‘OK Google … sensual mode.” The lighting dims in the bedsit of Andy Peacock as he whips up two espresso martinis and smoothly twirls with them to the bed, where his date is perched, coat still on, unimpressed. Andy looks up at a ceiling projection of the Milky Way, delivers a prepared speech about “the eterniddy of space” and leans in for a kiss. Within seconds the date has left, Andy is alone again and Peacock, a new BBC Three three-parter, is cementing Allan Mustafa’s reputation as British comedy’s top purveyor of preening, fragile losers.
Mustafa was at the head of the ensemble in the fantastic People Just Do Nothing, playing MC Grindah, the self-absorbed leader of a gang of idiots attempting to run a pirate radio station in west London. That was a mockumentary, so the people instantly seeing through the bravado were us, the viewers. Peacock – written by Steve Stamp and Ben Murray, from the People Just Do Nothing team – is a traditional narrative comedy where Mustafa is Andy, a 36-year-old personal trainer from west London who has spent his entire working life so far in the same gym, convinced his job carries a powerful mystique that the women he meets cannot resist. The people seeing through his bravado are the women he meets.
At first the heart sinks a little when we realise Mustafa is playing the same type of character he was in People Just Do Nothing, and indeed in The Curse earlier this year: the manchild whose pretensions are obvious to anyone with the common sense and confidence he lacks. Yes, Mustafa is extremely good at playing those blokes, but maybe he’d be pretty decent at something different. Early on in Peacock, when Andy mutters “Unbelievable!” in that familiar, quietly outraged mockumentary tone – after an incident where it was in fact he who was behaving unbelievably – it seems we might have a case of People Just Do One Thing.
Peacock, however, is too canny in its characterisation, and too specific in its setting, to just be more of the same. Andy is the classic lothario singleton with deep insecurity behind the neatly maintained beard, still trying to jockey his mates into doing shots on his “Mandem Monday” nights out and aghast when the pals who have acquired wives and lives make their excuses and leave early. But Andy’s work as a “PT” opens up a particular seam of modern masculinity, that of the gym bro: guys who might once have had a sports car or chunky watch, now obsessing over protein shakes and what kind of squats build the shapeliest glutes. Andy’s tragedy is that he sees himself as that sort of geezer, but isn’t fully committed because underneath it all he’s a conservative, soft-willed goof.
Good gags, subtle and not so, are thoughtfully sprinkled through the opening half-hour. The pompous “mmm” noise Mustafa makes, closing his eyes as Andy sips champagne before doling out a horribly cheesy line about his personal training philosophy (“The mind … is the most important muscle of all”), is a nice touch, as is the fact that his bedsit is on the top floor of his parents’ house. Andy has had a postbox installed on the landing wall and the number 36A stuck on the door: “It’s a completely separate property!”
Mustafa’s comic instincts are unerring, giving Andy all the necessary desperation and just a smidgeon of threat – although whereas PJDN boldly showed us how bleak it was to be Grindah’s neglected girlfriend, here the agony is all Andy’s. The show is aware of the potentially queasy sexual politics of the gym, but in a scene where Andy is primed to take advantage of a client who’s turned on by his trainer’s uniform, he quickly ruins the vibe with his neuroses. The power is all hers. Similarly, Andy’s retrograde chat about “bros before hoes” and a “ball and chain” is shot down by other, more emotionally developed male characters.
He’s well paired with Thomas Gray as Spooner, the faithful colleague who is about to recognise Andy as ridiculous, but is too polite not to go along with his laddishness. Spooner is expecting a baby with his wry, confidently relaxed partner, Blue (Sophia di Martino, who after her starring turn in Loki is a bit of a casting coup for a low-key BBC Three sitcom), and the dynamic between the trio – before they have their own child, Spooner and Blue will have to parent Andy through his looming identity crisis – is tenderly judged.
Yes, in the era of comedy post-Brent and Partridge, blithe berks who eventually win our sympathy have been everywhere, but sitcom men have had a lot of stuff to work through. Peacock puts them one step closer to moving on.