing a winning combination of actors and situations, Goulden has struck lightning with the two-series run of SPY. Boyd makes a particularly affable lead; he looks and sounds the part of the single father much better than he ever does the part of the domestic spy, but he’s balanced out to stunning effect by the part-deadpan, part-lothario charm of his boss, The Examiner (Robert Lindsay). They’re polar opposites – one grounded in reality, one grounded in delusions of his own making – and, as such, it’s their contrasts of perspectives that gives the program its backbone.
But, fortunately, the talent doesn’t stop there!
SPY also employs a winsome Rebekah Staton as fellow MI5 agent Caitlin Banks, a possibly love interest for Tim though she’s currently in a relationship with Marion Portis (Terence Maynard), giving SPY its veritable love triangle; their office antics – along with some hysterically wry interplay with Lindsay – serve up much of the show’s obvious mirth. Throw in Miles Jupp as ‘Owen’ – a curiously under-educated (and under-sexed!) social worker handling the settlement of Marcus’s custody – along with Chris Pitt-Goddard as ‘Mathew’ – Tim’s absent-minded friend and former work colleague, and you have the makings of a superior cast delivering some superlative laughs.
The bulk of these episodes are a series of misadventures, one a bit loonier than the next, but they work entirely because of the cast’s obvious chemistry. Even some of the lesser, more predictable moments – Portis’s inability to see Caitlin’s obvious affection for Tim, some of Heap’s ‘aping’ to the camera for laughs – still work because they’re always handled in concert with an immensely talented cast. Because so much of this calculated for broad appeal (kids as well as adults), it could’ve easily run the risk of becoming ‘shtick’ so very quickly that audiences may’ve turned it off or completely tuned it out. However, the players hit their marks repeatedly, so it’s easy to dismiss some of the small shortcomings in favor of the bigger payoff.
If anything, parents need to be cautious that some of the subject matter might touch on areas they may not want to discuss with their children. For example, Lindsay’s constant quips – while amazingly funny due to his impeccable comic timing – often involve adult sexual behavior and subject matter. (It’s practically howlingly funny.) Be prepared to dismiss a joke or two every so often, and I would guess that, like me, you’ll find SPY an immeasurable charm to experience as couch potatoes.
SPY: SERIES 2 is produced by Hat Trick Productions for Sky British Broadcasting Limited. DVD distribution is being handled by BFS Entertainment & Multimedia Limited. As for the technical specifications, the series looks and sounds remarkable as no expense has been spared in bringing this mostly family-friendly production to life. Also, I’d be remiss in my duties if I failed to point out that SPY was nominated for the Best Comedy Program of the 2012 International Emmy Awards; Boyd won ‘Best Male Performance in a Comedy Program’ for the 2012 BAFTA Awards; and he also secured a win as the ‘Best TV Comedy Actor’ for the 2011 British Comedy Awards. (Well done!) As is often the case when these foreign productions finally find release in America, there are (sadly) no special features, which is a big miss – I definitely would’ve liked to know more about this production.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. While it fluctuates a bit too liberally between true comedy and sheer lunacy, so very much of SPY: SERIES 2 is an absolute delight with a winning premise, some terrific performances, and enjoyable characters. While the program is certainly billed as family-friendly, parents should be forewarned that some of the humor lies with some relatively adult material, but there’s nothing so obtuse that it borders on offensive. At worst, there’s some blurred lines regarding sexuality, but, again, it’s fairly passé when compared with some other stuff on television.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at BFS Entertainment & Multimedia Limited provided me with a DVD copy of SPY: SERIES 2 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.