The Cleaner is a comedy TV series released in 2021 on the BBC, written by and starring Greg Davies as Paul ‘Wicky’ Wickstead, a man whose job it is to come in and clean up murder scenes once the police have finished their investigation.
Greg Davies is a dab hand by this point at writing sitcoms around himself, with Man Down (Channel 4, 2013) being a prime example of him inserting his trademark wit into a show, and The Cleaner feels like a natural progression. The Cleaner is a much more grounded show than Man Down was, featuring more realistic settings and characters, and due to the heavy nature of the plot device, can often wander into dramedy territory. Luckily, Davies excellent performance of the titular character means that even the deepest scene can be lifted with some jokes.
Each episode follows a set format. First, Wicky will head to a new ‘job’ and find out what has happened and what he has to clean up. Then, as he is doing his job, he will get to know the people affected by the grisly affair. This ranges from a grandson, to a next door neighbour, to even the murderer themselves. Due to Covid I presume, each episode has just the bare minimum of characters, but this actually does the show a favour.
This format means the show spends more time with the characters, and by the end of each episode there is usually a decent level of chemistry between the actors, something that doesn’t normally happen when a show is stuffed full of side characters. I like this approach, and whether or not it was influenced by Covid restrictions, I hope that they keep this format in the future. It sort of takes on a monster of the week vibe, and lets each episode have a completely different set-up.
The only negative to formatting a show like this, is that there isn’t an overarching narrative thread that ties the whole series together. It’s not strictly needed in a comedy series, but as this one often aims into loftier territory, I do think it would be a nice addition for a second series.
Regardless, I think that the writing is really great in this show. It manages to have sweet and heartfelt moments, whilst always remaining funny, and the final episode of the series has some quite touching moments. In contrast to a show like After Life (Netflix, 2019) which is just constant soppy monologues delivered by random characters on park benches in the middle of Hampstead, The Cleaner manages its messages in a much more down to earth manner, which for me always makes it more impactful. It’s more of a ‘show don’t tell’ kind of show, which always works better.
Each of the supporting cast also delivers excellent performances, with some surprise guests, like Helena Bonham Carter in the first episode playing a murderous widow. Other episodes contain a mix of well-known, and up and coming actors in these supporting roles. If there is a second series, which I hope there will be, I would hope that the series keeps using a mix of well known and new actors, as it definitely keeps things fresh.
Ultimately, I really liked The Cleaner. Greg Davies is a brilliant comedy writer, and this series is a great showcase of his ability. With a second series and a bit of fine-tuning to the format, I really think this could end up being one of the all time comedy greats.