Blame everything from The Office to Fleabag, but TV comedy has been increasingly colonised by “sadcoms” rather than sitcoms. These dramas-in-disguise, especially beloved by Netflix, get described as “whimsical” and “bittersweet” but sometimes forget to be actually funny. Fortunately, GameFace (Channel 4) wasn’t one of those.
Back for a thoroughly deserved second series, comedian Roisin Conaty’s underrated creation follows aspiring actress Marcella (Conaty’s real-life middle name) as she flounders through her thirties, aided by what she calls “the trinity: carbs, fags, wine”.
As we returned, Marcella passed her driving test but slyly let her instructor and unrequited love interest Jon (Damien Molony) believe she’d failed in order to keep seeing him. She remained torn between sweet Jon and her unreliable ex-boyfriend Simon (Dustin Demri-Burns), feelings for whom she can’t seem to shake off.
Meanwhile, her thespian career had reached the dizzy heights of playing a plague victim at The London Dungeon. “You can almost smell her, can’t you?” said one crisp-munching tourist, wrinkling her nose.
GameFace might occasionally look as chaotic as Marcella’s love life, but don’t be deceived. It was skilfully written, flitting from daft innocence to dark filth within the same scene. Conaty adroitly balanced weighty issues (addiction, debt, depression) with a sense of silliness that somehow felt spontaneous. Her scripts treat even the most eccentric supporting characters with tenderness.
Gags referenced both the retro (David Icke, Forrest Gump, New Kids on the Block) and the contemporary (Kanye West, Killing Eve, true crime podcasts). Conaty’s not afraid to experiment either, throwing in woozy flashback sketches and, in next week’s episode, a surprise song-and-dance number.
GameFace remains big-hearted, hopelessly romantic and hugely likeable. It might not be as fashionable as a Fleabag-style sadcom but it delivered laughs and left a warm glow. You know, like comedy used to.