Heading Out, Sue Perkins’s sitcom about a quadragenarian vet, got off to a comfortable start last night but just fell short of living up to the hype surrounding it.
LAUGHING, THINKING AND UNDERSTANDING
Perkins, as well as having written the series, also stars in it as Sara – a successful career woman who, as we join her on the day of her fortieth birthday, has still not told her parents that she is gay. On Wednesday’s This Morning, Perkins told of how she wanted to write Heading Out in order to, “make people laugh, make people think and make people feel and understand that everyone’s the same”. I think we can safely say that, in that respect, she has succeeded. Sara is not your stereotypical lesbian: she’s neither big, burly nor butch. In actual fact, she’s just a person and that’s refreshing to see. The misconception seems to be that, to play a gay man in comedy, you have to portray some mincing queen, running around screaming their tits off about their sexuality. Think Rory in Mrs Brown’s Boys or Gimme Gimme Gimme’s Tom – both of which are shows and characters I love and do represent a section of society, just not the majority. It’s harder to generalise about how straight actresses play lesbians, however, as we seldom see them. Of course, a lot of people have that embarrassingly incorrect assumption that all lesbians are shaven-headed and immensely masculine but that’s simply not true. And that is precisely what Sue Perkins proves – not only as herself but when she is playing Sara: a successful, likeable woman who just so happens to be gay.
So, now that I’ve jumped off of my soapbox and finished my lecture about generalisations, I’ll get back to the matter in hand: reviewing Heading Out. The cast list reads as a Who’s Who of British comedy. In the first episode, we saw not only Sue but Dominic Coleman (Trollied), Joanna Scanlan (Getting On), Mark Heap (Friday Night Dinner) and Jeff Rawle (Doc Martin). That’s not where it ends, though: we still have appearances from (I think it’s safe to say) national treasure, Dawn French; Benidorm star and 25% of the League of Gentlemen, Steve Pemberton; Jack Dee’s long-suffering on-screen wife, Raquel Cassidy; and Sue’s Bake Off mate, Mel Giedroyc. That is an impressive cast list, and it is perhaps a sign of the good things to come that such big names agreed to appear.
Actually, that’s the point: ‘good things to come’. My overall opinion on Heading Out was that it shows great promise. The first episode felt slightly clunky and was clearly an attempt to familiarise the viewers with the characters. Then again, that’s the aim of every sitcom’s opening episode – but it’s bloody difficult to do. As sketch shows tend to involve over-the-top caricatures, it’s often quite easy to encapsulate a character within a few minutes. However, even fourth-wall-breaking sitcoms, such as Miranda or Mrs Brown’s Boys, can’t have every character walk into shot, turn to the camera and state their name, age and where they come from – Blind Date-style. No, that would seem too formulaic, be lacking a plot and have the viewer switching to News at Ten in an instant. Instead, it is far more customary to have a showcase of each character’s personality woven into the plot, so that the audience understand and possibly connect with that person, without having them rammed down their throats…if you get my drift. At the moment, I’m simultaneously itching to begin and desperately putting off writing a new script. I know the characters inside-out but I also know that I have to seamlessly convey that in my script with apparent ease, so that whoever is reading it will soon get to know them as well as I do. BUT IT’S DIFFICULT! Once again, I have gone off on a tangent (I really must learn how to structure my writing) but what I’m trying to say is that I can empathise with Sue Perkins and understand how, although present, jokes were put on the back burner somewhat in this episode as characterisation and the establishment of plot took priority.
So, with a good plot and characters with potential, Heading Out will no doubt become a staple of my Tuesday nights. I have a feeling that, just as with Victoria Wood in dinnerladies, as the writer of the show, Perkins will pretend that her character is the protagonist, but her presence will merely be to allow the brilliance of the characters orbiting around her to come to the fore – something which has begun already with Joanna Scanlan’s brilliantly boisterous therapist.
Heading Out is on Tuesdays at 10:00pm on BBC2 and BBC HD
What did you think of Heading Out? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to comment below or tweet me about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer
You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on my YouTube channel.