Hard Cell Review: Matt Lucas’ Vicky Pollard; an unpleasant young mother who once swapped one of her many children for a Westlife CD, and Catherine Tate’s absurdly defensive working-class teenager Lauren Cooper commanded the comedic zeitgeist nearly 20 years ago.
Both had catchphrases that were appropriate for a playground – “Yeah but no but” and “Am I bovvered?” – and both starred in hugely popular sketch shows. The sketch shows that are no longer as amusing.
That is if they were ever. The cultural reckoning (content warnings, removal of specific scenes; considerable social media commentary) currently being felt by the grotesque strain of 00s comedy that included Little Britain and The Catherine Tate Show originates largely from how uncomfortable it made many people feel at the time.
These shows aired during a period when comedy was preoccupied with pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and their creators recognized that mocking prejudice – making fun of bigots; but also playing racism; misogyny; homophobia, and classism for laughs – was where transgression became tolerable (for TV executives, at least).
Even though Tate’s skits were not as blackface-heavy as Little Britain’s; certain streamers nonetheless require them to be accompanied by disclaimers for racist and homophobic themes.
Many of those cautions apply to Tate’s foul-mouthed Nan character’s rants; which makes The Nan Movie’s existence – which was widely condemned when it was released last month – appear downright strange.
Whoever believed the sensationally out-of-date concept was a good idea was delusory.
Hard Cell (Netflix), Tate’s latest six-part mockumentary, offers a fresh start with a less predetermined outcome.
Laura, a performatively woke governor intent on promoting convicts’ creativity (and her own impending Ted talk on the subject).
Hard Cell Review: What Happened At the Hard Cell Ending?
The six-part mockumentary comes to a dramatic and horrifying conclusion when it is revealed that Ange, the shy inmate whose case has recently been reversed, has planned the stabbing of a fellow inmate and rival Anastasia.
Hard Cell Trailer
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Tate is definitely at ease, delving completely into her works (her transformation into Marco in particular is spookily convincing).
The tone is boisterous, joyful, and occasionally disturbing: Summer Heights High meets Orange Is the New Black.
The concern isn’t so much what could go wrong – this type of overt character comedy will never be without flaws – as it is if there’s a chance this could, just maybe, go right.
Unfortunately, there are issues from the beginning. Although The Office’s influence on British humor is undeniable, Laura’s deputy, Dean (Christian Brassington), is a far too obvious rip-off of Tim: perpetually pleased by his pompous boss’s ignorance, but equally determined to spell out the subtext of every sardonic smirk and drolly performed prank.
There is no nuance about this. The main ruse he uses on Laura is to refer to himself as her “number two,” which causes her to unintentionally repeat a series of double entendres about going to the bathroom.
It’s a joke that appears so frequently in the first few episodes that it begins to feel almost strange; hallucinogenic. You’re not sure whether to laugh or cry by the 500th time.
Hard Cell’s bedrock is repetition, which is linked to Tate’s catchy-heavy heyday.
The major plot of the performance is actor Cheryl Fergison (AKA Heather from EastEnders) assisting the inmates in putting on a musical, and it becomes a little bit funnier every time Laura misidentifies her as one of the inmates.
Hard Cell Where to Watch?
Hard Cell Review: Frequently Asked Questions
Is Hard Cell Real?
Hard Cell, which is out today, follows the inmates and employees of HMP Woldsley through a false documentary crew, with legendary UK comedy icon Tate acting several personalities to capture the British correctional system at its most horrific and hilarious.
What Went Wrong: Hard Cell?
The six-part mockumentary comes to a dramatic and unexpected conclusion when it is revealed that Ange, the shy inmate whose case has recently been reversed, arranged the stabbing of a fellow inmate and rival Anastasia.
Is Hard Cell Funny?
A third observer added: “I just finished HardCell on Netflix, which was written by and starred #CatherineTate. Laugh out loud funny.
Catherine’s make-up, prosthetics, and accents are fantastic because she is portraying numerous personalities.”