'Ill Behavior': TV Review
Showtime's Brit import comedy has a fine cast but a concept too clever by half, and none of it comes together.
Oh, those Brits, always messing about with comedy concepts.
It's hard to fault Ill Behavior creator and writer Sam Bain (Peep Show) for thinking a ridiculously unthinkable concept would be uniquely funny. That is, a relatively young man named Charlie (Tom Riley), with a wife and two young girls, finds out he's got cancer, and even though chemotherapy has, allegedly, a 94 percent chance of killing it in the early stages, he instead decides to go the "natural" route, with vegetable smoothies and kale enemas or what have you. Charlie's alleged best friend, Joel (Chris Geere), rightly finds this an appallingly modern version of holistic suicide and decides to intervene by kidnapping Charlie and, in a spectacularly problematic plan, forcing him to do chemo.
Yeah, it's high concept.
Ill Behavior gets its U.S. premiere Monday on Showtime, which has taken the three-hour "comedy thriller" (Bain's term) and cut it into six episodes. The short of all of this is that Geere, who is fantastic, is already in the vastly superior You're the Worst if you're in need of a Geere fix, and Ill Behavior is really only fine enough if you've got some extra time and a penchant for "what-if" concepts that go wrong.
Part of the problem — actually, much of the problem — with this series is that you have to buy into the conceptual lunacy of the premise, which is funny for a few minutes because Geere can make it so, getting you to believe that he really is saving his friend's life because said friend believes natural living can kill cancer.
But then, of course, Charlie would have to be stolen away from his wife and kids for three months and they are, in turn, going to be worried sick about him. It's a bad plan. Or at least a plan that has bad side effects. Also, isn't there an easier way? Well, there might be, but then you wouldn't have this shtick.
Geere plays Joel as a directionless guy who suddenly finds a purpose. Before this, he was married to a wealthy and powerful woman who dumps him but applies a slight salve of two million dollars on top, as a kind of settlement. This will be convenient for the story.
We first meet Joel sitting precariously on a balcony ledge, despondently throwing money into the street, while Charlie tries to talk him down and their other best friend, Tess (Jessica Regan), sneaks up and pulls Joel to safety. He's sad about the divorce.
Not long after, Charlie reveals his cancer diagnosis and his dubious plan to cure himself, which is supported by his wife, Kira (Christina Chong). That prompts Joel's plan, which Tess joins in on because she hates her job and really wants to finish writing her sci-fi book and Joel, who has the money, will take care of everything in the pursuit of saving their dying friend.
Almost at every turn, you can feel Ill Behavior stretching the bounds of enjoyment by its far-fetched premise.
The last piece to this puzzle is Nadia (Lizzy Caplan), an oncologist who smokes a lot of pot and is addicted, apparently, to drinking and sex and who hooks up with Joel once, gets in trouble not long after because her drinking and drug use is affecting her work, and thus is the perfect candidate to take Joel's bribe money to come way out to a rural house and administer the chemo to a reluctant Charlie.
There's humor here — Geere can be funny doing just about anything, and Caplan is all-in with Nadia's reckless behavior. Regan gets some good lines as well, while Riley is mostly tied up and complaining. But the comedy doesn't really take off because whatever seemed funny in the creation of the original idea is far more difficult to pull off once Charlie has been kidnapped.
Not that you need a likable character here, but Tess is probably the closest and Ill Behavior has her mostly on the outside looking in at the other three. You never get a sense that Joel really cares about Charlie and, frankly, Charlie's not that convincing as he preaches the holistic lifestyle. Bain obviously wanted some wacky and dark collision to create the comedy, but there's just not enough of it to sustain much interest in a series that moves slow even when Showtime cuts it in half.
Cast: Chris Geere, Tom Riley, Jessica Regan, Lizzy Caplan, Christina Chong
Created and written by: Sam Bain
Premieres Monday, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT, on Showtime.