Familiarity, as someone once said, can breed contempt.
Happily, this is certainly isn’t the case with the second outing for Ben Elton’s Tudor sitcom, which aims to tell the story behind the creation of Shakespeare’s plays.
It’s not a dramatically original idea (the films Shakespeare In Love and Bill have all had a pop at it) but aided by a strong cast, this generally works well. As the Bard himself, David Mitchell does an excellent job of humanising a figure who can sometimes seem like some sort of 16th century superhero. Mitchell essentially portrays him as a likeable clever dick torn between the demands of his work, the acting ambitions of his friend Kate (Gemma Whelan), the roguish charms of contemporary Kit Marlow (Tim Downie), the rivalry of his nemesis Robert Greene who coined the term “upstart crow” to describe Shakespeare in the first place (Mark Heap) and the attentions of his more common but loving Stratford family (Liza Tarbuck, Helen Monks, Harry Enfield, Paula Wilcox). Noel Fielding also crops up in one episode of this series as another real life figure, composer Thomas Morley.
The 2017 Christmas special is not included here although if you’ve seen it, you will probably agree this is no bad thing.
A modern comedy classic then? Perhaps not quite, at least, not yet. But this is certainly enjoyable, clever fun with a top notch cast and a welcome return to form for the generally unfairly reviled talent that is Ben Elton.
And, no. The “familiarity breeds contempt” quote is not by Shakespeare. Although on this evidence, the man himself might have claimed it was.