The Cleaner review: Greg Davies is brilliantly funny in intriguing crime scene sitcom
Not that the question ever crossed my mind, but I think I know what the brilliant TV funnyman Greg Davies was up to during lockdown: he’s been writing a brilliantly funny TV sitcom. No surprise, I suppose, but, anyway, it’s something of a triumph.
The Cleaner has an intriguing format, albeit inspired by an existing German version, Der Tatortreiniger (Crime Scene Cleaner). It stars Davies as Paul “Wicky” Wickstead who, every week, encounters some scene of unspeakable bloody horror and, while going about the grim (but for him routine) business of getting the stains out of the curtains and off the ceiling, he bumps into friends, relatives and associates of the deceased. Or, in this first instalment, the murderer herself, Sheila, played by Helena Bonham Carter. Maybe this famous movie actor was herself at a bit of a loose end, but she makes an excellent job of portraying the killer as part-victim of low-level mental torture, and part insouciant sadist. Basically, she stabbed her husband to death with some ferocity (hence the mess in the kitchen) because he was obsessed with model railways and didn’t let her smoke in the house. Dotty and charming, in other words, but still prepared to take the life of the man she married rather than recruit a divorce solicitor, which leaves the viewer queasily unsure quite what to make of her.
Wicky, who meets her unexpectedly when she pops back to pack her bag and make good her escape, is not sure either. During the course of their long, wary conversations they strike up a bit of a friendship and, fancifully, plot a way of running away to the Dolomites together in his old van. There’s a very strange scene in which Sheila makes Wicky stay with her in the loo, and, believe you me, you can almost smell the tension. Homicide leaves you constipated, apparently. Their gross disparity in size (Davies stands at 6ft 8in) adds to the bizarreness of the relationship, but credibility is restored in all senses when Wicky betrays Sheila to the police. He’d rather make it to curry night at the pub, you see, than elope with an unstable beautiful woman. Tough call, mind.
These self-contained comedy dramas are all cleverly done, and you have cameos from David Mitchell and Stephanie Cole to look forward to in the comings weeks. The only thing I found a bit distracting is that Davies sounds very much like Dominic Raab. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but, like Wicky, I think I’ll just try to stick to doing my own humble job, and leave the gags to the big fella.