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TV review: Full English; Nation’s Best Am Dram

I have tried to like Full English, I really have. I love animated comedy – The Simpsons and South Park are two of my all-time favourite TV shows – and appreciate all the time, effort and expertise that goes into making them. But three episodes into Full English’s run and I think I’ve seen enough.

The show is set in the south of England suburban home of Edgar and Wendy Johnson – voiced by Richard Ayoade and Rosie Cavaliero – and their three teenage children. Ostensibly your quintessentially dull, middle-class family, their lives are touched by the bizarre, surreal and frequently sexual.

Full English does have its funny moments, particularly the throwaway visual gags, but the script largely comprises sledgehammer satire, sniggering scatology and obvious pops at pop culture. All of which aren’t bad in themselves if they were tempered by a little charm, but the show has none.

True, the priapic grandfather is accompanied everywhere by a giant green invisible friend, but this device feels like it has been bolted onto the show to inject quirkiness, rather than coming naturally out of the set-up.

To deliver one more kick to Full English’s CGI groin, I find the show visually disappointing. The animation is flat and uninteresting, while the characters’ faces are ugly and unappealing. I blame the way they’ve drawn the eyes.

Meanwhile on Sky Arts 1, Nation’s Best Am Dram is also into its third week and has really hit its stride.

Other talent shows contrive their backstage dramas to make their onstage competition more involving, but with Nation’s Best Am Dram you can tell that all the personal and artistic crises, and the tears that accompany them, are authentic – not to mention frequent and compelling. It is also rather thrilling to see so many people genuinely excited by the theatre.

A scene from The Cherry Orchard was last week’s set task, with Bingley Little Theatre going for a particularly bold interpretation of Chekhov’s classic. The judges had been blown away by their relocation of the Macbeth witches to a modern gay bar. So, they reasoned, why not inject a little radicalism into the play’s rather sedate bourgeoise setting, and exchange the drawing room for a sanatorium, complete with interns pushing patients around in wheelchairs. What’s not to like?

Richard Wilson, Bingley Little Theatre’s mentor, watched his charges’ reworking with barely a twitch of expression, providing them with an acting masterclass in how to convey strong emotion by doing very little indeed. His advice was to scrap everything they had done so far and return to basics – namely, the text. With only two weeks to go before the quarter-finals, the collective minds of the Bingley Little Theatre were suitably concentrated.

I must say I’m finding the three judges – actor Miriam Margolyes, critic Quentin Letts and impresario Bill Kenwright – pompous, irritating, opinionated and smug. But I’m inclined to think this probably adds to my enjoyment of the programme rather than detracts from it.

Full English, C4, Monday, November 26, 10.50pm
Nation’s Best Am Dram, Sky Arts 1, Wednesday, November 28, 9pm

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