Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci - R.I:AHA! The Return of Alan Partridge

Mark Grainger 07/12/2010

Rejoice dribbling peasants, throw back your head and cry tears of joy so beautifully complete that they will burn your eyes for you have been rescued. No more shall Jeremy Kyle, The Loose Women and Alan Titchmarsh rule your screens when you need to see a truly horrendous presenter at work.

No more shall BBC News 24's presenters feel safe in their defining mediocrity, because now, the master of cringe-making has returned from the wilderness. Alan Partridge is back on your screens.

Yes, the man who punched the director of programming at the BBC in the face with a roast partridge and drove all the way to Aberdeen barefoot whilst throwing back countless famous Swiss chocolate bars has finally been brought back into the public eye. Spice World!/ Jurassic Park!/ Insert your own favourite Partridge-ism here*!

Ever since the second series of I'm Alan Partridge finished in 2002 there have been waves of enthusiastic pleading sent towards writer Armando Iannucci and star Steve Coogan to bring back Norwich's finest export so a return after even so long a time was not unexpected. The way in which Alan has been brought back however, is far from usual, with a series of eleven minute episodes airing weekly on the Foster's lager website.

Usually I don't tend to associate the Foster's brand with hilarity, but that's probably because after about two pints it tends to transform me into some sort of high-pressure vomit cannon (If that's the type of thing that does tickle your funny organs than feel free to stop reading now and go back to watching your Little Britain box-set). Despite my personal reaction to it, the people behind the amber nectar do seem to be going all out to change their image from “that drink that tastes like it's been filtered through a tramp's back pocket" to “fun-loving jesters of the beer world”, as not only have they vowed to bring back more comedy legends like Partridge in the future but they're also sponsoring comedy elsewhere, such as Peep Show on C4.

Indeed, Partridge has been such a successful acquisition for Foster's that after only four short episodes had aired it was announced that Norwich's finest has been nominated for a prestigious South Bank Award, despite each episode being around a third of the length of the shows its competing against, BBC's Getting On and Rev.

Of course Alan isn't the only comedy legend to be brought back from uncertainty, but he has arguably fared better than most. Red Dwarf, for example, returned to our screens last year thanks to Dave with decidedly mixed results.

Yes it successfully conveyed that the boys from the Dwarf were getting older and more tired, but while it had a basic pathos it severely lacked in the budget and story departments nicking plots from its own heyday as well as sets from, er, Coronation Street. It was worth watching for a sense of closure but whether Dave's proposed two further series are a good idea remains to be seen.

Partridge on the other hand makes the most of a presumably minuscule budget by taking Alan back to his most basic roots, showing him present a generic show very badly. This time Alan's star has slipped even further and he's hosting Mid Morning Matters for North Norfolk Digital. In typically bad radio fashion he has a largely unfunny comedy sidekick to compete with as well as listener's sad stories, various charity appeals and rival radio stations, and in typical Alan Partridge fashion he is insensitive, vindictive, petty yet peculiarly vulnerable. It's a huge testament to Coogan that Partridgenever feels like a caricature and always remains likeable.

A big part of what makes MMM work is that, unlike in previous shows, we see none of Partridge's life outside of his work and in fact it could easily be interpreted that he simply doesn't have one. Every time Alan's social life is even mentioned he is either alone or with his comedy foil Sidekick Simon (played with a laid back charm by stand-up poet Tim Key, who should be familiar to fans of Charlie Brooker's Screen Wipe series). We can safely assume that Alan's Ukrainian girlfriend Sonja has vanished and that maybe even faithful PA Lynne has been laid off in these harsh economic times (Geordie Mike would probably be harder to shake off so we'll assume he still works at the petrol station). If Alan is desperate and lonely though it's hardly a new situation for him, and frankly that's the way it has to be; Alan can only continue if he is either failing or snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Mid Morning Matters has proved a big success so we should be seeing more of Alan in the near future. Hopefully he won't be succeeding anytime soon.