Steve Cooganâ€™s popularity in the United States is continuing to grow as he appears in acclaimed films such as Hamlet 2 and Tropic Thunder, not to mention his supporting role in the popular Night at the Museum. So it is no surprise that the BBC has decided to begin releasing his popular television work on DVD, including the recently released Saxondale which comes to us in a three-DVD set collecting both seasons of the British comedy.
Coogan stars as Tommy Saxondale, an aging, ex-roadie for some of the biggest rock bands in the 70â€™s. Now in his 50s with gray hair and a round pot belly, Saxondaleâ€™s life is drastically different from his youth. While he still drives around like a rock â€˜roller in his beloved Mustang Mach 1, Tommy now works as a pest controller and lives with his younger girlfriend, Magz, portrayed by the wonderful Ruth Jones (star and creator of the recent BBC hit, Gavin and Stacy). Tommy and Magz live in a small flat with a young man named Raymond (Rasmus Hardiker), who is Tommyâ€™s new bug busting assistant.
The accommodations are meant to be temporary, but Raymond never moves out and he becomes a surrogate son to Tommy. While he shows the naÃ¯ve kid the ropes of the pest control business, Tommy also regales him with stories of the glory days on the road with the likes of Deep Purple and Genesis and subjects the poor lad to his opinion about the state of the world (in particular those people who enjoy dance music, James Blunt or Dido). Rounding out the cast are Morwenna Banks as Vicky, the pest conrol dispatcher and Tommyâ€™s nemesis, and (in season 2) Darren Boyd as Tommyâ€™s annoying neighbor, Jonathan.
Tommy and Magz are an unlikely pair for television and I wonder their relationship would even make it past the pilot stage on the U.S. networks. If someone pitched to any of the networks a series about an opinionated old roadie with anger issues who dates a full figured woman, executives would scratch their heads and likely say, â€œWhoâ€™s going to watch that?â€ The BBC, on the other hand, seems more willing to take risks and allow creative people like Coogan that opportunity to create. Tommy is at his funniest when heâ€™s ranting against the upper class and trying to impress the others that heâ€™s just as good as they are. Unfortunately, Tommy is a â€œpretty huge inverted snobâ€, in Cooganâ€™s words, and acts no better than the people heâ€™s railing against. He may think theyâ€™re looking down on him because heâ€™s a pest controller (in most cases, they are not), but heâ€™s just as judgmental, in particular during his angry rants.
Saxondale is effective because the characters are real people and not just caricatures thought up to create a hit series. What I mean is that Coogan and his co-creator Neil Maclennan opted to let the situations that happen to Tommy play almost like a drama instead of going for gut busting slapstick and witty one liners; Saxondale is more subtle. This approach allows Saxondale to be more of a humanistic comedy than most series.
There is a heart beating beneath the thick chest of this old stoner. At times, Saxondale is a poignant reflection on getting old and trying to adapt to the world that is changing so quickly. My favorite episode is the season 1 ender when Tommy and Raymond have to clean the home of a dead man. In the cupboard he finds a can of generic beans, a reflection of the lonely life the dead man lived on his own. In the same episode, Tommy and Magz have a huge fight and she leaves him for a time. That can of beans symbolizes where Tommy is headed if he doesnâ€™t get his act together. While there are some hilarious moments throughout, this episode is most effective when Tommy is being reflective about life, his life, and who or what completes him.
The DVD collection also included a behind the scenes documentary, deleted scenes, and an informative interview with Coogan and Maclennan.Â It is available through Amazon.