Keith is a recovering alcoholic whose life is in a mess. He is self-centred but has a family and a job. He has started going to Alcoholics’ Anonymous to help him on the way to sobriety. Sounds like the most depressing kitchen sink drama but is instead the situation in BBC 2’s Thursday night comedy, Never Better, starring Stephen Mangan of Green Wing, Jane Hall and Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years.
Mangan seems to enjoy playing dysfunctional losers but this time his character is seemingly more unpleasant than even Dr Guy Secretan from the Green Wing. Keith mocks everything and cannot take the AA meetings seriously, often ridiculing to the point that they descend into farce. The twelve steps that they use to recovery are a particular focus for his ire.
This week he is on step three which is about Faith, whereupon he ridicules religion and claims that it cannot apply to him, as he does not believe in God. Another member of the group, Marianne, is very religious and is very offended by his attitude. It does not help that she is quite attractive and Keith cannot keep his eyes of her bust. She is also a cat lover and takes solace in her cat, Chairman Miaow, thus receiving more ridicule from Keith.
Keith is encouraged to show faith in humanity instead and help others in order to help instead. When Chairman Miaow needs to go to the vet’s he needs to be taken aside to help Marianne take him there. Her obsession with telling him a religious poem means that they miss the appointment and prompts Marianne to go off the rails in a fit of swearing in a drink binge as she is convinced the cat is dying. Keith notices Chairman Miaow coughing and out pops a furball. Marianne falls asleep in a stupor and believes that Chairman Miaow has been cured by her faith. Keith keeps quiet showing a good side to him that he keeps under wraps.
The programme is a nicely acted black comedy with a superb lead in Stephen Mangan who can switch between nastiness, farce and pathos with ease. Not for everybody but Never Better brings the subject to the fore without making fun of it. Keith is the fall-guy not the AA and it works well.