Peter Kay's Car Share
Sometimes, television programmes don't need to be hyped too much. All they need involve is a very popular comedian, a smashing co-star, and some top dialogue, and the viewers take care of themselves. This is sort of what happened with new Peter Kay sitcom Peter Kay's Car Share (co-created and co-written by Kay) which is currently being shown in weekly episodes on BBC 1, after the unusual move of its having been aired on BBC iPlayer in its entirety. Peter Kay's Car Share is a comedy set almost completely in a red Fiat, on its way to and from the supermarket workplace of assistant manager John Redmond (Peter Kay) and promotions rep Kayleigh Kitson (Sian Gibson). John and Kayleigh have been quite randomly matched up in a new car-pooling initiative: part of the charm of the show is seeing their British reserve melting into friendship, and later solidifying into something like love.
Peter Kay's career path is interesting. He branched out from a television showcase in the 1990's to a slot on BBC2's The Sunday Show to That Peter Kay Thing, which saw him create some of the daft, funny characters who later turned up in Phoenix Nights. Car Share is the first full-length series Kay has appeared in since 2004's Max & Paddy's Road to Nowhere, an enjoyable Phoenix Nights spin-off. The division between Kay's TV sitcom and touring stand-up audience is interesting and fairly unusual, with a lot of fans from both sides of the divide not getting the enthusiasm of the other, and "Garlic Bread!" being a leitmotif of both. This doesn't seem to happen to many other comedians: a lot of The Office fans, for example, grew to love Ricky Gervais's stand-up comedy, with The Office as the gateway drug.
The car's the star, sort of. Having almost everything take place inside a Fiat grants the viewer an unusual sort of intimacy, and a feeling of eavesdropping, or hearing something they shouldn't. It also highlights the fact that the programme doesn't depend on wacky situations: the dialogue really does need to be as good as it is in a show which relies so much upon it. There's also the poignant sense of thwarted possibility and escape - a car could take you anywhere, but here, as in the thoughtful and sad Marion and Geoff, it's another weight, dragging the characters down towards somewhere they would rather not be. Like many slightly awkward car rides, the radio dilutes the tension, and where Phoenix Nights had Chorley FM, John and Kayleigh listen to Forever FM, a nostalgia-based 80's and 90's show where the music magically matches the mood inside the car (Extreme's "More Than Words" plays at a particularly embarrassing bit for John and Kayleigh). There is silliness in between songs, too - "Brillington College! Where brilliant is almost our name!" Nearly a name, nearly a real-life radio advert.
Sian Gibson, or Sian Foulkes as she was in her previous team-ups with Peter Kay (including appearances in That Peter Kay Things and Phoenix Nights) appears as a revelation anew, with a credit as co-writer on Car Share: she more than holds her own alongside Kay. The genuine, long-standing friendly chemistry between Gibson and Kay spills over, and it acts as an extra adhesive, binding everything together even more strongly. You see this kind of warmth as part of a sketch show or an anarchic, before-an-audience comedy like Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer's House of Fools, but it's a relative rarity in a comedy drama. Car Share is silly and salty in the spirit of Phoenix Nights and Max & Paddy's Road To Nowhere: nothing is going to get you to like it if it's not the sort of thing you like already. "He's been collecting trolleys at our store since 1982!" "That's dedication, we didn't open until 1990!" There's a particularly earthy bit in Episode 3 involving John in the driver's seat with Kayleigh's urine on his face and clothes (a sample bottle she took along bursts open). As a physical comedian, you could spot Kay from across the street: there is a lovely and particularly British swing in the cadences of the dialogue but it's his ability to bring it totally alive with a daffy facial expression or tone of voice that really sets it to work.
The everyday, back-and-forth of the conversation is rendered so enjoyable that you wish you could be a spectator to it more often. Kay shines brightest when he has the freedom of a comedy character, and the quasi-freedom of the open roads around Bolton and Salford. Peter Kay's Car Share is daft, earthy and surprisingly sweet, as sweet as a sitcom with someone driving around with piddle on his face can be.