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Mister Winner, review: this good-natured comedy is just the tonic we need right now

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Lucy Pearman, Spencer Jones and Shaun Williamson star in Mister Winner
Lucy Pearman, Spencer Jones and Shaun Williamson star in Mister Winner Credit: BBC

Have your television needs changed in these uncertain times? Plenty of people will tell you this is your opportunity to get your teeth into that box set of Narcos or Succession, but I find myself craving something gentler. Something so undemanding that I could watch it while doing something else, like scrolling through my phone for news of the apocalypse, and still understand it perfectly. Welcome to my life, Mister Winner (BBC Two). This is a comedy that I might not have given a second glance, pre-crisis. Now, I fall on it with the level of gratitude I would otherwise reserve for an Ocado delivery slot.

Spencer Jones plays the ironically-named Leslie Winner, a sweet-natured sort of chap who retains an optimistic outlook despite his life being a succession of small disasters. In this first episode, he found himself stuck in a lift wearing just his underpants and covered in acupuncture needles, after his session was interrupted by a fire alarm; pushed a pianola through a town centre; and bagged a job in a restaurant by pretending that he was a trained pianist, only for the pianola to go haywire mid-performance. Mister Winner is Mr Bean with social embarrassment and no laugh track.

All the situations could be resolved quite easily, but aren’t. Winner could have pulled out the acupuncture needles and put on some trousers. He could have told a restaurant customer who requested My Girl by The Temptations that he didn’t know how to play that one, but instead he programmed the title into the pianola and ended up with My Girl by Madness. The punchlines are visible from space and I can’t reproduce any of the jokes here because the script isn’t particularly funny. Jones isn’t even, really, a master of physical comedy. But he imbues the whole thing with a low-key charm.

Besides, Winner isn’t a total loser, because he has a fiancée (Lucy Pearman) who loves him despite his klutziness. His future father-in-law is also his boss (Shaun Williamson, aka Barry from EastEnders) who is never more than slightly exasperated with him regardless of what he does. There is no meanness in the programme whatsoever; as a portrait of a man in awkward situations, it’s more Frank Spencer than Larry David.

The pilot for this show was broadcast way back in 2017 and the series was commissioned long before the current news cycle. But it feels just right for now, as a little respite from the real world.