MEDiA: Phoenix Nights

Peter Kay as Brian Potter, svengali and impresario.

A recent bout of insomnia found me watching the entirety of series one and two of Phoenix Nights. Having only seen snippets before, watching the whole thing proved to be great fun.

Patrick McGuiness and Peter Kay, as Paddy and Max.

I won’t bother synopsising it all. Suffice to say Kay’s Potter character is a wheelchair bound club owner/manager, looking to run an family friendly old time variety type club, in Bolton. The comedy comes from the characters themselves, the awful acts, and the scrapes one and all get into, entertaining the public and battling Potter’s nemesis, rival nightclub owner, Den Perry (Ted Robbins).

Quiz night.

I like this series for many reasons. Chiefly because it’s funny. But also because, as they say, it’s got heart. It’s also nice because it foregrounds a good few characters often glossed over in modern TV, such as the disabled, elderly, and other peripheral and/or ‘loser’ types. They, like all involved, are treated both savagely and even occasionally tenderly.

Clinton Baptiste, medium … to rare.

Pretty much all the acts are some shade of awful. From the racist folkies (‘send the buggers back!’), to the staff who come to the rescue in Talent Night, when dastardly Den Perry sabotages proceedings. And every episode ends with Potter and co auditioning cringe-worthy hopefuls.

A standout for unadulterated appallingness is Clinton Baptiste, the clairvoyant who ‘didn’t see that coming’. With his bleached mullet, camp accent – ‘y’alright!’ – and ability to misread everything and everyone to maximum offence effect, he’s really something.

The incredible ‘family friendly’ bouncy castle.

I always love knob gags and farting. And whilst there’s a little of the latter, there’s not too much of the former. Except in the episode where they put in a ‘family friendly’ fundraiser, built around fun for kids and their parents. An unbelievable X-rated bouncy castle is the centrepiece. Whorra lorra laffs!

DJ Ray Avon acts as Kamikaze quiz-meister.

The cast is filled with characters we’ve all seen or encountered, simultaneously utterly ridiculous and yet tragically real. Bouncers Max and Paddy typify a very real breed. As does DJ/sparky, Ray Von, and MC/comedian/fall guy, Jerry St Clair (Dave Spikey), the latter one of the best developed characters after Potter himself.

Potter mucks in as Elton on Talent Night.

It’s occasionally laugh out loud. Indeed, several segments had me guffawing uncontrollably. But for the most part it’s gently humorous. Many of the scenarios are just plain dumb. But there are also touching moments.

Rumours of specials a third series, and even a movie, are out there on the net. I believe a couple of one-offs might’ve come to pass? There was a single series spin-off; Max & Paddy’s something or other (a fugitive’s road trip, poss’?) But there’s not really enough. A real pity, as it was a good series. There ought to be much more of it!

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