Lee Evans made a sitcom? Yes, well it may surprise some of you to know that the undisputed king of standup made a foray into the world of sitcom!
In 1998 he made a show for Channel 4 called The World of Lee Evans , which was largely a silent Mr Bean-type show, which contained cameos from John Thompson, Mark Heap and Sean Locke. You can watch it on All4.
The World of Lee Evans was at the time considered to be a selection of 'showcases', but the sitcom Lee Evans worked on next was to be a much more mainstream affair: In 2001 So What Now? debuted on BBC1.
The story begins when Lee is kicked out by his wife (who in true Dad’s Army style is never seen). He goes to stay with his slobbish mate Stuart (Steven O'Donnell), and after just one night manages to cause a gas leak that blows up the entire house!
Now neither of them has a place to stay, so they end up becoming the flatmates of the eccentric, rich, and dim socialite Heather, played by the lovely Sophie Thompson. The show follows the trio’s misadventures as they all unsuccessfully attempt to move up in the world.
Lee Evans rose to fame in the 90s with his standup; his enigmatic performances drew comparisons to Norman Wisdom. The combinations of music and occasional sketch performance intermingled with his standup became a huge successes. As his tours got bigger and bigger Lee landed a few movie roles such as Funny Bones and Mousehunt.
The commissioning of a sitcom for Lee Evans must have been a complete no brainer for the BBC at this time so why hasn’t anybody heard of this show? Well, the unfortunate answer is: Lee himself didn’t like the way that the show turned out. Here’s what Lee had to say about So What Now (sourced here):
‘I was writing the scripts and then I’d get on set and I’d be given a script with someone else’s name on it. It was like being punched in the stomach and you’d have to start performing feeling like that. The show turned into something completely different from what I intended it to be. It was as if they didn’t trust me, as if they didn’t think I was a good enough writer, but it didn’t work. I had to walk away from doing any more series. I just went home.’
His comments here seem to hint that the BBC did want another series, but if they did approach Lee he obviously didn’t want to go ahead. It’s a shame because So What Now? is by no means a bad sitcom, and it’s actually not very dated either; apart from the Nokia 3310s and the CRT TVs this could sit happily in a Sunday teatime slot right now and no one would bat an eyelid.
Well, give or take the odd risque scene such as in the episode 'Swingers', which coincidentally happened to have credited Mitchell & Webb with additional material. This may have been because the same gag from their sketch show at the time Bruiser was recycled.
There is a lot to enjoy here. Some of the best moments come when Lee is alone in a scene performing a slapstick routine, such as sellotaping his pillow to his head in a bid to get a decent uninterrupted night’s sleep, or attempting to straighten a picture and ending up holding it while he’s got his foot stuck in a wicker bin that also happens to be on fire thanks to the candle he’d just knocked over.
As the series goes on, the characters bed in, and there is definitely a chemistry between the trio.
It was released on DVD with tons of bonus material - including outtakes, which are some of the most interesting parts.
Although Lee’s quote above would suggest that the whole experience hadn’t been a particularly good one, the outtakes seem to convey a very happy studio audience atmosphere. Lee riffs for ages after messing up a line, to the point of going into a full-blown standup routine, and the audience clearly loved it!
But then, standup comes so naturally to Lee Evans. Perhaps when he said he just ‘went home,' that is what he meant: 'home' to standup comedy!
Lee Evans continued with his stand up, alongside performing some wonderful roles in serious dramas, such as The History of Mr Polly. He retired from the large-scale tours in 2014, in order to spend more time with his family, though he still goes back to acting occasionally.
However, he never attempted another sitcom again, and So What Now? faded into obscurity. I personally think that a second series could have been the making of this show. but now we will never know! You can buy the DVD for a few pounds on eBay so why not judge for yourself?
Written by Rhianna Evans