White Gold is a new BBC comedy series that has just debuted internationally on Netflix. It was created by, and stars, some of the people responsible for the short lived, though much beloved, The Inbetweeners.
One speculates that White Gold won’t survive long either. Retained is the gross-out humour that punctuated The Inbetweeners, but the warmth and humanity which made that show a cult hit is entirely absent here.
Set in Thatcher’s Essex, White Gold follows a team of shonky door-to-door double glazing salesmen as they find new and inventive ways to rip people off. Gossip Girl’s Ed Westwick stars as the philandering, drug-dependant head salesman Vincent Swan, and James Buckley and Joe Thomas return from The Inbetweeners as his soft-minded lackeys. The trio of vulgarians piss, shag, and scheme their way through a series of misadventures, striving to make loads of money in the 80s.
It is, basically, a small, sad, British Wolf of Wall Street, with some gags about the 80s thrown in – computers used to be very large, fashion was bad, mobile phones didn’t work very well, etc. The soundtrack is great, in the sense that a Golden Hits of the Oldies CD Box Set is great; there were some very good songs in the the 80s, but you do already know all of them.
There are plenty of gag-inducing gags (seminal fluid shot at a car window, public sex mixups, an accountant who yearns to hear tax digits whilst being digitised) but they all fall flat. Revolting comic set pieces such as these worked infinitely better in The Inbetweeners. One key difference is the age of the characters. When one watched The Inbetweeners, you said to yourself ‘Oh, I remember when I too was a disgusting teenager’. One watches White Gold, and says ‘These people are revolting and I do not wish to see them on my television any longer’.
It also doesn’t help that Ed Westwick has been badly miscast as the lead. To be sure, his Vincent Swan is believable as a degenerate — cheating on his wife, ignoring his children, ruining decent people’s lives — but at no point does he come across as a likeable degenerate. He is not witty, nor redeemable, nor even interesting. More often than not, the script dictates that this unpleasant man comes out on top; he gets the girl, and closes the deal, and bests his foes. Towards the end of the season his life begins to unravel, though (semi spoiler alert) everything comes right in the end.
In one sense, however, White Gold is of interest; it is an example of a ‘third wave’ emerging in sitcoms. For decades, situation comedies concluded both morally and happily. Then Seinfeld revolutionised the genre with a ‘show about nothing’ (or, as it might more accurately be put, a show about nihilism). The creed for Seinfeld, and for every sitcom that subsequently aped it, was ‘no hugging, no learning’. In Peep Show, The Office, Arrested Development, etc, things concluded pointlessly and unhappily.
White Gold, however, is different. Here, denouement is neither melancholic, nor moral. The bad guys come out on top; not despite their moral failings, but because of them. It is, effectively, spiritual pornography. The wretched protagonist gets what he wants, and we viewers are expected to enjoy it as voiyers. There is no pretence that either the characters, or the audience, are improved in any dimension as a result.
Even that novelty, however, is not enough to make White Gold worthwhile viewing. If you’re after brutish, feel-good amorality, try Andrew Dice Clay’s new Dice instead.