The Cleaner, series 2, BBC One, review: gleefully macabre sitcom mops up laughs with ease
Who’s that behind the green door? Why, it’s only bequiffed '80s crooner Shakin’ Stevens, making a surprise musical cameo in the latest series of The Cleaner (BBC One). One can only assume that this ole’ house is in need of cleanin’.
Based on German comedy Der Tatortreiniger – which itself makes a clever cameo midway through this series – Greg Davies’ gleefully macabre anthology sitcom follows Paul “Wicky” Wickstead, a sardonic crime scene cleaner who specialises in removing bloodstains and other grisly messes. The comeback episode found Wicky called to the aftermath of a pub stabbing. He was soon putting Iron Maiden’s Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter on the jukebox and singing along, using a severed ear as a microphone.
The Cleaner has a knack for landing A-list names for guest turns (Helena Bonham Carter popped up in the debut series) and here we had Harriet Walter as an EastEnders-esque landlady, all leopard print, chain-smoking and hard-won wisdom. Other illustrious guest stars in this six-part series include Simon Callow and Zoë Wanamaker. And then comes the Cardiff Elvis, knowingly playing a tribute act named “Shaking Stephen”. A rockin' good way to send yourself up.
Over the coming weeks, Wicky is summoned to a theatre where a male stripping troupe’s performance erupted into a hormone-fuelled riot, an electrical goods store after an armed robbery and a statue which has been daubed with goose blood by protestors. The latter episode slyly tackles the culture wars, with a “jingoistic dinosaur” and a “politically correct fool” clashing over a monument to a local industrialist who exploited slave labour. It’s more insightful about the woke-washing issue than most opinion pieces and panel discussions, with the added bonus of a slow-motion mop fight.
With his Rik Mayall mannerisms and willingness to play his 6ft 8in frame for laughs, Davies goes through all the comic gears. Existential musings and film pastiches sit alongside slapstick pratfalls and potty-mouthed rants. Far too few primetime sitcoms feature cartoon elephants, let alone 15 euphemisms for testicle, reeled off rapid-fire.
Displaying admirable ambition, The Cleaner has the heightened feel of a caper movie. It’s often reminiscent of Inside No 9, with its standalone stories, minimal cast and confined settings – not to mention its darkly mischievous tone. Just like Inside No 9 has hidden 'Easter eggs', The Cleaner has recurring motifs too. Such attention to detail indicates a real labour of love. It even has a catchphrase of sorts. Someone dismissively says “You’re just a cleaner,” to which Wicky replies: “A crime scene cleaner.”
Crucially for a series full of near-the-knuckle gags, it also has real heart. Beneath his hulking physicality and spiky wisecracks, Davies is as soppy as they come. Each episode has moments of genuine tenderness. There’s even a running romantic subplot. It’s this ability to blend big laughs with winning warmth that makes The Cleaner sparkle like a polished parquet floor. This is high-calibre mainstream comedy, smartly written and deftly delivered.