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TV

Staged

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

4 stars

Staged, BBC One’s answer to lockdown one, has now return for a second series which, coincidently, has timed perfectly with lockdown three. What an ideal (and hugely distressing) pattern that is.

The successful first season saw Michael Sheen and David Tennant playing slightly staged versions of themselves; that is, slightly grouchy out of work actors who were having to continual rehearsals for their Covid-cancelled play over zoom. Persuaded by their wives Anna and Georgia, the men turn to these daily calls as a vaguely therapeutic outlet for the frustrations of lockdown. It was both funny and comforting, and ultimately a somewhat historic bit of television that had not just adapted to lockdown, but rather embraced it as the nexus of the show.

Season two hits the ground running with an intriguing meta twist, which highlights this ingenuity. In episode one, Romesh Ranganathan plays host to a despairingly titled ‘6 Months into Lockdown’ chat show, where he praises the lads for the success of their latest tv show, Staged. That this fourth-wall-busting twist is revealed over a Zoom TV interview further satirises this new normal of television production.

The premise of the second season is thus centred on the success of the first. Simon Evans, the rather inept scriptwriter responsible for the initial Zoom rehearsals has been snatched away by Hollywood, where none-other than Whoopi Goldberg is producing a new American version of the show. Much to their disgruntlement, Michael and David are to be recast and having inadvertently upset Goldberg’s character, they find themselves having to coach a line-up of their possible replacements over Zoom. As a result the series is utterly star studded; from Hugh Grant to Phoebe Waller-Bridge , as each episode sees the appearance of someone more unlikely than the last.

Whilst for us the novelty of lockdown has certainly worn thin, Staged has once more triumphed small screen comedy, and by that I of course mean the new world of Zoom television. The comedy combines Zoom conversations with footage filmed in the actor’s homes, which acts as nice foliage to break up the otherwise fairly stagnant nature of video calls. A pleasant intimacy emerges from this rather bare-boned set up. We get to see the messy inside of David’s wardrobe and admire Michaels rather rustic living room all whilst listening in to the conversation between the two mates.

Indeed, much of the comedy is born from the begrudging banter that plays out between a sweary and temperamental Sheen and a more-often-than-not slightly existential Tennant.

An early disagreement over whose name is hidden in a magazine crossword cheekily mirrors a continuous fight in the first season over whose name should take top billing, and it is in this competitive fire that the comedic chemistry of the pair comes to life.

At the start of the new season, their conversations shift from lockdown to the excitement of life and working starting up again. But as the season progresses, we watch Covid-safe filming schedules getting cancelled, and travel plans shifting from South Africa to Cardiff.

Yet, just as those pre-Covid filmed scenes of characters hugging or handshaking seem somewhat unnatural to us now, it is remarkably comforting to see people living under the same virtual conditions as we are now, all whilst making it funny. The show breezily demonstrates the wearing nature of lockdown and the characters don’t hide from the uncertainty and claustrophobia it brings. Yet for the simplicity of its concept and its set-up, they also bring moments of comic absurdity. The second season bounces between long-running jokes from the first and introduces playful new topics of conversation. With episodes only around the 15 minute mark, they provide the perfect light interlude to be chucked on between your own endless video call schedule.

Image: maybeMaybeMaybe via Wikimedia Commons