Tag Archives: Blackadder

SIX OF THE BEST #1 – BRITISH SITCOM EPISODES

SIX OF THE BEST #1 – BRITISH SITCOM EPISODES

My blog has a few little running series on it such as My Cinematic Romance where I list some of my favourite filmy things; also my monthly review round-up called Screenwash. Moreover, in the annals of time and space there’s my Fix Films Retrospective short film reviews plus two critical series called Under-rated Classics and 100 Not Out!  The last two I need a few more entries, however, I now introduce another blog thing called Six of the Best! Basically, it’s another list but this time six of the best of “something”.

We all need a laugh in these times of global conflict so to cheer myself up I thought about some classic British situation comedies which are genuinely funny every time I watch them.  We’ve produced so many amazing comedy shows over the years it’s good to look back in celebration. Obviously, there are SO many episodes to choose from but here are a mere six which make me piss myself laughing every time.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

BLACKADDER GOES FORTH – “GOODBYEE”

“Bugger!”

The classic historical sitcom that went from the Dark Ages up to the horrors of World War One had so many legendary episodes brimming with cracking gags, characters and a who’s-who of comedy talent.  The final episode is one of those rare programmes which makes you laugh your brain off throughout but has you in tears by the final frame. Blackadder, George and Baldrick, having attempted to avoid the “big push” finally reach the end of the line:

BOTTOM – “GAS”

“Why didn’t we just pay our gas bill?”

Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson’s juvenile-slapstick-low-life-loser-flat-share-comedy was a wonderful guilty pleasure which essentially updated their “Dangerous Brothers” persona for the 1990s. Basically, Eddie and Rich have been “borrowing” next door’s gas when they get rumbled a whole host of stupid mayhem ensues.  Gas was the second ever episode and is definitely my favourite as it contains so many great lines, catchphrases and violent set-pieces. R. I. P comic genius Rik Mayall!

FAWLTY TOWERS – “COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS”

“You can see the sea. It’s over there between the land and the sky.”

Connie Booth and John Cleese’s superlative farce set in a raggedy Torquay hotel contains some of the most brilliantly complex comedy-of-error-plots I have seen. This is especially evident in this episode when the obnoxious stick-insect that is Basil Fawlty meets the hard-of-hearing-customer-from-hell Mrs Richards (Joan Sanderson). A serpentine narrative involving antique vases, secret bets, stolen money and Basil mistakenly using morons Manuel and the Major as alibis leaves you dizzy with laughter. Cleese is on especially good form as Fawlty goes on full sarcasm overdrive throughout.

I’M ALAN PARTRIDGE – “WATERSHIP ALAN”

“Earlier on I put in a pound of mashed-up Dundee cake.”

Steve Coogan’s wonderful comedy grotesque filters the embarrassing foot-in-mouth-media-enunciations of Alan Titchmarsh, Tony Blackburn and Richard Madeley; giving us one of the great comedic creations of modern times.  Having been sacked by the BBC Alan found himself self-unemployed and searching for a second BBC series, all the while staying in a Travel Tavern on the outskirts of Norwich. In Watership Alan he manages to upset the Farmers Union while challenging Cliff Thorburn for a corporate video job and becoming obsessed with ‘Ladyboys’. Safe to say things don’t go to plan in a hilariously warped comedy that features Simon Pegg and genius Chris Morris.

THE OFFICE – SEASON 1 – EPISODE 4 – “TRAINING DAY”

“Sometimes the complaints will be false!”

Gervais and Merchant’s brilliant sitcom of embarrassment and character observations is built around the antics of deluded goateed manager and “King of Cringe” David Brent.  In this episode Wernham Hogg invite an external contractor to deliver a customer service training session, and of course, Brent sabotages proceedings and brings the Trainer to the edge of a nervous breakdown. From the bizarre roleplay, failed stand-up gags and excruciating guitar-playing Brent uses the session to showcase his perceived ability as an entertainer. A true classic this also features Tim and Gareth doing battle over the “Chicken, Grain and Fox” riddle. Priceless!

