“I’m trying to be nice but sometimes it comes out horrible,” says movie producer Cameron O’Neill at one point in Chivalry, offering a crisp encapsulation of this lively comedy about Hollywood’s hopelessly maladroit efforts to adjust to a post-#MeToo world.
The new Channel 4 series is something of a high-wire act. A comedy set against the backdrop of predatory behaviour might rapidly become a lightning rod for righteous condemnation. Take it too far the other way by railing against the film industry for half an hour at a time, and you’re left with a po-faced piece of invective rather than an incisive, watchable satire.
But co-writers (and stars) Steve Coogan and Sarah Solemani are astute enough to strike a winning balance between levity, provocation and indignation. The target of the show’s humour is not individual monstrous figures but the banality of sleaze. Men like Coogan’s Cameron recognise the necessity for consent but are oblivious to why it might be problematic for an influential producer to be seeing a personal assistant young enough to be his daughter. “She’s 25. Nearly 25,” he squirms while trying to defend his latest dalliance as a meaningful, grown-up relationship.
Seeing straight through his clumsy attempts at proving himself to be an ally to women is indie director Bobby Sohrabi (Solemani). She’s been parachuted in to reshoot a section of an upcoming film by a recalcitrant old French auteur, who chooses a tasteless sex scene as his hill to die on. Quite literally: his heart gives out while defending his artistic integrity.
Bobby’s own vision is of an authentic portrait of female sexuality. But her efforts to capture something raw and unsanitised are thwarted by a young male stand-in who says that his scene with lead actress Lark (Sienna Miller in amusingly coarse, prickly form) makes him feel unsafe. Eventually Bobby resorts to asking Cameron to distract meddling intimacy supervisor (Aisling Bea) so that she can get the hesitant actor to undress. “I don’t care how that sounds,” she says, as Cameron attempts to take the moral high ground.
While we can already see how their sparky relationship might soften with time, Chivalry is careful not to slip into complacent characterisations. “I can’t describe people with adjectives any more,” Cameron laments, but the fact that neither he nor Bobby can be readily reduced to a handful of descriptive words is testament to a show that relishes grey areas.
On Channel 4 from April 21 at 10pm; available to stream on All 4 from April 21
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