First published in The Times, Monday October 7 2019
When the BBC Scotland sitcom Still Game bowed out this year its writers Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill left fans in no doubt that this was the end for Jack Jarvis, Victor McDade and the Craiglang posse. Not since the final episode of Blake’s 7, in 1981, has a television series more ruthlessly dispatched most of its starring cast.
As this live spinoff is canon to the TV series the characters are still very much dead and trapped in purgatory as they wait for Boabby (Gavin Mitchell), the proprietor of the Clansman, to shuffle off his mortal coil so the whole gang can ascend to the pearly gates together. A bout of frenzied masturbation quickly does for the barman, setting the tone of no-holds-barred vulgarity that ensues.
Where the previous live version of Still Game (in 2017) was literally all at sea, with the writers misguidedly removing the characters from the familiar setting and casting them away on a cruise, this show suffers (particularly in the opening act) from being too bitty, falling back on repetitive tropes and catchphrases and breaking up the story with sketches featuring characters from Kiernan and Hemphill’s other long-running series, Chewin’ the Fat.
The second half, in which most of the group enter Heaven (leaving Paul Riley’s scheming Winston Ingram and Mark Cox’s miserly Tam Mullen battling to break out of Hell) is more confident, featuring a couple of show-stopping musical numbers and well-judged cameos, including those of Scott Reid’s Methadone Mick and the undertaker Mr Sheathing (played by Bruce Morton).
Of course, a larger-than-life approach is needed to fill out the huge surrounds of the 13,000-seater Hydro. What’s missing from the cascade of crudeness (including endless jokes about sex, masturbation and bodily functions and a giant dancing penis) is the kind of warmth and poignancy that made Kiernan and Hemphill’s sitcom about a group of resilient pensioners so refreshing.
This run of shows is meant to mark the end of what has been a long goodbye from the series’ creators. The laziness of the gags and sub-pantomime format suggests that perhaps this much-loved sitcom has simply run out of steam.