TV review: There's no need to over-analyse Channel 4's new comedy about therapy Hang Ups – it's great
PUBLISHED: 16:42 09 August 2018
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Well this is a rarity: a remake of a funny comedy which is just as good (if not better) than the original. Stephen Mangan’s remake of Lisa ‘Friends’ Kudrow’s Web Therapy is a foul-mouthed joy to behold.
Richard Pitt’s life is out of control: he is trying to avoid a man who he owes cash to, his house is full of teenagers (some of whom aren’t his), his high-flying wife schedules their relationship into her diary, his father bullies him, his best friend has stealthily moved in, his mother has fallen off the wagon, there’s no food in the fridge and the takeaway he’s bought has poisoned one of the children (who isn’t his)
He’s also an online therapist, ostensibly in charge of keeping his clients’ emotions in check via fraught web-based sessions.I have loved Stephen Mangan since I first saw him on TV in Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years – he was brilliant in that, and subsequently as the hideous Guy Secretan in Green Wing, Free Agents, Dirk Gently and Episodes. His role as the infamous Dan in I’m Alan Partridge has haunted him for years: apparently, people shout “DAN!” at him every day.
And this new comedy, which Mangan co-wrote with brother-in-law Robert Delamere and produced with wife Louise Delamere, is an absolute treat: laugh-out-loud funny, fast-paced, clever, engaging, and utterly relatable, especially if you’re the jam in the sandwich generation analogy.
The Pitt family’s life is chaotic, messy and complicated – therapist Richard is trying to set up a new business which is all about regaining control and a sense of calm from his own world which is anything but either. His last business failed, his wife video calls him from taxis to talk about their bedroom activities with her colleague sitting next to her, his own teenagers run the roost, his best friend is escaping his own problems in his spare room and his father is a monster.
We meet Richard on his first day as a working-from-home therapist offering video call sessions to clients. Best friend Pete (Karl Theobald) has opted for sleeping in Richard’s new office rather than building it, his wife Karen (Katherine Parkinson) tells him their credit cards are maxed out as she slams out of the house, his teenagers have stolen his laptop charger and he’s being pursued by a loan shark whose glasses throw Ming the Merciless shadows on his face.
Lisa Kudrow’s original show, which this is based on, saw the former Friends actress playing a pathologically insecure, narcissistic psychotherapist called Fiona who offered webcam therapy sessions which were improvised by the actors.
Mangan bought the show, changed the concept and created a far more likeable therapist who is far from inept in the job he
does while being likeably inept at real life, like the majority of us.
The real stroke of genius borrowed from Kudrow is the comedy vehicle the guest stars can offer, a carousel of well-known faces who this week included Sarah Hadland (foul-mouthed, furious, fantastic) and Lolly Adefope (social media obsessed millennial whose only life goal was “one million followers on Instagram”) and will in future episodes include the likes of Kevin Eldon, Jessica Hynes and David Tennant, all of whom were chosen for their natural ability for improvisation.
And then there’s the lead characters who are all uniformly excellent. No one plays downtrodden beta male like Mangan, then there’s The IT Crowd’s Parkinson, who manages to package up lust, love, disdain and annoyance under a shell of pretentious faux concern and there’s Charles Dance who had definite father/son issues following his death-by-crossbow-on-the-privy in Game of Thrones and appears to have them again with son Richard, who he bullies relentlessly.
In fact there are so many great characters packed into less than 30 minutes that you struggle to keep up – Richard’s proudly humourless medical supervisor who admonishes herself when she laughs at one of his jokes and of course his own therapist, the incomparable Richard E Grant who suggests that Pitt looks at him through the webcam “at an oblique angle” so that it feels like he’s lying on a couch.
He then goes on to channel Freud as he suggests that Richard deals with father/son issues by, the next time his Dad calls on video phone, “…having your left hand on the off button, and the other hand on your genitals, and as soon as you feel that you’re being threatened either way, squeeze one or switch off the other.”
Not a moment is wasted in Hang Ups and not a line or a performance is off-key and even better, it’s that real rarity in television comedies these days: it’s actually really funny. I know. I might need therapy to help me deal with the shock.