Sure, Catherine Tate’s Netflix debut is arriving in the aftermath of The Nan Movie (0% on Rotten Tomatoes; nobody credited as the director, reportedly because nobody wanted to be), but there’s a tremendous amount of goodwill for Tate. Its critic-baiting title aside, the comedian’s pedigree means that Hard Cell isn’t an especially hard sell. But some buyer’s remorse is quite likely.
A mockumentary series that takes viewers behind the scenes (or behind the bars) at Woldsley women’s prison, Hard Cell features Tate as prison governor Laura Willis, as well as a variety of prison staff and inmates, who definitely don’t look like Tate in a selection of different wigs. Perkily priggish, Laura is mounting a prison production of West Side Story, which is infinitely more important to her than ensuring that HMP Woldsley has working plumbing.
Hard Cell has made a fatal error as a comedy in that it’s not funny. There are jokes, very few of which actually work, but if they don’t, not to worry – the joke will inevitably be repeated multiple times. The horse has long since died, but Tate and her co-writers keep diligently flogging away. Netflix describes the latest addition to their roster as a dry comedy. A pedantic viewer could counter this statement by asking if a comedy can truly be dry when it’s so reliant on the various liquids that can flow out of humans in allegedly humorous ways.
The six episodes zip along briskly enough, from one repetitive set piece to another, with each instalment only demanding a commitment of 25 minutes or so. The comedic pacing is clearly there, but the comedy is curiously not. A viewer’s experience of Hard Cell may boil down to a single question: is it worth watching a few hours of a television comedy when the only reward is a couple of giggles? The inmates at HMP Woldsley might be there against their will, but a viewer needn’t be.
Hard Cell is released on Netflix on 12th April 2022.
Watch the trailer for Hard Cell here: