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Review: 'The Completely Made-Up Adventures of Dick Turpin' is a funny spin on a legendary highwayman

Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Most Americans will know Noel Fielding, if they know him at all, from "The Great British Baking Show," which he has co-hosted since 2017. He's the tall pasty-faced, middle-aged glammy Goth with the loud clothing and a habit of bothering bakers at crucial moments.

You may have looked at this strange, jolly person and wondered whence he came and what kind of career could have sustained him to this point.

Those versed in modern Britcom will know him as a member of the comedy team the Mighty Boosh (and from their series, "The Mighty Boosh"), "Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy," sundry roles in some of this century's best and oddest comedies, including "Nathan Barley" and "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace," and many panel show appearances, with five years as a team captain on the music-themed "Never Mind the Buzzcocks." None of which makes him seem any less strange. Or, let's say, original.

Now he is the star of "The Completely Made-Up Adventures of Dick Turpin," which drops him into the tale of the legendary 18th-century highwayman. Created by Claire Downes, Ian Jarvis and Stuart Lane, it pretty much adapts the character to Fielding, mascara and all, rather than the other way around; it's fun and funny and Fielding is much more entertaining chattering away at the series' various villains than a poor, harried contestant attempting to fashion a Swiss roll without cracking the sponge. Dick (the name affords a number of rude jokes) is a bit of an idiot and a bit of a genius, incompetent and clever and blithely sure of himself; technically a thief, he's most assuredly a hero.

The comedy of period stories played in a modern vernacular with contemporary allusions is something at which the British are especially good, (The accents might have something to do with it, I admit.) Monty Python's "Holy Grail" and "Life of Brian"; Rowan Atkinson's "Black Adder"; "Upstart Crow," with David Mitchell as an irascible William Shakespeare; Matt Berry's Victorian police parody "Year of the Rabbit" — I am a sucker for this stuff. And before them all were the burlesque "Carry On" films, including "Carry On Cleo," set in the Roman Empire, "Carry On Henry," as in VIII, and, indeed, "Carry On Dick," with Sid James as Turpin, the plot involving a birthmark in a private place.

The vegan son of a butcher, this Dick Turpin, like the prince in "Holy Grail" who just wants to sing, is more interested in doing something big and creative than in skinning rabbits. Leaving home with only a sewing machine and a pair of "powerful" purple shoes, he finds himself coerced into helping stage a robbery. When he accidentally kills the gang's leader, much to the gang's delight, he inherits the position, not quite taking charge of sensitive Moose (Marc Wootton), enthusiastic Honesty (Duayne Boachie) and skeptical Nell (Ellie White). They will later be joined by Craig the Warlock (Asim Chaudhry), about as good as his job as they are at theirs.

Much like Rhys Darby's pirate captain in "Our Flag Means Death," another comedy very loosely based on a historical character, Dick seeks to elevate his profession — "I'm new school; there's going to be less violence on my watch, more charm, maybe even some panache" — and to improve the lives of his community and crew, starting with making them new outfits.

"Is this leather?" Nell asks of hers.

"No, surprisingly it's pleather," Dick replies. "Parsnip leather — catches the light, it's durable, wipes clean."

Earl of Grantham Hugh Bonneville plays Jonathan Wild, self-styled thief-taker general, a crooked administrator, also based on a historical figure, who almost manages to hang Dick in the opening episode and remains a foe through most of the series. Tamsin Greig, from "Black Books" and "Belgravia," is the aristocratic head of a crime syndicate; Diane Morgan, Philomena Cunk of "Cunk on Earth," plays Maureen, the examiner testing the serially failed Craig for his warlock's license. Fielding's "Mighty Boosh" castmate Rich Fulcher is briefly seen, and a winning Kiri Flaherty appears as Little Karen, an 8-year-old who runs the pub where our heroes assemble.

 

While "Completely Made Up" is the operative term here — there's a cursed coach and a witch suspiciously eager to be burned among the storylines — some facts do survive into this fanciful series: Turpin's father was indeed a butcher, he came from Hampstead, his gang was called the Essex Gang, and condemned criminals really did hire mourners for their execution. But he was romanticized even (barely) in his time and much thereafter. In the "Made-Up" telling, Dolly Wells plays Eliza Bean, a writer of "true crime stories" who wants to publish Dick's story.

"I used to write these beautiful plays, poems, but no one cared," she tells him. "You write about the most horrific murder and people can't get enough of it."

Like Noel Fielding, Dick Turpin is only too happy to talk.

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'‘THE COMPLETELY MADE-UP ADVENTURES OF DICK TURPIN'

Rating: TV-14

How to watch: Apple TV+

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©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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