Porridge Episode 1; The Go-Between
So, I’ll start by saying – this isn’t Porridge as we know and love. There’s no Ronnie Barker, there’s no Richard Beckinsale. This is a new Porridge, a different Porridge. It’s 2017 and a lot has changed since 1974. Gone are the dark gloomy walls of Slade Prison, and the gritty confines of Fletch’s cell. If you thought for a second this was going to be exactly the same, then you’ve missed the point entirely.
Episode one which aired last night (Friday 6th October 2017) pulled no punches at launching straight into the plot. The episode centred around Fletch – as popular as ever – who is taking it upon himself to write letters home for other inmates’ wives and girlfriends who aren’t blessed with his particular gift of prose. When one letter goes unread, and Fletch is forced to consider giving a refund, he takes matters into his own hand (literally) and pens the letter to ‘Joanne.’ Smelling a rat, Joanne turns up to visit Fletch, but there’s a problem. Fletch is falling for her. When he learns that Joanne and inmate Barry have made up and are back together, Fletch gives up the letter writing and seeks advice from Mr Braithwaite, who clearly hasn’t had much luck with Fletch’s advice either. The episode ends with Fletch receiving a letter from Joanne thanking him for his help in playing Cupid, but suggesting he meet her Sister instead!
(Saira Choudhry as Joanne talks to Fletch in an unexpected visit)
In a plot very reminiscent of the classic episode ‘Men Without Women’ (in which Fletcher helps the inmates write love letters home, only to discover his wife has left him) it features many nods to the original series, but never oversteps the mark. I must admit, I was slightly at a loss as to why this episode bore more than a passing resemblance to a classic episode – I wanted this to be a NEW Porridge. It’s already had enough shtick for being brought back, and is generally viewed as a ‘rehash’ rather than ‘remake’. I was hoping for 6 brand new stories – not reworkings of classic episodes. Anyone can do that. Porridge needs to stand on its own. YES – it needs nods to the original, and its nice when Nigel mentions his ‘grandad,’ (it makes you all warm inside), but the plot needs to be completely new and fresh.
(the episode ended on a classic freeze-frame as the familiar theme tune set in)
I’m going to make an assumption, and hope I am correct. I hope, that this first episode used a familiar story line in order to ease us in. You can’t run before you can walk. This was Dick & Ian ‘easing us out’ of the comfy pair of slippers we’re so used to. Hopefully next week we get the new pair of shiny Porridge prison boots we’ve been waiting for.
Overall, the performances were great. Kevin Bishop embodied the very essence of Fletch, even down to the chewing gum! He was fast talking, quick witted and everything we expect of a ‘Fletcher’. Mark Bonnar as Officer Meekie stole the show for me – his character is the ultimate foil for Fletch. His portrayal could be straight out of the classic series. Meekie appears to be the only character that has actually kept most of its realism and drama – something that the original series had in spades.
Most importantly though, as a sitcom, the key question is: was it funny? Yes. Very often these bigger laughs would come from the subplots or throwaway lines spoken by other inmates. My personal favourite coming from an inmate called ‘Blue Beard’ who when asking for Fletcher’s help simply utters ‘I want my brother killed.’ A great little line.
Initial reaction to the episode doesn’t seem to be good. Amongst the thousand of Tweets and reviews, there are few that mark it above average. Whilst it’s wonderful that Porridge is back, I have to admit it wasn’t the best opening episode of a new sitcom I’ve seen. But then again, I never liked the first episode of the classic series!
Episode One: 7/10