Davies and his castmates are superb and the series reminds us of Rik Mayall's remarkable talent for physical comedy
Man Down review by Brian Slade
For an overgrown child who did well to ever attract a better half, the loss of said companion after six years of relationship is not only devastating but also potentially life changing. Coping with just such a scenario with only a pair of eccentric friends to help him salvage his life was Dan Davies, the lead character in Greg Davies’ outlandish relationship comedy, Man Down.
Dan seemed to have struck gold. Despite having a job that he hates as a school drama teacher, he’s done pretty well for himself. For six years he’s enjoyed the company of beautiful girlfriend Naomi, but when the show starts, his world is about to come crashing down. Naomi (Deirdre Mullins) believes that Dan is just filling time in his life, and she has grown tired of his childishness. Citing the fact that they live in a bedsit in the same building as Dan’s parents, he has only one pair of trousers (which he’s now lost), takes weeks to replace a light bulb and his mother washes his underwear and appears unannounced to return them, Naomi packs her bags.
Desperate to get her back, Dan turns to his two oldest friends for help…not that either is really any more capable of giving any, given their own challenges. Jo (Roisin Conaty) is as scatty as they come. Rather than apply for jobs, she simply comes up with ideas for some – all of which are hopelessly outlandish and sometimes simply dangerous – although only for her customers! The sensible friend is Brian (Mike Wozniak), and while he does have some success in life, being a financial adviser with a wife and children, he is continually brought down by his two friends and the bizarre mess their lives seem permanently stuck in.
With Naomi gone, Dan’s daily life has two rituals. One is his job, at which he is largely hopeless. Drama consists of him getting the kids in his class to return to the fictitious planet of Todd Carty, where bizarre aliens and invisible bats are set to doom humanity. The kids include the strangely angry Dennis and the one proper academic, Karen, who is the only one who seems to have worked out that Dan is not a proper teacher at all.
The other daily routine Dan has to go through is to deal with his parents. His mother Polly (Gwyneth Powell) is permanently smiling and doting on him, treating him probably more appropriately than anybody, given his inability to cope with the outside world any better than a child. His father is a rather different story. Richard Davies (Rik Mayall) seems to have one goal in life – to attack his son physically and mentally at every possible opportunity, with his personal highlight being the 12 Scares of Christmas. His sadistic behaviour is always unseen by Polly, and Dan’s protests are met with incredulous dismissal.
Throughout the first series, Dan’s attempts to get Naomi back are continually doomed to failure in the most humiliating manner. He is attacked by a tailor for wearing his mother’s underwear, destroys his niece’s birthday cake when stopped by the police, and causes carnage and a food fight when getting drunk at the local Small Business Awards.
The end of the first series’ Christmas special saw the final appearance of Rik Mayall. His untimely passing was a great loss to the comedy world, but Man Down reminded us of his remarkable talent for physical comedy, the perfect accompaniment to Davies. To cope with the loss, the second series introduces Richard’s sister, Aunt Nesta. She is proper country and unfortunately for Dan, holds the key to him being allowed to remain at the family proper after his father’s bizarre wishes in his will. Nesta is a no-nonsense lady and is played superbly by the wonderful Stephanie Cole, who tells Dan exactly what a child he is but promptly defends him with blunt wisdom and sometimes physical violence.
As the second series progresses, Dan begins to attempt to woo his boss at the school, Emma Lipsey (Jeany Spark), but the same pitfalls damage his progress. And home life is no better, where he becomes forced to share his tiny bedsit with Nesta to make way for the evil Daedalus, played with sinister contempt by Tony Robinson as he moves in on Dan’s mother.
The humour of Man Down is along the lines of Ricky Gervais’s After Life, with the same brutal putdowns, but without the tugs of the heart strings. There’s more slapstick here as well, with Davies’s size and the kind of physical disasters that befall his character combining for some wonderful visuals.
After four series and a few Christmas specials, Man Down came to an end in 2017. Davies and his castmates were superb, but it was inevitable that a buffoon such as Dan would need to see growth in his character, and in so doing the show itself was going to lack the chaotic slapstick of the early series. Nonetheless, Inbetweeners fans and those who love edgy comedy with a slapstick bent will marvel at Davies’s self-mocking scripts and physical comedy talents, especially if they like to see 6 ft 8 giants dressed for salsa dancing, bluffing their way through Boom Shack-A-Lack in a room of aged hospital patients.
Published on July 12th, 2023. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.