British sitcom audio drama Wooden Overcoats has returned for its third season today with “Season 3 Episode 1: The Loneliness of the Short-Tempered Rudyard.” Wooden Overcoats is known for its zany premise (following twin funeral home directors Rudyard and Antigone Funn as they compete with Eric Chapman, the only other funeral home director in their small town) and quick-paced jokes, but this introduction to the podcast’s third season sets a markedly more introspective, realistic tone.
It’s not that the episode isn’t funny, of course. Like with any Wooden Overcoats episode, the setup is still that of a sitcom: Lady Vivienne Templar, in an attempt to get back at Chapman for what she perceives as a slight, decides to hire the Funns for a funeral. Her intentions are clear to the listener, but not to the Funns–and especially not to Rudyard. The twins try to win Vivienne’s favor, and the humor comes easily between Antigone’s trademark macabre interests and Rudyard’s eponymous short temper, especially when paired up against the dramatic yet dignified Lady Templar.
What comes through more, though, is Rudyard’s eponymous loneliness. For much of Wooden Overcoats, Rudyard has felt like a de facto vaudevillian antagonist. He lacks any semblance of self-awareness, he’s to blame for most of why Funn Funerals fails as a business, and he has seemingly no empathy for others. His attempts to foil the perfect Eric Chapman are sinister but ridiculous, and those plots consistently embarrass and endanger de facto protagonist Antigone. While the setup has been fine for two seasons, a move towards more multi-faceted character writing in the start to the third season shows that this audio drama is capable of a bit more.
When Rudyard has been humanized, it’s been heart-wrenching, but ultimately fleeting (“Season 2, Episode 6: Rudyard Makes a Friend” comes to mind). This episode takes those moments a step further. Rudyard’s hubris is painted in a new light: it isn’t really blind, cocky ambition, but more naive, desperate optimism. His failures here feel real and substantial. By the end of the episode, you don’t just feel for Rudyard–you genuinely want him to succeed. While other episodes have been one-offs, perhaps scaffolding for more Rudyard-intensive episodes, making this the start to a new season seems to signal a new direction as well. If Wooden Overcoats immediately goes back to its high-velocity antics, it’ll still be the incredible show we’ve loved for two seasons, but I look forward to what this episode could start.