The new Sharon Horgan half-hour comedy is being shown on BBC3 on Thursday nights and started with a double bill. I haven’t seen Pulling, though I know it was highly recommended and don’t really know what I’ve seen Horgan in, but know she’s been around and in lots of things. Anyway, Dead Boss stars Horgan as Helen Stephens, a 38-year old woman who is sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing her boss, Mr Eric Bridges, of ‘Entirely Tiles’. Helen professes her innocence but has a rubbish lawyer, the kind whose ineptidude you only find in tv programmes with his ‘no win, some fee’ promise, and says she has an alibi from her fiancee, Julian, who has gone missing.
Into Broadmarsh prison, Helen goes then and soon is forced into a buddy relationship with her cell-mate Christine, played by Bryony Hannah. Christine, an arsonist, is in love with Helen from the start and already over-familiar, which could prove annoying but she has some good lines and amusing facial expressions. She describes Helen as an old Christine Bleakley, which seems to be a slight running gag as later calls her pub quiz team ‘Quiz Team Bleakley’. As with all prison programmes, there has to be a gang of bullies, and they’re led by ‘Top Dog’ who used to be a supply teacher at Helen’s school and has a scar across her jaw-line from a head-brace that she used to wear. But Top Dog spends most of her time in her cell, and her outside gang is lead by Lenny, played by Golda Rosheuvel. Her interactions with Helen are some of the funniest as they continue to misunderstand her. Note: “Don’t drop your soap” “But this is a woman’s prison?!”; or “If Top Dog doesn’t get 5 years of her sentence you’re going to wish you were never in prison” “But I already wish I wasn’t in prison”.
The prison governor is played by Jennifer Saunders who adds a star glamour to the whole show. She plays a perfectly middle-class governor, encouraging Helen to get involved in drama, and does her own paintings, but hates admin and wants nothing to do with Helen’s appeal attempts. Of course, Helen is trying to get out of prison, but with a useless lawyer who has been threatened to keep away from the case, and a selfish sister, Laura, who is only interested in getting her FitnessFirst membership, she has to turn to her unknown colleague Henry.
Henry is a typical stalker type, who has a drawer full of photos of Helen and is in love with her. It becomes clear that he likes that Helen is in prison as she is now dependent on him, and actively sabotages her attempts to work out who actually killed Bridges. At first I thought the implications were that he was the real killer, but now I don’t think so and he’s just a creepy weirdo who is infatuated with Helen. For all that this is a sitcom about prison, it is not solely based in the prison setting. They show the lawyer in his office quite a bit, and there’s a large focus on Henry, Laura (who takes up Helen’s job in the 2nd episode) and another colleague called Mary at Entirely Tiles.
So the first episode set it all up, and the second episode featured around a prison pub quiz. Who is the patron saint of laundry workers? They never tell us the answer. Horgan is able to shoe-horn in exposition and voice-over by having her character write letters to an inmate on Death Row in America. One can see that she’s not going to get out of prison soon, but it’s going to be a continued struggle for her to convince her lawyer and Henry to help her, while she has to contend with her burgeoning friendship with Christine and protect herself from Top Dog’s gang along the way. Fun, and fairly light, it’s an alright comedy – but at 10.30pm on Thursday nights is hardly going to set the ratings abuzz. Watch it on iplayer on the background while you’re doing something else, and then it’s perfectly pleasant and has enough laughs that I’ll be back next week at least.