TV GEMS: Cockroaches (2015)

Armageddon comes to ITV 2, and while the end is nigh, the humour is just beginning. Helen gives this distinctive sitcom a look.

I daresay that most people, whether in the silence of night or during a drunken sesh, have thought about what they would do if the apocalypse came along. Now, imagine that post-apocalypse in a nuclear wasteland populated with oddball characters, cannibals, lunatics, and reenactments of Steven Seagal films, and you have the end of the world as imagined by the creator of Bad Education, Freddy Syborn.

Cockroaches is one of those delightfully amusing programmes with an amazing cast that seems to have flown under the radar when it really deserved more fanfare. This romantic black comedy has a little something for everyone, and with a stellar cast to pull it off. Whoever expected to see a cornrow-sporting Caroline Quentin snogging a forever-haggard Rich Hall?

Friends Tom (Daniel Lawrence Taylor) and Suze (Esther Smith) are having a night in when, horror of all horrors, a nuclear strike alert is sounded. Thinking “what the hell,” Tom and Suze decide to have sex… if they are going out, then they are certainly going out with a bang!

Ten years later and Tom and Suze have, to their surprise, survived. They are living underground with Suze’s parents, and the pair as well as their daughter Laura (Jessica Emily Rose), who resulted from their apocalyptic tryst, head out into the wasteland to see what is left of the world. Very much in the spirit of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” Brit mentality, Tom, Suze and Laura make their way across the country with a shopping trolley, their worldly possessions and shoes made up of carrier bags, extolling the virtues of Bags for Life. The journey is spattered with sharp comments between the adults when, suddenly, Tom is horrified as they happen upon a group of survivors headed up by Suze’s over-the-top ex boyfriend, Oscar (Jack Whitehall).

Whitehall’s Oscar is everyone you hope your ex will never be; he’s arrogant, boastful, loud, obnoxious, and frankly one of the funniest things in this sitcom. You may spend your time liking and hating his character, but one thing I did do throughout was laugh at him. Oscar is the leader of a ragtag group of survivors including the former Prime Minister (Robert Bathhurst), who appears to have turned feral and is seen with a leash around his neck, Felix (played by the almost literally larger-than-life Tom Davis), the gentle giant who sports an infectious grin and somehow ends up dressed as a French maid, and the wild-eyed father of a child called Zorbotron (Dan Renton Skinner). Oscar wastes little time getting reacquainted with Suze, much to Tom’s chagrin, but it’s not long before he has shown his true colours and Tom stands up for himself and his girl, leaving Oscar in the cold and in “jail.” Tom is also ecstatic when finding out that Oscar was perhaps not as prolific in the bedroom as he might have claimed. The group gets on with the day-to-day minutiae of life; raiding the nearby supermarket, sealing up the water tank, staving off the threat of hunger and the risk of being attacked by a female-only gang of archers known as the Spectrum. Blended well with the comedy is the following notion: how do you put together a reasonable group when all sense of framework is gone? How do you create a society that can live peacefully in dire circumstances?

An interesting system evolves within the group and anyone who can do anything remotely talented is held up as a hero. In the nuclear wilderness, you have to make your own entertainment, and if you can remember “21 Seconds” by So Solid Crew, you will be looked upon wisely. The usual setups are put in place; doctors (well, a slightly deranged Alexander Armstrong), school, leadership (Tom and Oliver battle for supremacy while Tom doesn’t really want to win, he just wants Oscar to lose), and foraging parties which are potentially dangerous due to Spectrum and cannibals. As you would expect really, then, for an apocalyptic aftermath.

While the subject matter of the end of the world may be grim, this comedy is anything but, in that great British way of laughing at things that scare the pants off of us. While Cockroaches may be set in bleak surroundings, there is much to enjoy, especially with such a rich and interesting cast. Nigel Planer (of The Young Ones fame) plays half of a double-act of kid’s entertainers and is found with his brightly-coloured clothing still present and correct, unfortunately having just eaten his partner. Armstrong plays a scheming doctor who offers the cure for a green skin infection that blights the children of the survivors, including Laura, but only for a night spent with Tom. Also, Jaime Winston appears as a damsel in distress, who is not all she seems; trying to lure Tom into her clutches with nefarious reasons, causing Suze to fight for her man.

There is plenty of gross-out comedy in Cockroaches, but considering that the apocalypse has left people without much water to wash with and bodily functions are out in the open, it is to be expected that the humour will sometimes deal with the most indelicate subjects. However, Cockroaches is more than toilet humour and sex jokes. It is a wickedly funny sitcom and it is a shame that it didn’t garner a larger audience. I would have happoly sat though another season or two and still found it entertaining. Jack Whitehall and Tom Davis may be in the supporting cast, but they provide a lot of the laughs, and I’m glad to see Davis starring in more comedies lately, especially the fantastically silly Murder in Successville.

If you’re looking for an apocalyptic romantic black comedy, Cockroaches is well worth a look. So save your Bags for Life, get yourself a guitar, learn some early noughties music, and get ready for the Armageddon aftermath. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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