In Australia: Wednesdays, 9pm, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Revivals of sitcoms are a big thing at the moment in the US. Will & Grace is already back and is prepping its second season right now; Roseanne came back, went away after it did a very silly thing, and is now coming back again as The Conners; Murphy Brown is about to make her return on CBS; and talks are in progress for a revival of Frasier in some form or another. Mad About You almost made it back, too.
But who says Australia can’t join in, too? Very Small Business was an ABC sitcom that aired in 2008, written by and starring Wayne Hope and Kim Gyngell. It sees journalist Gyngell hired by Hope to be the sole employee of Worldwide Business Group, a company that publishes magazines such as Music, Music, Music, Music, solely so that Hope can trick people into buying adverts.
Whether it was much loved – or indeed any good – I can’t say, since 2008 was way before TMINE took Australian TV under its wing. It looks quite fun from the trailer. However, it only lasted one season, so either they were six perfect episodes with no need for more to be said or something else happened that meant it never got a second season.
Back in Back in Very Small Business
Because hitting the airwaves just a decade after it first aired is season two, aka Back In Very Small Business, which sees Gyngell and Hope reunited behind and in front of the screens at Worldwide Business Group, which now appears to have expanded into something a lot bigger. No publishing seems to be going on anymore – instead, it does everything from washing dogs to importing mysterious items from Vietnam.
Aiding Gyngell and Hope are the next generation of would-be business people (both of whom were in the first season, too). Hope’s daughter (Ronny Chieng: International Student‘s Molly Daniels) is a doyenne of social media, a party girl who talks in impenetrable teen jargon and spends her time hanging out with Australian Football League players, to get them to endorse products on Instagram for her before their managers find out. Then there’s Gyngell’s daughter Leslie (now played by Emma Leonard), who’s a graphic designer. Except she’s not his. Or his daughter, since she’s transitioning.
There’s also a few random additional employees, including obsequious Indian stereotype Roy Joseph and Korean student stereotype Aaron Chen. But for the most part it’s about Hope, Daniels and to a lesser extent Gyngell.
Hope’s character is a sort of love child of Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses, Gareth Cheeseman from Coogan’s Run and David Brent from The Office. He’s got high ambitions of being a rich, successful businessman but he has minimal talent. He talks the business talk, usually with offensive racist, sexist or sexual language, usually without knowing the offence he’s causing (“Single-digit growth. It’s like having a partial erection. You either go rock hard or you put your pants up and forget about it”, “I’d like to show you my wad later”). But he can’t walk the walk (“How many followers have you got?” “…12. What? That’s how many Jesus started with”) and so spends most of the first episode promising deals that quickly fall apart.
Meanwhile, Gyngell is a misery fest, but he has at least some sales skills. It’s just that whenever he’s about to close a deal, Hope shows up to ruin it by trying to show off his own skills.
All of which is a bit funny, but you’d be hard pushed from this first episode to know why anyone thought it a good idea to resurrect the show after a decade’s absence. It maybe has something to say about declining relevance in middle age, but that’s about it, as far as Gyngell and Hope’s characters are concerned. It basically feels like all those very late one-off specials for Only Fools and Horses where everyone was going through the motions but without that the same drive.
Oddly, though, it’s actually at its most interesting when Daniels is around, since bizarrely, despite being aimed it an older generation, it does seem to be quite down with the kids. A show based around Daniels and Leonard trying to run a business together in the age of social media – a sort of Very Small Business: The Next Generation if you like – would actually work a whole lot better than this, I reckon, which just feels a bit tired in comparison.
I might watch the second episode to see how things develop, since there are glimmers of humour and good writing at various points and not all of them confined to Daniels and Leonard. But as with some of the recent US revivals, Very Small Business feels like a show that should have been fondly remembered, rather than brought back to life.