Recently I went on a little pre-Xmas shopping spree, and managed to find the first three series of Ideal going for two quid each! Hurrah! I’ve already written about my belated embracing of the show, just as it entered its seventh (and apparently final) series, so now let’s go right back to the beginning, shall we? For those who don’t know, this darkly absurd British sitcom stars Johnny Vegas as a snarky small-time dope dealer named ‘Moz’, who lives with his domineering, disloyal girlfriend ‘Nicki’ (Nicola Reynolds) in a dingy flat where the majority of the action takes place, as customers of all classes, colours and creeds congregate there to score and socialise. In a “making of” featurette on the DVD of the first series, former controller of BBC3 Stuart Murphy notes that the majority of their viewers supposedly smoke marijuana, so the show was a natural fit for his channel’s demographic! But you certainly couldn’t accuse them of glamourising the lifestyle, since Moz is a shambling mess, surrounded by fair weather “friends” who bore him senseless, interrupt him at the most inopportune moments, and switch their allegiances whenever his supply dries up! Occasionally, his customers even commit terrible acts of violence on his property, without so much as a “please” or “thank you”!
Watching the opening episode again for the first time since it aired, I can remember rashly checking out some time around the five minute mark, after dismissing the show as a “kitchen-sink” comedy, in which drearily ordinary people had mildly amusing conversations about their drearily ordinary lives. If only I’d hung in there for just a little longer, I would have witnesses the debut appearance of the anything-but-dreary ‘Cartoon Head’, a psychotic hit-man who wears a cheery mouse-mask, and arrives at Moz’s flat with blood-stained hands, and an incriminating kitchen knife in his jacket pocket! I would also have shared Moz’s joy at opening his door to find Rebecca Atkinson (of Shameless fame) and Natalie Gumede waiting on the doorstep, playing a pair of calculating, comely chums named ‘Asia’ and ‘China’, who use their feminine wiles to weasel some free weed out of the dumbstruck dealer. China goes on to become a major recurring character, as she slowly works her way through every available man in Moz’s social circle (including his hilariously intense arch-rival, ‘Psycho Paul’, played by Ryan Pope), while regarding the big man himself as nothing more than a platonic shoulder to cry on. Pesky! Other stand out characters include ‘Jenny’, the adorably dim babysitter, played by Sinead Matthews, and ‘Yasuko’, the irrepressible Japanese backpacker with an obsessive cleaning habit, played by Haruka Kuroda.
Although writer/creator Graham Duff repeatedly claims that none of the characters in the series are completely “good” or completely “evil”, and that they all have their sympathetic qualities, I really don’t have much time for Nicki, who was already sleeping with Moz’s best mate before we even met the couple, but still felt entitled to lord it over her clueless boyfriend. She can barely get through a single scene in any of the 24 episodes on these discs without getting angry at someone, even when she’s the one who’s ultimately at fault! So, I was very glad to see a new potential love-interest enter Moz’s life in Series 2, in the form of ‘Judith’, a nervy necrophiliac neighbour played by Joanna Neary. Neary puts in a fantastically jittery performance, compulsively dropping a meek apology at the end of random sentences (sorry), regardless of the context, or her own actual feelings at the time (sorry). Considering how heavily serialised the plot is, it’s hard to talk about certain characters without giving away major spoilers… but this series also introduced us to ‘Carmel’ a Spanish escort, played by Hanne Steen. She’s little more than arm-candy this time around, but I know that she’ll get more scenes and storylines in the later shows.
Sadly Nicki ends up moving back in with Moz for the third series, but the pain this caused me was somewhat mitigated by the first appearance of Emma Fryer as ‘Tanya’, a flirty femme fatale, who has a habit of nicking knick-knacks from around the flat to flog on eBay. Still knee-deep in a new series of PhoneShop, It was a little jarring to see her sporting blonde hair and a Mancunian accent here, but it’s always a joy to watch her at work, regardless of who she’s playing. The second disc also boasts clips from a stand-up gig that several members of the cast performed in aid of charity, and her set is absolutely hilarious… the way she locks her eyes onto an admiring male member of the audience, and explains how she’s going to control his life now that she’s hooked him, is just crazy genius. Bless her.