What do you get when you take the story of a Canning Town kid-made-good?
Sky 1’s newest six-part period comedy, In The Long Run, based on Idris Elba’s life growing up in East London! Opening with Walter Easmon (Idris Elba), 13 years immigrated to East London reading a letter from his Sierra Leonean Mama (Ellen Thomas!). Factory foreman Walter is in early middle age, and reads his mother’s words with affection until she ends by informing him that his younger brother Valentine (Jimmy Akingbola) is on his way to England to stay with him!
Walter’s community-spirited wife Agnes (Madeline Appiah) is a door-to-door Ermés Cosmetics saleswoman. They have a 12-year-old asthmatic son Kobna (Sammy Kamara) a bright-eyed lad full of mischief and best friends with Dean (Mattie Boys) who lives upstairs with his parents Terry “Bagpipes” De La Croix (Ben Bailey) and Kirsty (a note-perfect Kellie Shirley) and his mixed-race baby sister. The De La Croix’s make up an affectionate extended family unit, which will resonate with anyone who hails from council housing estate origins.
Valentine arrives, bringing a wave of warmth to the British winter and a sense of nostalgia for his youth for Walter. Perhaps more importantly, he brings a sense of fun to young Kobna and also reminds Agnes, Kirsty, and Bagpipes of their sense of fun, which seems to be straining under the weight of working-class life.
As for Valentine, he has a head full of ambition, a soul full of music, and feet made for football, bursting into this world scooping them up into the kind of embrace only an uncle who will slip a pre-teen some palm wine could muster. Their lives will never be the same again.
There is an awful lot to like in this half hour of pure 80s throw back, showcasing the considerable talents of a best-of-British line-up. In the Long Run is funny, sincere, dramatic, and has a lot of heart, all beautifully underpinned by a carefully selected and edited soundtrack from the pop, reggae, Soca, R&B and West African charts of the time (including Nigerian, Congolese, Sierra Leonean and Ghanaian). Listen out for the emotion-laden voice of the remarkable and enigmatic Leyton songbird Deno Driz whose acapellas somehow capture the mood of the entire piece.
The single-camera technique has been used to great effect, conjuring up memories of the comedic, more unguarded beats embedded within The Sweeney (1975-78) and The Professionals (1977-83). It avoids emulating the British comedies of the time, which played to a live audience or to a laughter track and tended to flip weirdly from studio to location and the different effects of film quality and camera technique. Without these jarring changes, In The Long Run is more polished, easier on the eye, and treats the viewing audience with intelligence allowing them to find their own resonance and laughter within the story.
This is the kind of half-hour comedy that hasn’t graced British TV for decades. Whilst it resembles American comedies of the time Taxi (1978-83) and later Cheers (1993-93) in style, in terms of heart and the sense of family, it will definitely bring back memories of The Fosters (1976-77, LWT), Empire Road (1978-79, BBC), Desmond’s (1989-84, Ch 4) and of course, No Problem (1983-85, Ch 4).
In a general salute to other Black British family or community-centric comedies down the years, here’s a nod to the others: The Lenny Henry Show (1984-88, 95, 2003-05, BBC), Chef! (1993-96, BBC), Porkpie (1995-96, Ch 4), UGetMe (2003, BBC), The Crouches (2003-05, BBC), Kerching! (2003-06, BBC), Meet The Adebanjos (2012- present, OHTV), Sunny D (2016 – present, BBC); and the sketch shows: The Real McCoy (1991-96, BBC), Blouse and Skirt (2000, BBC), 3 Non-Blondes (2003, BBC), Little Miss Jocelyn (2006-08, BBC), The Javone Prince Show (2015, BBC).
You might dismiss Love Thy Neighbour (1972-76, Thames Television) Mixed Blessings (1978-80, ITV) and Mind Your Language (1977-86, LWT) as racist. But, for their time, they gave Britain’s black community exactly what In The Long Run is giving us now – a chance to see accomplished black British actors doing their thing on British TV! Not forgetting, Rudolph Walker’s Bill and Nina Baden-Semper’s Barbie Reynolds were presented as a black couple with middle classed aspirations who were intelligent and nice! They all also attempted to directly address matters of integration faced by first and second generation immigrants, albeit in a heavy-handed way. In The Long
Ghanaian-Sierra Leonean Brit Elba has filled the production with creatives of African heritage, assuring that authenticity runs all the way through: from Nigerian-Brit Jimmy Akingbola, Sierra Leonean-Brit Sammy Kamara, Ghanaian-Brit Madeline Appiah – Elba’s mum is Ghanaian, raised in Sierra Leone, and Ghanaian writer Grace Evans Ofori, Elba has stated the importance of producing a genuine cultural stamp both to him and the production. In our opinion, they have all succeeded.
What may be problematic for you, are some of the wigs – our hair yet again getting short shrift. They may mesmerise you initially, but soon, the storytelling and performances will, deservedly, demand your attention back. This should improve should further seasons be secured, since this first season was admittedly, shot rapidly in order to secure the quality cast amidst the pressure of location and work schedules. You could also consider them a reminder that the series is, after all, only loosely based on Idris Elba’s recollections, and is, after all, a sitcom.
Other black characters in the first two episodes might also feel a little insipid and two-dimensional, like so many shows on terrestrial British TV. But, this may also improve in the following four episodes and any subsequent seasons. We’re not entirely sure what the title means, but it’s just another reason we will stick with it to, hopefully, find out, and we recommend that you do too.
So, tune in tonight whatever your African or African Diasporic heritage. Like Lennie James’ Save Me for Sky Atlantic recently (which has secured a second season), In The Long Run, presents us with another aspect of our recent history, as the Easmons represent a generation too often dismissed on British television. Whether or not you settled in or grew up in a British city in the 1980s, there will be a lot for you here, told with consideration, care and affection.
In The Long Run premieres on Sky 1 at 10 pm, March 29th, 2018, and all episodes will be made available to stream thereafter.
Read TBB’s interview with Idris Elba: http://thebritishblacklist.co.uk/idris-elba-talks-authenticity-laughs-as-creator-actor-producer-of-new-sky-1-comedy-in-the-long-run/