- David Tennent and Michael Sheen are back for a third series of Staged along with their partners and family members, and writer Simon Evans for the last time, pinky-swear… if you can believe them.
The first series of Staged, which came during the darkest moments of Lockdown, was lightning in a bottle. It was the simplest version of the show: "David" and "Michael" and their partners were our stand-ins as we were all stuck at home. Actors can be the most insecure and neurotic people on Earth, so they could express every anxiety we all had and amplify them to the nth degree for maximum comedy. It ended on a touching note of community and solidarity. Series Two was a different animal, addressing how it was a victim of its own success by going meta and deeper on the in-jokes. Everyone was still in Lockdown but it was the next stage – Hollywood and the British film and TV industries were starting to open up and return to production, and Staged reflected that and Hollywood's hunger to remake any IP that was a hit elsewhere. It became a satire of not only show business but also the pettiness and resentment of actors as "David" and "Michael" went about sabotaging all efforts to recast their roles with American stars. It ended with the world opening up and "David" and "Michael" meeting face-to-face before they took off for new jobs. Where would a third series go?
Why, even more meta and finding a second, fourth wall to break. Series three of Staged already knows what you're thinking – Is this just a cash-in? Isn't the premise tired by now? Isn't this just the same old schtick? Then everything collapses, and the show becomes even more self-referential; eating its own tail, the characters become even deeper spoofs of themselves. Georgia (Georgia Tennant) becomes even more prominent in this series, revealing a ruthless, Machiavellian side as the primary driver trying to keep everything going as Simon finally reaches breaking point from David and Michael's contempt for him and his efforts to write something for them to play. They even say out loud that this is the final series and they can't possibly keep it going, and proceed to show that they can't.
The last half-hour is a play on Six Characters in Search of an Author, the original play that Simon and the actors were supposed to produce back in the first series. Luigi Pirandello's play deconstructs dramaturgy and character function in plays, where six characters on screen end up trying to finish a story without the author… in a script written by the author – Simon – who turned himself into a character in his own series for three seasons. There's a whiff of comeuppance as "David" and "Michael" are faced with the one thing every actor dreads, to be thrust live in front of an audience – in this case, the entire nation of millions of television viewers – with no preparation, no script and forced to improvise a story they should know but don't. The latter is a joke on actors who don't read books or know classic stories, played for maximum comedy. There's no greater potential comedy than actors who are up shit creek without a paddle.
The third season of Staged is no longer about social commentary about Lockdown but an inside showbiz satire where the story keeps eating its own tail infinitely. It can only get away with it because of the endless comedic chemistry between not only Tennant and Sheen but also Georgia Tennant, Anna Lindberg, their family members, and the actors who are pulled into cameos on the show. It's entirely dependent on the goodwill from the previous series and the cast's willingness to make themselves look as silly and bad as possible to get a laugh. It ends on a melancholic note, as all endings do, but reminds us it's still a comedy about folly, and hints that folly never ends, so it may not be totally over just yet.
Staged is currently streaming on Britbox UK. It might be broadcast in time for Christmas on BBC One and might hit Britbox US.