It’s fair to say that Alan Partridge’s return to the BBC is a very big deal. After all, this is the man who famously severed all ties with the corporation almost twenty years ago when he shoved a wheel of cheese into the face of its commissioning editor.
But while Steve Coogan’s most famous creation has been seen in various guises ever since, This Time With Alan Partridge is among his finest outings to date.
The latest slice of Partridge sees Alan being handed an unexpected return to the BBC when he becomes the stand-in host of This Time, a weekday magazine programme that isn’t entirely dissimilar to a certain teatime favourite.
It might sound like the perfect set-up for Alan’s return to the big time, but it’s no surprise to report that it’s anything but.
We’re barely two seconds into the first episode when we see Alan’s fruitless attempts to grab a glass of water to remedy his dry mouth before going on air. He’s visibly terrified and hideously out of his depth, but it’s the perfect introduction to 30 minutes of pure Partridge.
For the most part, it works so well because writers Neil and Rob Gibbons know exactly how to make the character feel relevant in 2019. Alan might be the littlest of Englanders, but he’s determined to get with the times – even if it’s done with all the tact of Nigel Farage at a diversity forum.
Take an early moment of the show where Alan has the relatively simple job of introducing the first guest – a seal conservationist.
“It’s Alice Clunt!” says an enthusiastic Partridge as he introduces her, overtly keen to get the audience onside.
She instantly replies: “It’s Alice Fluck”. You get where we’re going with this.
As for the format of the show itself, it isn’t a million miles from Alan’s earliest series, Knowing Me Knowing You, but it allows the Gibbons to play to their strengths – the out of studio segments are a brilliant spin on Alan’s painful interactions with the public that we previously saw in Scissored Isle.
In one section, we see Alan exploring the importance of post-poo hand washing, although that lack of tact is brilliantly deployed once more as he suspiciously lingers outside the BBC bogs.
The show also succeeds at expanding the dimensions of Alan’s sheltered world too. There might be small returns for long-suffering PA Lynn and sidekick Simon Denton, but the real background star is co-host Jennie Gresham (Susannah Fielding). She’s the epitome of light entertainment amicability, but has a bubbling resentment for her new co-host that’s going to grow into a complete firecracker.
And all this, of course, before the episode concludes with Alan’s biblical showdown against a cyberhacker. It’s so good that we’re loath to let you in on all the details.
Alan Partridge might have left the BBC under a cloud of shame, but his return is the complete opposite. It’s a slice of comedic gold and an early contender for the funniest show of the year. Back of the net.