STEPTOE AND SON – “UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS, UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS”

“You never know in this house. Some of the things he puts in them.”

This episode from the eighth and final season followed a familiar family formula of pitting Wilfred Bramble’s irascible old git Albert Steptoe against his long-suffering son, Harold.  Harry H. Corbett portrayed the son with a tragic hangdog pathos and more often than not his attempts to better himself or escape the totting business are doomed by his father’s devious shenanigans. In Upstairs Downstairs, Upstairs Downstairs, Harold must tend to his father’s every whim as he is laid up with a slipped disc; obviously it’s not long before Harold is being exploited by his father. Galton and Simpson wrote some of the greatest comedies ever committed to radio and television and caught working class hardship and family rivalry perfectly with brilliant scripts full of pain, tragedy and humour.

BEST OF BRITISH TV REVIEW

BEST OF BRITISH: TELEVISION REVIEW

Having grown up with three (and then four channels) on British television I was always used to a high quality viewing experience.  As a kid TV shows were an event and something to look forward to and plan an evening’s routine around.  British shows from my youth that I loved were:  The Comic Strip, The Young Ones, The Singing Detective, Fawlty Towers, BlackAdder, Edge of Darkness, Play for Today, Pennies From Heaven, Doctor Who, Only Fools and Horses, Monty Python, Boys From The Blackstuff, Dad’s Army, Steptoe and Son, Prime Suspect, Spitting Image and many more. But with the subsequent invasion of high-end overseas televisual product and the introduction of digital and satellite channels I have at times lost sight of some best shows around at the moment.

Thus, I took a break from watching loads of US imports and movies (still watching Game of Thrones as it’s amazing!) and had a trawl through 4OD (called All 4 now), Netflix, YouTube and other outlets to catch up some of the current Best of British TV shows you can watch online or DVD. Obviously there are hundreds of other great British shows available but here are some of the ones I’ve watched recently:

BLACK MIRROR (CHANNEL 4)

Black Mirror is a dark, horrifying and mind-bending drama which gets into your mind and under your skin; tapping into the perils of technological advancement and effect the media could have on our future lives.

FRESH MEAT (CHANNEL 4)

I watched the first season of this University-based comedy and there’s an attractive young cast, fun performances, knockabout humour but also a bit of heart too as our Fresher’s come to terms with life on and off campus.

FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER (CHANNEL 4)

A simple premise of a Jewish family dinner but a lot of laughs as Mum, Dad, their boys and weird neighbour get into all kind of scrapes.  Hilarious stuff especially from eccentric father played by Paul Ritter.

GARTH MARENGHI (CHANNEL 4)

This is an absolute stonewall comedy classic. I watched this under-appreciated gem again for inspiration for a comedy script I’m writing and it fantastically parodies horror and sci-fi TV of the 70s and 80s.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (BBC)

This Dickens adaptation from 2011 starred Ray Winstone as Magwitch plus David Suchet, Paul Ritter and Douglas Booth.  But, the standout was Gillian Anderson as a spectre-like Miss Havisham ghosting through her scenes with eerie grace.

INBETWEENERS (CHANNEL 4)

I watched all 18 episodes of this and then the films and while I used to think it was just rude, smutty, uncultured, lowest-common-denominator comedy it is also hilarious with great comedy moments plus the occasional bit of pathos.

INSIDE NO. 9 (BBC)

Cracking, dark and funny half-hour stories from Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton who once again craft some fiendish narratives with a sting in their tale. All episodes are great but I loved the dialogue-free (pretty much) one A Quiet Night In.

LAW AND ORDER (ITV)

A very good adaptation of the American show. I watched the first two seasons and the formula follows the Police and CPS crime process from arrest to conviction (or not depending on the case.)  Some great British character actors pop up throughout and compelling social commentary too.

