Staged (2020) Series Two

So when we watched the first series of “Staged,” I’d forgotten the original episodes were fifteen minutes; we watched the extended ones. Now, this second series either doesn’t have extended episodes or doesn’t have extended episodes yet. Eight episodes, fifteen minutes each, works out to a grand total of two hours. And I don’t know if the original series feels like this one—when it’s just leads David Tennant and Michael Sheen bantering their way through the main plot with the slightest diversion into the supporting cast—or if the original series is more balanced.

Because there’s no subplots in series two. It’s all about the guest stars each episode and whether or not they can get bigger names. It starts with Michael Palin in the first episode of the series, but the guest star gets increase over time. They save the Oscar winner for the last episode again.

This series is about the the series; Sheen, Tennant, and Simon Evans created this show for the BBC called “Staged,” it was popular, now they’re going to be making an American version only it’s not going to involve Sheen and Tennant. They’re recasting it. So this second series becomes Sheen and Tennant in video chats with whichever guest stars, who often are doing scenes from the first series, playing Sheen and Tennant. It’s often very funny and an episode’s success entirely hinges on the guest stars they’re able to get, which also might’ve been the case in the first series and they just added the subplots involving the supporting cast to the extended editions.

For example, there’s seemingly a subplot for wives Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg (and fellow girl Lucy Eaton, Simon’s sister) but it only gets a handful of scenes and we don’t even get to see the pay-off from it. The pay-offs always about the guest stars they’re able to get.

And it’s kind of hard to talk about the guest stars because they’re varied—multiple UK movie and TV stars from famous shows and movies, then the occasional American (which often plays even better because the Americans don’t approach Sheen and Tennant with the professional expectations their UK colleagues put on them). While the American movie stars are the biggest names, they actually tend to have been in more successful projects than their British counterparts. But then it’s going to be spoilers, because every time one of the guest stars shows up, it’s an almost immediate surprise laugh. Because it’s just Sheen and Tennant, who are working with the opposite’s potential actor—so Tennant works with the Sheen actors and Sheen works with the Tennant actors—they all eventually turn into these hilarious bad talk therapy sessions as Sheen and Tennant try to work out their hostilities with each other on the guest stars.

Except since the first series is fictional in the second series, there’s none of that existing character development—initially they even have Sheen play the more Tennant temperament and vice versa–and with no time for subplots, it’s all about the banter and who can banter the best. Until the last guest star episode, where the show once again brings out the big guns, usually Sheen and Tennant “win” their banter scenes with the guest stars. There are a couple notable exceptions. Again, no spoilers, but they’re the Americans.

One of the other things about the show is the reduction of Evans’s part; he’s now in Los Angeles—the series takes place in a window where lockdown had ended and everyone’s trying to get on with their lives, which dates it far more than the first series because the video chatting seems a lot more contrived—but anyway, Evans is in L.A. and he’s working on the new show and deceiving Tennant and Sheen about their roles in it. It’s a glorified cameo.

Though then again everyone from the first series has a glorified cameo, with the wives just scenery and Eaton basically just around a couple times in case you missed her. Given Eaton and Evans had the best character arc in the first series (though probably only in the extended episodes), it feels a lot more like a gimmick than an actual narrative this time around.

For regular supporting cast, the series adds Whoopi Goldberg not playing Whoopi Goldberg, but playing Sheen and Tennant’s agent. Ben Schwartz plays her assistant, who’s got a mad crush on Tennant, something Sheen enjoys leveraging. It’s a pointless stunt cast on Goldberg, who’s barely in it. Schwartz is funny but it’s one note.

“Staged: Series Two” has a great cast, hilarious episodes, a downright rewarding conclusion, but it compares rather poorly to the original series. It doesn’t ask much from Sheen and Tennant, instead just riffing on things they did last series, sometimes to hilarious effect but it’s always easy. And entirely contingent on having seen the first series, which—depending on the version you watched—might make this series seem paltry in comparison.

I’m curious if there will be extended versions but also rather cautious about them. It’s good, but a disappointment. More of it might just be more disappointing.

If you’ve seen the first series, it’s a solid two hour binge watch. Even if you saw the extended versions—the second series plays like a home video special feature—though at that point, they could’ve gone even shorter with this series as a postscript for the first. Like as an hour long holiday special or something.

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