JERK REVIEW: Scorched-earth black comedy with a hint of sweetness
It’s hard not to admire Tim Renkow’s commitment to being as dark as possible as Tim, a man with cerebral palsy who also happens to be a cynical narcissist.
Disabled people are still shamefully under-represented on television. The second series of Tim Renkow’s Jerk set out to right that wrong in the most combative fashion imaginable. This was scorched-earth comedy, where sacred cows were piled atop a pyre and set gleefully alight. It was often funny. And even when it wasn’t, it was hard not to admire its commitment to being as dark as possible.
Renkow, the American actor and comedian who wrote the show with Shaun Pye (There She Goes), plays “Tim”, a man with cerebral palsy who also happens to be a cynical narcissist in the tradition of Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm – and uses his disability, and others’ fear of causing offence, to his advantage.
The series began as Tim returned to the UK from the States to begin a postgraduate course. Socially conscious pansexual student Bobbiey (Helen Monks) was one of the first targets of Renkow’s satire. She was mocked for being intolerant beneath her “woke” veneer, in evidence when she described campaigner Malala Yousafzai as “a woman who’s decided to squander her moral capital and go to private school”. When she went along with Tim’s mischievous identification as “able-bodied”, the audience was clearly supposed to laugh at her and her right-on views, rather than with her.
The series continued to strike the same note of teasing nihilism as the first, and Tim continued to wield a wrecking ball. He pressured Bobbiey into procuring drugs and then accidentally spilled £200 worth of “ethically sourced” cocaine all over the carpet. And he deliberately neglected to apply for student accommodation so that his pal Idris (Rob Madin) would have to put him up instead (awkwardly this left Idris nowhere to sleep).
The gags seemed determined to touch as many nerves as possible – when Bobbiey asked if Tim wanted a drink he requested a “consensual Sex on the Beach”. He later turned up at an exercise class where he got a kick out of interrupting the fun by falling over.
Those around Tim proved just as obnoxious as the anti-hero: his mother (Goodfellas and Sopranos star Lorraine Bracco) advised her son to exploit the freedoms of uni by sourcing as much cocaine as possible, Idris strolled around naked banging on about his positive body image; and his carer friend Ruth (Sharon Rooney) dropped an old lady she was helping to the loo when she saw Tim knocking on the window.
The only person to come out looking good was Adrian Chiles, who popped up in a cameo in episode two. Here, Tim created havoc at a gym run by a pushy Paralympian Claire (Lisa Hammond), whose enthusiasm he “couldn’t handle”.
Yet for all the comedic carpet bombing, an undeniable sweetness lingered under the surface. Jerk didn’t expect the viewer to admire Tim. But his passion for life and his determination to live it by his own rules nonetheless contained a sly feel-good message. This was a black comedy that looked towards the light.
Jerk Season 2 is available on BBC iPlayer.