Imagine if Will & Grace and Absolutely Fabulous had a baby: then you’d have Gimme Gimme Gimme a strange, but funny sitcom that ran for three series on BBC. Starring Kathy Burke and James Dreyfus, the show was at once extremely low brow and witty. Flouting all kinds of taboos and ideas of political correctness, Gimme Gimme Gimme was a loud, goofy, yet hilarious sitcom that deserves extra viewing.
Kathy Burke is Linda, a bespectacled gorgon of a woman who has no decent job prospects and is a stylized grotesque. What’s great about Linda is that despite her ridiculous appearance – a fright wig of bright orange hair and appalling fashion choices – she has an nearly indestructible self-confidence. She believes she’s the belle of the ball, and though a mirror would set her straight, she chooses to go through life thinking that everyone fancies her. This sort of self-delusion is important and necessary for Linda who doesn’t have much going for her.
Sharing her flat is Tom (James Dreyfus), a feckless wannabe thespian who is the epitome of the struggling actor. Despite his pretensions, his career goes no where and he plugs away either working as an extra on tawdry TV or doing odd jobs to supplement his income. Like Linda, his life is miserable by any objective measure, but he employs a similarly rock-hard deluded sense of entitlement and confidence, which lets him go through life without falling apart in misery and despair.
Like Patsy and Edina from AbFab, Tom and Linda lurch from one unseemly adventure to the next. Written by Jonathan Harvey (best known for the sensitive queer coming-of-age drama Beautiful Thing), Gimme Gimme Gimme revels in the decadent and debauched way the characters live their lives. They are both indiscriminate in their sexuality – and proudly so, eschewing respectability politics. They also do away with any sort of sense of politeness or propriety – like Donald Trump, they say the firs thing that pops in their heard, regardless of how awful or ridiculous it sounds.
As with most British sitcoms, Gimme Gimme Gimme has very short seasons – six episodes, and the plots are pretty thin. There’s some variation on Linda or Tom trying to move forward in either their careers or their social lives, but some kind of obstacle messes up their plans. Like lots of British sitcoms, there’s a strange rhythm and speed to the plots, and often the endings feel rushed, with a lack of a satisfying resolution (it’s as if Harvey wrote and wrote the plot and then realized, “Oh shit, I need to end this, and simply wrote ‘The End'”). But that’s okay because the plots aren’t important – the show is really a chance to see Burke and Dreyfus spar with each other.
Many people have credited Will & Grace with being ground breaking and revolutionary – our vice president even credited it with the passing of marriage equality in the United States. A decade after its end makes it clear that a lot of the praise for the show is unearned. But the template – straight girl who lives with gay guy – works well with Gimme Gimme Gimme, and thankfully, Harvey chose to go in a wildly different direction. Instead of sweet episodes with fun, quirky jokes, we got two horrible monsters of selfishness who don’t think twice about screwing over the people around them. The jokes are an extravagant mix of queer jokes, sex gags, and large doses of scatological humor. And Harvey seems interested in smashing every taboo he can imagine: in one episode, Linda’s long-estranged son returns, but quickly the relationship sours and so, inspired by Oedipus Rex (see what I mean by high culture and low brow humor mixing?), Tom urges Linda to seduce her son. In another episode, Tom and Linda compete for the affections of a convicted murderer.
Much of the success of the show is owed to Harvey’s writing, but Burke and Dreyfus are also very important. Burke – known to many as the fast-talking Magda in Absolutely Fabulous – has a ball playing the repellent Linda. It’s a broad performance with no nuance or subtlety, but that’s okay, because it’s a lot of fun. She’s able to modulate her voice to match Linda’s mood – it’s sweet and cloying when she’s playing the coquette, but it turns into a horrible growl when she’s angry or defiant. Like Burke, Dreyfus is also having a lot of fun with a role that doesn’t tax his acting skills too much – he’s also a crack physical comedian and can throw his lanky, pipe cleaner body around, and performs as much with his limbs as he does with his expressive, rubbery face. Though other shows like AbFab, Fawlty Towers, or The Office have more sterling reputations (deserved, I might add), Gimme Gimme Gimme is a fun – if minor – entry in British cult comedy.