In the absence of Alison Steadman as our beloved Pam in Gavin and Stacey, we have Alison Steadman as Sue in Pandemonium (BBC One), fresh off the conveyor belt of BBC sitcoms in which people have minor domestic dramas (King Gary, Two Doors Down, Semi-Detached, to name but a few).
Pandemonium is billed as a one-off comedy, but it screamed “pilot for a series” and nobody with any sense would go to the trouble of writing and casting a sitcom for half an hour’s airtime. Of the list above, Two Doors Down is by far the sharpest comedy, and I’m not sure there’s room for another of these shows. But Pandemonium fit nicely into this year’s festive schedule, by dint of mentioning both Christmas and the pandemic.
The Jessop family – mum Rachel (Katherine Parkinson), dad Paul (Jim Howick), granny Sue and assorted others – had planned a trip of a lifetime to California. The holiday got cancelled because of Covid-19, Paul had declined to pay £20 extra for some flexi tickets allowing them to get a refund, and now they were setting off on their consolation trip: a drive to Margate. We’ve all had to adjust our expectations in 2020.
The parents were stressed, the (grown-up) kids were unimpressed, Rachel’s brother was along for the ride because he’d been jilted, and Steadman got all the best lines. Plenty of shows have referenced the pandemic this year but this one had the courage to show an older person cocking a snook at all the precautions – travelling during lockdown, dismissing the idea of washing her hands – and having no love for the NHS: “Clapping? When they cancelled my hip operation? Are you mad?”
There was a bit of farce involving a sex toy, a running joke about Rachel fancying TV’s Van Tulleken twins, and a nice jibe at Instagram fakery. We also got flashbacks to the beginning of the year, as the family toasted the future while a TV news bulletin in the background reported on some, er, slightly troubling reports from the Far East. “Is no one else worried about this virus from China?” asked teenager Sam. The dad shook his head: “When you’ve been around as long as I have you realise these things are always a false alarm.” Besides, as Sue pointed out: “Boris says it’s going to be a fantastic year for Britain and I for one believe him.” For that last bit, I’m not sure whether we were supposed to laugh or cry.