Category Archives: Comedy

FLEABAG – SEASONS 1 & 2 – BBC TV REVIEW

FLEABAG – SEASONS 1 & 2 – BBC TV REVIEW

Created and Written by: Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Directed by: Harry Bradbeer

Producers: Lydia Hampson, Sarah Hammond

Starring: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman, Brett Gelman, Hugh Skinner, Bill Paterson, Jamie Demetriou, Jenny Rainsford, Hugh Dennis etc.

Composer: Isobel Waller-Bridge

Cinematography: Tony Miller, Laurie Rose

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

This melancholic, painful and chaotic home for middle-class grotesques and excruciatingly awkward comedy situations involving, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s barely-surviving-human being-the-titular-‘Fleabag’, shouldn’t really work as entertainment. Yet, it does because of: brilliant writing, dark, honest humour, existential depth, almost-cinematic production values; genuine star quality from Waller-Bridge; and a cast on top of their game.

First-world-very-white yet universal human problems are legion in two seasons of twelve breathless episodes. We join our nameless anti-hero scraping through life in the midst of doubling grief, following the recent deaths of her mother and close friend/business partner. No doubt the chattering twenty-something classes are full with “I’m just like Fleabag!” recognition. Nonetheless, there’s something to enjoy for those who love to experience raw, human frailty on screen too.

‘Fleabag’ fights flailing moods, business and family issues in contemporary status-symbol London. Using sex to block out her pain in the first season, ‘Arsehole Guy’ and ‘Bus Rodent’ are two such crutch-like paramours who, along with on-off-ex-boyfriend, Harry, are given the physical and emotional run-around. In the less bawdy second season she falls for an uber-cool Catholic Priest (Andrew Scott). Thus, the lashings of sex from the first season gives way to more interesting abstinence and romantic torture for ‘Fleabag’.

With her best mate dead from a tragic accident ‘Fleabag’s’ sword and shield against life is gone and attempts at bridge-building with her family are fraught with strained agony. Her sister Claire (Sian Clifford), is tighter than a snare drum, existing solely on neurosis and a never-ending workaholic mission drive. The scenes between ‘Fleabag’ and her sister range from touching to hilarious to fractious dread. Meanwhile, their beta-male Father (Bill Paterson), is also grieving and a full-on emotional trainwreck. He finds himself a rabbit-in-the-headlights of Olivia Colman’s ‘Godmother’; a genius at passive aggressivity and unlikely arch-villain, quietly stealing the father away from his daughters.

Many hilarious and painful scenes play out around dinner tables, art exhibitions, parties, funerals, seminars, retreats and weddings. ‘Fleabag’ vainly attempts normality but understandbly fails. In addition to her family she also conflicts with other characters, notably Claire’s horrendous-alcoholic-overgrown-man-child-husband, Martin. I was genuinely shouting bile at the TV screen every time I saw him. Thankfully, Fleabag also features fine supporting roles from more likeable characters portrayed by the ultra-talented Fiona Shaw, Kristin Scott-Thomas and aforementioned Andrew Scott.

From Hancock to Steptoe and Son to Fawlty Towers to Blackadder to The Office to Spaced and to the most recent Gervais show After Life, British comedy has been replete with idiosyncratic and anti-heroic characters we root for. Indeed, it takes special writing and performances to get such shades of grey to work on stage and screen. Overall, Waller-Bridge takes familiar themes and situations and spins comedy and dramatic gold from them. Formally, she smashes the fourth wall with Brechtian direct address, welcoming us into her tumultuous reality, speaking to us and asking us to laugh and cry and love and hate and do what humans do: somehow just get through the day.

