Laugh, weep, laugh, repeat… ‘Ideal’
It may not happen all that often, but every now and then I find myself coming back to Ideal, settling down with something near-criminally unhealthy to eat and watching a whole series, maybe two, over the course of a weekend. But Ideal’s finished now and since I’ve just come into possession of the final two series I felt that the time might be right to over-indulge… So, to that end, I disconnected the telephone and closed the curtains, told my friends and family that I had caught a nightmarishly contagious sickness and, in deference to the balance between over-indulgence and suicide, stocked up on fruit-and-vegetable-based perishables and then fortified myself for fifty-three episodes (around twenty-six and a half hours worth) of brilliantly bleak comedy.
Created by writer/actor Graham Duff and helmed by Johnny Vegas, Ideal is based around the shut-in life of Moz, a small-time dealer of hash and weed who gets his supply from a bent police-officer friend and sells only to Salford’s similarly unmotivated populous of drop-outs, psychopaths and weirdoes. It’s an odd series inasmuch as its large supporting cast is a walking parade of the chip shop chic of the unambitious, each with an eccentricity or twelve whose surrealistic tones seem as though they should kill any real emotional weight or drama stone-dead, but who are written such that their foibles are psychological crutches rather than awkward comedy affectations. Few could exist outside the rarified fug of drugs and mutual madness, but they work in Ideal.
Perhaps that’s because at the heart of the show there’s the formerly-surprising performances of Johnny Vegas. There’s something about the wasted potential of Moz, slow to action but quick-witted, idealistically romantic but failing repeatedly at monogamy, that makes him more of a tragic fool than the butt of the joke. He’s pathetic in the manner of both the neologism and the classic definition, whereby the former feeds and nurtures the seeds of the latter to create a central character whom it’s possible to empathise with even when he behaves very badly but, nonetheless is so markedly flawed that even the occasional excesses of rage and disappointment directed at him by long-suffering girlfriend Nicki (Nicola Reynolds) don’t make us dislike his justified detractors any the less.
Not that Moz is alone in being such a temperamentally-balanced character, and it’s a testament to Graham Duff’s writing that not only are the main cast and recurring characters well-defined with an economical manner but that he manages to create various stripes of well-intentioned idiots, malevolent klutzes and selfish, petty and venal characters without making them hateful or grindingly irritating in their stupidity. Even character’s like Sinead Matthews’ Jenny, mocked for her low-intelligence as “Carol Laudanum”, gets lines which are as sharp as anyone else’s, or at least as effective through unconsidered bluntness. Ideal is a joke, but even its most laughable characters aren’t jokes themselves; it’s bizarre and surreal, even anti-logical, but the characters inhabit their worlds completely, even when they don‘t entirely overlap…