Spraise for the sitcom’s authenticity can sound like damnation with faint praise – “authentic” comedy creates the impression of something worthwhile, an effort and not quite a mass laugh. But look closely at the last decade of British comedy and the overlap between ‘authentic’ and ‘very, very good’ becomes impossible to ignore. The best shows were strongly autobiographical: situations based on life experience rather than a convenient pun; characters and plot details are scrupulously, sometimes surprisingly, specific rather than blandly generic.

You can see it in This country (The Cotswold Sibling Duo plays the Cotswold Cousin Duo), Derry girls (based on the troubled teenage film by creator Lisa McGee), Dinner on Friday (inspired by author Robert Popper’s own eccentric Jewish family dynamics) and Stath Lets Flats (in which star Jamie Demetriou draws on his Greek Cypriot heritage). Let’s not even get started sad people.

Still, no modern comedy has felt as authentic as People just don’t do anything. A mockumentary about Brentford-based UK garage pirate radio station Kurupt FM, which began life as a YouTube series made by a group of friends involved in the scene, from a very accurate West London setting to a fixation on a particular musical, the subculture was based on lives and loves of its creators. The satire, born of deep familiarity and affection, was fascinatingly parallel to real life – the cast weren’t actually the characters they played, but they were, too (they’ve certainly made a lot of real music under their fictional monikers over the years). .

So it was no surprise to see this year’s flurry of activity from the team behind the show, which ended in 2018, pale in comparison. The Curse, an 80s crime film on Channel 4 featuring three-quarters of the main cast – Steve Stamp, Alan Mustafa and Hugo Chegwin – was quite entertaining, but rather self-indulgent. Peacock, a three-part BBC Three personal trainer (Mustafa) written by Stamp, was also quite entertaining, but rather wobbly and meandering. What’s important is that they were both tasteful and well-watched, but neither had the integrity of People Just Do Nothing.

Now, however, we have Sneakerhead – supposedly the most promising real of the three. Chegwin – good but dim DJ Beats from PJDN – stars as Russell, the newly promoted and highly ineffective manager of a crappy Peterborough sports shop. And actor/writer/musician/nephew of the deceased Keith Chegwin actually once worked at a crappy sporting goods store. Yet despite its close-to-home, contrived and stilted relevance, Sneakerhead is the complete opposite of the show that made Chegwin’s name.

Perhaps this has something to do with the fact, slightly confusingly, that Sneakerhead isn’t created by Chegwin, but by Gillian Roger Park, a Scottish comedy writer best known for her work on the Irish sitcom Young criminals. In any case, the features that make a great autobiographical comedy are sorely lacking here; Sneakerhead is a soft general style jamboree. There is no sense of the exact difficulties of sports retail, no sense of place or regionality. Maybe it’s deliberate – a portrait of an interchangeable middle English high street – but it’s more like a hastily drawn backdrop created to support a sitcom premise that feels like it was randomly pulled out of a hat, even if it wasn’t.

The characters don’t help. Russell is a gullible beta male whose defining quality is his inability to assert himself against a cabal of cartoon villains: a fiercely demanding but noncommittal girlfriend, an efficient but sociopathic boss, an efficient but sociopathic young colleague, and a pack of thieving, sneering teenagers. There is not enough individuality for the main character. The aforementioned cartoonish villains, meanwhile, feel like an exercise in talented actors fighting valiantly against horrible stereotypes. They will lose.

In fact, the entire cast works in socks. Russell’s colleagues who died were played by rapper and host Big Zu and internet comedy sensation Lucia Keskin. The latter brings her blunt obscenity to Amber sharply, but she’s the kind of space cadet that became a sitcom cliché in the 90s. Big Zu, meanwhile, infuses his easygoing charisma into Mulenga, a man without a single personality trait. Even Chegwin, who has never been the main engine behind PJDN’s comics, does a great job of trying to inject distinctive vocal rhythms and funky Beats delusion into the inevitably boring Russell. Characters are one-dimensional or dimensionless. The latter are at least less annoying.

Sneakerhead has acceptable jokes, delivered with dedication, and a fair amount of slapstick. The problem is that the show has nothing else going for it: the characters and storylines seem extremely generic and arbitrary, created solely to serve up a small amount of the right gags. It may be based on a true story, but in the age of sitcom authenticity, Sneakerhead proves that capturing the heady, highly specific sound of truth is a lot harder than it seems.

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