Like its namesake, The Full Monty TV series tells the bittersweet tale of a scrappy group of friends — which now includes the spouses, children, and associates of the original ensemble — struggling to keep their heads above water in the city of Sheffield. So, you’d hardly expect this FX sequel (which is actually available on Hulu) to embody so much of what’s wrong with streaming shows today, which often boils down to “too much”: too many episodes (eight in total), too many characters, too many disparate storylines.
The Full Monty also makes some of the same mistakes of other recent TV revivals like …And Just Like That (another comparison we didn’t think we’d be making): In an attempt to update the stories of the older lads, series creator and writer Simon Beaufoy (who also wrote the 1997 British working-class comedy) pairs several of them with a person of color. Ringleader Gaz (Robert Carlyle) actually gets two companions in this vein: his daughter Destiny (Talitha Wing), a biracial teen who shares her dad’s penchant for mischief, whether she realizes it or not, and a young Black artist with schizophrenia. The show only stops short of being didactic because it rarely settles on one pairing or storyline long enough.
Despite such overt attempts at greater inclusivity and a frustrating lack of focus, The Full Monty still manages to charm. This comedy is as flawed as its characters, no matter what generation they’re from, and even more earnest. The real Sheffield economy may be rebounding, but that upturn hasn’t yet reached the lives of working-class kids like Des, as she’s called, or the now elderly Horse (Paul Barber, a gentle presence throughout), who is entangled in bureaucratic snags for much of the series. These harsh realities are the backdrop of the show, though, not its core; they’re problems to be dealt with, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
Beaufoy is much more invested in maintaining the irrepressible spirit of the film than in creating some kind of gritty continuation (now that would have been a current-streaming-era-bridge too far). Resilience marks The Full Monty just as much as raunchiness, probably more so. It’s why this sequel can pick up more than 25 years after the all-male revue that made Gaz, Dave (Mark Addy), Horse, Gerald (Tom Wilkinson), Lomper (Steve Huison), and Guy (Hugo Speer) briefly, locally famous, and not directly mention said striptease until the sixth episode. The real Full Monty was the friends they made along the way, you see — the payday and the notoriety have long since dried up, leaving them with only each other.
Of course, new complications have to arise, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a show. Some of these developments are organic; Des is as much of a screw-up as her old man, and just as prone to bringing her friends Cal (Dominic Sharkey) and Tabani (Natalie Davies) down with her. Graying man-child Gaz is still capable of disappointing his son Nathan (William Snape), though the latter is now a police officer with his own family. Others are more contrived — Dave and his wife Jean (Lesley Sharp) once again fight over his lack of drive, while Lomper and his husband Dennis (Paul Clayton) end up in the crosshairs of a local loan shark and a traveling billionaire (Joshua Jo) over a very expensive pigeon (it’s better not to ask).
As the limited series goes on, it reveals new layers to these conflicts; we learn Des fears success, in part because it’s never been modeled for her. A past tragedy is what’s really been driving a wedge between Jean and Dave; even the eccentric billionaire Sang-Chol isn’t who he first appears to be. Gaz only becomes more himself, which is a good thing, because Carlyle’s impish energy is missed whenever he’s not on screen. But when combined with all the other moving parts — Jean’s sorta-frenemy Hetty (Sophie Stanton) starts a “revenge choir,” Guy suddenly becomes very shady, and Gerald is about to fall victim to an internet scam — these storylines threaten to take the whole show off the rails.
Beaufoy makes the strange choice to overload his genial series with plot, without ever committing to telling a multigenerational story or one that’s more of a passing of the baton. New addition Darren (Miles Jupp), a prissy insurance adjuster who also moonlights in evictions (or maybe it’s the same job? It’s unclear), seems meant to stand in for Gerald, who only throws out the occasional remark from the corner of the café that replaces the job hub as the main gathering spot. Darren is at the center of both the biggest romantic storyline of the series and a lesson in open-mindedness, but since the character comes out of nowhere, these moments fail to register. Scheduling conflicts might account for why Gerald and Guy don’t play bigger roles, but while Barber appears in almost every episode, Horse’s arc remains underserved, despite being the most heart-wrenching.
It’s ironic that a story rooted in scarcity would be tripped up by excess, but the narrative pile-on can’t obscure the show’s warmth or the chemistry among the cast. As Gaz and Dave, Carlyle and Addy easily slip back into their thorny but good-natured dynamic, though an early tiff keeps them apart for much of the season. Meanwhile, Wing and her young co-stars prove that the next generation of Sheffielders have just as much fight in them as their forebears. When these groups come together, The Full Monty’s message rings loud and clear: Just as we all may find ourselves in need of help at times, we’re all capable of helping one another, especially when institutions fail us. And if that brand of good-hearted comedy can keep Ted Lasso going for three seasons, it’s enough to power a limited series that ends on a definitive note.
The Full Monty is now streaming on Hulu. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Danette Chavez is the Editor-in-Chief of Primetimer and its biggest fan of puns.
TOPICS: The Full Monty