Third-episode verdict: Lead Balloon

Lead Balloon

In the UK: Wednesdays, 10.30pm, BBC4, repeated Thursdays at 2.20am at 9pm. Scheduled to be repeated on BBC2, starting 26th October at 9.30pm. Also available streamed from the BBC web site.

In the US: Not scheduled yes. Might get picked up by BBC America at some point.

Jack Dee’s new sitcom has been picking up so much good word of late – as well as ratings – that it’s getting an immediate repeat on BBC2 following the end of its run on BBC4. It’s certainly good compared to some sitcoms I could mention, but I don’t think it’s quite worth the adulation it’s been getting.

The plot

Jack Dee stars as Rick Spleen, a successful but world-weary stand-up comedian who spends too much of his time hosting corporate events.

He and Marty, his American co-writer, spend their days arguing, drinking too much coffee, and devising work avoidance strategies.

Further distractions are provided by Magda, Rick’s home help, his show-biz agent wife Mel, their teenage daughter Sam and her feckless boyfriend Ben.

Is it any good?

On paper, Lead Balloon is blatantly a UK version of Seinfeld, with occasional moments of Curb Your Enthusiasm thrown in for luck. Each episode consists mainly of Spleen doing something bad and then doing something even worse to cover it up because of the etiquette of the situation (Seinfeld). When he’s found out, he’ll vent his spleen (Curb Your Enthusiasm), albeit it without the invective of Larry David.

But in execution, Lead Balloon is more like The Office, with handheld camera, zero laughter track and lengthy cringe moments among its characteristics. It’s better than The Office in many ways, with jokes and the occasional piece of slapstick that do make you laugh. But I’d draw the line well short of hysterical.

How much you’ll enjoy the show depends on how much you like Jack Dee and by extension Rick Spleen. If you can’t get enough of his world-weary cynicism, et al, then Lead Balloon really is the show for you. For everyone else, there’s enough to make you want to watch, but with about five minutes of padding per episode that really slows things down.

Good, but not yet a classic. Maybe next series.


Rick Spleen (Jack Dee)

Marty (Sean Power)

Mel (Raquel Cassidy)

Magda (Anna Crilly)

Sam (Antonia Campbell-Hughes)

Ben (Rasmus Hardiker)

Michael (Tony Gardner)