Having clapped for the carers at the feverish peaks of the Covid crisis, now we can perhaps allow ourselves the luxury of laughing at them. Not the real carers, obviously, which would be as ungrateful as, say, giving them all a one per cent pay rise. Rather, at the fictionalised paramedic crews of the “South London Ambulance Service” in Sky One’s Bloods. If the traumas of the last year have left your sense of humour in critical condition, then this is the show to rescue you. You could call them para-comedics if you were trying too hard to be funny.
Anyway, they’re not very good at saving lives, this lot. The principal pair of incompetents are Mareek (Samson Kayo) – an idiot who thinks himself some sort of streetwise hustler, unaccountably at the wheel of an ambulance – and Wendy (Jane Horrocks), a middle-aged, naive-seeming sort of lady, happy to give money to crack addicts and fresh in from Nottingham (or “Emmerdale” as Mareek terms it). Wendy has been foisted on Mareek as his buddy because Mareek accidentally “defibbed” (ie electrocuted) his previous partner, Kevin (Kiell Smith-Bynoe), who survived but understandably refuses to have anything to do with Mareek. Indeed, none of the other paramedics want to either; Mareek is not only blithely excluded by his colleagues from the WhatsApp group but from the people of colour WhatsApp group, too.
Like all the best comedy anti-heroes, Mareek is a deeply unlikeable, vain, selfish character. We enjoy seeing him squirming as he is humiliated, like when he has to tell the boss that a crack addict has stolen all the kit in the back of his vehicle. Horrocks is at her seasoned starry best, but the standout talent here is Kayo, who started to display his potential in the brilliant Famalam. He is one of those rare gifted comic actors who can make you chuckle just by pulling a smirk.
The gallows humour, of course, derives from the grim situations the crews naturally find themselves in, leavened by some skilfully crafted scripts and superlative performances. It is a joy, for example, to watch Lucy Punch as the station boss and incident officer try so inappropriately to chat up ambulance man Julian Barratt as he breaks down over an accident casualty he has just “lost”. She puts on lipstick to attend to a major RTA, just to win the affections of the permanently depressed Lawrence, and we must all sincerely hope that this pair never find love among the oxygen tanks and the flashing blue lights. I’m looking forward to seeing a bit more of Adrian Scarborough, and was much taken by Aasiya Shah’s turn as an ultra-pushy patient transport driver desperately trying to get off the “bunion bus” and into the glamorous life-saving stuff.
Bloods feels as though Sky just decided to follow the template of football’s Premier League, and went out with their chequebook to acquire the best acting, production and writing talent, chuck them all together and hope for the best. That doesn’t always work, in telly or football, but on this occasion the alchemy succeeds magnificently. As well as the fine ensemble performances, writers Nathan Bryon and Paul Dolan deserve special recognition for making Bloods even greater than the sum of its parts. It’d be nice if, in due course, Bafta gave Bloods a bit of a clap.