BBC Three’s Dead Boss with Sharon Horgan & Jennifer Saunders: Episode 1 is an odd mix of prison drama spoof and macabre murder mystery….

by Matt D

The quality of BBC3 comedy can be described as patchy at best, after all this was the channel that enabled Two Pints of Larger and a Packet of Crips to continue forever, however occasionally they can produce excellent shows such as Him and Her or Pulling. In fact Pulling was generally considered a favourite before it was pulled cruelly by the channel a few years ago, however creator Sharon Horgan is back with a new sitcom ‘Dead Boss,’ in which she stars and has co-written.

In it Horgan stars as Helen, who at the start of the very first episode is convicted of murdering her boss, tiling impresario Eric Bridges, and sentenced to twelve years in the ominous Broadmarsh Prison. Of course Helen is completely innocent, she was with her fiancée Justin at the time who has conveniently vanished since the trial took place, so once she is inside prison she immediately begins planning her appeal which doesn’t get off to a very good start.

Part of the reason for this is her awful lawyer Tony, played by the always brilliant Geoffrey McGivern, who has retracted his no win, no fee guarantee now demanding money before he starts to dig up new evidence. There is also Jennifer Saunders’ Governor Margaret who thinks Helen’s wish to leave her prison will dampen the morale of the other inmates, so instead suggests she takes up table tennis or joins the drama club. Margaret is possibly the most interesting characters as Saunders portrays her as a cultured headmistress character when she is talking to the prisoners but when they are gone she is very foul-mouthed referring to Helen as a ‘wet bitch.’ In addition there is little hope for her on the outside as everybody seemingly wants her to stay in prison this includes her younger sister Laura, who has taken her flat as well as her gym membership, and Henry a former colleague of Helen’s who used to stalk her but is now able to spend time with her on a weekly basis due to being able to visit her in prison.

It seems that Horgan and co-writer Holly Walsh have based Broadmarsh around a lot of other TV prison dramas namely Prisoner Cell Block H, as the majority of Helen’s fellow inmates are butch and brash, especially Top Dog the number one authority figure in the prison. When Helen attempts to stand up to Top Dog she is bullied by her minions and scratched with pumice stones while in the shower before realising that in a past life Top Dog was her former supply teacher. This doesn’t help Helen, as her class ritually bullied the teacher in a number of ways including humming during a double period and writing ‘paedo’ on the blackboard after she sent a Valentine’s Day Card to a sixth-former. The prison guards also have a vendetta against her, after Governor Margaret gives them strict instructions to stop Helen appealing. They both have different approaches as one tries to get inside her head while the other chats her up. Helen’s only friend is her arsonist cellmate Christine but even she wants her to stay inside if only so she has someone to talk to.

After watching the first episode of Dead Boss I have to say it was an odd mix of prison drama spoof and macabre murder mystery with the two elements not quite gelling. On the one hand there is the mystery of who really killed Helen’s boss? This is a story that is definitely intriguing but doesn’t have a lot of time devoted to it other than Helen mentioning a package that she was asked to send as well as Tony receiving a rather interestingly delivered message about dropping her case. I feel we should’ve got more of a list of potential suspects, Eric’s greedy pint-sized second wife was only mentioned in passing, and then I would’ve been more interested in why Helen had been put in prison in the first place. Instead though Walsh and Horgan’s main agenda seems to be exploring the world of Broadmarsh and its bunch of inmates most of whom seem fairly one-dimensional and are obviously there to make this a comic version of something like Bad Girls. That would be okay if I found Dead Boss funny but for me there was only one real laugh, which was in the first scene in Jennifer Saunders’ office, and a lot of the jokes felt tired and forced. I still find Horgan very likeable and indeed for me some of the best scenes are just Helen’s narration of letters she sending to Maurice, a Texan death row inmate, explaining her current situation to him however I found it hard to care for anybody else around her as the majority of the characters from the creepy work guy to the bullying Top Dog felt unoriginal.

Overall there are some positive elements of Dead Boss namely the murder mystery angle, which is very reminiscent of Psychoville, as it is the most intriguing part of the narrative. Horgan is engaging as ever while Saunders and McGivern both give fine supporting performances and all the cast seem eager to at least try and make the most of the parts they’ve been given. Unfortunately there were too many problems, certainly in episode one, with clichéd characters and tired jokes bringing down the whole mood of the show. I’m still optimistic though that once we get to know all of the characters and the possible motive some of them would’ve had for offing Helen’s superior then Dead Boss will pick up. I’d like Horgan to have another success on her hands and it would also be good for BBC3 to produce another decent sitcom as I think we can all agree we don’t want another Coming of Age any time soon.

Are you a fan of Sharon Horgan? What did you make of Dead Boss? Leave Your Comments Below.