Season 1 – Mark: 9 out of 11

Season 2 – Mark: 9.5 out of 11

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADEPHIA – SEASON 13 REVIEW

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADEPHIA – S13 REVIEW

Created by: Rob McElhenney

Developed by: Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton

CAST

Charlie Day as Charlie Kelly
Glenn Howerton as Dennis Reynolds
Rob McElhenny as Mac
Kaitlin Olson as Dee Reynolds
Danny DeVito as Frank Reynolds

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS, BITCHES!**

The thirteenth season of one of my favourite sitcoms arrived on Netflix in early January. With a mixture of joy and sadness I eagerly binged another ten episodes of the most scurrilous and offensive comedy shows of recent years. The sadness was mainly due to the fact that Glenn Howerton’s Ted Bundyesque character, Dennis, had seemingly been written out of the show. However, it turned out he was in many of the episodes so joy soon prevailed.

If you haven’t seen It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – THEN WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU! No, seriously, it is one of the darkest, funny and absurd shows I ever seen. It is the anti-christ of sitcoms and a black anathema to the Friends template. It concerns five individuals who congregate a bar in Philadelphia called Paddy’s and basically follows them as they fuck each other and those around them over. It may not sound like it but it is comedy gold. Further, it’s also pretty smart in satirising zeitgeist issues relating to race, gender, politics, friendships, sport, addiction, crime family and sexuality. It is quite often shocking but not just for shock’s sake. There is a mean streak of intelligence running throughout the show.

I would have to say that Season 13 did not hit the heights of prior seasons. The main reason is that Glenn Howerton’s appearances, while very funny, seemed to impact the consistency of the show. There was an uncertainty and feeling he was only available for a certain time during filming and this was felt in the season as a whole. Also, one could argue the writing was not as sharp as prior seasons. Nonetheless, the show had some brilliant and pointed episodes. My favourites were: The Gang Beats Boggs: Ladies Reboot which both called back to a prior “drinking game on a plane” episode and satirised the drive by Hollywood for all-female ensemble remakes such as Ghostbusters. The Gang Gets New Wheels episode was also brilliant. Here the status symbol of car ownership was mocked as Dee finds herself elevated socially due to her new vehicle. Safe to say her new found popularity is ruined by her own narcissistic and obnoxious character choices.

The season takes joy in referencing the #MeToo and Time’s Up furore, the Eagles Superbowl win, Gay Pride, Escape Rooms, Sex Dolls and lampooning films such as: Home Alone and Inception. The latter becoming a hilarious meta-textual delight in the episode, The Gang Does a Clip Show. By the thirteenth episode, Mac Finds His Pride, I had thoroughly enjoyed the scatter-gun chaos of the season. Yet it was still not enough to prepare me for the incredible final sequence, which found Rob McElhenney performing a contemporary dance sequence of some skill and beauty. While it did not necessarily make me laugh it, like the show as a whole, kept me hooked and surprised throughout.

Mark: 9 out of 11

“TIME TO GET CEREAL!” – SOUTH PARK (2018) – SEASON 22 REVIEW

SOUTH PARK (2018) – SEASON 22 REVIEW

Directed by: Trey Parker
Produced by: South Park Studios
Written by: Trey Parker
No. of episodes: 10
Release Date: September 22 2018 – December 12 2018
UK Release: Comedy Central

Trey Parker’s scandalous and scatological satire South Park shows no sign of slowing down in its mission of targeting the various sacred cows, media, celebrities, politicians and fads of society. The shenanigans of the small Colorado town reach their 22nd season, as the likes of: Cartman, Sharon, Randy, Kyle, Mr Mackey, PC Principal, Stan, Mr Hankey, Butters, Mrs Cartman etc. continue to be used as Parker’s conduits for comedy and social commentary.

Season 22 started slowly but ultimately proved a hit for me. Nonetheless the show is arguably a victim of its own formula and success. There are few surprises left as the show bases most episodes on satirising current events and the cultural zeitgeist. Plus, the characters are so well formed that we are rarely shocked by what they do. However, the writing, gag-rate and thought-provoking narratives prove the show is as strong as ever.

Arguably not as memorable as the incredible Season 19 (review here); there is a lot to recommend in Season 22! Below, I will now look at each episode in turn and consider their various merits.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

EPISODE 1 – DEAD KIDS – Mark: 8 out of 11.

