I reviewed the first two episodes of BBC Three's prison comedy Dead Boss, but didn't think there was much point continuing. A sitcom needs to be something special if it's going to motivate weekly reviews, and Dead Boss felt like a harmless time-filler more than anything else. (Which most are, so there's no shame in that.) But, having just watched the final episode, I thought I'd let some of my thoughts and feelings known. This show isn't terrible, but I often had the feeling that the production was doing its utmost to hide weak scripts and sign-posted jokes. The exuberant piano-based soundtrack became intolerable by episode 4, and I wasn't a fan of how broad everything was played. It was too much of a cartoon for me, really.
But the biggest fault, in my eyes, was how the central murder-mystery was probably the least compelling aspect. Did anyone really care about wrongfully-imprisoned Helen (Sharon Horgan), or spend the time between episodes chewing on the latest clues about her boss's murder? Not really. Unlike the first series of Psychoville, the hook of the show didn't snag. It was much better when the show was wholly focused on prison life, and mostly ignoring the characters in the outside world. The best episode was the penultimate half-hour, which was almost entirely about the inmates competing in an X Factor-style singing contest.
Still, Dead Boss had some pro's that kept it an entertaining and enjoyable watch every week. The pacing was excellent, some of the cast were chewing the scenery with gusto, and there were some fun guest-stars (most notably Miranda Richardson, proving she hasn't lost her comic touch since her time as Queenie in Blackadder II). On the flipside, it's a shame Jennifer Saunders' warden never developed into the classic comedy monster she could have been, through no fault of her own. And that's the thing: the cast here were clearly having a great deal of fun, and on some level that was infectious to watch (loved Ricky Champ's mannerisms, like the live-action version of the bulldog from Tom & Jerry). But when you finished an episode and tried to remember back to a standout joke or moment, you were often left wanting. Most of the funniest moments were how an actor performed or delivered a line—not actually what they said and did.
And there was plenty of stuff that didn't sit right with me; like Helen's naïve letter-writing to a pen pal in a different prison (ughh), the general heaviness of its wacky style, or almost everything about the events and characters in Helen's workplace. That said, Emma Pierson was unforgettable as the trophy wife of the title's corpse, and made me a little angry she hasn't been doing more comedy since Time Gentlemen Please ended a decade ago. She was sucked into the black hole of Hotel Babylon for years, more's the pity.
Anyway, Dead Boss ended in a predictably open-ended note, with a not-so-shocking twist that Helen's dead boss is actually alive. The whole concept of the series means I'm unlikely to alter my opinion anytime soon, as I'd prefer a more focused show taking an offbeat approach to life in a female jail—like a British version of Prisoner Cell Block H, where the H stands for "humour". I can't see Dead Boss lasting more than another series covering Helen's injustice, as there wasn't really enough story to justify these six episodes. But there are far more unfunny shows on the airwaves, and at least Dead Boss has ambition and an impressive lineup of actors trying to make us laugh. But, for me at least, it bit off more than it could chew, and the scripts needed more work.