Series two of GameFace opens on a suspiciously positive note.
As the voice of a self-help audiobook rises over a panorama of London, the camera tracks down to our unusually serene-looking heroine Marcella (Roisin Conaty) standing in costume outside a stage door. Has the show’s shambolic out-of-work actress finally got her big break?
Well, no. Moments later we discover the “stage door” leads to a London Dungeon experience where Marcella has a gig as a boil-covered woman in period dress moaning about the black plague to passing tourists. Not exactly the National.
Two years after Conaty debuted her sitcom about the London-dwelling woman who is unlucky in love, life and work, it’s back and on equally crude, silly form. If you’re not up to speed, GameFace is a snappy series written by and starring the stand-up comedian, also known for her excellent work breaking up the boys’ club of panel shows such as Mock the Week. Conaty wrote a first draft way back in 2010, the year she turned 30, and won Best Comedy Newcomer at the Fringe.
Series two picks up not long after series one’s dramatic and frustrating ending, when Marcella slept with Simon, the untrustworthy ex she had spent a year trying to get over (Dustin Demri-Burns) and ruined a date with her unfathomably patient driving instructor John (Crashing’s Damien Molony).
Unlike a lot of sitcoms, GameFace packs plenty of storyline into each 22-minute episode, which keeps things whipping along nicely and makes up for some of the thinner jokes. In episode one we see Marcella finally take her driving test, realise she’s being followed, and discover her ex has moved in with her mother.
The best jokes are the most relatable ones — including a flashback where Marcella delves so deeply into the Facebook account of John’s ex-girlfriend she can recount the names of her grandparents, Geoff and Denise (single millennials might identify).
In another amusing flashback she fibs to a man in a bar about having a tattoo “down there” and has to mock up a horse in boots in marker pen when he comes back to hers.
Other parts feel more laboured, like the sessions with a self-help guru her mother bought her on Groupon. They structure every episode but mostly consist of the therapist telling Marcella what a mess she is.
Parallels with Fleabag are inevitable (awkward thirtysomething woman with tricky family situation, eccentric career and complicated love life) even though GameFace preceded Waller-Bridge’s creation. But while Fleabag is elevated by a magnificently funny supporting cast, Conaty shoulders most of the comedy here (though Father Ted’s Pauline McLynn is great as her intense Irish mother, who feeds cake to her cat).
While the humour might be basic at times, it’s hard not to like Conaty and warm to the character she’s created — a single woman muddling through life and tying herself in knots in the process. I hope she gets the guy, but I suspect it’s going to be complicated.
GameFace is available to stream on All4.