Although this show isn’t particularly new, I still feel it deserves some praise and I’d like to get some more people to check it out if they haven’t already. Not enough people talk about the SitCom Lead Balloon, that ran from 2007 to 2011 (running for four series) and was written by the brilliant Jack Dee and Pete Sinclair and also starred Dee as the down-beat and sarcastic Rick Spleen.
I would describe it as almost an anti-comedy as the plot revolves around Rick Spleen, a failed and world-weary comedian, going about his daily life and just upsetting people as he does so. Rick lives with his lovely wife, Mel, and teenage daughter, Sam. He spends his days with friend and writing partner, Marty, who is undeniably wittier than Rick himself, and they have lunch in the same café every day- the café belonging to Michael. Sam, her boyfriend, Ben, and the house cleaner, Magda, together manage to get under Rick’s feet and continuously irritate him as he grumpily goes about his daily business. As a result of his unaddressed anger, Rick manages to make all the wrong choices and simultaneously annoy everyone in his path. Every episode presents countless disasters for Rick that are actually caused by himself in the first place.
There are two characters that I absolutely adore: Michael (played by Tony Gardner), the loveable but almost certainly ‘unhinged’ cafe owner, and Magda (Anna Crilly), the house cleaner, who is grumpy and sarcastic and has a very strong, unspecified Eastern-European accent. One of my favourite episodes was S1E3, where Michael holds a sponsored skip to raise money for a mental health charity. To cut the story short (sorry, spoilers), Michael winds up being hit by a car (Rick’s) and the way the plot plays out is truly hilarious.
The format of the programme is simple, repetitive and homely. There are many recurring jokes throughout and I’ll outline them to give you more of an overview as to what each episode entails:
- Marty is a lot funnier than Rick.
- Sam’s boyfriend, Ben, never commits to anything properly.
- Sam is always after her dad’s money.
- Michael is creepy (unknown mental health issues).
- Mel is always right.
- Rick will always upset most people/dig himself a hole.
There are many parallels to be drawn between Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and Jack Dee’s Lead Balloon:
“Many people have compared Lead Balloon with a similarly excruciating comedy from the US, Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Dee, however, says that Curb didn’t directly inspire his sitcom. ‘Lead Balloon was about me taking 20 years of stand-up and putting that kind of comedy into a dramatic situation. I would claim my right to that comedy because I’ve been doing it for a lot longer than Curb Your Enthusiasm has been around, much as I love it.’ “
I love Lead Balloon because it is simple, uncomfortable and warm. I’m a firm believer that it is also accessible to pretty much anyone and it has a fond place in my heart.