Given it was written by Simon Blackwell, I expected Back to be an irreverent comedy. I have not been disappointed on that front. God, the church, capitalism, the housing market, monogamy, and vinyl have all been challenged by episode five. What I was not expecting from Back was for it to build such a mystery behind one of its characters, and to take so much joy in milking that uncertainty and to inhabit those nether-zones.
The players are in motion. Stephen well and truly suspects Andrew as being an insidious disease infiltrating his family, and Andrew is established as someone who might possibly be scheming to get more and more stake in the John Barleycorn. The show can now play with these dynamics in unique ways. I admired a scene where Stephen turns getting phone reception in the woods into a pissing contest with Andrew. And the conversation Stephen and Andrew have about suicide is not only funny (in a very bleak way), but continues to fan the flames of mystery surrounding the Andrew character. Robert Webb’s performance reminds me of Charlize Theron’s in Arrested Development, wherein almost everything they do could be interpreted another way, and perhaps, in retrospect, they will be.
Scattered throughout this episode are several instances of generational-based humour. When talking about Cassi (whose name I now know how to spell) travelling, and whether or not her vaccinations up to date, Geoff suggests that it is good to just let kids catch all that stuff. “Cholera?” Mike asks. And during a conversation with Ellen about the future of his “shit farm”, Geoff points out that you don’t get a medal for coming second.
“Yes they do. They get a silver medal.”
“Yeah, I know. I realised that as I said it.”
And as Cassi goes off to catch her cab, Ellen says, “Ooh, my baby, all grown up at 36.” This sort of satire is relevant in today’s political climate, as we enjoy the hangovers of capitalism. Peep Show’s Mark and Jez existed within this world—simultaneously acting upon and being acted upon by it—but it serves as more of a backdrop and static state of being for the characters in Back, and makes for some fresh quips, and a take on the state of living I haven’t seen in even modern sitcoms.
After Stephen’s adopted dog, Maureen, runs away, Stephen receives a ransom call. £1,000 pounds or she gets put behind a back tyre and popped. This tension is relieved, believe it or not, in humorous and cathartic fashion with a call to action. It’s funny that when a dog is threatened, we find this sort of action justified, but if it were to involve human beings being threatened, a lot of people would even find it objectionable. How intentional these points made by Back are, I am not entirely sure, but that they are there to be mined is irreverent enough for me.
Back also contains philosophy: “Traveling, to me, is just moving from one place to another in some kind of vehicle,” informs a new acquaintance of Cassi’s. It’s also strongly implied that you do not confront a widow and her children, and try to take “credit” for her husband’s—their daddy’s—death. Mitchell masterfully negotiates such a scene with his usual brilliant inflections and facial expressions. Back has done a good job using his ability to sharpen dialogue, go on rants, and to experience the humiliation for his gormlessness very effectively.
Please note that no dogs, or human beings, were harmed in the writing of this review. Well, they technically would have been somewhere in the world, but not within the vicinity of me writing it. Well, I don’t know what goes on down the street—or even next door—but there is no causal link between me writing this review and any living creature being harmed. Unless they make computers and keyboards out of certain small animal parts. I mean, I did brush my teeth while writing it, and I think they sometimes use cuttlefish in that—but at the very most the worst you can say is that this review is just a participant in the endless dance of destruction we all dance in. Just like Andrew and Stephen, who are getting dangerously close to burning each other on the stakes they continue to raise.