The Smoking Room: Series 2

The Smoking Room: Series 2


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

That most endangered of British species, The Smoking Room - already extinct in Scotland and Ireland – is revered in all its inconsequential glory in this BBC sitcom.

Set in a single room of an office – where the smokers, and even some who don’t – escape their desks for idle banter, the comedy springs from one single fact: “shop talk is banned”.

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As a result, the conversation is a mix of observational nonsense – and all the more funny for that.

Robin (Robert Webb, now on our screens virtually permanently thanks to this, Peep Show and That Mitchell And Webb Look) is as central as it is possible to be in what is, essentially, an ensemble piece. Gay – but in denial – he fantasises about Ben, who works in the post room but is never seen, and spends large chunks of his day being sarky with his fellow ciggie smokers. Occasionally he helps hopeless crossword fan Barry (Jeremy Swift), who has a thing for boss Sharon (Siobhan Redmond). She – also a smoker – lords it over them all, but in particular over her slightly dowdy assitant Janet (Selina Griffiths, who sounds just like her mum Annette Crosbie – and has an equally deft command of comedy).

Other permanent members of the puffing squad are the self-centred Annie (Debbie Chazen), her aggressive pal Sally (Nadine Marshall), divorcee-now-back-to-enjoying-her-second- youth Lilian (Paula Wilcox), grumpy and deliciously sweary security guard Len (Leslie Schofield – familiar to many thirtysomethings as the man who was Johnny Briggs’ Dad) and hapless clubbing-generation odd job man Clint. Not to mention ageing office lothario Gordon (Mike Walling) and non-smoking bore Heidi (Emma Kennedy).

“Is this trivia in any way relevant?” asks Sharon. The answer has to be, absolutely.

The strength of this comedy is the way writer Brian Dooley downplays the absurd. Characters often say the most ridiculous things, “Are working dogs jealous of pets?” asks Clint, for example. No one is fazed and a five-minute conversation ensues. “Hong Kong Phooey had two jobs,” Annie notes, “mild-mannered janitor and number one super guy.”

By carefully pushing the sort of chatter that comes up in almost any workplace, to its off the wall conclusion, Dooley finds the humour in the sort of relationships only seen in the workplace – where we find ourselves interacting with people we wouldn’t normally socialise with. Plus all the characters stop just short enough of caricature for them to remind you of a colleague or two. This second series also improves on the first, giving the characters more depth and back story, adding to their humanity.

All eight episodes are laugh-out loud funny, but it isn’t just the jokes that are important. There are moments of great pathos, such as when Lilian – in stand-out episode Quitters – explains how ciggies have always been for her, no matter what has happened in her life, or when Clint, in the same episode, mistakenly thinks Robin has come out of the closet, only to have to back-track wildly. Other series highlights include No Place Like Home, which sees the ashtray associates stranded due to snow hunkering down do a 'cocktail' of vodka and pasta sauce.

Given such a simple premise and limited staging, it is a testimony to Dooley, cast and crew that this excellent comedy has barely missed a beat in two series. Let’s hope he sneaks another quick one in before they ban smoking rooms completely.

Reviewed on: 26 Oct 2006
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Sitcom takes a smokey look at office relationships. Out to own now as part of a box set with Series 1.
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Director: Gareth Carrivick

Writer: Brian Dooley

Starring: Robert Webb, Jeremy Swift, Selina Griffiths, Siobahn, Nadine Marshall, Fraser Ayres, Paula Wilcox, Leslie Schofield, Debbie Chazen, Emma Kennedy, Mike Walling

Year: 2005

Runtime: 453 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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