The main problem with Sue Perkins is that she's Sue Perkins.
Don't get me wrong, I don't mean that in a bad way. It's just that she first hit our screens in the early 1990′s and has been all over our collective tellyboxes ever since.
In fact since she started presenting Great British Bake Off she's only been half a Dench (equivalent to quarter of a McKellen) away from formal 'National Treasure' status.
So when her vet character repeatedly introduced herself as 'Sara' in the first episode of her new sitcom it seemed a bit jarring:
"Hi, I'm Sara, a 40 year old lesbian who hasn't yet come out to her parents. Also, I just killed a cat."
It doesn't help our suspension of disbelief that Sue is- effectively- playing herself, although unlike Sara I suspect she's definitely out to her parents. If not, they definitely don't have a TV. Or radio. Or the internet.
However, once you got past the shock of Almost A National Treasure Sue Perkins pretending to be someone other than Sue Perkins and even (!!!) kissing women and waking up naked - ok, all you could see was a bare shoulder, but still- the good news is that Heading Out is actually quite good.
It's hard to judge sitcoms on the first episode alone as they take a while to find their feet, but while the overall set up was a bit clunky at times (I'm still not sure why she couldn't just cremate the dead cat at her own vet surgery) there were some great individual jokes and one liners, a testament to Sue's solid stand up comedy origins.
Putting the lesbian element to one side for a moment, there's also a huge amount of mileage in the veterinary setting- so much so that it's actually quite hard to understand why VetComs (as @Magicdarts over on Twitter calls them) have taken so long to catch on.
The initial scene showing Sue- sorry, Sara- having to deal with an owner who changed her mind half way through having their cat put down ("look, to be honest with you it's essentially a windsock") was genuinely engaging and funny in its own right, a bit like a postmodern version of All Creatures Great and Small with the James Herriot role played by a overly talkative 12 year old boy in a netball skirt.
Also, the casting of Shelley Conn as Sara's love interest was inspired. Firstly because she is extremely attractive (good call, Sue), but more importantly she's a fantastic actress with a very impressive résumé, having recently played the lead in Stephen Spielberg's gigantibudget sci-fi dinosaur series Terra Nova on Fox.
With her glamorous Hollywood polish and perfect teeth, Conn really did stand out, floating around like a British Thandie Newton against a rather more prosaic backdrop of UK comedy heavyweights such as Joanna 'Thick of It' Scanlan and Mark 'Brian From Spaced' Heap, who had a great cameo as an overly sensitive pet mortician.
In fact, the only problem with the impressive cast is that there were too many of them to keep track of. Poor Nicola Walker (Ruth Evershed in Spooks) who plays Sara's friend Justine was completely under-utilised. Hopefully she'll have a more central role in future episodes.
It remains to be seen if Heading Out can move away from some of the awkwardness and slightly low-budget feel that are its only real flaws. However, thanks to Sue and a great supporting cast the series benefits from a huge amount of charm and some solid gags.
Also, any pilot that contains a provincial, over 30′s netball team version of the traditional All Blacks 'haka' performed by Joanna Scanlan surely has a huge amount of potential.
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