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DVD Review: The Steve Coogan Collection

Unless you are a British comedy fanatic or someone who follows the indie movie market, the chances are good that the only person in your household who will recognize Steve Coogan will be your child.

To date, the biggest inroads that this British actor/comedian has made in Hollywood have been as Phileas Fogg in the Disney remake of Around The World In 80 Days and a bit part in both Night At The Museum films (likely at the behest of avowed fan Ben Stiller, who cast Coogan as the put-upon director in Tropic Thunder).

In England, on the other hand, Coogan is a Seinfeld-level star, having made an indelible mark on the post-Fawlty Towers comedy scene by being able to wrangle together all the key qualities of a character that British people love to laugh at: the bawdy, the buffoonish, and the bathetic. Add to it his uncanny ability to ape regional accents and mannerisms, and you have possibly the perfect comic actor of the last 20 years. Even with all this talent, you still need the perfect storm of other elements – chief among them, good writing – to help make a character and a show successful. This point is never more firmly driven home than by taking a wander through this set.

At a hefty 13 discs, The Steve Coogan Collection brings together an assortment of the actor’s television work. Some of which had been previously released on DVD (Knowing Me, Knowing You and its accompanying Christmas special, Knowing Me, Knowing Yule, the first series of I’m Alan Partridge and Saxondale); the rest is reaching American audiences for the first time.

As you might expect, there is a reason for this oversight as the majority of the material that has never seen broadcast in the U.S. is some of the weakest of the set. The ridiculous Portuguese singing sensation Tony Ferrino and Paul & Pauline Calf, the working class brother and sister, all of whom Coogan portrays with nimble verve are terribly underwritten characters and wear out their welcome quickly. And, as a tribute to the British horror films of the ’70s, the series Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible, only sporadically brings out anything more than a bemused chuckle.

The rest of the set, though, finds Coogan and his writers working at the top of their game. Coogan’s Run, a six episode series that puts the focus on a different character conceived by the actor, is a fantastic showcase for his rare talent. He slips into the guises of a bloviating computer parts salesman, a tweedy auto mechanic and the withering owner of a particularly awful museum comfortably and hilariously (even the Calf siblings episode here works better than anything on the rest of the set). And the brilliant Saxondale, where Coogan plays an ex-roadie, turned suburban exterminator takes a humorous and often touching look at an aging gent desperately trying to maintain his last remaining shred of cool.

But, this is all prologue to the meat of this set, which is Coogan’s peerless character Alan Partridge. Brought to life initially as a correspondent on Chris Morris’s radio-then-TV series The Day Today, Partridge was given new television life first as the host of a doomed chat show (Knowing Me) and then as the star of a more traditional sitcom that finds the deposed pseudo-celebrity trying desperately to make his way back up the ladder to stardom. Both series are filled with moments of true inspiration – from Alan’s attempts to maintain control as the MC of a corporate event even after impaling his foot on a fence spike to slow decline of his sanity and composure in each episode of Knowing. There’s something so deliciously pathetic, yet engaging about the character that it’s little wonder that it captured such a huge audience in the U.K. (so much so that there are rumors of Coogan writing and starring as Partridge in a feature film).

Still, this whole set is of a particularly British style of humor, one that thrives on discomfort, a working knowledge of classic literature, and some sharp, stinging barbs. Watching this set, it seems not terribly surprising in this sense that Coogan hasn’t found a huge audience for his comedic sensibilities here in the States, something that I don’t think will happen without a huge compromise and dumbing down of his abilities. It would be a shame to see that happen, but we’d at least have this set to keep as a reminder of how good it once was.

November 27, 2009 - Posted by | DVD review | , , , ,

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