Warning: This review contains mild spoilers for Staged season 3 in addition to spoilers from seasons 1 and 2.
The comedy series Staged, starring Michael Sheen (Good Omens, Frost/Nixon) and David Tennant (Good Omens, Doctor Who), is back for a third season, thrilling fans of the squabbling comedic duo.
The show, which originated during the initial pandemic lockdown in 2020, features the two actors playing exaggerated versions of themselves alongside their real-life partners. They muddle through their insecurities, professional ambitions, and domestic hiccups in conversations over Zoom. Sheen and Tennant are joined by a slew of high-profile guest stars, including Judi Dench, Michael Palin, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Samuel L. Jackson.
The lines between the actors and the characters they’re playing become increasingly blurred throughout the three seasons, providing a behind-the-scenes flavour to the show. Not only do they rib each other about Doctor Who, Broadchurch, and Sheen’s tendency to “lose himself in his roles,” but the
actors appear in their own homes and are occasionally interrupted by their children and pets.
The first season saw Sheen and Tennant attempting to rehearse a play over Zoom with director Simon Evans, the real-life writer and director of the series. The second season employed a meta twist, where Sheen and Tennant are recast for the American remake of the Staged episodes from the first season and reeling from the rejection.
In the third season, Evans deploys yet another twist that sees the actors venturing away from the Zoom format and into the real world. Sheen and Tennant have returned to normal life, but Evans has not. No one will hire him unless he works with Sheen and Tennant, but they want nothing to do with him. In a last-ditch attempt, he manipulates the two actors into working on a Christmas radio show with him. Naturally, chaos ensues.
Sheen and Tennant’s friendship takes centre stage yet again in this season, and their easy rapport carries the episodes; however, it feels a bit more tired this time around. The bickering between Sheen and Tennant wears a bit thin, and their irritation-affection fueled relationship leans more heavily toward the former. You can only watch two grown men shout at each other for so long.
But that doesn’t mean the season lacks humour. Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg, Tennant and Sheen’s partners, have an expanded role this season, and their amusement/exasperation with Sheen and Tennant’s relationship offers plenty of memorable moments. The running gag with their mugs is particularly delightful. And at one point, Neil Gaiman pops in, refusing to talk about George R. R. Martin.
The transition from pandemic entertainment to post-lockdown (fingers crossed) reality happens relatively seamlessly, but it is still jarring to see the characters walking around outside of their Zoom boxes. It’s a significant departure from the last two seasons. There are still Zoom calls — Zoom is a
normal part of professional life now, after all — but we also get to see more trips away from the screens and also more of Sheen and Tennant’s homes.
Additionally, while this season’s twist admittedly keeps the premise fresh, it also leads to confusion that distracts from the plot at times. It takes a few minutes of recalibrating before you’re clear on which sections are supposed to be “acting” and which sections are supposed to be “real.”
The addition of intentionally bad writing and acting in this season — a move that’s both endearing and wildly chaotic — is thoroughly entertaining, but I did find myself wishing for the absurd (but slightly more contained) interactions of the previous two seasons.
Although Staged season 3 loses some of the magic from the first two seasons, overall, Sheen, Tennant, and their miscellaneous shenanigans are still a joy to watch.
Episodes of Staged are available on Hollywood Suite and BritBox.