The Referee’s a W***er ★★★
Set entirely in the changing room of football referees before/during/after a big FA cup match, this series opener immediately reminds us how easy the writing duo make it all look. David Morrissey plays Rutherford, a strict referee on his last match before retirement. He’s a man with secrets to bare – he’s been sleeping with United Captain Calvin Cooke (Dipo Ola – whose player number is 9 too, oh you cheeky boys!) and yet commands his team with a booming authoritative presence whenever the chaos gets too much.
And it does spiral out of control. Multiple times, in fact. As Pemberton’s lineman Oggy accepts a bribe to allow a throw-in on the 26th minute that leads to an unfair goal, Rutherford is forced into a game of ethics as he spins plates for the entire 30 minutes. Meanwhile Ralf Little’s assistant ref Phil smiles and pretties himself up for the camera, pondering over whether the TV stations will be airing the match in 4K and Shearsmith’s rather anal Brendon plays directly by the book to the point that he’s constantly explaining rules and regulations throughout. Split across three acts as the game manages to swallow itself and eventually even becomes abandoned, it’s a never-ending reveal of layer upon layer which never manages to take away from the one-liners and sly digs at the sports’ industry.
It also helps that it’s incredibly accessible to someone with no knowledge of football too. Whilst it lacks the emotional elements that have made episodes like ‘The 12 Days of Christine’ classics, it’s a clear reminder that meticulously-crafted writing deserves to be a mainstay whether it’s thoughtful or, as it is here, relatively lightweight.