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24 October 2018updated 03 Aug 2021 6:20am

Sally4Ever is Julia Davis at her nasty, dirty best

Why I adore the comedy star and her sick, sick mind.

By Rachel Cooke

I know it says nothing good about me that I adore Julia Davis (Nighty Night, Hunderby, Camping) and her sick, sick mind. But there it is: I’m the kind of person who laughs at disgusting jokes about colostomy bags and oral sex. Like her, I’m forever wondering what goes on behind the net curtains and Georgian-style doors of suburban Britain, for which reason every scenario she dreams up always seems to me to be well within the realms of possibility, no matter how mad or creepy. Picture the very worst people you know, or think you know, their weirdest idiosyncrasies magnified only a very little: these are her characters, and – try not to be alarmed – at least one or two of them probably live at the end of your street.

In Davis’s new series, Sally4Ever (Sky Atlantic, 10pm, 25 October), Catherine Shepherd plays Sally, a bored advertising executive whose low-level depression and listlessness may be laid entirely at the feet of her awful fiancé David (Alex Macqueen), possibly the dullest and least sexy man who ever lived. Eew, his little habits. When he rubs athlete’s foot cream into his feet, he sounds like he’s having an orgasm. When he’s actually having an orgasm (self-induced, since Sally can no longer bear to have sex with him), he sounds like Cheeta trying to tell Tarzan an intruder approaches. When he and Sally marry, as he hopes they will soon, he wants her to wear his mother’s wedding dress. Yes, it’s a little stained (“a gland”). But (burying his head in its crackling, lacy skirt) it still smells completely intoxicating.

Help, however, is (perhaps) at hand for Sally. Into this dead zone of ghastliness and ennui there now struts Emma (Davis), a narcissistic and controlling lesbian singer-cum-performance-artist with the most rapacious sexual appetite this side of your favourite Colette novel (and the rest). She and Sally meet in a club, to which the latter repairs in the middle of the night, desperate to escape David’s snoring (she accepted a flyer from Emma earlier in the day). One thing having led to another, soon the pair of them are having wild and very sticky sex to the sound of T-Pau’s “China in Your Hand”.

Not long after this, Emma moves in, and David moves out. The cuckoo is firmly in the nest – or at least, a photograph of its pert, bare backside now hangs on Sally’s living room wall.

I love everything about Sally4Ever, assuming it’s possible to love something that at its most excruciating can only be watched through the gaps between your fingers (this may be difficult to achieve, but on no account should you tune in to this series while with an elderly relative, a young relative, or anyone at all with a sense of decency, fair play and good taste).

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Davis is at her nasty, slutty, dirty best, and Macqueen’s soppy, snivelling, pernickety turn as David is completely sublime, right from the moment he first appears on screen murdering George Michael’s “Faith” with the other members of his barbershop quartet (Lord, the pedantic way he squirts moisturiser on his hands, as if it’s La Prairie rather than Tesco, and he had taken out a large mortgage to buy it). Also, Mark Gatiss and Joanna Scanlan will be along soon. Quite how a comedy can be at once so grotesque and so tender, so filthy and yet so plangent, I do not know. But it suits this (possibly slightly ill) viewer just fine.

I have no memory of the Gladbeck crisis of 1988, in which two bank robbers took hostage two employees of Deutsche Bank in Gladbeck, Germany, and then went on the run with them, having demanded safe passage from the police (that summer, I was then mostly engaged in the kind of solipsistic hedonism that did not allow for watching the news). But I do like 54 Hours (BBC Four, 9pm, 20 October), an acclaimed new subtitled series about it, which could not be more richly detailed if it tried. How on Earth, you think, did this happen? And in Germany, too? Here are loaf-haired cops paralysed with indecision; waxy-faced robbers whose chutzpah is almost comical; and news crews who simply ring up the hostages for a chat. Every scene is at once unmitigatedly tense, and completely farcical.

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This article appears in the 24 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit crash