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Confession: we spend a lot of time over here at Trunkworthy talking about rock ’n’ roll.
Sure, we occasionally do other things—talk about soul music, for example, or go on and on about choice movies and TV shows. But the baseline activity tends to be a discussion involving the world of Marshall amps and Rickenbacker basses, whether that’s reevaluating Rolling Stones records or rediscovering Elvis Costello songs. And yes, some of this ventures into the kind of “glory days” talk—that epic Devo show we once caught at the Starwood, say—that always ends with, “You should have been there.”
Here’s another confession: We are all too aware this kind of bloviation can get a little tiresome at a party or on a long road trip.
Yet somehow these facts make us love the amazing Tommy Saxondale and his eponymous mid-aught’s BBC Two series even more. You see Tommy is a Stevenage-based exterminator who in a magical time called the 1970s was a roadie for bands like Deep Purple, Nazareth, and The Who (not Led Zeppelin, and please don’t bring it up), which means he is no stranger to this kind of carrying on. Indeed, his former profession not only left him with some epic stories—mostly involving groupies and Devil’s dandruff—but also an unfortunate hairstyle that gets him repeatedly mistaken as homeless. It also left him with a raging desire to not go all “pipes and slippers” despite his creeping age and aching back.
Tommy is stuck in the past in part because it was so damn mind-blowing, and also because present day is so utterly offensive to him. After all, everyday life is filled with environmental nutters, or even worse, people who think Genesis got better once Peter Gabriel left and Phil Collins started singing. Come on! It’s enough to make your blood boil, and Tommy is indeed besieged by a constant low-grade rage that can easily go Vesuvius when provoked by something vile, like say, techno music. It also keeps him in the hilariously droll anger management classes that give the show a cold open for every episode and a constant sense that there’s something at stake.
Saxondale, both man and show, is a product of Steve Coogan, the famous British comedian who co-created Saxondale and stars as Tommy. In addition to being one of comedy’s most facile minds, Coogan, whose peculiar brand of humor is coming stateside this month with the new Showtime series Happyish, is also a wholly underrated dramatic actor.
With his blinding self-importance and obsession with getting the last word in, the character Coogan fully embodies here shares DNA with his more famous alter-ego Alan Partridge, as well as Ricky Gervais’ David Brent from the original Office. He differs from both in one crucial way, though: While more than half of what he says is utterly ridiculous, there are bits that are genuinely funny and insightful. And Tommy has just enough self-awareness to give his life’s journey—taken daily in his beloved yellow Mustang Mach 1 when he doesn’t have to drive the Kangoo for work—a pathos and emotionality rare among sitcoms.
Saxondale feels a lot like All in the Family, only with Meathead in Archie Bunker’s chair. Indeed, Tommy is the rare sitcom fool with whom you genuinely wish you could have a pint and listen to Dark Side of the Moon. Which is to say, he’s a little like us. Now, do you have problem with that?