It is safe to say that Man to Man is brilliant. It really is. Capturing so much of the crazy knowing humour of Darkplace, but throwing in some new and bizarre characters. It is both a nod to its predecessor and evolution. It looks both low class, and expensive at the same time. The care and attention given to the series is far beyond its own standards, and will leave you wondering what the hell you just watched.
There is no doubt that Dean Learner was a standout character on Darkplace. The performance of Richard Ayoade created one of the sleaziest, most disturbing and sexist comic characters of the past decade. His dichotomy between Thornton Reed the badly acted hospital administrator, with Dean Learner the host shot and egotistical agent is never more evident than when character in Man to Man he let loose. In this show Dean is the star, or so he thinks. And that leds to some of the most arrogant, self-indulgent comedy lines I have ever heard.
The real brilliance of Man to Man is not to repeat the trick of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace by solely spoofing the science fiction/fantasy/horror genres with a pseudo-television style drama, but producing a varied format that allows for experimentation with characters and backgrounds. We have fake movies, television documentaries and even a reality show thrown together. This show really has no limits.
The first episode with Garth Marenghi himself as guest proves itself by expanding the character beyond the Darkplace series, while still catering to fans of Garth. The inclusion of a clip from War of the Wasps, the film version of Darkplace, had me in absolute hysterics. While Dean's hilariously sexist attitudes, coupled with Garth's, just worked fantastically. The two actors play well on Dean and Garth buddy relationship and their ability to use every occasion to boost their own egos, and possibly make a quid.
The genius really follows with the various characters we meet over the course of the series. From the perfectly judged satire of British motor-racing with the subtle Steve Pissing, to the wonderful satire of 80's made-for-video science fiction trash with the creepy George Takei sound-alike of Glynn Nimron, and on to bizarre and tragic life of Randolph Caer. This series has everything, including Deans incredibly poor version of The Apprentice, which ends in its own sexist way.
It is Matthew Holness who really shines in this series, demonstrating his ability to break out from playing Garth Marenghi with performances as Deans various guests that are truly awesome. It is not simply the make up or the voices that make the characters come to life, Holness gets deep into the fabric of the character and literally makes you believe in them. This is most evident in the final episode where he plays Randolph Caer, a wholly unfortunate human being whose entire life is a tragedy played out for cheap laughs. You both sympathise with him, and laugh at his misfortune.
But Man to Man with Dean Learner is not just about sublime writing or brilliant acting. It's about laughs. And like Garth Marenghi's Darkplace before it, it had me in stitches. If you liked Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, you might like this. If you didn't like it, then you should still check it out. It's a different show with a different sense of humour.
Altogether a brilliant show and a future classic.