LUTHER (BBC)

Idris Elba as Detective John Luther prowls the screen like a caged lion enacting furious justice on the killers of London town. Ruth Wilson as his cold-blooded sidekick is also a treat in a formulaic but compelling crime show.

NATHAN BARLEY (CHANNEL 4)

Go http://www.trashbat.co.ck/ and check out the original hipster prick as this hilarious TV satire parodies the Shoreditch gang-star fashion victims in all their gory!   Still well Jackson even ten years down the line. Peace and fucking. Believe!

PEEPSHOW (CHANNEL 4)

Two blokes share a flat.  Oh, and they are romantic and social fuck-ups!  That’s the premise in this brilliantly written classic sitcom from Jess Armstrong and Sam Bain.  I rewatched all 8 seasons in close proximity and it just gets funnier and funnier making great use of the Mitchell and Webb humour-chemistry-combo.  Genius.

NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER! THE GENIUS OF RIK MAYALL!

NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER!   A RIK MAYALL TRIBUTE BY PAUL LAIGHT

NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER!   THE GENIUS OF RIK MAYALL & MR JOLLY

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS YOU BASTARDS**

The passing of comedian and actor Rik Mayall was a ruddy shame.  Of course I didn’t know the guy but from a cultural point-of-view here was a comedian, actor, raconteur, writer and clown who I grew up watching on the tellybox and escaped into fits of laughter just at his merest look, gesture, rant, pratfall and frying pan in the face.  So when I heard of his death I was disappointed because he was dead. And would never be alive to perform again. That always positive energy was gone.

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I myself have attempted stand-up on a lower-runged level of the comedy circuit and while you can obtain laughs through trial, error, gigging, experience, writing actual jokes blah, blah, blah etc. but what you can’t be taught is actually being funny.  You’ve either got it or you haven’t. And Rik Mayall didn’t just have funny bones; he had funny eyes, ears, hair, nails, feet, hands, heart, spleen, blood etc. You get the picture:  HE was fucking funny!

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Kevin Turvey, Lord Flashheart, Richard Richard, his many Comic Strip performances, Alan B’stard, Drop Dead Fred, The Dangerous Brothers etc. were some of the many varied comedic performances Rik Mayall delivered. He could do clown, mania, slapstick, psycho, pathetic, sleazy, satirical, violence, arrogance, low status, high status, eloquence, sarcasm, smarm and many more.  Like  an overgrown demented child he could run amok, shout then whisper, go dark and then lighten up in a moment.  And it was just so bloody natural.

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Arguably his crowning performance was as Rick in The Young Ones, a surreal, punkish yet somehow still traditional situation comedy centred around four lazy students who essentially fail to get on whatsoever but still form a dysfunctional “family” unit.  Rik was the spoilt mummy’s boy with inklings of anarchic desire yet with a penchant for Cliff Richard records.   He was a spotty, poetry spouting virgin prone to bouts of rage and snivelling sycophancy and sneakiness with an anger toward authority and revolutionary ideals but neither the backbone, physical power or bottle to actually do anything that may bring a government down.  He was basically a cowardly, hysterical child who happened to be hilarious at the same time.

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The Young Ones was a defining comedy for me when I was growing up.  I’d never seen anything like it.  And ever since I have sought out such programmes containing profanity, imagination, stupidity, slapstick, satire, surrealism and above all else human beings trying and failing to get on with each other. I have subsequently found this in shows such as South Park, Red Dwarf, Blackadder, The Day Today, Alan Partridge, The Office, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia to name but a few. However, for the remainder of this piece I want to pay tribute to — if you put a gun to my head — my favouritest thing that Rik was in ever! One of the funniest 50 minutes of comedy ever committed. The Comic Strip film:  MR JOLLY LIVES NEXT DOOR! 

