Twenty-four years and one stagnant local radio career after he last appeared on live TV, Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) is back presenting for his old frenemies at the BBC. Filling in for an illness stricken main presenter on mock-magazine show This Time, his broadcasting skills now leave much to be desired. Yet, if the first two episodes are anything to go by, this may just be the best iteration of Partridge to date.

Originally conceived as an inept sports reporter on The Day Today in the early 1990s, the character has evolved numerous times. The flashy self-confidence of the Partridge from Knowing Me, Knowing You never quite returned in the I’m Alan Partridge sitcom, just as the little-Englander Partridge of that era has given way to a mellower, more self-aware character in more recent material.

The beauty of This Time is that the format gives a platform for every shade of Partridge to shine at different moments. Pre-packaged documentary shorts invoke the Alan we see in Welcome to the Places of My Life and Scissored Isle, whilst the presence of a live studio audience in the second episode is reminiscent of scenes from Knowing Me, Knowing You. Moreover, appearances from Simon Denton (Tim Key) and Lynn Benfield (Felicity Montagu) provide continuity from Mid-Morning Matters and I’m Alan Partridge respectively.

This is not to say the show recycles old gags; far from it. Writers Neil and Rob Gibbons have absolutely nailed Partridge’s passion for the mundane and obsession with the irrelevant. There is, for instance, a fantastically frivolous package on the art of train-bathroom hand washing which proves a highlight of the first episode.

Such material does border on the absurd in the context of a prime-time television show but it’s worth remembering that the absurd has always been the bedrock of Partridge. This is, after all, a character who lost his original presenting gig for accidentally shooting a studio guest live on air before shoving a whole block of cheese in his old boss’s face while in the process of begging for his job back.

With writers who genuinely understand the essence of the character and a handy format at its disposal, This Time is shaping up to be hotter than the sun.

5 Stars – Back of the net.

Image credit: Movie DB

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