Review: ‘The Full Monty’ is a sentimental series that maintains the spirit of its predecessor

Five men in an office stand in a line and look to their right.
The “Full Monty” series is a sequel to the popular 1997 British film. Gaz (Robert Carlyle), from left, returns, starring alongside Darren (Miles Jupp), who is new to the story, and old pals Lomper (Steve Huison), Horse (Paul Barber) and Dave (Mark Addy).
(Ben Blackall / FX)
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The Full Monty,” premiering Wednesday on FX on Hulu, is a sequel — a true sequel, not a reboot or a remake — that brings back the entire main cast of the 1997 film, with its screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy, on board as showrunner. If it isn’t the most likely exploitation of an old property, having no superheroes or secret agents, it’s not an unreasonable one, given the worldwide success of the movie, which spawned a hit soundtrack and a long-running musical. Even if you haven’t seen the movie or the musical, you may well know what’s meant by the title.

The film — whose plot is barely recounted at the head of the series — tells the story of six unemployed steelworkers in the depressed city of Sheffield, England, who hatch a far-fetched plan to stage a Chippendales-style strip show to earn some money and, despite reservations and setbacks, do. Directed by Peter Cattaneo (who recently helmed PBS’ ”Magpie Murders”), it’s a lovely movie that does not shortchange the domestic and social challenges of its characters. The film ends at their moment of glory, and though there’s been some suggestion of better days ahead, the future is left blank.

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Though the series is sensible enough on its own terms, familiarity with the film will make it a richer, and not at all a disappointing, experience; the show is faithful to its predecessor’s spirit — things are still tough in this corner of Sheffield, and the protagonists are still muddling through. But, as is the case with sequels, the series also introduces the element of time; among other things, this a show about age. (You would not ordinarily find a series with this many gray heads, were it not based on such a popular property.) Not all the characters were acquainted at the start of the film; now they are old mates who have been in and out of one another’s hair and good graces since the last century.

Four men sit at a restaurant table with red chairs. A man is standing in the back behind the counter.
Horse (Paul Barber), from left, Gaz (Robert Carlyle), Darren (Miles Jupp) and Lomper (Steve Huison) spend lots of time at cafe the Big Baps, which Lomper runs with his husband, Dennis (Paul Clayton, back).
(Ben Blackall / FX)

And so here we are, 26 years on, or “Seven Prime Ministers” and “Eight Northern Regeneration Policies Later,” as the series has it — which is to say nothing much has changed — putting a political frame around the human drama. The first episode is titled “Leveling Up,” a reference to the British investment program that is supposed to bring the poorer north into parity with the richer south — and it’s worth noting that Beaufoy’s co-creator is Alice Nutter, formerly a member of the anarchist pop-punk band Chumbawumba, of “Tubthumping” fame (“I get knocked down, but I get up again”), and that both writers are northerners by birth.

Characters about whom we learned little in the film have been given breadth and depth here, and younger generations have been brought in for demographic range.

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Gaz (Robert Carlyle), the charming schemer who dreamed up the strip show, opened the film attempting to steal a girder from a shuttered factory; he’s reintroduced here dragging home a mattress he found lying about. The divorced father of Nathan (Wim Snape) in the film, he is now additionally the twice-divorced, semiestranged father of teenager Destiny (Talitha Wing), careless of her potential, and who has inherited his larcenous wildness. (Nathan, bucking heredity, has become a policeman, with a son of his own.) Gaz loves his kids, and continually disappoints them.

Dave (Mark Addy) is the caretaker of the school where his wife, Jean (Lesley Sharp), has become headmistress, spurred to a successful, though stressful, career by a family tragedy. (Dave has his related issues.) Their marriage seems less than strong. Horse (Paul Barber), the film’s best dancer, is on disability, down to one lung and “a dodgy leg.” Lomper (Steve Huison), whom we first met attempting suicide, is now married to Dennis (Paul Clayton), a new character; together they run a cafe called the Big Baps, whose name Lomper does not understand is a risque double-entendre (baps are bread rolls, and a slang term for breasts).

A young woman in a school uniform with a tie
Talitha Wing as Destiny, Gaz’s daughter, in “The Full Monty.”
(Ben Blackall / FX)

The cafe is where all the characters turn up and hang around and comment on changing times. (Tom Wilkinson’s Gerald, formerly a foreman, is a permanent fixture.) Guy (Hugo Speer), whose only character points in the film were that he was well-endowed and wound up holding hands with Lomper, has become well-to-do, running something like a property management company — I haven’t worked it out exactly in two viewings of the series — that has oversight of the physical plant of Jean’s school; he is unhelpful. New character Darren (Miles Jupp), whom Guy hires to run interference for him, is a reserved sort whose life will be turned around, and enlarged, by new neighbors, asylum seekers from Kurdistan.

The actors from the original step into their roles as if they’d left them yesterday. Because the characters are immediately likable, and because television has taught us to fear the worst, the series generates a good deal of tension, even as it sticks mostly to comedy. Destiny, with responsible but pliable pal Cal (Dominic Sharkey), accidentally kidnaps a famous dog when she steals a car for a joyride. Gaz gets involved with a patient at the psychiatric hospital where he works, a schizophrenic graffiti artist (Arnold Oceng), who he imagines might be the next Banksy, while Dave befriends a bullied 12-year-old (Aiden Cook as Dean, called Twiglet). Jean might have grown perilously close to a male colleague (Phillip Rhys Chaudhary), while economic pressures have put her at odds with her best friend, music teacher Hetty (Sophie Stanton). Horse battles unfeeling bureaucracy to get his benefits; Lomper is visited by loan sharks.

The series has what might be called an overlapping episodic structure: Stories told in one installment resolve — or come to a head anyway — in the next, sewing different characters’ narratives into a quilt of shorter and longer arcs. In this respect, and in its regard for working-class people in ordinary distressed circumstances, “The Full Monty” has something of the flavor of “Reservation Dogs,” without the magic realism — albeit not everything that happens here could be termed realistic.

But, like Gaz’s pie-in-the-sky schemes, what’s unlikely is in the service of bringing something good to the characters, and to the audience. Doubtless some viewers will find “The Full Monty” sentimental to a fault, though sentiment was key to the success of the movie. And as long as we have to have television, let it be moving, I say.

‘The Full Monty’

Where: Hulu
When: Anytime, starting Wednesday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)