Mandy review – from naked sushi model to tarantula assassin

<span>Photograph: Kieron McCarron/BBC</span>
Photograph: Kieron McCarron/BBC

I have long nurtured the theory that we will know we have reached true sexual equality in this – so far unpromising – world only when women are, in the same numbers, allowed to be as daft as men. In public, on screens, as a paid, professional job. Do you remember how weird it felt watching Smack the Pony and seeing Doon Mackichan, Fiona Allen and Sally Phillips hurling themselves about like utter loons? It was a glorious abandonment of uncountable numbers of shackles and seeing it felt like a liberation of some kind. See also the unforgettable insanity of Michelle Gomez’s Sue White in Green Wing a bit later on – and there is something of it, too, in the glorious gurning and gusto that suffuses Derry Girls. A sense of sisters doing it for themselves, perhaps, and to hell with what the world expects to see from them.

I hope it is a theory that rings true outside my own head, because I would like you to consider a new contender for a place in the nascent tradition: Mandy (BBC Two). It is written and directed by its star, Diane Morgan, the mistress of the deadpan arts who is known for Philomena Cunk, the sub-moronic interviewer and thorn in the side of any expert/celebrity without a sense of humour, and Liz, the icy blade cutting through the overheated panic of other parents in Motherland.

The six 15-minute episodes of Mandy, which recount the misadventures of the eponymous heroine, who dreams of raising doberman pinschers, but in the meantime must get on with ordinary life, require you to accept a certain level of daftness from the off. After an impressively desultory meeting with her work coach at the job centre (“I like mindless tasks,” she says when asked what kind of employment she is seeking), she becomes an arachnid control officer at the local banana packers. After initial success, diligently smashing with a mallet the tarantulas that cover the conveyor belt, disaster comes calling and 17 people end up dead.

On to an interview with Chicken Bungalow. “I like fried chicken,” she offers, when asked for her credentials. “I like people who like fried chicken. Always imagine we’d get on.” Strengths? “I’m not a grass.” Alas, she sets fire to the loo during a fag break, after getting her hair trapped in the extractor fan. “Were you smoking?” asks her boss (Michael Spicer) as the flames lick ever upwards. “No,” she says. “It were like this when I got here.”

Other episodes find our Mandy as a dog walker (for David Bradley, playing a widower and possibly getting the best line of the series, although I won’t spoil it here), a naked sushi model (surrounded by “fish perverts”, fag still lit) and a coffin-bound lookout for a gang of armed robbers.

We follow her attempts to improve her health after a smear test reveals that, despite her eating five portions of fruit and veg (“A banana, early 80s; broccoli, 1984; 1990 – corn on the cob. That were quite nice, so in 1993 I had another one. And on 9/11 I had a toffee apple to cheer meself up”), her uterus is mustard yellow. “What colour should it be?” she asks with interest.

She takes part in a line-dancing competition that also offers the chance to vanquish Susan Blower (Maxine Peake), an old enemy from her Touch the Truck appearance years ago, has the tattoo of her first husband (Shaun Ryder) removed to marry a Russian assassin, and goes on a date with one of the fish perverts (Sean Lock). They end up drinking white wine that is actually her wee (“I should have kept this in the fridge longer”). She also tries to drum up extra business for her manicurist and best friend, Lola (Morgan’s co-star in After Life, Michelle Greenidge, who appears in every episode and lifts all of her scenes with her own brand of gentle madness).

Mandy is not quite as good – not as tight, not as laugh-out-loud funny – as I, a great fan of Morgan and worshipper of Cunk, was hoping for. There is a sense that she has pulled her punches a bit and neither leaned into the absurdity nor the Julia Davis-esque brutality you can sometimes feel lurking beneath the surface. But it is a fun way to spend 15 minutes and, if nothing else, you will get some good ideas of what to do with any tattoo scabs you have lying about the house.