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Review: One father with two secret families. Life is complicated in the comedy 'Bliss'

Review: One father with two secret families. Life is complicated in the comedy 'Bliss'
Kim (Heather Graham) is just one of Andrew's (Stephen Mangan) partners on the series "Bliss." (BritBox)

It’s not exactly “Big Love” or “Sister Wives,” but BritBox comedy “Bliss” pushes the concept of juggling multiple families to the extreme.

The half-hour comedy by actor and comedian David Cross (“Arrested Development”) arrives Wednesday on the BBC and ITV streaming service, and it follows the exploits of renowned travel writer Andrew (Stephen Mangan) who has published countless reviews about must-visit destinations around the globe. But it’s his unpublished, secret journeys between households in his hometown of Bristol that prove the most interesting. The harried journalist has two sets of families in the region, and neither knows the other exists.

Andrew must move with James Bond-like stealth between his partners — played by Heather Graham and Jo Hartley — and his teenaged kids. Yet he’s hardly a cool and collected character, at least by the time we meet him. In the first two episodes available for review, we learn he’s been playing this game for almost two decades. Andrew’s fail-safe system is starting to fail, and he’s a bundle of fritzing nerves.

The ludicrous juggling act is both funny and frustrating to watch but mostly frustrating. If you enjoyed Showtime’s series “Episodes,” which starred Magnan as a British TV writer in the vapid shallows of Hollywood, this series has the same things-can’t-get-any-worse-but-they-do appeal. The writing in “Bliss,” however, is not as sharp, causing early episodes of the streaming series to teeter between clever and wacky.

The cluelessness of Kim (Graham) and Denise (Hartley), each of whom he has one child with, is a gift for Andrew but a problem for viewers. They don’t appear to notice how strange their man is acting each time he returns or leaves on “assignment” — which is every other week. He’s a jumpy, sweaty mess.

Viewers get the joke, though, when he uses the same lines on his respective partners as he pulls out of the drive for the airport, “I love you both.”

Funnier is Andrew’s routine: He has two cars parked at the Bristol airport that he swaps between households. Each is equipped with different mobile phones, luggage, laptops and “gifts” from whatever region he’s supposedly returning from.

When does he have time to travel and write all those reviews for his books? He doesn’t. It turns out his families aren’t the only poor souls Andrew is cheating.

He’s made a career as an anonymous travel writer, which not only gives him the perfect cover to bamboozle his families, it also allows him to lift his travel dispatches right off of user-generated review sites that resemble Travelocity or TripAdvisor.

It’s another ruse but in the service of making enough money to provide for his families. Only in fiction can a freelance writer make enough money to support one family let alone two.

As his worlds begin to collide, he resorts to increasingly drastic measures to keep the game going. And it’s the extremes here — hiding under restaurant tables, staging phone calls from “Spain” complete with slapstick sound effects — that make “Bliss” more clumsy than humorous.

“Bliss” has the cast and creator credentials to be a better series, and perhaps it gets there after the first two episodes. But Andrew’s double life is just as stressful for viewers to navigate.

And where’s the fun in that?

‘Bliss’

Where: Britbox.com and Amazon Prime

When: Any time, starting Thursday

Rated: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

lorraine.ali@latimes.com

@lorraineali

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