Given a worldwide release via Netflix, as well as a theatrical stint in the UK, Mindhorn is the brainchild of Julian Barratt (Aaaaaaaah!) and Simon Farnaby (Bunny and the Bull), who worked together on the wildly popular Mighty Boosh. Directed by Sean Foley (Brass Eye), Barratt plays Richard Thorncroft, a washed up actor reduced to appearing in embarrassing adverts for socks. However, it wasn’t always like this. In his heyday, Thorncroft had his own TV show in which he played Detective Mindhorn, a crime fighter who could see the truth in people through the use of his Six Million Dollar Man-esque bionic eye. It’s a show that’s all but faded into obscurity, save for its successful spinoff show starring Thorncroft’s former co-star, Peter Eastman (Steve Coogan). Oh, and it also plays a large part in the life of Paul Melly (Russell Tovey), a man wanted for murder and who believes only Mindhorn can help him. As in the actual Mindhorn… Enlisted by the police, Thorncroft returns to his former show to prevent another murder and, hopefully, get his show rereleased on DVD. A man has got to dream right?
The aforementioned Coogan covered similar ground in Alpha Papa, which saw radio DJ Alan Partridge caught up in a hostage situation at his place of work. Whilst Mindhorn never reaches the same heights as Alpha Papa, it manages to do enough to brush the former away and set up its own little world. Thorncroft is more pathetic than Partridge, who had his incompetence justified by never actually being out of work or money. Whilst Thorncroft is willing to use a tragic death to boost his popularity, fate has pre-emptively punished him by taking his hair, his looks and letting his former lover, Patricia (Essie Davies), run off with his ex-stuntman (Farnaby). Returning to Isle of Wright, where Mindhorn was filmed, is a lot like Gary and the gang returning to Newton Haven in The World’s End. It opens up old wounds, emotionally cripples Thorncroft and throws him into life threatening situations. See, this is why you never go home!
Much gentler in its comedy than its pedigree would suggest, Mindhorn manages to be surprisingly touching at times with Barratt generating enough sympathy from his audience that you end up wishing him well in his ill-deserved second chance at success. This is a man who has crushed his friend’s underfoot just to release a solo album, but when we witness him atoning for his sins, you can’t help but want to give him a hug. Throw in the absurdist humour you’d expect from the former Howard Moon, as well as several pot-shots at the high concept shows of the 80s and 90s, and Mindhorn offers up more than enough laughs to get you through an evening.