November 11th, 2000

I’m Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge has come a long way since his earliest incarnation as sports reporter on The Day Today. Unfortunately for him, it’s a long way down as his creators have taken pleasure in peeling away that glued-on, thin formica layer of smarm that coats his persona to see what terrible things lie underneath.

On Knowing Me, Knowing You, it didn’t take much teasing to bring out his small-minded prejudices and neuroses fuming to the surface, nor his shameless, ultimately disastrous desperation to be on TV. I’m Alan Partridge sees him humiliatingly reduced to the pre-Breakfast shift on Radio Norwich, playing T’Pau records and offending local farmers, with all too much time on his hands between dreaming up new programme ideas to get back into TV (“Yachting mishaps – some funny, some tragic . . . . inner city Sumo? . . . . monkey tennis?”).

I’m Alan Partridge is darker than Knowing Me, Knowing You, in that it deprives Alan of the oxygen of the “Chatosphere”, the medium of TV glibness which he needs like a fish needs water. He’s a permanent guest at the hellish (or is it heavenly for Alan?) 2-star Linton Traveltavern, whose Olde Worlde buffet, orange pine decor and perma-smiling manageress epitomises what vast tracts of England have become since the Seventies. Alan, a Wings fan (“the group the Beatles could have been”) approves of this synthetic new world. He can lose himself for – ooh, seconds, in contemplation of the astroturf at an owl sanctuary, a mini-Kiev or an inertia-reel seat belt but deep down, none of this really satisfies him.

He’s profoundly bored and embittered, not just because he isn’t on TV but because he’s Modern Middle English Man, trapped in the air-conditioned misery of the car he’s chosen for himself. Just the way he bares his front teeth sums up an entire cultural malaise. Though standout moments include his encounter with his one fan, unfortunately a King Of Comedy-style obsessive (“Mentalist!”), his promo video for a boating agency and his woeful attempts to fake sorrow to the widow at the funeral of the deceased BBC Commissioner (“Do you mind if I – go and talk to somebody else?”), I’m Alan Partridge is best and truest in Alan’s lowest, idlest moments, buying screws from a DIY store for no reason or just . . . “talking, talking, talking”, as he puts it, a la Beckett. Embarrassing yet strangely unembarrassable, Alan Partridge is a monster of English smallness, the finest British comic creation of this generation.

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