In the tradition of cringeworthy comedy characters like Alan Partridge and Steven Toast, the fictional actor Richard Thorncroft – star of this extremely funny Britcom – is a deluded has-been. Created by ‘Mighty Boosh’ actors Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby, Thorncroft (played by Barratt) had a brush with celebrity in the ’80s as the star of the ‘Bergerac’-like TV detective show ‘Mindhorn’ set on the Isle of Man; Mindhorn’s bionic eye meant he could literally see the truth. Fame came crashing down when, pissed as a fart, he fell off a sofa on ‘Wogan’ while slagging off his co-star (Steve Coogan) and calling the Isle of Man ‘a shithole’. Fast forward 30 years, he’s living in a grotty flat in Walthamstow reduced to advertising a brand of man-Spanx.
‘Mindhorn’ definitely feels like a a half-hour sitcom episode stretched across 90 minutes. But Barratt and Farnaby have come up with a comedy action-thriller scenario that just about works, and the gags-per-minute ratio is through the roof. Thorncroft hasn’t had an audition in months when his agent calls with a request from the Isle of Man police. A psychotic ‘Mindhorn’ fan is on the loose and will only deal with Detective Mindhorn himself. Seizing the opportunity to grab a bit of publicity and raise his profile, Thorncroft signs up to play his famous character one last time.
Thorncroft is a gem of comedy creation – played to perfection by Barratt. A rampant egomaniac, trapped in his own vanity, IRL he’d make your skin crawl. He would be embittered by failure if he wasn’t convinced that he’s still a national treasure. High-profile cameos by Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow cleverly show up his fizzling career. And the detail is brilliant, from Thorncroft’s pre-audition warm-up (repeating the tongue-twister: ‘The Benedict Cumberbatch backlash has begun’) to his hit ’80s single, ‘You Can’t Handcuff the Wind’. As a celebration of naff British telly – a gentler time of male TV stars with chest hair and paunchy guts breaking into a light trot in pursuit of villains, totty swarming all over them – this is comedy gold.