School shootings and the lack of reaction to them force Sharon Marsh to become apoplectic in her outrage. A solid episode which didn’t quite catch fire but had its moments; as Sharon’s PMT is ridiculed by Randy unfairly with Parker clearly stating gun crime something must be done about this horrendous stain on United States society.

EPISODE 2 – A BOY AND A PRIEST – Mark 8 out of 11.

Butters “befriends” Father Maxi as the Catholic Church once again try and cover up historical paedophilia. I was shocked but how unshocked I was by the episode yet it contains many great gags. Parker ensures we do not forget the horrific crimes committed by priests down the age; highlighting the hypocrisy that continues to be presented by the Catholic hierarchy.

EPISODE 3 – THE PROBLEM WITH A POO – Mark 8.5 out of 11.

Talking turd Mr Hankey was never my favourite character, but the show literally gets loads of “shit” jokes out of him. Here, Parker satirises celebrity Twitter scandals but more interestingly focusses on Vice Principal Strong Woman giving birth to five PC Babies! This precipitates a fantastic running joke throughout the series involving PC Babies crying persistently at mention of something that does not fit their progressive agenda.

EPISODE 4 – TEGRIDY FARM – Mark: 9 out of 11

The series really started hitting its stride as Parker snipes at the vaping craze and the legalisation of marijuana in Colorado. Typically, Randy Marsh driven episodes are almost often classics and here he becomes a hemp farmer. Similarly, Cartman has become a vape dealer and the two narrative strands combine to delightful effect.

EPISODE 5 – THE SCOOTS – Mark: 9 out of 11

This was another brilliant and funny episode. It combines elements of Hitchcock’s The Birds, with satirising of human beings’ obsession with smartphones and Halloween. I loved the way the episode built from Mr Mackey’s panic with the E-Scooters as they threaten to take over the town. As this is South Park it all soon descends into disaster and brilliant anarchic humour.

EPISODES 6 & 7 – TIME TO GET CEREAL / NO ONE GOT CEREAL – Mark: 9 out of 11

In this hilarious two-parter the kids’ old “friend” Al Gore comes out of retirement due to a monster killing citizens of South Park. It turns out it’s the analogous beast ‘ManBearPig’; a demonic animal part-pig-part-man-part-bear. If you didn’t know ‘ManBearPig’ is an absurd symbol for the Environment, and here Parker depicts Gore as not just a figure of fun but actually smugly correct in his global predictions. Meanwhile, the authorities – including the police – reject the existence of ‘ManBearPig’ and blame the kids for the murders. Satan makes an appearance too as the two-parter amusingly critiques: Climate Change deniers, inept policing and addiction to video-games such as Red Dead Redemption 2.

EPISODE 8 – BUDDHA BOX – Mark: 8 out of 11

Cartman’s anxiety leads him to wear a cardboard ‘Buddha Box’ over his head to isolate himself from society. Sending up further our obsession with mobile phones by eschewing meaningful human contact is always going to get laughs and Parker achieves that here. However, the PC Babies gags win the episode as taking the piss out of snowflake millennials continues to be hilarious.

EPISODES 9 & 10 – UNFULFILLED / BIKE PARADE – Mark: 10 out of 11

The highlight of the season was undoubtedly the episode called Unfulfilled. Here South Park pokes its parodic tentacles at Amazon, never losing its grasp. Amazon open a warehouse in South Park, and after an accident, the employees go on strike. This industrial action leads to Jeff Bezos himself coming to South Park; with Parker depicting him as a cold telekinetic alien. The episode and the follow-up Bike Parade show the various ways the people of South Park deal with the lack of fulfilment from the Amazon non-deliveries. Here Parker combines Marxist doctrine and consumer culture satire with absurd comedy and horror parody to amazing effect. These episodes once again show that South Park retains the balls and strength to make us laugh and think in equal measures.  

Overall mark: 8.5 out of 11.

