If there's a temptation to think that Robert Webb and, far more so, David Mitchell are on the television too much these days then that temptation should be resisted by reminding yourself that the reason they're on the box so much is quite simple. They're very good at it.
Ok, Upstart Crow looks too shit to even bother watching but their sketch show had more hits than misses (just) and they excel on the once ubiquitous panel show format. From Would I Lie To You to QI to Have I Got News For You they're clearly seen as safe pairs of hands, and Mitchell's now put plenty of space between him and the man who seems to be his key influence, Paul Merton.
But, of course, it all goes back to Peep Show. Over nine series from 2003 to 2015 so thoroughly did the show seep into our lives (just think how many Super Hans lines alone you remember) that, for a while, it seemed difficult to remember that (a) they didn't actually write it and (b) they're not actually called Mark and Jez.
That Channel 4's six part sitcom Back was the best thing they've been in since Peep Show means that it was a very good thing indeed, and a very funny thing. It takes a fair bit to make me do an actual LOL but each episode of Back provided me with a satisfyingly large dose of ROFLs and PMSLs. Not literally, you understand.
Like last year's Flowers (written by Will Sharpe, starring Olivia Colman and Julian Barratt) it had its dark moments but unlike the equally excellent Flowers it didn't linger on them. Like someone farting at a wake Mitchell, Webb, or one of the superb supporting cast could always be relied on to convert the pathos to bathos with either a misunderstanding of the situation or a wildly inappropriate comment.
The premise is that 42 year old Stephen has inherited the family pub, the John Barleycorn, on the outskirts of the Gloucestershire market town of Stroud following the death of his father, Laurie. Stephen's plans seems to be to do a whole load of nothing and sit around drinking any small profit the pub might make. But when Andrew (Webb) arrives that's all thrown into the air by the grand designs he has for the place.
Andrew is, or says he is, one of the many former foster children of Stephen's parents and he soon ingratiates himself with the rest of the family, the pub regulars, and just about everyone else. Except Stephen of course who, as the series progresses, goes from mild irritation to barely concealed anger to plotting wild conspiracy theories, all the while upgrading the strength of the alcohol he's consuming and bringing forward the hour he starts doing it.
There's clearly something iffy about Andrew. He seems to know too much about too many things, he seems to have lived pretty much everywhere in the world, he says he's a doctor, and he even lays claim to being able to speak Basque. Stephen's mum Ellen (Penny Downie) and sister Cass (Louise Brealey) are taken in though, Cass even develops a crush on him. Well, he's not her real brother is he?
Downie and Brealey are both excellent and creator Simon Blackwell (who's previously worked with Armando Iannucci, Chris Morris, as well as Peep Show creators Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain) generously allows them many of the show's funniest lines. Geoffrey McGivern as Geoff, Stephen's uncle, seems to have been given the lion's share though.
He makes the most of the excellent character that's been written for him. Jokes about what order he'd penetrate the pub barman's holes, the vinyl revival being for cunts, and an unfortunate Pornhub wanking incident turn him into just the sort of uncle we all want and need. Even if he does accidentally burn the pub down while going for a retro pre-smoking ban vibe.
The pub refurbishment itself provides plenty of laughs. Andrew opines that "distressed and old fashioned is attractive", to which Stephen counters "I'm distressed and old fashioned and I haven't had sex in 22 months". Stephen's clearly still in love with his ex-wife, Alison (Olivia Poulet, whose CV contains an appearance as the young Camilla Parker Bowles in ITV's Whatever Love Means - missed that one, luckily) but she's got a new man and not only are they trying for a child they want Stephen (Mitchell, by this point, morphing into Willie Rushton) to play security guard as they commandeer his caravan for a bit of 'afternoon delight'.
It's a situation comedy in that the situations provide the comedy but it's the wonderful writing, and skilful delivery, that, in Ken Dodd's immortal words, really tickle our funny muscles. Stephen's accused of having as many foster siblings as there are former members of Sugababes, a trendy vicar claims he has an "access all areas" relationship with God, a dead body found hanging from a tree is "the colour of a Premier Inn", and Stephen and Andrew reminisce about old school acquaintance Smelly Ellis with the line "he smelt like damp biscuits - with a bit of shit on them".
If the visual flashbacks to scampi in the basket, The Cure's In Between Days, and both Stephen and Andrew as children don't work quite as well it's a very minor complaint. The childish and the adult humour combine to good effect, they make good use of The Zombies 'Time of the Season' and Leonard Cohen's 'Leaving the Table' and, unlike, John Barleycorn himself, there's no reason whatsoever that Back needs to die after just one series. Even if, shit the bed, I don't need to see Robert Webb singing M People ever again.