Once upon a time, somewhere between the filming of Circle of Friends and its release, Minnie Driver filled in for Doon MacKichan on Steve Coogan’s spoof chat show, Knowing Me, Knowing You (with Alan Partridge). She played ‘Daniella Forest’, a flirty sexpert with huge hair and a secret past… well, maybe not so secret if Alan had actually bothered to read the autobiography she was there to promote! But Alan is, as Alan does. Driver had previously filmed some material for The Day Today, the news pastiche that first put Partridge on the TV map, but her skits were only used in the mini-cast trailers, rather than in the main show itself. Of course, Coogan has done a few Hollywood flicks himself now, so it doesn’t seem too strange to see them on screen together… and KMKY writer/producer Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop made quite a splash on both sides of the Atlantic, so perhaps their paths will cross again someday…?
There were a couple of other familiar faces who have gone on to greater fame, among the usual suspects (who are, of course, fantastically talented players in their own right)… Alan Ford, of Snatch and Exorcist: The Beginning fame appears as a scary boxing promoter… John Thomson, of Fast Show and Cold Feet fame, appears as both a twitchy naval officer and an inept children’s entertainer… and Sean Gilder, of Shameless fame, appears as the bereaved son of one of Alan’s namesakes.
Re-watching the series after all these years, I think it holds up pretty well. The clothes and hair look a bit dated, but most of the comedy comes from the performances, rather than any particular cultural references… indeed most of Alan’s cultural references were already hopelessly dated when the show aired. That said, Abba are probably more popular now than they were in the early 90s, thanks to the all-conquering Mamma Mia!, so Alan comes dangerously close to appearing “cool” at times. His unnatural obsession with saying his own name over and over again like a mantra, will never stop being funny… nor will his alternately lecherous, offhand and aggressive attitude towards his guests.
The commentaries are quite entertaining too, although the commentators hadn’t seen the show since it aired, so they keep lapsing into silence and then laughing at the jokes. As someone who frequently laughs at his own jokes, I have absolutely no problem with that. Iannucci is as lively and funny as ever… and it’s intriguing to hear him snark (in all seriousness, apparently) about Ricky Gervais stealing Alan’s act for his ‘David Brent’ character. Of course Alan had his own sitcom first, and it was something of a critical success, but it wasn’t a world-wide phenomenon in the same way that The Office was. On balance I definitely prefer I’m Alan Partridge to The Office, but I doubt that endorsement is of much comfort to anyone.
Weirdly Iannucci is also quite critical of scenes in KMKY that I’ve always remembered very fondly. In the first episode Alan accidentally books a punk band, led by a feisty Scottish “riot grrrl” in a PVC-and-tartan outfit (played by MacKichan), presumably because he only bothered to listen to the first few seconds of their single, which begins with a soft, lilting homage to domestic harmony before kicking into a full-on “bloodbath” of revenge. I understand why Iannucci objects to spending three minutes on a single joke (the inappropriateness of the booking), but as a fan of that sort of music, both then and now, I actually really enjoy the performance… and the chaotic scene afterwards, where the band invade the sofa, makes a nice change from the more static set-up that the interviews usually conformed to. A similar disruption occurs during the Parisian episode, when a troupe of French clowns called “Cirque des Clunes” performs a fantastically lewd and violent mime (choreographed by the multi-talented, multi-lingual David Schneider). Throughout the episode Iannucci asserts that the audience are on Alan’s side, when he sneers at his “pretentious” “intellectual” guests and co-host. I guess that makes me pretentious by association then, because I actually sided with the Frenchies. Maybe I just have a higher tolerance for artistic waffle, since I tend to waffle so much myself? I thought the outfits that the fictional fashion designer ‘Yvonne Boyd’ (Rebecca Front) came up with were pretty good too. I mean, obviously no one would ever wear them in reality, but as artistic statements I thought they were very well conceived and crafted. It must be strange to find, as a writer, that some of your fans enjoy your work in ways you couldn’t have anticipated… in ways that you don’t even agree with, or endorse. Ah well, these things are supposed to be subjective, aren’t they? As long as no one pulls a Mark Chapman, then there’s probably no harm in it.