This Time with Alan Partridge, review: still an exquisite send up – but with a little too much Coogan

Steve Coogan, Susannah Fielding and Simon Farnaby - BBC
Steve Coogan, Susannah Fielding and Simon Farnaby - BBC

The BBC schedules have been a bit of a comedy wasteland lately, so hooray for the return of This Time with Alan Partridge (BBC One), in which our hero has put his Travel Tavern years firmly behind him and secured a permanent place as the main presenter of this terrible teatime show.

The writing, by brothers Neil and Rob Gibbons plus Coogan, exquisitely sends up the banality of programmes like The One Show. “Welcome to the show that covers the full spectrum of human life… from aqua-aerobics to abortion, from zebras to Zionism.” Susannah Fielding maintains that perma-smile as Alan’s long-suffering host, Jennie Gresham, and you feel that she could slot into any real-life magazine show without anyone realising she was a comedy performer.

The supporting players are a hoot, from Lolly Adefope as a reporter whose cold loathing for Alan seeps from every pore, to Simon Farnaby as the effortlessly successful history presenter. Alan is at his best when taking sly digs at Farnaby’s character, who has enjoyed a life of privilegeand likes to recall his childhood holidays to “Keeenya”. And it’s always a treat to watch his interactions with Lynn (the wonderful Felicity Montagu).

There is much to love, but Coogan turns out to be the least funny thing here when isolated from the rest of the cast. If the action moves away from the awkward studio exchanges to the outside broadcasts, the show falls a bit flat. Alan’s visit to a monastery was over-long, and his habit of adopting a weird voice when doing his voice-overs is plain annoying. Although that bit did give rise to one of the episode’s best lines: “You see, silence can be a kindness… but anyone who’s driven home with their wife after a row at a party will know silence can be used as a weapon.”

4 May 2021. The original version of this review inaccurately claimed that Richard Madeley hosted a recent edition of Good Morning Britain. We apologise for the error, which has been removed.