Most American filmgoers—at least those who don’t watch the cult classic 24 Hour Party People on an endless loop—have only a vague idea of who Steve Coogan is. He’s the blink-and-you-miss-him English guy from the Night at the Museum movies, right? In the U.K., however, the writer-actor is a household name, having churned out some of the Beeb’s best Britcoms ever. The bulk of his boob-tube oeuvre remains unseen over here, which is why this box set is a perfect Coogan primer. Collecting seven series and four specials, this 13-disc grab bag showcases the prolific comedian’s ability to render various British types—the loudmouthed lager lout, the backwoods-hamlet villager, the aggressive yuppie Londoner—with sociological bite.
Not everything works: His piss-take on horror anthologies, Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible, does a better job of replicating vintage Hammer films than garnering laughs, and the misadventures of working-class Mancunians Paul and Pauline Calf (both played by Coogan) lose steam quickly. His multicharacter Coogan’s Run, however, testifies to the star’s range (go straight to the “Dearth of a Salesman” episode), and Saxondale’s look at an aging ex-roadie wonderfully balances the funny and the quietly tragic. And then there’s Partridge...Alan Partridge. This smarmy host of fictional chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You insults guests with glee; the two brilliant, BAFTA-winning seasons of its follow-up, I’m Alan Partridge, take uncomfortable cringe comedy to new heights. You don’t even mind that the set’s bonus features consist of scattered deleted scenes and arbitrary commentary tracks. Just watch a down-on-his-luck Partridge act out the opening credits of The Spy Who Loved Me while standing in his sad-sack trailer home. That is what a comic genius looks like when operating at full throttle.—David Fear
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