Along with Fawlty Towers and Seinfeld, Game On is the only sitcom which for me never ages, never ceases to be less than utterly hilarious, no matter how many times I watch it. In the case of the first series, I've probably watched each episode about 100 times: at one point a few years back, it got viewed as much as Star Wars when I was a kid. My little brother and I would sit in front of the TV religiously every Saturday morning before our parents awoke, watching the original Star Wars again and again. With Game On, it was the same, only it got viewed after work, and it was always a great way to wind down and laugh my *ss off.
The basic premise/situation is simple and draws obvious similarities with Friends, yet the two are, in reality, about as far removed from each other as it's possible to be while remaining in the comedy genre! Three 'friends' sharing an apartment together. The owner of the apartment, Matt (Ben Chaplin in the first series) is the best friend of Martin, who's big sister is Mandy's best friend. At some point in the cloudy change to adulthood, the three have found themselves removed from Hearne Bay where they were brought up and are now living in a part of the capital called Battersea (as in the dogs home). As the series progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that Matt is deeply unhinged, with enough mental issues to keep a team of psychologists employed for the rest of their lives. We arrive at the beginning of the series some time after both of his parents were killed in a car crash, and with some sort of unspecified financial compensation, Matt no longer needs to work. Which sounds OK, except he's in denial of being affected by the death of his parents and will no longer leave the apartment. He claims it's his own choice, but it becomes clear that over the time, the idea of leaving the apartment fills him with absolute terror.
Martin is a 23 year-old virgin, which bothers him hugely and constantly. Being, in his own words, 'a total loser' doesn't exactly help his chances with the opposite sex. Matt would also point out that his "ginger pubes" doesn't help his chances either. He also has a boring job working in a bank.
Mandy is a mess. Intelligent, with excellent school grades, her life seems to have taken bad turns every step of the way. She works through a series of dead-end jobs earning "s*** pay" and can't find a decent man, though there's an endless supply of poor choices which she she finds herself unable to avoid sleeping with.
All of this probably sounds like the setting for a Six Feet Under-style drama rather than what I consider to be one of the very best, most timeless and funniest comedies ever made, but I guess it goes to show that humour can be found in every life situation, and that probably differentiates what can and often does get made and aired on major UK TV channels in comparison with the usual US network TV (take Coupling for example). With their tight restraints, the US comedies are inevitably ultimately light-hearted. Game On, in comparison, is a huge culture shock. But being a touch risqué, and adding a smattering of bad(-ish) language doesn't in itself make a great comedy, and I'm certainly not saying that you can't have a great comedy without these things, but it does set it apart. Game On has many fantastic attributes: it has the 'squirm factor' which makes you want to hide behind the sofa when the characters get themselves deeper and deeper into situations (a bit of a Fawlty Towers aspect I guess); it's pretty evil, in the sense that the misfortune of certain characters at certain times offers much hilarity. If you don't like to see bad things happening to people, then I guess you'd better stick with Friends after all! The writing and conversation between all of the characters is fantastic. It feels natural, not forced like certain comedies (Friends being a prime example of this. I do enjoy Friends now on the whole, but before I got married, I couldn't even stand to watch it! ), it doesn't have the "while one character talks, the others become puppets without masters" interaction you get with many comedies (Everybody Loves Raymond being a perfect example here), and none of the things which happen feel unrealistic, which again can make some comedies feel forced to me. Some people compare Game On to another British comedy called Men Behaving Badly, which is in some ways a more light-hearted version of Game On, but I always refer to it as "Men Behaving Unrealistically" and that very attribute spoils it a bit for me. Sure, it's funny, but it never sits 100% right with me, whereas everything in Game On is just natural and so much better because of it. It's like comparing a James Cameron-directed film with something from Joel Schumacher I guess. The characters are pretty complex for a sitcom, and as the series unravels, the characters grow and reveal themselves (I guess a bit of a Seinfeld similarity here) which brings another dimension to the comedy, and admittedly is one area where well-funded US comedies which succeed better their British rivals.
As you've probably already read on the summary page, series two of Game On has a different Matt in the form of Neil Stuke. I feel that this series is by far the weakest of the three. Partly because the writing doesn't seem to be as good, but mainly because the writers simply tried to fill Ben Chaplin's shoes with Neil Stuke, which wasn't fair on the actor because he doesn't have the same qualities. Chaplin's Matt was cool. Strange to say with him being a total headcase who daren't leave his own apartment, but he was very, very cool. The coolness worked perfectly with the darkness here, but Stuke just couldn't pull it off properly. I'm happy to see that with the third series, the writers realised and understood both the weaknesses and qualities of Stuke, and altered Matt's character to suit. In my opinion, this proves that the writers are nothing short of genius (the huge teams of Friends writers aren't fit to sharpen the pencils of Game On's writers!). You could ask why they didn't do it with the second series, but I'm more than willing to forgive that because the third series is written so unbelievably well, and is just utterly hilarious. It's possibly funnier than the first series, although the first one feels the most special to me. With the cool about 90% removed, Matt is now a fully fledged loser, and though he doesn't realise it, he's certainly up there with Martin in the loser charts. Some of the scenes - quite a few, in fact - which occur in the third series, are at least as fall-off-your-sofa hilarious as anything I've ever watched. Usually so cringe inducingly awful and involving Matt that you can't help but draw close comparisons with John Cleese in Fawlty Towers. And they really are just as funny. Except that I wouldn't really want to watch them with my parents.
As you might have guesed by now, Matt really is the big character in Game On. The other characters are great, well-acted, massively important, and often get into hilariously bad situations, but Matt is Game On. I've often pondered which comedy I'd most like to see another series of. If there was a poll in Britain, it would unquestionably be Fawlty Towers, but I think I'd have to say Game On would be my number one choice. It's a shame it never had the universal praise or recognition of something like Fawlty Towers, because I think it can stand proud alongside it, and I don't think it's just a comedy which can be enjoyed by young adults. If a fourth series was ever made, would I prefer a Neil Stuke Matt or a Ben Chaplin Matt? That's one which can only be answered by the toss of a coin I reckon!