Female Irish talent is ripping through television comedy. After Derry Girls, This Way Up and Bad Sisters comes the eight-part comedy Extraordinary (Disney+) from Northern Irish writer Emma Moran and starring Cork-born Máiréad Tyers.
In a world where everyone gets a superpower when they turn 18, what if you’re the loser who doesn’t? Meet Jen (Tyers), 25, a lairy oversharer who we first meet in a chaotic job interview, rattling off her greatest weaknesses: “Crippling insecurity, selfish and lazy. I lack ambition. Stubborn, argumentative, jealous. I only wash my hands if someone else is in the bathroom.”
London-based Jen works in a party supply shop and is in a “situationship” with someone who (literally) takes flight when it comes to commitment. While she is still waiting for her elusive superpower, her best friend and flatmate, Carrie (Sofia Oxenham), has the ability to channel dead people; Carrie’s boyfriend, Kash (Bilal Hasna), reverses time; and a character called “Jizzlord” (Luke Rollason) shapeshifts. Derry Girls’ Siobhán McSweeney also floats through as Jen’s giddy mother: “I am baffled by your choice of crisps.”
Valium-blitzed, Jen leaves her lover a rambling, embarrassing message: “I want to know the names of your dead pets”
At heart, Extraordinary is about twentysomething crises: the post-student, flat-sharing years (friends, romance, unfulfilled potential) given a quasi-Marvel twist. Tyers plays Jen with infinite brio: an updated, potty-mouthed Bridget Jones (Valium-blitzed, she leaves her lover a rambling, embarrassing message: “I want to know the names of your dead pets”). She flails around in a world in which superpowers are played mainly for laughs. Carrie, stuck using her gift in a legal job, summons Hitler so her friends can taunt him (“Everyone’s cool with interracial marriage now!”); one guy gives orgasms just by casual touch; another 3D-prints from his bum.
Already commissioned for a second series, Extraordinary has Starstruck-with-superpowers energy. It needs pruning: with the passing of episodes there’s a dizzying influx of characters and storylines, some verging on puerile. Still, overall it’s impressive: dark and sweet. Pugnacious yet vulnerable, Tyers reminds me of Pulling-era Sharon Horgan.
The week’s other big new comedy, Everyone Else Burns (Channel 4), is a six-parter about a Manchester family of worshippers in an overzealous Christian doomsday sect. Written by Dillon Mapletoft and Oliver Taylor, it stars Simon Bird (The Inbetweeners; Friday Night Dinner) as inadequate control freak David – a whiz at his delivery-sorting job, who yearns to be a church elder. David sports a distracting pudding bowl haircut (I flashbacked to the first series of Blackadder) and drags his family out of bed for apocalypse practice: “Get down the stairs before your soul turns to ash!”
Bird’s performance is reminiscent of his previous roles, but he nails David’s pompous self-aggrandisement (the sitcom prototype of the “small man” fearful of a changing world), making him a kind of Captain Mainwaring of evangelism. While the rest of the family is observant, David’s wife, Fiona (Kate O’Flynn), wants to start an online business, and his daughter, aspiring medic Rachel (Amy James-Kelly), is fraternising with someone excluded from the church (Ali Khan).
Fundamentalism is a tricky theme, but watching ahead past the double episode opener, the problem is that Everyone Else Burns just isn’t funny enough. It aims for the ambience of an old-school sitcom but is more of an intermittently amusing light drama.
Still, there’s a wealth of talent in supporting roles (Morgana Robinson, Lolly Adefope, Kadiff Kirwan) and some clever moments. When Rachel gets straight As at school, her mother snaps: “How much preaching time did you waste revising?” The best character is hardliner son Aaron (Harry Connor), who comes across as a suburban Damien from The Omen, drawing gory apocalypse art featuring his father’s demise.
In the new three-part series Grayson Perry’s Full English (Channel 4), the recently knighted artist travels around England to discover “what Englishness means today” and to collect quintessentially anglo artefacts for an exhibition. In the opener, he and van driver Kirk head towards the white cliffs of Dover (“The arse end of England”). There, Perry meets a man with flowing, Rick Wakeman-esque locks who believes he honours his naval ancestors by patrolling the waves looking for illegal migrants. “They don’t seem like the most frightening enemy to me,” cries a dismayed Perry, musing: “In a way, making a programme about England, I’m also sort of making a programme about whiteness.”
This becomes a thoughtfully curated meander through ideas of Englishness: nostalgia, class, difference, belonging, hierarchy and rebellion. Perry enjoys the “forward-thinking” English football fans he finds supporting the team in Munich. Also, the capering druids he discovers on his old home turf of “spooky, dark, witchy” Essex. They’re led by twisty-bearded Grey Wolf, who disappointingly reveals he’s called Philip. (Never spoil the magic, Grey Wolf.)
I’ll be tuning in next to watch Perry in the Midlands. While not avoiding the darker nationalistic elements, he seems happiest rummaging around an unconventional fringe England. Along the way, he and Kirk make quite the double act – they are entirely different but have a hoot together, which, for me, is Englishness at its best.
The latest Netflix spooky teen-targeted offering is the eight-episode Lockwood & Co, adapted from Jonathan Stroud’s bestselling youth ghost hunter novels by Joe Cornish (of Adam and Joe fame), who also co-directs.
Something called “the problem” has infested the world with spirits, which only young people are equipped to deal with. Troubled Lucy (Ruby Stokes) joins independent ghost hunters Lockwood & Co, alongside debonair Lockwood (Cameron Chapman) and caustic George (Ali Hadji-Heshmati).
It’s a bit of a Ghostbusters/Harry Potter mashup, and the “special effects” seem as basic as you can get without dangling a white hanky on a stick. But Lockwood & Co has charm. In the early episodes I’ve seen, the young leads are great (Morven Christie is also part of the cast), there’s a strong sense of Victoriana (a seance, clairvoyance), interesting concepts (the occupational hazard of becoming “ghost-locked”) – plus, I’m a sucker for any soundtrack featuring Bauhaus and the Cure. Given the rate at which Netflix is axing shows, it’s become something of a grim reaper itself. Let’s hope Lockwood & Co isn’t cast into the shadows.
Star ratings (out of five)
Everyone Else Burns ★★★
Grayson Perry’s Full English ★★★
Lockwood & Co ★★★
What else I’m watching
Fight the Power: How Hip-Hop Changed the World
Superb docuseries weaving together sociopolitical history and hip-hop, from civil rights through to George Floyd’s murder and beyond. Fronted by the erudite Chuck D of Public Enemy, the show’s interviewees include Al Sharpton, Monie Love and Grandmaster Caz.
A Danish thriller about estranged brothers (played by real-life siblings Andreas and Sebastian Jessen) – one a cop, the other in the drug world. A childhood trauma comes back to haunt them when their father dies.
How the Holocaust Began
In the week of Holocaust Memorial Day, historian James Bulgin’s disturbing documentary focuses on atrocities (mass shootings on the eastern front) perpetuated before the Nazi death camps.