Tag Archives: Comedy Review

GHOSTS (2019) – BBC TV REVIEW

GHOSTS (2019) – BBC TV REVIEW

Created and written by: Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard & Ben Willibond

Directed by: Tom Kingsley

Producer: Matthew Mulot

Starring: Lolly Adefope, Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Laurence Rickard, Charlotte Ritchie, Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Ben Willibond, Katy Wix etc.

Original Network: Six Episodes on BBC1

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

After the horror viewing that was Chernobyl (2019), police corruption in Line of Duty (2019), and general death and drama of Game of Thrones (2019), I decided I needed a bit of a laugh. So, I watched six lovely episodes of the hilarious BBC comedy show called Ghosts (2019). Not to say there isn’t death in the show; after all it is about ghosts! But it’s a fantasy comedy that is so likeable and full of daft characters that you cannot help but feel your spirits lifted after watching it.

The story concerns a late twenty-something couple, Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe), who, like many people in the city are financially stretched and looking for somewhere to live. With property prices high and a severe lack of wealth, all they can afford is the equivalent to an urban rabbit hutch. Then, suddenly, Alison inherits a gigantic house in the country from a forgotten Aunt and fortune seems to shine on them. But it’s not all it is cracked up to be. The house is a crumbling mess of a |”money pit”; plus they have some spectral “guests” who do not want them there.

Ghosts – Picture Shows: Lady Button (MARTHA HOWE-DOUGLAS), The Captain (BEN WILLBOND), Julian (SIMON FARNABY), Kitty (LOLLY ADEFOPE), Mary (KATY WIX), Thomas Thorne (MAT BAYNTON) – (C) Button Hall Productions – Photographer: Mark Johnson

Joining the very likable couple is a tremendous ensemble of gifted comedy actors who portray multiple characters, notably the ghosts who died and are consequently trapped on the property. The sheer number of characters means they all vie for laughs; however, the writing is witty and fast-paced with a succession of verbal, physical and slapstick humour. There are some particularly inventive running gags and I especially loved the ghosts from the plague pit in the basement, who happen to be plumbing experts due to close proximity to the boiler. Other characters veer toward stereotypes, notably Simon Farnaby’s sleazy, trouser-less MP, yet, the brilliant comedic performances breathe energy and life into the all the ghostly incarnations.

Comedic ghost stories are hardly the most original template. Indeed, I grew up watching and enjoying the very silly Rentaghost (1976 – 1984). Plus, films such as: Blithe Spirit (1945), Ghostbusters (1984) and Beetlejuice (1988), all use the supernatural within humorous scenarios. So, if you want similar entertainment I’m NOT afraid to say in terms of the head-spinning rate of gags and funny situations, Ghosts, is frighteningly good.

Mark: 9 out of 11

THE GOOD PLACE (S1 – S3) TV / NETFLIX REVIEW

THE GOOD PLACE (S1 – S3) TV / NETFLIX REVIEW

Created by: Michael Schur

Executive Producers: Michael Schur, David Miner, Morgan Sackett, Drew Goddard

Producers: David Hyman, Joe Mande, Megan Amram

Starring: Kristen Bell, Wiliam Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto and Ted Danson

US Network: NBC / UK Platform: Netflix

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

Hell is other people.” Jean Paul Sartre

So I started watching The Good Place with expectations of it being another slickly written and performed, shiny, sparkly and goofy American sitcom. I figured I would check it out, give it a season, enjoy and then allow it to slide into viewing obscurity. However, little did I realise it was going to be one of the funniest, intelligent, imaginative, philosophical, slick, shiny, goofy and densely plotted television shows I had seen in years.

Created by uber-comedy-producer Michael Schur, The Good Place, has an immediately fascinating high-concept premise. Set in the ‘after-life’, it deals with the lives and deaths of four disparate characters, namely: Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto). They have all died and gone to a version of heaven, but there’s been a mistake. Eleanor is the snag. Due to a cosmic confusion she should not be there. Her behaviour ratings on Earth are so low she should have gone to ‘The Bad Place’ instead.

Frantically attempting to cover up this hellish mistake, the immoral, selfish and petualnt Eleanor enlists the indecisive but very moral Chidi to teach her how to be good. Thus, begins one of the major themes of the show: what does it mean to be a good person? As a moral philosophy professor when alive, Chidi, reluctantly agrees to train Eleanor. However, she is so inherently selfish it proves a tough task, and much humour comes from Chidi and Eleanor’s life perspectives clashing. Overseeing the “guests'” everyday lives are the architect/angel (arch-angel geddit!), Michael, played with the usual comic brilliance by Ted Danson; and super enthusiastic, Janet (D’Arcy Carden), a personified, sentient, artificially-intelligent computer.

