For a man who sold ceramic tiling, Dead Boss’ Eric Bridges certainly had a lot of enemies. He’s the character alluded to in the programme’s title: the sleazy tile tycoon whose murder has been linked to his employee Helen Stephens. Helen, however, maintains that she’s innocent, even though things are starting to look bleak.
She’s played by Sharon Horgan, the co-creator of Pulling, a sitcom which was axed to much outcry some years back. Sharon wrote Dead Boss, along with writer and comedian Holly Walsh. They’ve both taken a bold move by dropping viewers right into the action, so much so that the first minute of the series plays out like a recap of a previous episode.
There’s scarcely a spare moment to breathe, as the programme quickly starts firing off jokes and major plot developments like a Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker film. The gags are silly and the characters are broad and unashamedly wacky — though perhaps that’s hardly surprising. Dead Boss is on BBC Three, a channel that has long prided itself on being broad and brash, shitting out content like Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show and documentaries about fat dogs and lads who drink pints of vomit for fun.
Yet Dead Boss is noticeably different to much of BBC Three’s output. Think less Coming of Age and more BBC Two’s Psychoville — It’s not as dark and bizarre, but the look and overall tone of the series isn’t too far off.
As expected, Helen’s trial doesn’t go too well, so she’s sent to Broadmarsh Prison, likely a send-up of Broadmoor Hospital, where many of Britain’s most notorious psychopaths are housed. There certainly appear to be a lot of psychopaths at Broadmarsh; some of them work there. The brilliant Jennifer Saunders stars as Margaret, the jail’s governor. She’s hardly in the first episode, but her character is certainly memorable, as evidenced by her attempts to convince Helen that appeals are a waste of time and valuable resources.
The standout character, however, has to be Tony (Geoff McGivern), a Lionel Hutz-type lawyer who believes that shouting “You can’t handle the truth!” amounts to a convincing defence.
Meanwhile, on the outside, Helen’s sister Laura (Aisling Bea) has moved into her flat and taken it upon herself to steal Helen’s friends, her pub quiz team and, most importantly, her hot water.
In spite of everything, Helen’s convinced that her stay Broadmarsh will be a short one. And due to the programme’s story arc, which stretches out over the space of six episodes, it’s extremely difficult to predict how things will pan out for her. Episode one is merely a snapshot and one that leaves you wanting more.
For every joke that works, there are generally a few that don’t. But that’s not a terrible thing. It’s worth watching for the ones that do, as well as for the show’s big characters and Helen’s fruitless pursuit to clear her name. It’s all very silly, of course, but it’s not stupid, which makes Dead Boss the rarest of things: a watchable BBC Three sitcom—and a pretty good one at that.