The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff

The older you get, the more you realise nothing is permanent.

Take Stephen Fry, for example. His wholesome, avuncular presence will doubtless have attracted many a viewer to Dickens pastiche The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff. Now I love Stephen Fry, as is practically compulsory, along with idolising Dame Judi Dench and believing Christmas used to be colder/whiter/better/more tinselly when you were a kid.

One of the main reasons for the universal acclaim Fry receives is that he’s- well- very talented and funny and has an extraordinary body of work to justify that love, so much so that it seems it seems like he has always been the nation’s favourite.

But of course this hasn’t always been the case.

He was absolutely hammered by the press in rather vile fashion for having a breakdown and running away from a play in 1995 and treated in a way that seems impossible today. Although not quite as as impossible as Hugh Laurie being the current face of a L’Oreal advertising campaign- no one could have predicted that.

But even if it is the case that he wasn’t always as beloved of the nation as he is now, Stephen Fry was once a tremendous comic actor. His Jeeves is magnificent and his Melchit in Blackadder is a truly stupendous comic creation. Watching Bleak Old Shop it’s hard not to believe those mighty comic muscles are now sadly atrophied.

To be fair, his character- Malifax Skulkingworm- is pure panto villain and Fry is hampered by obvious jokes and weak lines, but the worst thing is that he clearly tries to bring something, anything to the evil lawyer character and the best he can manage is a rather pitiful quarter Melchit.

Sadly he’s not the only person here operating well short of his best. Flashdancer extraordinaire Robert Webb was also coasting.

Webb plays the luckless hero Jedrington Secret-Past who must defeat evil lawyer Malifax to save his family from the poor house: all traditional Dickens tropes. Both he and compadre David Mitchell- who also pops up as a man gets fatter the jollier he feels- must be damn glad Peep Show looks capable of running forever, because everything else they’ve done of late has been distinctly second rate.

Johnny Vegas is the best of the supporting cast as the Artful Codger, who ‘failed his exams to move on from urchin to ne’er do well’, meaning he’s stuck as a fat, aging street kid forever.

As that name suggests the biggest problem here is the script. Artful Codger? That’s not comedy writing, it’s just moving letters around.

Writers: you’re basically just playing Scrabble.

The programme- sorry to be so frank- was simply not funny. Yes, it looked nice, yep, the cast were accomplished, but (although I’m aware comedy is subjective) not only didn’t I laugh once through the agonisingly long hour this was on for, I fell asleep. And I watched at two o clock in the afternoon.

Given the high profile cast and the surprising amount of CGI in the show, the Beeb have clearly sunk a fair whack of money into Bleak Old Shop. Unfortunately, they’d have got almost as much entertainment value out of burning it.

They could have roasted some chestnuts in the embers. That would have been just as festive.


About Ian Dunn
I love avocados, WH Auden and dinosaurs but I don't like effort.

3 Responses to The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff

  1. Hilary Wardle says:

    Agreed. I found it easy on the eye but frustratingly unfunny. If you locked me, you and Mads in a room with enough alcobooze and told us to come up with a Dickens parody it’d be about 191,818 times as funny as this. But it would probably have too much sex, poo and naked hooker orgies in it for the BBC’s taste. The prudes.

  2. May I take this opportunity to offer a subscription in advance to anything written by the three of you and containing sex, poo and naked hooker orgies. For what it’s worth (thruppence three farthings and an Old Thumper bottle top), I felt the same about this.

  3. Pingback: Have You Been Watching: The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff? « Tellysquawks

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