The Good Place starts strong with a brilliant premise and then cascades into a series of incredible events, flashbacks and character reveals, culminating in some hilarious and ingenious narrative twists. Michael Schur is a past master of ensemble comedy, having worked on the The Office (U.S.) and Parks and Recreation; and here his army of writers, actors, designers and effects team serve his fantastic vision superbly. Moreover, the cast zing out the screwball-comedy paced dialogue and gags with laser-sharp comedy timing, with Kristen Bell the pick of the lot. The flashback scenes which show Eleanor back on Earth illustrating why she should go to hell are particularly hilarious. Of course, she’s not precisely evil but very human; she’s just not very good at being human.

Thus, if you want a television show which is shiny on the outside but actually quite dark on the inside then this is for you. The Good Place makes you both laugh and think. It deals with death, religion, heaven, hell, human behaviour and also gives insight into basic philosophy. I mean, it’s educational too; you learn about Camus, Sartre, Kant, Mill and many more! Overall, all three seasons zip along full of zinging one-liners that had me breathless from start to finish and it has heart too. You get to love these characters, despite their faults, and the show certainly leaves you in a very good place.

Mark: 9.5 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.

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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.           

I’M DYING UP HERE (2017) – S1 – SHOWTIME TV REVIEW

I’M DYING UP HERE (2017) – S1 – SHOWTIME TV REVIEW

Genre: Comedy-drama

Created by: David Flebotte

Based on: I’m Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder

Starring: Melissa Leo, Ari Graynor, Clark Duke, Michael Angarano, Andrew Santino, Stephen Guarino, Erik Griffin, RJ Cyler, Al Madrigal, Jake Lacy

Network: Showtime US / Sky Atlantic UK

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As well viewing loads of films I also block out the horrors of the world by watching lots of television too. With cable, digital, internet and terrestrial channels to choose from you will find some gems to stop you thinking about the end of the world; UNLESS, of course, it’s a show about the end of the world. Anyway, as the war-mongering governments plot and false flag and generate fear and murder innocents all around the world, comedy, as they say, can sometimes provide the best medicine.

Showtime’s1970s based comedy-drama is set in Los Angeles. It features an ensemble cast of wannabe comedians at various stages of their careers, which congregate at Goldie’s Comedy Club. Melissa Leo plays the tough-edged business woman running the show who can make a comic’s career by getting them on the Johnny Carson show. Because of economics and the desperate comedians’ desire for fame the acts will work as open spots until they get a break. Leo anchors the show with a ballsy performance, yet beneath her hard exterior there is much pain and vulnerability in her character. She fights and scratches and bites to stay ahead of her rivals as she’s consistently undermined by the sexist and patriarchy dominated show business ‘system.’

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The rest of the cast consists of an assortment of character actors, actual stand-up comedians and up-and-coming actors including: Ari Graynor, Jake Lucy, Andrew Santino, Al Madrigal, Clark Duke, Michael Angarano and RJ Cyler. Ari Graynor, as the Texan comedian fighting her way up in a male-dominated world; and, young, black comedian RJ Cyler especially stood out. I have seen Cyler in a number of shows and films now and I think he is a bona fide star in the making. The double act sparring of Clark Duke and Michael Angarano are also hilarious too as the lively, aspiring acts from out of town, so broke they have to rent a closet to live in.

The era, costumes and smoky settings of comedy clubs are fantastically evoked as is the characterisation of the comedians’ struggle. I mean these are intrinsically narcissistic individuals striving for fortune and fame yet many of them are self-hating, low-esteemed and bitter people just searching for a moment of adoration through the audiences’ laughter. Many of the characters are also deeply flawed and actually unlikeable, notably Andrew Santino’s Bill Hobbs. Moreover, while creating a sense of community with each other the comedians are also fiercely competitive and much humour is driven by their cutting barbs and scathing comments toward each other. Childish tit-for-tat battles rage too when things heat over between the acts; either because they have bombed or because they have been stitched up by another act. Lastly, the socio-politics of the era provide excellent subtext and much of the drama derives from: sexual politics; alcohol and drug addiction; comedy club rivalry; joke-theft; heckler-battles; career and actual suicide; race relations; the Vietnam War; and every day existential crises.

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Overall, I’m Dying Up Here may not be for everyone but it was brilliant viewing for me. I love stand-up comedy and I love television drama. I also thought the writing, direction, acting, performances, soundtrack and production design were excellent. The show’s strength is in the ability to balance drama and adult-based humour over ten fascinating episodes. It reminded me, most of all, of an extended series of the film Boogie Nights (1997) and the work of Robert Altman. Finally, I myself have written and performed stand-up comedy and, while there’s been little financial or cultural success, I have absolutely loved my time on stage. As a creative pursuit it can be both exhilarating when it goes well and completely devastating when you ‘die’ and NO ONE laughs. But hey, death on stage is far more palatable than the apocalypse! Indeed, it’s NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!

(Mark: 9 out of 11)