Top TV Chemistry

March 25, 2022

By George Bass (Contributor New York Times | The Guardian | New Scientist)

Which TV show offered the best on-screen chemistry? The smart alec answer is Breaking Bad (2008), Vince Gilligan’s saga about a crystal meth user locking horns with his former chemistry teacher. Their pairing was certainly explosive: even the show’s titles incorporated the Periodic Tale of the Elements. But there are other silver screen partnerships that don’t need test tubes to offer volatility, sparkiness and snappy dialogue. Why not revisit a few of our choices below? Just be grateful you’re not any of their long-suffering bosses…

Dangerous Brothers – Dangervision [1986]

Their first TV double-header after being part of The Young Ones (1982), the Dangerous Brothers saw Adrian Edmondson and the much-missed Rik Mayall showcase a formula they had developed at the Comic Strip Club: two social outcasts come together to inflict cartoonish violence upon each other. This collection of their sketches from the first series of LWT’s Saturday Live includes airborne zebras, dynamite-rigged underpants, crocodile wrangling, and Sir Adrian Dangerous necking Vim, which foreshadowed Edmondson’s penchant in later sitcom Bottom (1991) for imbibing bleach, paint stripper, brake fluid and Old Spice. To anyone wondering how a live-action Roadrunner and Coyote show might look, Dangervision has the lethal allure of a pair of runaway Acme rocket skates.

Dial 999 [1958]

Decades before buddy cop show Due South (1994) paired a Mountie with a more archetypal TV cop, Canadian actor Robert Beatty played Det. Inspector Mike Maguire: a lawman from the Great White North who crossed the Atlantic to take up a placement with Scotland Yard. An attempt to mimic the popularity of U.S. procedural series Highway Patrol (1955), the show was the brainchild of Thriller (1973) creator Brian Clemens, and involved our square-jawed hero learning police tactics from his bemused British counterpart, DI Winter (Duncan Lamont). The large budget for the time allowed plenty of location work, which meant viewers could enjoy the Mountie discovering double decker buses, the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus, and guest crooks that include two future Doctor Whos

All in Good Faith [1986]

Richard Briers’ first sitcom for ITV saw the Good Life (1975) star square off with two formidable partners: Almighty God, and the collective population of Edendale, an urban borough to which Briers’ Reverend Philip Lambe has just moved to serve as the local curate. Sitting somewhere between Tom Hollander’s Rev (2010, which took much from this show’s premise) and the genteel comedy of The Vicar of Dibley (1994), All in Good Faith is Briers at his hapless best, juggling his family – who still yearn for their old Oxfordshire parish – along with his faith and a host of eccentric locals.

Minder [1979]

One of the most iconic TV pairings of all time, Minder focused on two blokes from the West London underworld: dodgy car dealer Arthur Daley (George Cole), and ex-boxer (and ex-con) Terry McCann (Dennis Waterman), who our loveable rogue takes on as a bodyguard. Conducting shady deals from the bar at the Winchester Club and forever pursued by an exasperated DS Chisolm (Patrick Malahide), Arthur’s quest to find the next “nice little earner” brought in record ratings, with the bond between the two lead characters cementing Minder as one of the best-loved British shows of all time.

Master of None [2015]

Aziz Ansari’s comedy-drama for Netflix sees the actor play Dev Shah, a jobbing actor who’s trying to survive life in the Big Apple and add a few more stripes to his CV than “man in Go-Gurt commercial”. Eric Wareheim co-stars as our hero’s “token white friend”, but it’s Dev’s interactions with author buddy Denise (Lena Waithe) that provided the mix of spikiness and comradeship that earned the show an Emmy for Outstanding Writing. To anyone bemoaning U.S. modern sitcoms for no longer being as sharp as vintage Cheers (1982) or Seinfeld (1989): this is the show you’ve been waiting for.

The Sweeney [1974]

The crime drama that took a truncheon to the rules of the TV police procedural, watching The Sweeney was akin to experiencing Dixon of Dock Green (1955) if it had been directed by Sam Peckinpah. As well as being notorious for its violence, grit and sexual content – mirroring the Flying Squad officers who would face criminal charges during the show’s run – The Sweeney was carried by the gruff interplay between the whisky-powered DI Jack Regan (John Thaw) and “good cop” George Carter (Dennis Waterman). It also featured one of the most memorable theme tunes of all time.

Only When I Laugh [1979]

Written by Rising Damp (1974) creator Eric Chappell, Only When I Laugh was a hospital sitcom that focused less on zany medical staff, and more on the patients: shirking lorry driver Roy Figgs (James Bolam) and upper-class lothario Archie Glover (Peter Bowles). As the two casualties tried to out-scheme each other and avoid being discharged, they were occasionally forced to team up to outsmart overworked orderly Gupte (Derrick Branche) and Dr Thorpe (Richard Wilson, road-testing his grumpy persona from One Foot in the Grave). Spending the day on a gurney has rarely looked so appealing.

Robin of Sherwood [1984]

Tony Robinson’s Maid Marian and Her Merry Men (1989) might be the most colourful retelling of the Nottingham outlaw legend, but for action and authenticity, there’s no beating this HTV serial from Richard Carpenter, creator of cult show Catweazle (1969). His take on the Sherwood bandit (as played with dark intensity by Michael Praed) was a betrayed nobleman with respect for Pagan traditions and the natural world: Robin’s mentor is the mythical Herne the Hunter, and his fights were as much against demons and warlocks as they were Guy of Gisburne and the Sheriff’s minions.

Holy Flying Circus [2011]

The furore around the release of Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) has long been a story worth telling. In 2011, the BBC filmed it, featuring sitcom veteran Darren Boyd as John Cleese, and comedian/writer Steve Punt finally cashing in on his uncanny resemblance to Eric Idle. While it would be impossible to recreate the chemistry of the original Pythons, screenwriter Tony Roche and director Owen Harris pull off a colourful and appropriately manic tribute. Look out for a cameo from prominent atheist Stephen Fry as the voice of God.

Order The Dangerous Brothers – Dangervision (1986)

Order Dial 999 (1958)

Order All in Good Faith (1986)

Order Minder (1979)

Order Master of None (2015)

Order The Sweeney (1974)

Order Only When I Laugh (1979)

Order Robin of Sherwood (1984)

Order Holy Flying Circus (2011)



Comments:3

  1. Lee Beardshall Reply
    22/04/14

    The sweeney all four series should be out on blu ray now I been waiting 10 years to put it on blu ray.

  2. Robert Rattle Reply
    22/05/01

    Complete Sweeney series on Blu-ray is long overdue.
    Go on, Network, you know it makes sense!

  3. Paul Marshall Reply
    22/05/07

    Yeah, I’ve said it before I would easily drop £200 for each complete series of The Sweeney & Minder. Of course all nicely restored would be a bonus

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