In the show itself, Staged is getting a US network remake, and the network doesn't want David Tennant or Michael Sheen in the leads despite them being the stars of the UK original that made it a hit in the first place. It's a common indignity that British actors suffer when their hit shows are picked up for the US. Are "David" and "Michael" happy about this? Are they willing to go quietly into the night? Hell, no!
So David and Michael have agreed to talk to actors up for playing them in the remake. The first two are Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The episode is like a Geek Singularity given how many franchises these four men have been part of over the last 20 years. It's all fun and games until the screaming starts, and that doesn't take long at all. "Simon" and "Nick" read lines that re-enact the opening of the first episode of Season 1, and David and Michael have to put up with it. They waste no time sucking up to Michael and declare they'd much rather play him than David, but because they find "David" too placid and whiney. Cue exquisite torture for David, though he and Michael already had a plan to sabotage the actors playing them in hopes of becoming the only ones left who could possibly play them. Things only get worse from there.
This episode partly depends on the audience's awareness of Pegg and Frost's history as friends and a comedy double act from their past work on shows like Spaced and movies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Vanity is death to comedy, and Pegg and Frost are perfectly happy to be jerks as the script demands for comedy. What we have here is a comedy masterclass between two partnerships: Pegg and Frost and Tennant and Sheen all feeding off each other and milking laughs out of well-placed insults, intentional or not, mostly intentional.
Special mention should be made for Ben Schwartz, previously of Parks and Recs and House of Lies. Instead of a punchable hipster-like he often plays, he's Ben, the hapless assistant of David and Michael's – and Nick and Simon's – agent Mary, who is played by Whoopi Goldberg. Ben is barely competent, terrified of his boss, and discovers that all the emails he sent to Michael never reached him, including an offer to star in Christopher Nolan's Tenet last year. It's all about exquisitely torturing Michael and David this season!
Meanwhile, Georgia (Georgia Tennant), Anna (Anna Lundberg) and Lucy (Lucy Eaton playing creator Simon Davis' sister) are getting along perfectly nicely as they rehearse a gender-switched scene from the first season for charity. Unlike David and Michael never getting around to rehearsing last season, they actually get on with rehearsing while chatting about things. They have to rewrite the dialogue because Simon doesn't know how to write women. And Simon Davis wrote this scene. Again, the meta hall of mirrors spins and spins, all for comedy!
The best comedy is about escalating a situation that started small and might have been easily resolved if the people involved just did the sane, sensible thing. Comedy is best about people NOT doing the sane, sensible or right thing. Comedy is funny because it's about the flaws and foibles of human behaviour, and how people who know better just can't help doing the wrong thing. Comedy teams in stories are about the partners making things worse for each other. The worse it gets, the funnier it becomes. David and Michael, as insecure actors going nuts under lockdown, just can't help but pick at every single scab on themselves and each other, and anyone unfortunate enough to wander into their path. What Staged has done is discovered the killer app to filming a scripted show on zoom – show people being miserable and saying the wrong things to each other and you have drama and comedy gold!
Staged Series 2 is now streaming on the BBC iPlayer. Hopefully, it will be on Hulu in the US soon.