ATLANTA (2016 – 2018) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – FOX TV REVIEW

ATLANTA (2016 – 2018) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – FOX TV REVIEW

Created by: Donald Glover

Writer(s): Donald Glover, Stefani Robinson, Stephen Glover, Jamal Odori etc.

Director(s): Hiro Murai, Janicza Bravo, Amy Semetz

Starring: Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz

Original network: FX

'Atlanta' TV show premiere, After Party, Los Angeles, USA - 19 Feb 2018

Donald Glover and his multi-talented cast and crew deserve all the praise and accolades they have or will receive for Atlanta. It is easily one of the best and most originally voiced television shows I have watched in the last decade.  Set in the Atlanta, which is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Georgia; it centres on a collection of characters on the outside of the capitalist system just trying to make their way in life through: creativity, music, strange schemes, ducking, diving; and possibly a bit of drug dealing.

Atlanta has a rich political history. In the 1960s it became a major organizing centre of the civil rights with Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and many others playing serious roles in the movement’s leadership. Flash forward fifty years and, while we find the USA has moved beyond segregation from a legal perspective, inequality and social divide remain everyday from an economic perspective. The underclasses stay just that with the rich getting richer and the poorer communities unfortunately scrabbling around just trying to get by.

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It is against this social milieu we meet our main protagonists in Atlanta. Donald Glover is Earnest “Earn” Marks, a young Princeton dropout turned manager; Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, Earn’s cousin and up-and-coming rapper; Lakeith Stanfield as Darius Epps, Alfred’s eccentric right-hand man and visionary; and Zazie Beetz as Vanessa “Van” Keefer, Earn’s on-again-off-again girlfriend and the mother of their daughter Lottie. These are presented as complex characters who, while at times, not following the law or rules are just trying to survive in these difficult economic times. A mixture of both society and their own poor decisions trap them, and from this comes much drama and comedy.

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This is a very rich show, which over two seasons, is brilliantly acted, scored, filmed, written and directed. Thematically, it is very powerful while retaining a very honest humour. Episodes cover: stoner culture; crime; family relationships; the working class struggle; guns; violence; street gangs; drugs; children; social media; hip-hop; fashion; celebrity; as well as satirizing white people’s attitude to black culture and the music scene in general.  It is confidently written with a loose episodic structure with events linked thematically and often looping back and re-joining much later in the season. Atlanta also experiments with form as well as style using a meshing of genres including: pop video, short film, chat-show, horror, comedy, internet and various dramatic devices to tell its story.

Overall, this is one of those shows which constantly surprises you and what appears to be a loose vibe is in fact a cleverly structured series of impactful vignettes full of rich moments.  Indeed, episode 6 of Season 2 called Teddy Perkins is one of the most amazing pieces of television I have seen in a long while.  Atlanta is not just a TV show but an experience not to forget and I certainly had Georgia on my mind long after I’d finished watching it.

(Mark: 10 out of 11)

CORPORATE (2018) – COMEDY CENTRAL TV REVIEW

CORPORATE (2018) – COMEDY CENTRAL TV REVIEW

Created by: Pat Bishop, Matt Ingebretson, Jake Weisman

Directed by: Pat Bishop

Starring: Matt Ingebretson, Jake Weisman, Anne Dudek, Adam Lustick, Aparna Nancherla, Baron Vaughan, Lance Reddick

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Have you ever had a job where during your employment you literally just wanted to die?  It could be for a number of reasons: you hate your job; you hate your boss; you hate your work colleagues; you hate yourself; you’re bored with the tasks; the endless meetings; a hangover from hell; your pen broke and leaked all over you; the girl from Accounts doesn’t fancy you; you hate the customers; or you feel so existentially empty and having realised the pointlessness of living in a cruel, heartless and soulless vacuum of a world you see no alternative but to commit suicide. Or is that just me?

Of course, many of the above are the irrational emotions of a spoilt Westerner and can be firmly filed under first world problems. Because in a thriving and greed-driven capitalist society which is destroying the environment and Earth, making the rich richer and the monetizing and exploiting the poor for the continual gathering of wealth, what alternative is there? We can protest and sometime things change but most of us have the fight kicked out of our guts or never had it to begin with. So we have no choice but to punch the clock, get our money, go out and get drunk or high and play Xbox, have miserable children, watch a movie, watch Netflix, buy crap we don’t need, over eat and drink; and then go back to work on Monday, deluding ourselves we are living valuable lives.

Corporate-Comedy-Central

Comedy Central’s under-the-radar black comedy satire Corporate encapsulates much of what I’m talking about above. My attitude is nowhere near as bleak anymore as the opinions stated above and come from emotions of when I was much younger and cynical. However, there remains a truth to these feelings and Corporate – in ten very funny episodes – captures that negative truth very well. It also captures the existential dread of working in an office for a diabolical corporation, hell-bent on fucking the world while chasing the: Dollar, Pound, Yen, Rupee, Renminbi etc.

Indeed, Hampton DeVille are a massive global company and completely ruthless in their business as the show reflects practices by such conglomerates as: Amazon, Apple and Google etc. Their CEO is the megalomaniacal Christian Deville (Lance Reddick) but the show focusses on the trainee executives Matt (Matt Ingebretson) and Jake (Jake Weisman) as they face the horror of: long pointless meetings; ridiculous away days; dress down days; pedantic HR policies; general boredom and ennui; and dealing with patronising middle managers and petty colleagues. With episode titles such as: Powerpoint of Death, The Void and The Pain of Being Alive, the show is pitch black in its outlook and themes; while the visual style is drained of colour with browns, blacks and greys dominating.

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Overall, I really enjoyed the absurd look at office life in Corporate. It takes risks because even the lead protagonists aren’t likable and the delivery is very deadpan. I especially enjoyed the skewering corporate business, as Hampton Deville is shown to be involved in: gun-running; starting civil wars; monetizing religion and art; over-the top technological releases; stupid jargon and sloganeering; plus it nails the horrific tedium of being trapped in a job you hate. But as I always say: there’s one thing worse that having a job you hate – having to look for a job you know you’re going to hate!!

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

DETECTORISTS  (2014 –      ) –SEASONS 1 and 2 – BBC TV SHOW REVIEW

DETECTORISTS  (2014 –      ) – SEASONS 1 and 2 – TV COMEDY REVIEW

Written by: Mackenzie Crook

Directed by: Mackenzie Crook

Cast: Mackenzie Crook, Toby Jones, Rachael Stirling, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Gerard Horan, Sophie Thompson, Pearce Quigley, Divian Ladwa

Opening theme: “Detectorists” by Johnny Flynn

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Picture the scene: a bird’s eye view of two men pacing slowly across a lush, rural landscape. The green grass shines and ploughed dirt sits proud flanked by golden wheat fields. As an acoustic guitar chimes and lilting mellifluous vocals of Johnny Flynn drift across the countryside vista, we are serenely introduced to our “heroes”, Andy and Lance, the Detectorists. Serene is probably the perfect word to describe this character comedy. Gentle too. It moves at its own perfect pace and gives us something of a break from faster-paced, heightened, rude and farcical nature of other more urban-based comedies. There are obviously jokes but never at the expense of well developed character moments and empathy.

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Set in the fictitious town of Danebury, in the county of Essex, this wonderfully dry comedic delight was created by Mackenzie Crook. Probably best known for playing David Brent’s bowl-haired “yes-man” Gareth, from seminal sitcom The Office, plus many other film and television roles, Crook has fashioned a brilliant show that exudes a quiet confidence in both writing and direction. He himself plays a budding archaeologist Andy, a non-careerist beta male who pays the rent via a series of agency jobs; while his school teacher partner, Becky, (Rachael Stirling) provides the ambition and drive in the relationship. His best mate, Lance, is portrayed with nuanced comedic timing by character actor, Toby Jones. Lance drives a forklift and hankers after his ex-wife who runs a local holistic shop. Plus, these two ordinary blokes happen to be part of the DMDC – ‘Danebury Metal Detecting Club.’

