The misfriend is old Doctor Who and current The The Time Traveler’s Wife showrunner Steven Moffatthe first play. It’s a raucous satire of an English couple who find themselves with an unwelcome American guest who won’t leave, to the point where they fear for their lives.
This is a review of the screenplay of Steven Moffatfirst play The misfriend, not the actual production currently underway in Chichester, England. To review a script for a play is to look at the writer’s work pure and unfiltered without seeing it produced and performed by a director and actors. We heard that Marc GatissThe production direction allows the actors to find moments of wordless visual comedy in their gestures and body language.
Peter and Debbie Lindel meet the loud, outgoing and very American Elsa Jean Krakowski (the stereotypical idea of an American name from a Brit) on a vacation cruise and exchange addresses. Shortly after they return home, Elsa shows up on their doorstep unannounced for a date with no departure date. Peter and Debbie Lindel are a very British couple, the kind you find in a very British sitcom – middle-aged, tired of two stereotypical teenagers who hate them, hate each other and hate their lives, and with a small, passive – aggressive neighbor so annoying that he doesn’t have a name because they don’t remember him, even after living next to him for ten years. Elsa is the elemental force that sweeps through their lives like a hurricane and changes it in ways they never expected. The misfriend is a British sitcom elevated to Kafkaesque extremes with a gleeful amoral streak that Moffat always showed in his TV work but was subdued there but ultimately rife here. The misfriend That’s what Peter and Debbie wish they could do with Elsa like Facebook, except she’s on their couch, not on the computer.
The misfriend is a raucous satire of the English disease: the inability of Britons to speak directly what they think because they have been conditioned to be polite at all times. It really is a middle class thing. The Lindels are deathly afraid to speak directly about to fear – fear of confrontation, fear of judgement, fear of potential violence even before being afraid of being perceived as rude or ungraceful. Moffat and Gatiss insist that the play is fun for laughs without any overt political message that snobbish and noble British critics often demand, but it could be read as an allegory of the gentle American colonization of Britain. The entire plot is the age-old trope “American breaking into the strained lives of the British and shaking them up”.
It’s almost entirely about dialogue, and thankfully Moffat is a master of snappy, propulsive dialogue. The misfriend is Moffat in Sitcom mode, which is his comfort zone. Moffat has always been a stickler for comical face-to-face banter. It was sitcoms like Joking asidethe class cult sitcom Chalk, and the sex comedy of the 20s Coupling who put it on the map before it went to Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Dracula. It was a sitcom verve that he brought to his scripts on Doctor Whoand his natural flaw for the sitcom is what makes The Time Traveler’s Wife feel at odds with his laughter reflex. His first instinct is always to entertain, and The misfriend he is in his natural element. It works better than The Time Traveler’s Wife because it’s through-and-through comedy instead of the nightmarish tragedy that Moffat continues to impose his sitcom style on. This piece could have been written by The Master or Missy.