Is it Legal? Review
|REVIEWS - DVD REVIEWS|
Shadowlocked gives a big thumbs-up to a Nye's comedy from the 90's...
Although it's easy to forget, the 90's were a hugely influential era, so much so that many of our modern day necessities were invented within it. In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee developed the Internet and its subsequent language (HTML); in 1995, the VHS welcomed its main rival and subsequent successor, the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD); and in 1998, male impotency met its match through the mass-production of Viagra. However, while the 90's marked an impressive era for technology, it was the evolution of television - especially comedy shows - that we should be most thankful for. Men Behaving Badly, The Vicar of Dibley, The Fast Show, Mr. Bean, Goodness Gracious Me, Never Mind the Buzzcocks - the list really does go on and on.
Is it Legal? was first shown on British television in 1995 on ITV and was the brainchild of Simon Nye, the original creator of Men Behaving Badly. The series - which was set in a Hounslow solicitors' office - followed the in-office lives of the company's employees, from Bob's (Patrick Barlow) incessant yearning for regular client Sarah to Dick Spackman's (Jeremy Clyde) somewhat hilarious lack of legal knowledge. The end result was a series that, despite slow to start, quickly picked up speed before becoming yet another of the 90's success stories. However, as Network prepares to re-release Series Two of the show on the 17th January, the question that must be asked is whether the series still possesses the same appeal 14 years after its original airing. Happily, the answer is an emphatic yes.
"Attempting to infuse two different comic styles within the same program is occasionally attempted but rarely successful, but Is it Legal? manages to find a point of equilibrium - through a combination of intelligent writing and fine comic performances - making it a real pleasure to watch."
Series Two starts with "Solicitors in Love", an episode primarily based around the unusual fact that Stella Phelps (Imelda Staunton) is in a good mood, something that totally baffles and confuses the rest of the staff. While not the strongest start to a season I have ever seen, the episode does provides mutual territory for its viewers to relate to and helps set the tone of the general series. While the primary characters of Lotus, Spackman and Phelps (named after the company's three co-owners and co-workers) are of a somewhat intellectual level, the comedy regularly draws its laughs from a slapstick nature, something that writer Simon Nye had experienced great success with in Men Behaving Badly. However, what's most impressive about the series is the successful balance it establishes between the two different forms of comedy on display. Attempting to infuse two different comic styles within the same program is occasionally attempted but rarely successful, but Is it Legal? manages to find a point of equilibrium - through a combination of intelligent writing and fine comic performances - making it a real pleasure to watch.
In addition to the stellar script present within the series, there is a magnificent standard of acting throughout; a trait which ultimately helped the series win the Best British Comedy award in 1996. Instead of individual, stand-alone performances, the series enjoyed a clean sweep of talent, with each actor or actress offering a unique performance that consummately suited their role. Richard Lumsden was brilliant as Colin, an enthusiastic - if not somewhat simple - junior solicitor, whose ardour was tipped only by his accommodating and often timid nature. Imelda Staunton simply shone as Stella, the sexually-deprived, yet utmost professional, partner whose dedication kept the firm going. Matthew Ashforde's performance as Darren presented a common accessibility to a profession that would usually be quite elitist. You can see where this is going. Combined with a handful of notable guest stars such as Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miles, the casting within Is it Legal? really is one of its strongest points.
Although the series has a number of strong points, it is not without weakness, something that you would probably expect from any series of its age. While the majority of episodes are well written, they have the tendency to be slightly tedious at times. For example, the first episode "Solicitors in Love" starts well but fails to capitalise on the abilities of those featured within it, instead limping through rather placidly, which inevitably leaves you rather apprehensive about the rest of the series. However, despite said slow start, the show soon corrected itself, producing a series that would ultimately go on to beat the likes of Next of Kin and My Good Friend for its aforementioned Best British Comedy award that year.
Overall, Is It Legal? is an intelligent, witty comedy that isn't afraid to lower its standards in order to maximise laughs, something it does flawlessly. From the slapstick element provided by Colin and Darren; to the humorous retorts regularly exchanged between Stella and Bob, Is It Legal? manages to find an intrinsic mix of both styles, resulting in an award-winning comedy that has something for everyone. While it may never have developed the cult following of The Vicar of Dibley or Nye's original success Men Behaving Badly, Is It Legal? is a fantastic testament to 90's comedy and, at just £8.16 and free postage, comes with a massive recommendation.
Read Shadowlocked's reviews of Simon Nye's Doctor Who episode:
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