This one-off drama saw national treasure Sir Lenny Henry turn his hand to scriptwriting for a fictionalised account of his rise to fame, that saw him go from from working-class teen in 1970s Dudley to national TV star.
We see "Danny", played by newcomer Kascion Franklin, being bullied at school and using comedy as a defence mechanism, a device that wins him friends - and admirers. It isn't long before Danny is hitting the working men's clubs, ending with a well-paid gig in Blackpool - as the black act in a show called the Musical Minstrel Cavalcade, which turns out to be just as racist as it sounds. Surprise! We see the unformed Danny quickly slide into depression, until his father Samson (played by Henry) gives him a piece of much-needed advice - after which Danny deliberately sabotaged his own career. And then it ended.
Danny And The Human Zoo was drama as therapy. Henry's battle with depression and his stay at The Priory has been much publicised. But what we had here was a whistle-stop tour through Henry's early years without any real examination. Apparently, this project started life as a four-part serial - and that's what this story really called for. I suspect that Henry found this difficult to write (according to the production notes, the script took three years to reach the screen) - in which case, why didn't the production company Red bring another writer on board? Henry could have written the pilot and a team of writers could have written the remaining episodes. Just an idea.
There was much to admire about this. Cecilia Noble gave a stand-out performance as Danny's formidable Jamaican mother Myrtle and Franklin also deserves praise for a charming debut, as does director Destiny Ekaragha, who was surely handed a poisoned chalice here.
Unfortunately, the script left a lot to be desired. With on-the-nose-dialogue and clichéd storytelling, it was at 90 minutes, overlong and lacked any real structure. The stilted pacing was only mildly diverted by classic soul anthems and rock standards.
Danny And The Human Zoo's super-saturated colour scheme brought to mind Channel Four's 2002 mini-series White Teeth, adapted from Zadie Smith's bestselling novel. Last year, the BBC announced a £2.1m "diversity fund" aimed at getting more black and ethnic minority faces on screen. Watching Danny And The Human Zoo, I couldn't help thinking, "There goes the diversity budget!".
No one drama can hope to be all things to all people, so it's more than a shame that Danny And The Human Zoo is likely to be the only black drama we see for many years. That is, until the BBC's charter comes up for renewal again.