Threesome: Breaking British TV's Formulaic Mould

Group sex, clubs, drugs, sperm banks, pregnancy, promiscuous homosexuals. New sitcom Threesome clearly has the shock-factor yet rises above some telegraphed one-liners to deliver surprisingly funny viewing.
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Group sex, clubs, drugs, sperm banks, pregnancy, promiscuous homosexuals. New sitcom Threesome clearly has the shock-factor yet rises above some telegraphed one-liners to deliver surprisingly funny viewing.

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With terrestrial TV hesitant to green light innovative material, Comedy Central UK's commissioning of risqué comedy Threesome is an inspired tonic.

Ask most terrestrial TV producers what they are looking for in a sitcom and they will say they want something the same, but different. Give them a script too radical, weird, or original and it is likely to be rejected as too much of a gamble. Satellite channels have more scope to depart from formulaic commissioning but have been slow in the UK to recognize genuinely bold sit-com material.

Threesome - the sit-com hyped as ‘eye-poppingly fresh’ by its producers and which aired this week on non- terrestrial channel Comedy Central UK – is an attempt to redress this imbalance. Taken at face value the concept for the show is not original. Set in trendy London enclave Shoreditch (Nathan Barley) the show features two guys and a girl sharing a flat (Game On) indulging in lots of drinking and sex (Coupling) whilst on the verge of their 30’s and beginning to think they need to grow up (Friends). Add in the fact that it’s Comedy Central UK’s first foray into commissioning narrative comedy, the omens for the show generating genuine water cooler moments are not good.

But prepared to be surprised because, just two episodes in, the show’s bold scripts and superior acting elevate Threesome into a show worth distinctly more than the sum of its parts. The storyline revolves around three inseparable friends living together in East London – Mitch (Stephen Wight), his girlfriend Alice (Amy Huberman) and their gay best mate Richie (Emun Elliott). With Alice about to turn 30 the trio hit the town for one large drug-fuelled night out resulting in them having a one-off ménage a trois. Alice subsequently becomes pregnant and, after initially agreeing to an abortion, Mitch changes his mind and they agree to keep the child. The twist is that the baby turns out to be Richie’s and they all agree to raise it as a threesome.

The jokes come thick and fast and you sometimes feel cheated as the obviousness of some gags overshadows the cleverness of the more subtle wordplay.

With all of this coming in the first 22-minute episode, Threesome is certainly not slow-burn TV. But an affinity with the characters is developed through the sharpness of the dialogue (despite some heavily telegraphed jokes), the poignant asides, the characters searing honesty about their own shortcomings and the hint of a genuine affection for each other.  As Mitch and Ritchie prepare a surprise birthday for Alice it emerges that Mitch has already let the cat out of the bag. ‘I had to tell her,’ he says. ‘You know what happened on her 6th birthday? Massive event, whole family there. She walks in, they all yell "surprise" and she shits herself.’ The scene where Mitch starts his new job as a sperm donor complete with own porn magazine (Sexy Snatch) and tissues (Aloe Vera soft-ply) neatly illustrates the show’s narrative strengths, albeit let down with some obvious one-liners. As Mitch worries about whether he would be any good in his new career, Alice counsels, ‘you’re a natural, go and knock yourself out.’ Ritchie summarises his friend’s new career as being like ‘a freelance on a wank-by-wank basis.’ Mitch retorts that Ritchie is just jealous because he has ‘made a vocation out of a hobby.’

The sperm bank then serves as a plot device to prove that Mitch was infertile and therefore not the father of Alice’s unborn child. Mitch is told of his infertility whilst trying to walk the wrong way up a tube escalator to retain a phone signal, a scene brilliantly acted by Wight whose character later bemoans that he ‘can’t even hold down a job as a wanker.’ The jokes come thick and fast and you sometimes feel cheated as the obviousness of some gags overshadows the cleverness of the more subtle wordplay. Ritchie’s post-threesome declaration that he was still gay because he would miss the music is genuinely funny, as is Mitch’s response to Alice’s refusal to drink cola as it was bad for the baby (‘oh and an abortion will be just brilliant for the little fella.’)

The actors’ tendency towards ‘look at me’ wackiness subsides as we enter episode two and we get an opportunity to get to know the characters as believable people without the frantic plot pace of the opener. Threesome is certainly not the finished article yet but as an original, well-acted and (occasionally) sharply-observed sitcom it’s a breath of fresh air amongst the many staid shows currently being commissioned in the UK.

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