Kate & Koji, review: an uneasy mix of old-fashioned sitcom and woke identity politics

Blake Harrison, Barbara Flynn, Brenda Blethyn, Okorie Chukwu and Victor McGuire in Kate & Koji - Hat Trick Productions/Kevin Baker
Blake Harrison, Barbara Flynn, Brenda Blethyn, Okorie Chukwu and Victor McGuire in Kate & Koji - Hat Trick Productions/Kevin Baker

Is Kate & Koji (ITV) the wokest show on television? This is confusing. The writers appear to be aiming for an old-fashioned, Open All Hours sort of comfort comedy, yet every few minutes one of the characters will deliver a solemn lecture about the Government’s terrible treatment of asylum seekers.

That character is Dan, played by Blake Harrison, nephew to seaside cafe owner Kate (Brenda Blethyn). Where the other characters deliver jokes, Dan declaims like a particularly po-faced member of the Question Time audience. “The asylum seeker allowance is a pittance,” he will say, sucking all of the humour out of the room.

Series one, which aired back in 2020 and was a ratings hit, showed Kate (sample line: “There’s four things in life I hate: scroungers, foreigners, doctors and posh people”) having her eyes opened by Koji, who is foreign, a doctor, well-spoken but absolutely not a scrounger. He is desperate to work, but stuck in miserable limbo, so turns up to the cafe every day in his smart three-piece suit because he has nowhere else to go. Now we’re in series two, and the pair co-exist companionably.

Koji was played in series one by Jimmy Akingbola, who has been replaced by Okorie Chukwu. There is no discernible difference because the character is just a collection of tics and one-liners. This is equally true of every main character, and it’s actually the supporting cast that does the best work, mostly Barbara Flynn channelling Emily Thornberry as local councillor Lavinia.

The animosity between Kate and Lavinia is amusingly done. But most of the gags are groan-worthy and signposted from miles away. There are a couple of stabs at topicality, as when Kate likens a particular disappointment to “being told you’re getting an OBE and then discovering it’s being presented by Prince Andrew”.

Oddly, Dan’s clanging pronouncements are mixed in with more nuanced points. The writers defend Kate against accusations of racism, by having Koji and Dan state that her prejudices have nothing to do with skin colour – she hates all sorts of people (“Austrians, vegans, Gwyneth Paltrow, people who stick up for Gwyneth Paltrow, chuggers, bloggers, joggers, French bulldogs, the French, bulldogs…”).

Briefly, there was a hint of something cleverer – poking fun at “woke” posturing. When Lavinia wore a Black Lives Matter badge, it was quickly shown up as an empty gesture: “I’m as entitled to wear this badge as anyone. I’m committed to racial equality, just ask my cleaner.” More jokes like that, and this show might actually be funny.