Sometimes I wish the Beeb wouldn’t put so many box sets on the iplayer because then I go and watch them in all a bloody great binge. This isn’t so bad when a series has already been on and you’ve seen it week by week, but they’ve taken to putting some things up before they’ve even been broadcast and I found myself unable to stop viewing the latest excellent Toby Jones vehicle, ‘Don’t Forget the Driver.’
This was in its way as innovative as ‘Detectorists’ though without the involvement of Mackenzie Crook: written by Toby Jones and Tim Crouch it features Jones as a well-meaning but unassertive coach driver who from his base in Bognor takes a different group of people each week to places like Woburn Abbey, Legoland and Hampton Court. Like Detectorists this has no laughter-track or studio audience and the incidental music is cleverly done by broadcasting whichever tune is ‘playing on the radio’. If I have a beef with this it’s that the scenes are sometimes too short and the cuts too frequent, so that it ends up a bit like the classic disaster movie switching from train to trapped female and back to approaching train… but it’s a small beef. I’m not going to say any more about the plot as its still being broadcast but there’s some brilliant understated humour:
Japanese tourist (outside Hampton Court, holding a volume of Shakespeare): ‘Please can you tell me about this… iambic pentameter?
Peter (Toby Jones): Well, Mr Pentameter, if you go that way you’ll find the guide who will tell you all you need to know.
Tourist: (nods happily) Thank you.
‘Mum‘ on the other hand, is not so much understated as unstated. OH asked me, as I was chuckling away, why I enjoy it so much when in general I dislike cringe-comedy. It’s true that I avoid stuff like ‘The Office’ and ‘I’m Alan Partridge’, because I think comedy should be a release rather than making you more uptight than you were to start with: but in any case I think ‘Mum’ is different because she is the only character not making us cringe. We are feeling and laughing with her, not at her – and that’s the difference.
Again it’s a programme with no laughter and almost without incidental music, though there’s a little of the title track’s percussion between scenes. What’s also different is that nothing actually happens; each episode takes place before or after an event, usually when people are getting ready for something. We first meet Mum Cathy on the day of the funeral and one by one all the other characters drop by: her brother Dave with his unbearable girlfriend Pauline; the rude and miserable grandparents and her live-in son and his well-meaning but clumsy girlfriend. And then there’s Michael. It’s obvious from day one that Michael is head-over-heels in love with Cathy, and probably always has been. It’s equally obvious that he won’t make a move – not today because it’s the day of the funeral, but probably not ever, because Dave the deceased was his best friend and it would seem like betrayal.
As prolonged and delayed romances go, this is drawn-out agony with more misunderstandings, absences and interruptions than any human being can bear. The supporting cast are all, in their own way, intolerable, and Michael is the only person Cathy can talk to but they hardly get an opportunity to talk and when they do, each of them is so hesitant and reticent that you just want to bang their heads together.
Anyway I’ll say no more but let you go ahead and watch them both.