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The World As We Know It

Radio 4
1999 (six episodes)

Luke Sorba's not entirely social-realist account of the everyday lives of four survivors of a global cataclysm, interspersed throughout with snatches from the REM song alluded to in the title.  One day, the characters -- cheery, easy-going slob Johnny (Toby Longworth), Donna (Meera Syal), a radical feminist with an unfortunate shopping addiction, fascistic pedant Patrick (Sorba himself) and the drippy new ager Abigail (Carla Mendonça -- again) -- wake up to find that everybody outside their house has disappeared, although, mysteriously, all the world's machinery still seems to be functioning.  They also discover a mysterious stranger (brilliantly characterised by Simon Greenall) inhabiting in the cellar, who clearly knows more than he's prepared to say about the cataclysm: along with the traditional air of the sinister, the Stranger manages to give out the impression that the disappearance of humanity is a perfectly commonplace occurrence, and that he finds the quartet's startled reaction extremely boring.

The starting concept for this show was not unique -- a strikingly similar one appeared in the downbeat late-eighties ITV sitcom Not With A Bang -- but the show moved off in its own direction, which could probably be described as "ultra-sitcom".  With an apparent lack of material difficulties, the four protagonists' only real problems seemed to be keeping themselves entertained, and avoiding a getting on each other's nerves to the point where murder ensued.  The collection of stereotypes featured seemed, at first, genuinely dull and dispiriting; but the scripts soon began to display a degree of cunning self-awareness.  The show was at its best when the characters' self-absorption led them to forget about the situation they were in, and indulge in petty squabbles which reinforced their characteristics and led, with beautifully-mapped logic, to numerous minor disasters.  At times, the programme seemed to be an excavation of the principles behind every sitcom relationship ever constructed.  The series ended, of course, with a shocking revelation (which should have been obvious to the listener from the start), but hinted at the possibility of a sequel.

© JB Sumner 1999.  Created 27/6/99