British comedienne Miranda Hart is a find – a real comedic wonder. A tall, somewhat gangly performer, she uses her imposing height to her advantage, creating a hilariously awkward and clumsy character. In her tailor-made sitcom vehicle, Miranda, Hart plays a fictional version of herself – a giggly woman-child who tries to go through life having the most fun possible, despite the consternation of those around her.
Based on Hart’s radio show, Miranda’s Joke Shop, Miranda is set in a joke store Miranda runs with her best friend Stevie (Sarah Hadland). Though Miranda is the owner, she doesn’t have a head for business, and would be bankrupt if it wasn’t for Stevie’s more ambitious and competent personality. And because Stevie and Miranda are the only employees, they treat the shop like a second home, often spending hours gossiping, playing with the merchandise, and taking part in slapsticky hijinks.
Aside from the shop, most of the action either takes place in Miranda’s flat, or the neighborhood restaurant, where the handsome chef, Gary (Tom Ellis) works. Gary and Miranda have an on-again-off-again flirtship, that sends Miranda into convulsive giggles and often is the catalyst for most of her humiliated, sitcommy predicaments. On hand are also Miranda’s snobby mother Penny (Patricia Hodge) and Miranda’s snooty college pal, Tilly (Sally Phillips).
When watching Miranda, I was struck at just how old-fashioned the show was. But it revels in its datedness. Instead of adopting a single-camera style of most contemporary sitcoms, Miranda is filmed in front of an audience, which responds with souped up enthusiasm for every one of Miranda’s many pratfalls. There are also running jokes and catch phrases like Penny’s dismissive “such fun!” when she wants to avoid confrontation, Tilly’s distracted “bear with” when she interrupts social situations by checking her text messages, or Stevie’s warbling of Heather Small’s “Proud” to draw inspiration. So quaint is Hart’s love for 70s British sitcoms, that when the credits run at the end of each episode, the actors break character to mug and wave to the camera, to the cheers of the audience members.
Though Miranda is a British show, there’s little of the expected sophistication that American audiences might anticipate. Instead, Miranda could be a mid 1990s ABC sitcom, if every spoke with different accents. And though Hart is the star and head writer, she’s very generous to her costars, which is wise because she’s surrounding by an admirable group of actors, most notably Hodge and (especially) Phillips, who are standouts. The two comedic actresses play up the class stratification of British society, but are deliriously funny. The performances are broad, to be sure – but are energetic and full of fun.
And as the star, Hart is charming and appealing. She plays up her everywoman persona, often breaking the fourth wall to give voice to the outsider, commenting on the sometimes-incredible situations Miranda and her crew find themselves in. The meta-comedy elevates Miranda from just a pleasant sitcom to something smarter and more interesting: it’s not a spoof (there’s not even a trace of irony in the show). Instead, it’s as if we’ve been invited to a playdate with some brilliantly funny people. And there are some plot arcs to follow, which are good – the will they/won’t they drama of Gary and Miranda offers some solid conflict, but really the plots are just sound foundation for some ridiculously enjoyable comedy by a peerless ensemble.