It's Peep Show meets After Life. Back Season 2 sees the unrelentingly deadpan David Mitchell and Robert Webb teaming up yet again for a second series of 2017's Back. But however you look at it, it's just not as funny as anything they've done before.
Back's a village sitcom surrounding two estranged foster brothers, Stephen and Andrew, who take over the family pub after the death of their father (played by none other than Garth Marenghi's Darkplace and The Office's Matthew Holness). Last season, Stephen (Mitchell) desperately fought for his place as the new head of the family whilst the passive-aggressive Andrew (Webb) slowly won everybody's favour and ultimately his position in life.
The difference this Season? If the first sought to paint Stephen as 'the familiar outsider' then here we see it with Andrew.
There's a lot to praise about this season. The plot is still just as cheeky and intriguing, seeing Stephen exit psychiatric care only to continue the struggle of discovering whether his foster brother is truly evil. Maybe he’s genuinely just a nice guy?
That brotherly struggle is typically escalated every episode by the upending of mundane village life by something quite amusing. This series it's the appearance of a rival pub. Back still successfully tolls that line between mocking small-towniness and genuinely investigating identity and grief.
It goes without saying that David Mitchell and Robert Webb are still destined to be together. They're inherently funny when they're both onscreen and some often laugh out loud funny supporting roles bounce off their energy to develop the dynamic that‘s become the spine of this series. But maybe it relies too much on that.
The sad truth is that for all the brilliantly satirical humour that typically accompanies these two, there's a feeling that they haven't quite hit their 'Mark' this time. Back season two is funny but relies too heavily on the charicatures of season one to accommodate the all important small-towny vibe. The true humour comes from Mitchell and Webb candidly tearing that apart with the help of a squeeky clean script.
It isn’t fair to compare Back to a thing like Peep Show because they're two very different bits of TV. Yet when the two leads are so similar to their characters in Peep Show (to the extent where Back feels like an answer to 'what would it be like if Mark and Jeremy got older and ran a pub together?') it becomes hard to enjoy Back the way it’s likely supposed to be.
In the craft of humour through truly authentic characters, Back misses the clinical edge or interrogation of societal values that makes Peep Show so good. That wouldn't be such a problem if Back was trying to do vastly different things, but a lot of the time it's not really.
It’s simply very hard to stop seeing them as ‘Mark and Jeremy’. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing is it?
Any Good? It's great... just not as great as what came before and that's inescapable.
Back Seasons 1-2 are now available to stream on All4