Wasted: crude, stoner TV comedy with a heart

E4’s new comedy, starting tonight, about a group of West Country 20-somethings boasts a star turn from Sean Bean…

Looking back now, the most outlandish part of brilliantly inventive 1999 sitcom Spaced isn’t a movie parody, cutaway gag or eccentric character, but the idea that you could rent a fully furnished two-bedroom flat in Zone Two for ninety quid a week. If Tim Bisley and Daisy Steiner were house-hunting in London today, they’d be forced to pack up their Gillian Anderson posters and typewriter and head back to their respective hometowns to crash on a mate’s sofa.

That’s the fate of Kent (Dylan Edwards) in the first episode of Wasted, a new UK comedy series starting tonight on E4.

Having failed to make it as a Bristol-based DJ, Kent goes back to the village of Neston Berry and to the bosom of his schoolboy friendship group: Morpheus (Danny Kirrane), Morpheus’ sister Sarah (Rose Reynolds) and Alison (Gwyneth Keyworth).

These four were left behind when everyone else their age either moved on or moved out. Feckless, bored and on a continual search for cheap escapism, they make Spaced’s Daisy and Tim look like highly motivated self-starters. Their base of operations is “Stoned Henge”, Morpheus and Sarah’s bong shop from the back of which hedonist Alison runs an unlicensed tattoo parlour.

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Wasted follows the group’s low-key, juvenile adventures. Episodes see them at a pub quiz, on the long walk home from a night out and going on a rampage at the village fete. This is stoner comedy, West Country-style. Jay and Silent Bob in the land of cream tea. It’s about the post-adolescent quest for something, anything fun to do that costs no more than the change in your pocket, whether that means dodgy pills, craft lager or sexual encounters behind the polyurethane polar bear at Bird Zone.

It’s intermittently disgusting, so frail dispositions be warned. Episode two in particular builds to a gross-out gag that may put you off Naan bread for life. People who like that sort of thing though, will love it.

Writers James Lamont and Jon Foster mix juvenile and crude humour with pop culture nods and characters that are unexpectedly quick to warm to. The casting is spot-on in that respect. Danny Kirrane brings real likeability to Morpheus’ mix of cowardice and moral conscience, while Gwyneth Keyworth is hugely watchable as Alison, a self-possessed bon viveur with the face of Helena Bonham Carter and the everything-else of Howard Marks.

Alongside the gross-out stuff, Wasted shows its softer side by trying to build deeper connections between its characters. Morpheus is in Ross Geller-levels of unrequited love with his sister’s schoolmate, something Alison might notice if she ever looked up from her bong. Kent and Sarah won’t admit they’re into each other, but a drunken hook-up at last year’s village fete says otherwise.  

The most loving relationship though turns out to be between Morpheus and Kent. The two young men share a level of intimacy from childhood that’s rarely replicated in adult friendships. Think of them as Muppet Babies versions of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s enduring on-screen partnership.

That’s the third time I’ve mentioned Spaced here, which is fewer occasions than you’ll find yourself thinking of it watching Wasted. It isn’t only the near-identical name but also the familiar appearance of Edgar Wright’s stylistic tics. Directed by Chewing Gum and Drifters director Tom Marshall, there are fast-edits, pop culture nods, musical cutaways… Wasted doesn’t so much tip its hat at Spaced as fill its hat with bricks and throw it through Jessica Hynes and Simon Pegg’s window.

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Another influence, the surrealism of modern kidult cartoons, is likely down to the time its writers spent working on Cartoon Network’s The Adventures Of Gumball. Structure gags like the “Seven Stages of Sarah” (in which her character’s various drunken behaviours are listed using title plates) might feel familiar from How I Met Your Mother-style mainstream sitcom, but the overall gag-rate and visual flights of fancy recall more the hyperactive worlds of modern animation.

Which brings us to Wasted’s ace-in-the-hole, a flight of fancy that tips its balance well into the ‘must-see’ category. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Sean Bean.

Bean plays  Morpheus’ imaginary spirit guide, an amalgam of his characters in Game Of Thrones and The Fellowship Of The Ring. He’s a tough Medieval swordsman who brooks no truck with soft modern lads who can’t even get it together to tell a girl they like her. As a massive Thrones fan, the logic goes that Morpheus’ subconscious has chosen the form he would trust the most to advise him, namely, Ned Stark.

(Incidentally, such is Game Of Thrones’ pincer-like grip on the UK acting industry that two of Wasted’s actors have previously appeared in the show. Edwards had his head squashed like a bug by the resurrected Mountain in season six episode Home, while Keyworth played a Volantis prostitute who chatted to Tyrion in season five.)

The guest role is a great wheeze and Bean fully commits to every appearance. It’s genuinely worth tuning in for those moments alone.

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Daft and gross with the odd dab of sweetness, there’s also something enjoyably nostalgic in Wasted’s depiction of aimless, pleasure-seeking youth. Add Sean Bean gruffly enjoying a stick of candyfloss to that mix, and you can’t really go far wrong.

Wasted starts with a double-bill tonight, Tuesday the 24th of July, on E4 at 10pm.