(I originally wrote this review for Channel 4, and I linked to it in this post, but the transient nature of the internet means that the location I linked to has now been overwritten. So here’s the review in all its unedited glory [that is to say, before I trimmed it to fit C4’s specified wordcount]…)
Will Smith (no, not that one) grew up on the isle of Jersey, which may be why he appears to be obsessed with the long-running BBC detective series, Bergerac. It was – in case you don’t remember it – set on Jersey, and ran for the best part of a decade, starring John ‘him off Midsomer Murders’ Nettles as a slightly unconventional detective with a nice car and a troubled personal life.
However, as this CD set of his radio series shows, Smith is more keen on Bergerac than most people – having found an audiobook of John Nettles reading the ancient chinese book of the Tao, he decides to use this as a source of inspiration and advice in his everyday life. In his dealings with his lazy flatmate or with potential girlfriends, he turns to the oriental wisdom, as read in the sonorous tones of Nettles. On the face of it, a fairly ridiculous idea, but it works – and is often very funny – for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the whole thing is played absolutely straight. Yes, there’s audience laughter, but other than that there’s no suggestion from Smith that his decision to live his life by the Tao of Bergerac is anything other than valid. Of course, this makes it all the more ludicrous as we repeatedly see the vast gulf between his Bergerac-influenced attitudes and the world as it actually is.
Secondly, Smith doesn’t hold back in making himself a figure of fun. You might think that admitting being fixated with Bergerac was enough of an embarrassment, but there’s more – teenage years spent role-playing, snobbery in adulthood, and a total lack of knowledge of women and how to talk to them, all feature, as does a running joke that he might be denying his true sexuality. Granted, a lot of this is the character that he’s been playing in his stand-up for a while now, so if you don’t like his ‘pretend posh boy’ persona, this might not work for you. As the saying goes, ‘your mileage may vary’.
Finally, and probably most worryingly, in each of the episodes, Smith plays ‘Six Degrees of Bergerac’, in which he asks the audience to shout out the name of a film, and then attempts to link it to Bergerac in six steps or less. Spookily, a quick Google makes me think he’s not making the answers up, and that he genuinely does know the names of all the cast members and episodes. It’s an impressive trick, no question about it – but it does make me wonder if the show might not actually be the joke that it at first appears to be.
Overall, this is a funny and enjoyable show – the basic premise is bonkers enough to begin with, but add in Smith’s character and quirks, and the straight delivery, and it’s even more silly. The CDs feature some appropriate extras too – for example, ‘John Nettles reads the Letters to Hustler Magazine’ – which show that Nettles is a good sport about the whole thing.
Well, either that, or it was the only way he could get Will Smith to stop pestering him.