Lockdown, or what’s left of it, is often said to be a threat to mental health. That’s true enough. Yet, for the minds of our nation’s great comic talents, semi-voluntary incarceration is stimulating a remarkable renaissance. Comedians: Home Alone (BBC Two) shows the dedication of our brave frontline comic heroes. They’ve been tirelessly ramping up their delivery of urgently needed sanity-protective gags, working at pace to save struggling punchlines from failure, and generally shielding the nation’s vulnerable sense of humour in its darkest hours. Just as Blitz Britain had the comedy group Crazy Gang, we now have the “stir-crazy gang” to keep us amused.
There are six sketches stuffed into every 15-minute episode, and they appear to be filmed domestically under self-isolation conditions – no Cummings-style road movies, let’s say. They’re all brilliant and acutely observed gems – miniature satires on the way we live now.
Bob Mortimer’s Train Guy sketch is already established as a wince-inducing assault on everything LinkedIn holds dear. Mortimer, playing the pretentious idiot Train Guy is making a mobile phone call to a colleague on a train. Train Guy is WFH, but as annoying as ever on speakerphone telling his workmate how he’s “adding mind yeast to the thought brewery”, as he puts it. His boss, who is known as “THE” Geoff Linton (like he's famous when he isn't) is “chirping like a sparrow on a fastball factory” about the new pencil case project and wants progress: “We need a Zoom-woom to incubate initiatives for potential going-forwardness.”
Michael Spicer’s latest “the man in the next room” is a takedown of Priti Patel. Spicer, as ever, pretends to be offering real-time advice via an earpiece to some clueless politician, and Patel is world-class clueless. A woman who pronounces “Herculean” as “Hercule Lewis” and stumbles over big numbers seems too soft a target. You almost feel sorry for her until you remember that she cannot bring herself to apologise to the bereaved and mocked her own staff for being incompetent.
Rhys James offers us a welter of dry one-liners like a latter-day Bob Hope; it’s a venerable kind of comedy routine but thoroughly modernised and refurbished. “Getting upset about cultural appropriation is cultural appropriation”; “Get someone therapy for their birthday. They’ll get upset at the time, but in six to eight weeks they will learn to accept it”; “Slim chance and fat chance mean the same thing. I think we could learn a thing or two about body positivity from chances”.
The “married comedians” Rachel Parris and Marcus Brigstocke knock out amusingly lip-synced versions of “Parklife” and “Let Me Entertain You”, Kerry Godliman creates a perfect spoof of a lonely “I wanna have a lockdown party” pissed-up mum, which I pray is not autobiographical. There’s also a random stills sequence featuring the silliest collection of cats since TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, with names such as “German Ice”, "Banana in Transit" and “Russ Abbot’s Cape”. It’s all joyously innovative and inventive, the best of its kind since The Fast Show. I mean, it’s not going to save any lives, and some of it is a bit ageist, but until they develop a vaccine, laughter is the best medicine. Next slide, please.