Comedian Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge first came to our attention in the early nineties as an inept sports reporter on Radio 4’s On the Hour. Since then, the bumbling talk show presenter has ridden the celebrity rollercoaster of fame, starring in his own TV show, presenting awards at luminous corporate events and even releasing his own autobiography. Declan Lowney’s Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013) now sees Alan snugly nestled into the evening slot on North Norfolk’s premium digital radio station. Everything is going beautifully until a new media conglomerate threatens to destroy his quaint broadcasting idyll.
“I can read you like a book. And not a very good book. Certainly not Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab.” Little did Alan know when he spouted this offhand remark to his dutiful PA Lynne in the second episode of I’m Alan Partridge that he would one day have to rise to the challenge and stare fear square in the face. North Norfolk Digital’s late night DJ, Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) has been sacked by the station’s new owners (with a little helping hand from an anxious Alan). Pat takes the news badly and stages a siege at the station, making Alan his intermediary whilst holding the station’s staff at gunpoint. Working with the police to defuse the situation, Alan quickly attempts to transform the situation to his advantage.
Alpha Papa commendably avoids the usual clichés of big screen TV adaptations, limiting unnecessary cameos and never feeling like it’s pandering to American audiences – although a narrative structured around a terrorist siege is sure to travel well. Lowney keeps the tempo brisk and the script understated, allowing Coogan to truly inhibit his most famous character and run through the gamut of his capricious and highly eccentric idiosyncrasies. At times it may feel like Coogan is phoning his performance in, yet Lowney manages to keep things engaging, updating Partridge’s misogynistic and xenophobic vernacular to the constraints of the a feature-length runtime, peppering the script with the type of ignorant right-wing racism, deluded notions of grandeur and unwitting self-deprecation that’s made Partridge such an enduring staple of British comedy.
A touch of farce and ridiculousness hints at the type of playful comedies British cinema use to churn out with ease, but sadly Alpha Papa fails to push beyond the boundaries of its small screen confines. Previously, audiences were allowed to warm to Alan, sympathising with his hapless situations whilst cowering at his ignorant utterances. However, as time has passed Alan has become increasingly arrogant developing into a pastiche of his uglier qualities, something that becomes far too apparent during this extended outing. Lacking the emotional depth of previous outings and circumventing his usually fragile psyche, Alan has become little more than the comedic foil in Armando Iannucci’s waning satirical attack on the media, whilst the foul smell of an undigested scotch egg sours the enjoyment of this otherwise pleasant endeavour.
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