What I'm looking for from the new series of Still Game

While rightly eager for the return of Still Game to our television screens, there are aspects of the show which could be improved to get it back to its best, writes Craig Fowler

Thursday, 8th March 2018, 2:56 pm
Updated Thursday, 8th March 2018, 2:58 pm
Jack (Ford Keirnan) and Victor (Greg Hemphill) will be back on our screens on Thursday evening. Picture: BBC Scotland

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Like any successful sitcom, the characters are the backbone of Still Game. They’re likeable and, more importantly, relatable. We all know a Tam or Isa in reality, and it’s the interaction between these personalities, whether in their respective homes, The Clansman or Navid’s, which provides the truly great moments.

More so than rafting down the Kelvin or robbing a mega-market at midnight, it’s the one-on-ones between Jack and Victor which have the viewers coming back time and again. There’s a comfort to be had from seeing the two leads bicker over who’s day it is to bring the biscuits or which programme to watch on TV - and whether King Pat really is a pallet prick.

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This is the show at its best. Having characters doing mundane things and making it so watchable is a testament to the quality of the writing. The feeling is similar to watching two of your funnier friends just bantering back in forth. It sounds simple, but creating TV or film that feels grounded in reality and remains entertaining is incredibly difficult. It’s always said that movies are real life with the boring bits cut out. Still Game is real life with the boring bits made fun.

There’s also genuine heart to the show. Even though they become exasperated with Isa’s constant gossiping, you know they’d go above and beyond to help her out in any situation. The same goes for Winston, Eric etc. They’re a family as much as they are a community or friendship group.

Scenes in which conflict exists, especially between the leading duo, feel like a punch to the gut. You’re so invested in the friendship that it’s like looking on helplessly while warring relatives becoming embroiled in a heated argument across the Christmas table. In particular, the scene in which Jack and Victor have a shouting match after the former’s pride is wounded by his uncaring son is a piece of television so uncomfortable and engrossing that it could easily belong in an HBO drama.

In the latter seasons there seems to have been a greater push to move away from the simplistic and strength of the dialogue and have these same characters dropped into wacky adventures. Knowing exactly how your creations would react in any given situation is an another true skill of writing, but it’s been brought out with increasing frequency over recent series.

Yes, on the whole they work out pretty well. The aforementioned Kelvin episode is one of the better ones because Victor brings the right amount of incredulity for the idea of two 70-plus gentlemen sailing down the river in a dingy, but the series 5 episode where Jack and Victor offer to remodel Isa’s home, only to completely tear the place apart, just felt silly, and there are a few other examples dotted about. The hijinks are becoming less believable and more common. They definitely have their place, but patter should remain king.

There also seems to have been an effort to turn Craiglang into the Springfield of Scotland. It’s a strength of the show when episodes follow the main supporting cast - Isa, Winton, Tam, Navid - but giving both Methadone Mick and Frankie their own chapters in a six-episode series marginalised our favourites. These should be bit-part players to advance the plot or enhance the comedy, like ‘Caring Chris the Community Postman’, instead of being the stars of the show.

Still Game was a welcome return to our screens when it was brought back in 2016. Anything with Jack Jarvis and Victor McDade was always going to be better than 90 per cent of television. However, one couldn’t escape the feeling that the magic had begun to fade. Let’s hope it was a case of creators (and stars) Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan needing to get their reps in, and that series 8 will hit the heights of the show’s peak years.