Steve Coogan takes a glorious step backward and comes out smelling like a rose in “Alan Partridge.” It is incredibly hyperbolic to say this but Steve Coogan revisiting his preening parody of David Frost is akin to Charlie Chaplin, in middle age, revisiting the Little Tramp. Yes, quite hyperbolic indeed. But then again, Alan Partridge inspires just that sort of overreaching. You’ve never heard of Alan Partridge? Well, there are plenty of people who have, let me tell you. If you are a young British comedian today, Alan Partridge is the gold standard. Many years ago, I am sure, Mr. Coogan was more than ready to put some distance between himself and his famously goofy talk show host character. Here in the States, even Garry Shandling wishes to move far beyond “The Larry Sanders Show,” another wildly successful satire on talk shows. Coogan, however, found a way to return to the abyss and say something new, and funny.
Not to put too fine a point on it but it’s really brave of Coogan to return to the character that first made his name. Keep in mind, this is the man who starred with Judi Dench in “Philomena,” which he also co-wrote, and is totally Oscar-worthy. It must be awkward on some level and strangely attractive on another. The only way it could work, really, was to go totally subversive. It could not be some tiresome revisit. That wouldn’t fly. Even if it did, you can sense that a literal look back was strictly taboo. You will not find much of any reference to the Alan Partridge of yesteryear. There is no reference to “Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge” or any other Partridge BBC project other than to say that Alan used to be on television.
“Alan Partridge” is your quintessential blowhard. We’ll come back to my comparison with Chaplin as the grand finale. But, for now, consider Alan Partridge and Ron Burgundy. Both men are incredibly vain and shallow. Surprisingly, both of them have moments of clarity and they tend to squander those moments in some conniving self-serving way. Both men are aging divas. They can’t quite figure out what to do with their hair.
The plot to this movie rests upon what happens when Alan Patridge and his ilk are ferreted out of their cushy radio talk show gigs. Alan thought he’d found his niche as a complacent has-been hosting the mid-morning shift. But even that is being wrested away from his feeble grip as his radio station has been bought out my a media conglomerate that is ready to sweep away the old and toss in a new breed of in-your-face fresh young talent. Just plodding along with trivia questions and waxing nostalgic doesn’t seem to be enough these days. Alan, however, thinks he may have a strategy. He makes a strong case to the corporate heads to let him stay and get rid of some dead weight by firing his longtime colleague, Pat Farrell.
And Pat (played by Colm Meany), as you’ll find out, brings home the point that the world of show business, at any given moment, is just one hair’s breadth away from insanity. We’ve moved way beyond the warnings foretold in “Network.” The whole mess has become a given. You want your fifteen minutes of fame, well, just stand in line for a bit, or go lie down since you’ll get it, no questions asked since no one cares. You need more? Just go upload something else and see what happens.
“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” gives us an intelligent satire, and an actual lesson for the uninitiated, on how low our news media has sunk, morphing into a corporate-dominated 24/7 infotainment circus. In the case of “Alan Patridge,” it does a somewhat similar thing. In its own way, it shows us just how absurd and disconnected we can all be. We turn to media, when we should know better. And those crowned and installed in the highest sectors of media can be even more delusional than their audience.
To end all this, I conclude that the Charlie Chaplin comparison is quite fitting. Mr. Coogan is a huge talent. And Mr. Chaplin was, and remains for all eternity, a huge talent. Neither man would return to a previous victory without good reason. As a dark comedy that gets darker, while also finding the light, there’s nothing quite like “Alan Partridge.”
“Alan Partridge” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. It is distributed by Magnolia Pictures.
You can donate to Comics Grinder here: