ALL 4 TV REVIEW – FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER (2011 – 2020)
Created and written by: Robert Popper
Directors: Steve Bendelack, Martin Dennis
Cast: Tamsin Greig, Paul Ritter, Simon Bird, Tom Rosenthal, Mark Heap, Tracy Ann Oberman, etc.
Number of Seasons: 6 (37 episodes)
Original Network: Channel 4
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
I decided to take a break from watching the usual murder, drama, time-travel, fantasy and crime-based TV shows I gravitate toward, by bingeing all six seasons of the Channel 4 (also available on Netflix) family situation comedy, Friday Night Dinner. Created and written by Robert Popper, this hilarious, energetic and feelgood show is set within the Goodman family household in North London. While recent British comedies such as The Mighty Boosh, Spaced and Psychoville tended toward the meta-fictional and surreal genre of humour, Friday Night Dinner is very much a traditional family-based programme. The laughs come thick and fast from the characters and events that unfold during a traditional Jewish Friday night meal.
Friday Night Dinner establishes a very structured formula and sticks to it pretty much through all the six seasons. Each episode usually opens with the “bambinos” or “the boys”, Adam (Simon Bird) and his younger brother, Jonny (Tom Rosenthal), arriving at their parent’s home. There they are greeted by half-dressed father, Martin (Paul Ritter) — who often has his shirt off because he is “boiling” — and their doting mother, Jackie (Tamsin Greig). Several story strands then quickly unravel as dinner, more often than not, descends into chaos and farce. Dinner table conversation usually revolves around Mum and Dad asking if their sons have any “females” or romantic entanglements. Moreover, the parents often embarrass their kids by over-sharing details of their own sex life, or “nippy-nippy”, as they call it.
The humorous dialogue, family squabbles and constant banter is augmented by Jonny and Adam’s consistently hilarious prank pulling, plus the appearance of the Goodman’s very strange neighbour, Jim (Mark Heap) and his dog, Wilson. Where comedy series like Taxi had Latka and Seinfeld had Kramer, Jim is a similar oddball whose weird behaviour makes the rest of the family almost seem normal. I mean, the father Martin, while very eccentric in his ways, is positively sane when compared to Jim. Actually, I very much enjoyed Jim’s ridiculous attempts to “understand” the Jewish culture. His hapless ignorance often sees Jonny and Adam Goodman giving him false information about their traditions, leading to all manner of ridicule and misunderstanding. This is one of the many running gags the writer, Robert Popper, entwines throughout the six series. Such repeated jokes and funny catchphrases are the comedic fabric of a very well written and constructed show.
If you’re looking for a comedy that reinvents the wheel, then award-winning Friday Night Dinner is probably not for you. However, if you like traditional farcical comedy with fast-paced gags, physical slapstick and relatable everyday situations, then you should definitely check it out. The cast are absolutely brilliant, and all imbue their characters with likeability, empathy and just a touch of insanity. Tamsin Greig shines as the put-upon mother having to deal with her bickering sons, and hard-of-hearing husband, Martin, who is never far from causing a home disaster. I loved Paul Ritter as the in-his-own-world-hoarder, Martin, while Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal add to the fun with their sharp comedy timing and physical hilarity. Above all else, the series works fantastically well as a comedy of errors about a warm-hearted, loving, if hopelessly dysfunctional family unit.
SIX OF THE BEST FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER EPISODES (ONE PER SERIES)
The Date – Series 1 – Episode 6 – Jackie invites a girl around for date with Adam. The only problem is Adam knows nothing about it, and he is mortified with embarrassment. At the same time, Jonny revels in Adam’s horror.
Mr Morris – Series 2 – Episode 2 – Jackie’s mother has a new gentleman friend and he has come to dinner. Mr Morris though, turns out to be very aggressive and ruins the night for everyone.
The Fox – Series 3 – Episode 3 – Martin has a dead fox in the freezer, which he intends to stuff. He asks the boys to help him extricate it to the shed without Jackie noticing. Safe to say things don’t go according to plan.
The Funeral – Series 4 – Episode 5 – Martin’s Uncle Saul has unfortunately passed away meaning they must spend the day at a funeral, and even worse, spend time with Martin’s mother AKA “Horrible Grandma.”
The Tin of Meat – Series 5 – Episode 2 – Aunty Val has been staying with the family as she is getting a divorce. Martin despairs as Val keeps throwing away all of his stuff. Finally, Martin and Val clash big time over a twenty-year old tin of meat.
The Caravan – Series 6 – Episode 1 – Martin purchases a crappy old caravan and, to Jackie’s dismay, parks it outside the house. Meanwhile, Jim has a new addition to his household, but becomes obsessed with the caravan toilet.
