Radio Review: Blocked

Blocked Sitcom image

So this is a weird one, but something that I wanted to talk about anyway. Now I’m not sure how many people will know about, let alone remember this Radio 4 Pilot but I think not only is it worth talking about but also worth listening to as well. I’ll include a link at the end for anyone that does want to give it a try.

‘Blocked’ is a Radio 4 Pilot written by Frankie Boyle and Steven Dick and starring David Mitchell, Lorna Watson, Poppy Rush, Chris Ramsey, Carolyn Pickles, David Cann and Joe Shavin. It was not well received by BBC executives when it was broadcast in 2014, in fact the word horrified was thrown about in regards to some of the content. And I can certainly understand that the material in the pilot wasn’t up to everyone’s taste but I believe that whoever commissioned the pilot in the first place should have been more aware that the content might have been controversial as it was penned by the king of dark comedy in Scotland, Frankie Boyle, a man who’s repeatedly been at odds with the censors at the BBC.

But anyway getting away from that let’s move onto more specifics about ‘Blocked’ it features Felix (David Mitchell) a disgruntled theatre owner, and struggling literary ‘Genius’ and his wife Nettie (Lorna Watson) their daughter Grace (Poppy Rush) and her boyfriend Chris (Chris Ramsey) as they attempt to keep their business afloat and manage each other’s personalities. Felix, is trying to make it work as a playwright but listening to his giant dwarf story it’s not likely.

David Mitchell is on perfect form here, playing into his public image with considerable skill, all the bit curmudgeonly and awkward as Mark Corrigan. Honestly this was genuinely funny, a lot of the typical Mitchell ranting and uptightness, but with more edge courtesy of Frankie Boyle. I appreciate both of their comedy styles and the blending of these styles creates something uniquely funny. This pilot does suffer from the ‘Family Guy Syndrome’ where it’s unclear why the family unit stays together at all considering they don’t seem to like each other all that much. The daughter even conditions the dog to pee on her father’s briefcase. It’s not something that I particularly find funny because it’s just lazy but I don’t think it drags down the pilot too much.

The one segment that causes considerable issues was when Felix and family are gathering around to read their CRB checks, just like a normal family does, with other members of the groups being involved in silly scrapes with the law whereas Felix is guilty of the IRA killing of Lord Mountbatten or at least someone with a similar name. He doesn’t hide the fact either, apparently having the man’s legs mounted on his wall. It’s exactly the type of extreme I’ve come to expect from Boyle and while I can understand people not liking the joke I do think that to react negatively shows a profound misunderstanding of both Frankie Boyle, and comedy in general. I’m paraphrasing here but I remember during a stand up routine that Boyle said that he often used comedy as a way of understanding and questioning things, it’s not trying to make light of the situation because a man was killed, but rather an attempt to talk about something under the guise of a joke. Plus the guy’s name is kinda silly. Now I don’t agree or disagree the BBC’s decision to axe the radio sitcom, its purely at their discretion but considering the longstanding relationship between Boyle and the BBC and his reputation for tackling subjects mired in controversy, dealing with dark material and yes sometimes going too far (see the ‘I’m now so old my p***y is haunted’ bit) might it have been a bit naive, even ill informed to give him airtime at all if they were going to pull out the moment he made an inappropriate comment. I think in all honestly this was a calculated move to draw attention, because their are numerous checks before a broadcast and the joke got past them all, which is just so unlikely that it makes far more sense that they wanted controversy and attention and Frankie Boyle’s ‘Blocked’ gave them exactly that.

That being said other than the joke about the IRA’s murder of Lord Mountbatten (the queen’s cousin) in 1979 the script was relatively tame for Frankie Boyle, a lot more of the script focused on hijinks of a Fawlty Towers style, with Felix running about stealing sweets from kids and trying to keep the stray dog they have living with them away from an inspector. But as I said I think that Boyle and Mitchell who both have very defined comedy styles, manage to work really well together, and for the most part you never come away thinking that anything said by Mitchell sounds disingenous, because he delivers it all in his quick fire, ranting, the world is against me way that’s made him a household name, and made him in my opinion at least, the best panelist on Would I lie to You.

Now this might just be me, but one of the funniest lines in the script was by Chris Ramsey’s character where he says “Oh my god Ricky Gervais tweeted something really funny!” to which Felix replies “Oh no he didn’t”. Something about the back and forth just really tickled me. Another personal favourite was by Lorna Watson when describing Mitchell’s character where she says “You’ll have to excuse my husband he doesn’t know how to communicate with people at even the most basic level…he’s a writer”. This is funny, but also as a writer is very true. 

Overall the writing is well timed and genuinely enjoyable even after a few listens and I genuinely felt there was no member of the cast who let the pilot down in my opinion. The ending in particular tied all of the plot points together in an ideal example of a denouement, where and please be warned of a big *SPOILER* where the CRB Inspector discovers Felix, with pockets full of chocolate and puppies, trying to hide a confused diabetic child. Blocked is honestly just funny and I think that’s what’s most important. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t part of a series, although even as a self contained episode it works quite nicely.

If you want to check out Blocked for yourself, and I strongly recommend that you do, then you can find it via this link. Please drop a comment if you do happen to listen to it, and let me know what you think.

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