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The Comic Strip Presents: erupted from the sordid strip joint stages of Soho or more specifically the original Comedy Store.   Alumni included: Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Jennifer Saunders, Alexei Sayle with frequent appearances by Keith Allen, Robbie Coltrane and many more comics who would become household names over the years.  Anarchic, punkesque and anti-establishment in approach they were a hurricane of creativity challenging the comedic hegemony and what was considered to be the apolitical, sexist, politically incorrect and old-fashioned performers of the day.

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From the stage they marched into our living rooms on the newly founded Channel 4 in 1982 (way back when C4 produced challenging programming) and over the years produced some wonderful and wacky short films, features and shows which satirised everything and anything from: literature, film, television, politics, music, war, fashion, sport, law etc. The Comic Strip Presents: were a staple for alternative souls and any new episodes were greeted with joy in the mind of South London latchkey-TV-addicted kids like myself.

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The Comic Strip collective produced too many hilarious shows to mention but my favouritest ever is Mr Jolly Lives Next Door!  Written by Mayall and Edmondson they presented two drunken, idiotic morons derived from their Dangerous Brothers’ stage personas.  Together they are DREAMYTIME ESCORTS: alcoholic, depraved, sleazy con-artists with little or no redeeming qualities whatsoever; other than arguably perhaps they cause themselves more damage than others.  Mr Jolly is a masterclass of violent slapstick, stupidity, sight gags, demented cameos and also some very well written jokes too.

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It begins with our unnamed “heroes” helping the police with their enquiries relating to Fatty: a now dead client.  Dreamytime Escorts then get confused with their mysterious-assassin-lunatic neighbour Mr Jolly (the hilarious Peter Cook) and somehow are involved in a plot to “take out” Nicholas Parsons; as arranged by demented gangland boss Mr Lovebucket (Peter Richardson).  And the whole thing is directed by Stephen Frears – yes THAT Stephen Frears. The same one who directed The Grifters (1990), The Queen (2006) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988) etc.

So with a deranged story — which I think may have influenced another moronic classic Dumb and Dumber (1994) — on the go the audience is driven along on a wave of anarchic fun and alcohol fuelled insanity with Rick and Ade having much fun while they’re at it.  The scenes where they torture the Japanese client and get so drunk they end up in the toilet screaming at each other — having “borrowed” Mr Lovebucket’s £3000 to kill Parsons — are a senseless joy.  The drunken nonsense is ramped up even more when they take Quiz Show host and TV celebrity Nicholas Parsons to the Dorchester on a night out; Parsons believing they are competition winners when in fact the “Escorts” have accidentally run the real winners off the road and killed them in a fiery blaze.

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To a teenager the sheer pace of the lunacy was a thing of beauty and even now when I watch Mr Jolly the chaotic nature of the scenes at the Dorchester at Parson’s house are packed full of physical performances, celebrity in-jokes, stupid sight gags such as the tattoo which Ade thinks has been put on backwards when he looks at it in the mirror.  I marvel at the comic timing, sheer energy and controlled mayhem on show.  The next day they suffer the grandest of hangovers and when Mr Lovebucket calls in his debt the two drunks must actually kill Parsons.  What follows is live action cartoon violence of a side-splitting variety with Rik getting a hammer over his head and Ade holding on while two grenades explode.

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Cue a finale which involves a crazy car chase, Rick shitting himself, Dreamytime Escorts van ending up in a skip, Mr Jolly murdering Parsons to the tune of What’s New Pussycat, exploding tonic water and Peter Richardson’s Lovebucket uttering the immortal words: “WHAT IS GOING ON!?” before the whole premises blows up. What you have are Stooges like physical humour combined with Loony Tunes style cartoon violence. There is little satire and no subtlety but it is uproariously funny.  We end with Ade and Rick walking down Camden Lock canal before Mayall pushes his partner-in-grime in the water for no reason.  And that is what is so great about Mr Jolly: it has no underlying meanings or any depth. It’s stupid and violent and loud and ruddy funny.  Rick Mayall was all of these too and much much more and I thank him and Ade for giving us this crazy masterpiece.