Main Cast: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, J. B. Smoove, Ted Danson, Richard Lewis, Vince Vaughan, Kaitlin Olson etc.
Guests: Mila Kunis, Clive Owen, Laverne Cox, Chris Martin, Sean Penn, Jonah Hill, Jon Hamm, Philip Rosenthaland many more.
Distribution Platform: HBO (USA) – SKY (UK)
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
“AH! INTERESTING. . . “
During a lengthy hiatus from 2011 to 2017, fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm were left bereft of their dose of Larry David’s inimitable and eccentric behaviour. The multi-millionaire writer of Seinfeld had carved out a wonderfully politically incorrect comedy series, full of misunderstanding, farce and hilariously embarrassing situations. Thankfully, he returned with season 9, and it was absolutely brilliant. Larry managed to get himself a death sentence, having written a musical called Fatwa, along with all manner of other comedic shenanigans. Season 10 has now followed and, once again, anti-heroic Larry delivers ten more fantastically offensive and funny episodes. More often than not we find his behaviour abhorrent as he goes about upsetting friends, family members, celebrities, and strangers on a daily basis. However, sometimes we are with Larry and his actions have merit and reason. Furthermore, due to the wonderful writing, improvising, cast and situations the humour is always more than pretty, pretty good!
NARRATIVE ARC (OF THE COVENANT)
Usually, Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes can stand alone due to the richness of the narrative strands Larry David and his writers create. But most seasons will have a very solid narrative arc running through it to provide looping rejoinders, a structural spine and a fitting conclusion. In season 10, there were echoes of storylines from prior seasons. Larry wanted to get back with Cheryl and they even committed divorced adultery, cuckolding Ted Danson in the process. However, the main arc revolved around the return of coffee store owner, Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra). Larry pisses Mocha Joe off because he complains about “cold” coffee, wobbly tables and weak scones. Following Larry’s customary banishing he swears revenge on Mocha Joe. This takes the form of the wonderfully named ‘spite store’ he sets up next door. Thus, Latte Larry’s is born, and ten episodes of fast-paced, tit-for-tat, vengeful and hilarious scenes ensue.
“THE GOLDEN RULE” – STYLE AND THEMES
Curb Your Enthusiasm is not just funny because of the situations, dialogue, observations, guest stars and acting performances. It is also very sophisticated and stupid, combining a variety of comedy styles to fuel the humour. Earlier seasons could be argued to be more based in reality per se. The interactions between the characters felt more natural, in keeping with the pilot episode which was shot as a mockumentary about Larry returning to stand-up. Later seasons, especially seasons 9 and 10, upped the gag rate and one could even say felt slicker. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes have always come thick and fast in Curb Your Enthusiasm, but in the last two seasons there is not only a reliance on the usual comedy of embarrassment, observations and satire, but farce, slapstick and gross-out humour too have been added to the palette. Lastly, the show has always skated close to the edge in regard to non-PC humour and causing offence. Evidently, Larry David has now fully thrown himself over that edge and is happy to offend everyone in a two-fingered salute to so-called snowflakes or liberals out there.
In regard to thematics, Larry David clearly has his finger on the pulse relating to contemporary society, politics and human behaviour. Much of the humour and funny scenarios derive from what is acceptable behaviour and certain “rules” within everyday living. In season 10, Larry finds himself questioning, among other things: the behaviour of a pregnant woman; the merits of artificial fruit; what is and what isn’t’ sufficient praise; usage of disable parking badges; whether he should be in a restaurant’s ‘ugly section’; whether sex with Cheryl’s sister is post-relationship cheating; and the overall benefits of running a spite store. These elements, the running feuds with Ted Danson, Mocha Joe and Larry’s assistant, Alice, and themes relating to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo movement; Larry and Leon’s continued chats about the nature of being black/white; Donald Trump’s presidency; fat shaming; suicide; Susie’s alleged plot to murder Jeff; nationalist ridicule; egotistic actor types; and transgender issues, all connectedly make this season a very rich product, full of ideas and challenging storylines.
“PRETTY GOOD. . . ” – EPISODE RATINGS
Episode 1 – Happy New Year – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry goes to war with Mocha Joe and reignites his romance with Cheryl. His relationship with his assistant also descends into accusations of sexual harassment.
Highlight: Larry wearing his Donald Trump, “Make America Great Again!”and ensuring no one wants to be seen with him.
Episode 2 – Side Sitting – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry’s relationship with his assistant, Alice, is possibly going to court unless he settles and makes amends. His attempts to get back with Cheryl are rebuked, so he dates his lawyer’s assistant.
