Comedy as only the British do, and do beautifully...
It's more than just a comedy, however: this is biting satire at its best, as a TV film crew camp on a typical suburban street in a typical English town funnily enough, just down from Elstree Studios in Boreham Wood, Hertfordshire where I got my first job in 1967 at NCR, a big computer company about two km from Elstree. I used to pass by the studios every day on my way to and from my work.
Much had changed at Boreham Wood, of course, but not the characters: a bunch of back-biting, self-promoting, dysfunctional and depressed boasters and boosters who are generally more interested in themselves only than in getting a job done a TV shoot for a pulp police program on time and under-budget. Like the outtakes we sometimes see on Jackie Chan movies at the end, this shoot is reminiscent thereof, but with a much sharper edge and savage humour.
I can't praise the acting skill of Bill Nighy (playing the director, Phil Parish) too highly; the man is a genius at timing and delivery, not to mention his deadpan face that can turn in an instant to sycophantic self-denigration or to one of humorless, almost homicidal fury. He is one of Britain's gems and is never to be missed.
Of equal skill, but not the same flair, is Tom Courtenay who plays the luckless and lackluster actor from yesteryear, and who's on the TV job to deliver his one line as a porter at the hospital an extra extra, so to speak, whose line is, apparently, crucial to the whole sense of the cop show for that episode. Just how crucial? Well, that would spoil it all for you, wouldn't it?
Without a doubt, in my opinion, film actors, directors and companies do their best work when they satirize themselves highlighting how the world of make-believe is far from being make believe when you look behind the scenes (hmmm, no pun intended). The send-up dialog is just perfect, particularly the scene in the bus where the powers that be discuss changes they want to make to the cop show to make it more appealing, shall I say, to a bigger audience. If you watch TV much, which I don't, then you know what that means, no doubt.
I never saw the first version from 1976, but I'm sure it was good. See this one first, though, just for Bill Nighy, if nothing else. You won't regret it, trust me...