By Hemanth Kissoon
The first episode of this British TV show opens and ends with the aftermath of a sex scene. This black-hole black comedy is all about aftermaths. Bereavement, divorce, abandonment, obsession, frustration, lust, loneliness and hopelessness all mixed together with brutal honesty, and all lie in the wake of these characters. We are just dropped into their lives, and with efficiency and economy we quickly get to know them, warts-and-all. Actually, that’s all we seem to see. This is the anti-FRIENDS.
The focus is the Soho, London office of the Creative Management Association, an agency for actors, writers, etc. Posters of THIS IS ENGLAND, DEAD MAN’S SHOES and HALLAM FOE can be seen adorning the walls. As the stylish, roving camera (which is very American – there’s also even a funeral episode reminiscent of that in WHAT JUST HAPPENED?) follows the cast around, misanthropy drips from the walls. The employees and management are a hotchpotch of borderline alcoholics, sex-pests, manic-depressives and emotional cripples. The boss is Stephen (Anthony Head, from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and LITTLE BRITAIN), a horny egotist with shameless ambition. He is single as is the apparent rainmaker, Dan, and the main will-they-won’t-they duo of Alex (Stephen Mangan – GREEN WING and SOMEONE ELSE) and Helen (Sharon Horgan – THE FRIDAY NIGHT PROJECT), the couple that open the show. They are both self-diagnosed as f***ed-up. Alex suggests that, “I should... lock myself away with a stack of pornography until I’ve w***ed out all the evil”. Even though they wallow, they are at least attempting to heal their deep wounds. Alex is riddled with guilt for walking out on his family, and Helen is mourning her fiancé’s very sudden death of a heart condition at only 34.
With regular hilarity, the comedy comes from coruscating one-liners, humiliation, and the maladjustment of just about everyone; from the foul-mouthed frankness of Alex’s youngest son relaying what his separated wife is up to (like Mrs. Columbo we never meet her), to the almost religious adoration of her brother by Helen’s once-and-future sister-in-law Sophie. This is a comedy that blends that disparate duo of humour and pathos into a smoother mix than say SCRUBS, and in a far harsher way. Mangan’s meltdown on the phone to his ex is a highlight, with its heady combination of anger, intense remorse, blame and frustration.
The cast are spot-on, and while covered in melancholic despondency and self-deprecating humour, you cannot help to not only like them but enjoy their company. The Agency seems to have been a magnet for them.
This is modern dating for those alienated 30-somethings and middle-aged, with mid-life crises reassessing ambitions and desires. This is nice and uncomfortable, but doesn’t plumb the cringeworthy depths of THE OFFICE and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. Only six episodes so far, more would be welcome.