Channel 4, Wednesday, March 13, 10pm
Impressionists’ shows have varied a lot in quality over the years. Some, like Spitting Image and Bremner, Bird and Fortune, used their powers of caricature to satirise the unending fallibility of the ruling class. Others, such as Alistair McGowan’s Big Impression, or The Impressions Show, simply mugged it up as celebrities so stupid they barely needed anyone else to make them appear laughable.
One thing’s for certain though: the impressionist sketch show is a pretty tired format. But as Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon demonstrated so admirably in The Trip, impressions are still as funny as ever. Fortunately The Mimic steers clear of the former while still containing much of the latter. Much like The Trip, it is a sitcom that features impressions, although the impressions are far from the only reason why it works so well.
For a start, The Mimic does not attempt to copy the tropes of most sitcoms that the networks ply us with these days. There are no larger than life characters, goofballs, people saying or doing ridiculous things or blasts of loud music between scenes. It has a sedate, almost contemplative pace and nobody shouts, gurns or ˗ praise the heavens above ˗ falls over.
At its heart is Martin Hurdle, a site maintenance worker (painting over graffiti and picking up litter) for a drugs company, who is every bit the ordinary man living an ordinary, if not particularly remarkable life. He isn’t an extrovert, nor is he particularly down about his slightly meager circumstances. Instead he does impressions, often to an audience of just himself, as a means to escape the mundanity of his existence.
Some of these (Wogan, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan) are spot on, others (James Earl Jones) less so. They are used for maximum comic effect in more public settings, to trick three ‘yoofs’ who have never heard of Ronnie Corbett that the pint-sized comedian is stuck in a letterbox, and to prompt an Al Pacino-loving newsagent (played by Neil Maskell, last seen as the terrifyingly brutal assassin in Utopia) to stop worrying about Daily Mail scare stories and look for a model magazine.
Much more important, though, is the underlying sense of pathos and focus on existentialism at a micro level. Apart from the overt signal of naming Hurdle’s employer as Celpharm (as in self-harm, geddit?), The Mimic is a wonderfully subtle observation of how people stumble through unfulfilled lives, without ever having to revert to histrionics or high drama. The final scene, in which Hurdle stands atop an office block and adopts David Attenborough’s calm tone to muse on the absurdity of the life below him, reveals nothing hugely profound, but still acts as an acute reminder of how we can become lost in the race to keep our heads above water.
Aided by a delicate script from former Russell Brand sidekick Matt Morgan, the performances here are all effortlessly charming, and if the episodes that follow are as perfectly formed as this, The Mimic could become something of a surprise classic. A certain comedy writer/performer would certainly be advised to stop listening to sycophants on
Twitter who persist in telling him Derrick is the best thing since sliced bread and watch this instead. It might even remind him how good he used be.