NOTE: All episodes of Back were written by Simon Blackwell, and all directed by Ben Palmer.
“Andrew’s won, hasn’t he? Transformed the pub into a terrible brilliant success in a way I simply couldn’t.”
The final episode of series one of Back begins with Andrew (Robert Webb) standing upright in the family pub, and Stephen (David Mitchell) lying on his back in his involuntary caravan, “having a good stare”. Stephen’s ex-wife, Alison (Olivia Poulet), gets him up and back out there, with one more shot to pull himself together and work out the truth about Andrew.
At a celebration for what would have been the 69th birthday of the family patriarch (Matthew Holness), Stephen delivers a speech and Andrew comes into contact with another foster child from the past that threatens some sense of security he feels amongst the Nichols family. And at some point Geoff (Geoffrey McGivern) learns that he could “ice a cake with my rectum”. But the true developments of the day come after a day of heavy drinking and amateur sleuthing.
David Mitchell, as always, is great at relishing in the misery of others, more so than I’m sure would be considered British. His delivery of lines is constantly sharp, and pierces through the normality of expectation, weaponising seemingly innocuous statements. Robert Webb gets a lot more to do in this episode, finally given the chance to expose more of his soul, and what makes Andrew Andrew—if he really is Andrew. Webb has managed to walk the entire series on a tightrope between sympathetic and suspicious, and he finally tilts the emotional content of his performance. In which direction, I’ll allow you to discover.
Ultimately, Back has delivered as a series. Somehow colder than Peep Show, and definitely less manic, the comedic tone settles on something often as witty and as punchy. There are greater valleys in Back, but they allow there to be sharp peaks. The comedic tone almost reflects the Stroud countryside. With more of an ongoing arc than its Simon Blackwell predecessor, Back is less a probe into the surface neuroses of urbanites, and more an expedition into the deepest insecurities of the soul. Peep Show never hit me with any sort of emotional sledge, but there are unmined caverns in Back—of loss, regret, loneliness, and identity.
My favourite scene involves the inevitable confrontation between Stephen and Andrew—Mitchell versus Webb—and the visual reveal that this might not be about them all at all, but their fathers. And the best line probably comes from an outburst by David Mitchell in a public library. First episodes can be tricky, but so can finales. Overall, I think the end result by writer Simon Blackwell and his director, Ben Palmer (who did direct all episodes, by the way), succeeds in its mission. Although not the peak in terms of the series’ laugh-per-minute ratio, it delivers some wry chuckles as it hurtles towards its revelations.
Later in the episode, there is a scene where Andrew is standing upright the family home, and Stephen is sitting on a chair in the same room. The context of this, and whether or not roles have switched, should be appreciated by anyone at all interested in watching this series. I highly recommend watching the series.