Shiny Shelf

15 Storeys High

By Eddie Robson on 16 May 2003

I was on the phone this time last week, right, and I had the TV on with the sound off, and I flipped the channels and saw a bloke who looked like Sean Lock. Who’s Sean Lock? Well, I’ll come to that. But I was surprised because he’s never on the telly so I thought to myself, I’ll keep an eye out when the programme finishes and see if he’s on the credits. But I was caught up in my phone conversation and wouldn’t you know it, I missed the end credits. One minute it was still on, the next it was something else. The TV guide wasn’t any help.

So I watched it again this week. ‘15 Storeys High’ it’s called and not only does it star Sean Lock but it’s written by him as well. Blimey. So who’s Sean Lock? He’s only one of the best stand-up comedians in Britain. I saw him last year at the Reading Festival and he was absolutely hilarious, but his TV exposure has been limited to a couple of appearances on panel shows until now. ‘15 Storeys High’ was made for BBC3 and despite the heavy publicity the BBC has been giving to its new channel, I haven’t heard anything about this show at all. But it seems to have gone down all right because here it is on BBC2, and since it doesn’t look like anybody else is going to praise it I suppose I’d better, because it’s brilliant.

Some comedians find that their style doesn’t translate well to television, or to the sitcom format, but Lock’s quiet, surreal approach works just fine. The series is about a lifeguard who lives in an urban tower block (whether this was explained in the first episode is unclear) and this gives it a sketch show element, because the narrative sometimes cuts away to the lives of other inhabitants of the block. It’s like ‘The Young Ones’ in that respect, although unlike that show the surrealism of ‘15 Storeys High’ is kept just this side of plausibility.

In fact, this is one of the most low-key sitcoms I’ve ever seen, featuring no music, very little background noise and low lighting: this is why I wasn’t sure whether it was Lock or not the first time I saw it. Obviously there’s no laugh track either, which is appropriate since this doesn’t rely too heavily on jokes, perhaps surprisingly considering it’s the work of a stand-up comedian. That isn’t to say there aren’t good jokes; Lock’s response to the suggestion that he could dye his sheepskin coat purple in order to hide a beetroot stain is ‘Oh, that’d be brilliant, wouldn’t it? Then I could hang out with all the other gay gypsies. Listen to Bronski Beat around an open fire.’

It’s the keenly observed characters and situations, plus the quality of the delivery, that make this the BBC’s best new comedy since, oh, probably ‘The Office’. No hype, I just got a lot of laughs out of this episode. It’s like a slightly squalid version of ‘Seinfeld’. And the BBC are putting it out at twenty past eleven, the fools.

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By Eddie Robson

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