Channel 4 nailed the thirty-something inept men sitcom with Peep Show. It was the first time the format had worked since Men Behaving Badly. Now Pete V Life (C4, 10pm), starring Rafe Spall as a feckless human being and a sports journalist, tries to scoop laughs from the same well. The pilot should have gone out last year as part of Channel 4's Comedy Showcase but they liked it so much the network went ahead and commissioned a series. Watching the pilot you can see why the show was picked up, but there are still plenty of rough edges we hope get smoothed when the show transitions into the series proper.
Pete has all the emotional intelligence of a golf ball, and not so much of the traditional kind either. So he makes misguided decisions, like getting a girl to go out with him by pretending to be an environmentalist. Later, he dents his appeal by rolling out every conceivable gaff in front of her parents. It’s exactly what Jeremy from Peep Show would do in the same situation. Only, on top of the action, if this were Peep Show we’d also get Jez’s brilliantly idiotic voiceover analysis. He’d almost definitely have a conversation with himself re: the pros and cons of a threesome with mother and daughter. Pete’s creators possibly felt that externalising Pete’s thoughts would be a rip off too far so spliced in their own voiceover invention: two snappy sports commentators, Colin and Terry. It’s clever, you see, because Pete is a sports writer. They watch over their man and press pause occasionally to talk about Pete like he’s a football match. And they use funny graphics aids – mainly pie charts and vital stat tables – to illustrate their boisterous banter. Most of the time these visual gags actually work better than the dialogue.
Pete V Life has sparkle in places and some punchy, considered writing. But there are a few too many lazy set ups and under-evolved characters that shouldn’t have made it past the first draft. The scene where Pete repulses his one-night-stand’s parents is a regulation, unimaginative sitcom disaster. Pete isn’t sympathetic enough for us to care about and the rest of the cast are cardboard. The women are particularly flat: they’re either irritating or earnest. Perhaps they were only shaded in pencil so Pete’s foibles could blare out, but it just feels like the writers don’t know how to pen girls.
Bear in mind, though, that this is only the pilot. There is enough that’s good about Pete V Life to tempt us back for a second sitting. Let’s not forget the writers have had a year to think about how to make it better. Perhaps they have… but is that any excuse for actually broadcasting this first draft? Find out for yourself when it airs on Friday (August 6) at 10pm on Channel 4.