Welcome to Angelo’s – Comedy Rewind
Channel 5The forays into comedy have been tumultuous to say the least. But among the American imports and endless talking head shows are some hidden homegrown gems. at Angelo maybe just the best of the bunch.
Sharon HorganThe journey of onscreen is proof that you can have the best screenplay in the world, but it takes a lot of luck to carve out a career. Horgan and Dennis Kelly, who met while working in youth theater, started by writing scripts together and sending them. Eventually, they wrote material for sketch shows and won the New Comedy Award, which opened doors to the industry for them. But he was bringing material to the animated comedy monkey dust (2003 – 2005) who made her known more widely – notably that of producer Harry Thompsonwith whom Horgan and Kelly would develop Tie rod (2006 – 2009).
But it was Bwark Productions who Horgan would team up with to make at Angelo. Executed by Iain Morris and Damon Beeley – not yet the famous creators of Intermediate – the company had a regular series of sitcoms on its roster, including Free Agents (which Horgan also starred in), and the duo was starting to make its mark. It would take four years to get at Angelo from the script to the screen, possibly broadcast in 2007with scripts edited by Robert Popernow best known for his own later creation, Friday night dinner.
Originally, at Angelo was written as a pseudo-reality similar to Office, with characters speaking directly to the camera. During its development, it went through two pilot scripts before Five ordered the series — one of several co-ordered with satellite broadcaster Paramount Comedy — on the condition that Horgan ditch the docusoap angle and turn it into a full-fledged sitcom.
In the press kit for the series, co-star Miranda Hart called Horgan “the general public Julia Davis“, which, given the acerbic nature of his writing, is an apt comparison and gives you an idea of the kind of comedy to expect. But unlike Davis, whose monstrous characters dominate the screen, Horgan’s characters are, if not always sympathetic, at least redeemable, with shades of gray.
The bulk of the action takes place in the titular Greasy Spoon cafe, located just off Trafalgar Square. Steve Brodywho memorably played David Brent’s gormless agent in Office Special Christmas, is its eponymous owner: an unwavering optimist who, although himself an immigrant (Italian), worries about the influx of foreigners due to the upcoming Olympic Games. His carefree daughter Maria, played by Shelley Longworthdreams of escaping the boring waitress drudgery to become a famous singer.
at Angelo is a true ensemble comedy with regular barflies like any other establishment. Horgan herself takes on the role of Karen, a policewoman who, along with Paul Garnier as husband and work partner Paul, has trouble conceiving. There is also Alicia, Maria’s best friend, with whom the actor Alice Lowe has a ton of fun and in many cases steals entire scenes, such as in Episode 1 when she tries to impress Maria’s boyfriend by demonstrating some less than stellar dance moves.
So there is Simon Farnaby‘s Kris, an aspiring comedian who is actually one of those self-painted human statues that populate any tourist hotspot; and Kim’s wall is Russell, a henpected husband too terrified to tell his wife he’s lost his job, so he spends all day at the cafe instead, a running gag being Angelo’s annoyance that he’s been sitting around for hours hours with just one drink. Rounding out the regular cast is Javone Prince as Mickey P, Maria’s budding music star boyfriend, whom Alicia also has plans for.
Guest stars included Dennis Pennis himself, Paul Kaye, as Paul’s obnoxious and sinister brother who is infatuated with Karen; and Belinda Stewart-Wilsonwho would go on to play Will’s Mum in Intermediateis the shrewd and shrewd businesswoman who, throughout the series, tries to manipulate Angelo into selling the establishment to his conglomerate – Angelo being so naive with optimism that he doesn’t notice how badly the case is horrible.
Horgan is of course a superb writer, and her ability to create fully three-dimensional characters is evident from the first episode, in which every major character is introduced with economy and speed while giving each their own plot thread.
Much of the humor is drawn from awkward interactions and social missteps. Horgan and director Chloe Thomas allow scenes to continue just a little longer, holding the moment so that all the horror of each scenario can unfold. But the sheer number of regular characters may not have worked in the show’s favor: juggling everyone’s screen time, each storyline competes for what little space there is. On the other hand, the fact that she manages to handle so many characters while giving punchlines to each of them is impressive, and immediately marks at Angelo like a cut above.
In agreement with Horgan’s other screenwriting companies, at Angelo weaves a dark, cynical trail through his heart. Miranda HartShelley’s taxi driver, for example, provides a good running gag by showing up at inopportune times without an iota of customer service. But Hart imbues him with the despair of a sad, lonely act that shines through in his performance, and the same goes for the vast majority of the other characters. Loneliness is part of the DNA of all Angelo customers in one way or another, and in this regard, unknowingly, the café is the beating heart of their community.
Unfortunately, Channel 5 announced plans to cut their comedy budget – effectively canceling at Angelo before Sharon Horgan and the Bwark the team had finished making the show. It’s a shame, not least because the world of characters she built over the course of the series was ripe for further exploration.
Horgan said of the series in an interview that “I really liked the people I worked with on at Angelothere were some great comedic performances there.” Seen now, it’s a fascinating document of the early work of many highly successful comedic actors. Miranda Hart of course conquered the studio sitcom with Miranda; while Lowe and Farnaby went on to carve out very successful careers in the film industry.
Lowe co-wrote and starred in a series of dark comedies, such as Tourists with Steve Oram and made her directorial debut with Preventwhile Farnaby co-wrote the family favorite Paddington 2 with The Mighty Booshit is Paul Kingand is of course a sixth of the talented group that was made up as the key cast of CBBCit is horror stories and enjoyed mainstream success with BBC One sitcom Ghosts.
Although Sharon Horgan played a supporting role in the highly underrated Todd Margaret’s increasingly bad decisions the following year, his next adventure as a screenwriter would not come before 2012when she joined Holly Walsh for writing dead bossa prison sitcom for BBC Three which in many ways reflected the overall dynamic of at Angeloalbeit in a much more difficult environment.
After such a strong start, Horgan only went from strength to strength, creating Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle Divorce for HBO and hits Channel 4 sitcom Disaster with American comics Rob Delaney – and more recently at the time of writing, being behind the famous AppleTV+ dark comedy-drama bad sisters. With many other projects on the way, his status as one of the best comedy writers of a generation shouldn’t be diminished.
Is there anything more definitely British than the ‘greasy spoon’ experiment? Full English breakfasts, mud-colored cups of tea, chipped Formica tables, signed publicity photos of fading celebrities who may have walked away that way for a little (fried) slice of coffee life. It is arguably one of Britain’s greatest traditions; especially when run by foreigners.
Angelo’s is a café in the heart of London, a stone’s throw from the tourist mecca of Trafalgar Square, the grandeur of Whitehall and the sleazy sex shops of Soho. This unique geographical location also makes it the meeting place for a whole heterogeneous team of diverse and skilfully drawn characters from the writer’s imagination. Sharon Horgan (Tie rod, Annually residual).
First broadcast: Monday, July 11, 2011
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