When a sitcom gets funnier as the series goes on, you know you’re onto a winner. So it is with Rybish, written by Barry ‘Archie’ Jones. Set in a recycling centre in North-West Wales, it avoids the rookie mistake of focusing primarily on the workplace situation. Instead, Jones develops a cast of well-rounded characters whose idiosyncratic personalities rub up against one another to form the basis of much of Rybish’s hilarity. There may be the odd joke at the setting’s expense, like standing on a ladder in the pouring rain, attempting to get a mobile signal. But Jones unearths most of the comedy gold from the interactions between his characters. It is the people that he has created that make Rybish such a success.
Sion Pritchard is simply brilliant as site manager Clive. He ramps up the sullenness of his character Mark in Tourist Trap to take Clive beyond expressions of mild annoyance whilst tempering his exasperation so that his comments remain witty and teasing rather than scathing and cut-throat. He resembles the best of banter, light-heartedly mocking his colleagues with nicknames and put-downs that lovingly encapsulate their personalities. There is no malice in the man, as some might conclude; rather, he represents the masculine type that struggles to show emotion and masks their insecurities with humour and a certain aloofness.
Meanwhile, Eurwyn (Dyfed Thomas) wears his heart on his sleeve. He is a gentle and kind soul whose sweet nature is in stark contrast to the moody Clive. Whilst the humour created by the latter is often through his witty comments, it is the innocence of Eurwyn that draws laughter from the audience. It is never intended to be cruel however, and Jones ensures that in his script. He presents Eurwyn as a man of great wisdom and knowledge, though the way Thomas emphasises his character’s naivety has the effect of downplaying this. The result is a deeply empathetic portrayal of an archetypal, rather than stereotypical, Welshman who is devoted to his nation’s culture.
Alongside Clive and Eurwyn sits Nigel (Rhodri Trefor), a young lad who likes to think he’s more important than he actually is. He will often talk the talk but very rarely does he follow through with action. In fact, it is in the incongruity between what he says to camera and then does afterwards that is the source of much comedy. Jones does not simply pour scorn on Nigel however. Like the rest of his characters, he brings complexity through the subtle incision of moments that reflect genuine sentiment and vulnerability. Nigel’s reaction to new arrival Bobbi (Betsan Ceiriog) is one example, with his suspicion of her perhaps wrongly assumed by some to be veiled sexism. But when, in episode five, the ex-manager of the site wanders around making blatantly sexist remarks, Nigel stands with the rest of the crew in opposition. Such action reflects the strong camaraderie between them, of which Bobbi becomes a vital part.
Ceiriog, in her debut television role, is a steady and confident presence onscreen, affording Bobbi a self-assured and strong personality that means she becomes a vital part of the Cefn Cilgwyn family. She does so to the extent that, when it comes time for her to leave in the final episode, their sadness is akin to grief. It is felt so viscerally through the screen that I am already pining to re-join them for another series with the hope that Bobbi comes back. It would not be the same without her.
It is very rare that I have felt such strong affection for a group of sitcom characters. I can think of only This Country and Derry Girls as contemporary examples where a similar strength of feeling has existed. The difference is that the characters in Rybish resemble a reality that is within my grasp. Contained in their specifically Welsh foibles, alongside their universally-felt flaws, is a reflection of something (someone) in my real world.
I suspect that the factual aesthetic and naturalistic dialogue also contribute to this sense of familiarity, the effect of which leaves one reflecting on the importance of community. For the concept of community that has been created here is something to behold. Whether a result of the cast and crew’s experience of filming under lockdown restrictions (they were in a bubble together while filming some of the series) or not, the familial-like ties that bind the characters of Rybish together is something to take to heart.
Writer Barry ‘Archie’ Jones has created something in Rybish that is not just memorable but lovable too. The title may be ‘rubbish’ but this sitcom is anything but.