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One may think that the whole premise of a rural metal detecting club is slightly underwhelming and parochial; and to be honest you would be right. But herein lays the strength of the show because the peace and quiet between the narrative and comedy is very hypnotic. The plot in Season 1 finds the DMDC in direct competition with stupidly named “Antiqui-Searchers” over a big historical find; while Season 2 has them searching for crash-landed WW2 German bomber. Amidst these strands the loves and lives of our protagonists and club-members intertwine carefully; as a brilliant supporting cast breathe life into an array of oddball and eccentric characters.

Overall, I found Detectorists very funny throughout creating real inner warmth.  I mean, as Andy and Lance softly walk across the landscape, discussing last night’s University Challenge, scanning for that possible jackpot of medieval gold, nothing very much happens. But there’s The Detectorists’ main strength, nothing much happens with characters you really love spending time with.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

The Detectorists — Seasons 1 – 3 are available on DVD/BLU RAY

Seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream on NETFLIX.           

THE ORVILLE (2017) – SEASON 1 – TV SHOW REVIEW

THE ORVILLE (2017) – SEASON 1 – TV SHOW REVIEW

Created by: Seth MacFarlane

Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J. Lee, Mark Jackson

Executive producer(s): Seth MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jason Clark, Jon Favreau (pilot), Liz Heldens, Lili Fuller

Production company(s): Fuzzy Door Productions; 20th Century Fox Television

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Orville-Bridge

If you search YouTube for Star Trek fan films you will find hundreds of them. In fact, I myself have written and produced one myself called Chance Encounter (2016). However, you will not find a shiny and more expensive Star Trek homage and fan film – in all but name – than Fox’s big budget science fiction series, The Orville. It was written and created by uber-talented Seth MacFarlane and joins the stable of shows and films he has been involved in, including: Family Guy, American Dad, Ted (2012) and A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014).

The Orville is set on the titular U.S.S. Orville (ECV-197), a mid-level exploratory space vessel in the Planetary Union, a 25th-century interstellar alliance of Earth and many other planets. Seth McFarlane portrays Ed Mercer, a journeyman officer who is depressed due to his wife’s infidelity, and constantly turning up to work hungover and uninterested. A chance at redemption comes when he offered the captaincy of The Orville.  He is then joined by his first officer, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who so happens to be his ex-wife. This slightly clichéd dramatic turn does actually become a positive fulcrum for the twelve episode run, providing many jokes and bitter asides between the two. Their dedicated crew is a mix of aliens, humans and a genius robot called Isaac; who may as well be called Data to be honest.

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The Orville is an interesting show to review because I could understand someone watching it randomly because of say, liking Family Guy or Ted, and then not enjoying this at all. Because aside from the odd sight gag or wicked one-liner, this is not all out comedy. The Orville is instead a really solid science fiction show which mixes satire, action, comedy and drama. Indeed, while there is much to smile at, many episodes feature contemporary moral dilemmas involving: relationships, religion, social media, race, gender issues and sex. Most of all this is Seth Mcfarlane’s tribute to Star Trek. He even goes as far to enlist Trek producer Brannon Braga to executive produce and helm several episodes; while Jonathan Frakes also directs episode 6 – Pria.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show because of its similarity to Star Trek and because the characters drew me in tooSeth Macfarlane is not the greatest actor but he is a very likeable everyman. He is also ably assisted by a very committed supporting cast and the slick production. Many episodes whizz along at a decent pace and it doesn’t take itself too seriously either. There’s some excellent supporting characters along the way portrayed by Charlize Theron and Rob Lowe. There’s also some brilliant science fiction stuff which I loved including: space weapons; space ships; time travel; worm holes; ion storms; alien creatures; special powers; cannibal monsters; and hologram devices. Basically everything that Star Trek had The Orville has and that’s why I enjoyed it.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)