Highlight: Larry gives Susie a portrait of herself as a birthday present. She loves it – but Jeff doesn’t.
Episode 3 – Artificial Fruit – (9 out of 10)
Larry’s donation to a charity fails to bring forward redemption when he refuses to hug Laverne Cox at an event, because she has a cold. Meanwhile, Richard and Larry argue over who is paying a lunch bill, leading to a very embarrassing escapade at a Spanish funeral.
Highlights: Larry is unsure if the Heimlich manoeuvre is appropriate when his assistant is choking. Plus, Larry’s doodle debate with Christine Lahti blows up into a serious disagreement.
Episode 4 – You’re not going to get me to say anything bad About! – (9 out of 10)
Larry, Donna (his new girlfriend), Cheryl, Jeff, Susie and Leon go to Cabo San Lucas for a friend’s wedding. Larry becomes fixated with Donna’s yo-yo dieting, but he and Leon do find some incredible coffee beans for Latte Larry’s.
Highlight: Larry’s determination to locate a toothbrush descends into a farcical conclusion. Later, at the wedding, Ted discovers Larry and Cheryl’s infidelity in a hilarious fashion.
Episode 5 – Insufficient Praise! – (9 out of 10)
Preparations for Latte Larry’s gather pace as Larry asks for a specific urinal type. Larry also gets a new housekeeper and is given a sex doll by Freddy Funkhouser. Meanwhile, Larry clashes with actor Clive Owen and Richard Lewis’ new girlfriend; a professional “crier”.
Highlights: Larry’s frantic battle with the sex doll resulting in his housekeeper and Cheryl catching him. Also, Clive Owen’s brilliantly pretentious send-up of narcissistic acting types.
Episode 6 – The Surprise Party! – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry meets a German inventor who has an anti-Semitic Alsatian called Adolf, and he gains joy from the use of a disabled parking badge. He also clashes with Susie over the surprise party she intends to throw for Jeff.
Highlight: Despite not having an appointment, Larry uses his cardiologist’s reception area to wait, because it’s a “waiting room”.
Episode 7 – The Ugly Section! – (9.5 out of 10)
Larry consistently keeps getting placed in the “ugly section” at the back of a restaurant. Simultaneously, he attempts to woo the widow of his friend who recently committed suicide.
Highlights: Larry asking Jane Krakowski’s character where she got the handles for her husband’s coffin. Later, Larry ruins a possible sexual liaison with her by arguing about the New York Jets. Lastly, Larry insults Susie as she should be in the restaurant “ugly section”.
Episode 8 – Elizabeth, Margaret and Larry! – (10 out of 10)
Actor, Jon Hamm, shadows Larry as he prepares to play a character like him in a film. Larry and Leon start a new business venture which initially proves profitable. Cheryl is angered when Larry spontaneously begins a relationship with her sister, Becky.
Highlights: Jon Hamm slowly turning into Larry throughout the episode, culminating in them both being ejected from a dinner party. Also, Kaitlin Olson returning as Becky and the surprising sex with Larry.
Episode 9 – Beep Panic! – (9 out of 10)
Larry strikes up a friendship with a waitress that dripped sweat into his soup. He also becomes obsessed with the liqorice at his car showroom. Meanwhile, Mocha Joe plots his own revenge using DVD film screeners.
Highlights: Leon and Larry succumb to the severe laxative effect of the liqorice in a silly bit of toilet humour.
Episode 10 – The Spite Store! – (10 out of 10)
Latte Larry’s is well and truly open, and it inspires other celebrities to open similar spite stores. Larry is irked by siren abusers and gives a job to Joey Funkhouser, but his big penis causes the store no end of issues.
Highlights: Sean Penn’s opening a spite-driven pet store. All Larry’s innovations at the coffee store ultimately lead to a very explosive downfall.
“NO GOOD?” – CONCLUSION
In preparing for this review I rewatched season 9 and watched season 10 twice. So, it’s obvious to say that I love, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Overall, I found the latest season to be a wonderful mix of old-fashioned slapstick and farce, combined with Larry David’s original and skewed vision of humanity. What was also impressive was the structural coherence of juggling so many comedy plots and situations. Plus, Larry behaves appallingly, and this is very appealing in an ever-increasingly politically correct world. Many times, throughout the season Larry is shown to be a provocative arsehole, but on occasions he very much has a valid point. Larry’s issues are very much first world problems, but because of the skilled writing and consistently high joke rate I related greatly to this season. Plus, Larry doesn’t win. His spiteful plotting and perpetual disagreements with those around him mostly fail. Indeed, ultimately, the joke is always on him.
Release Date: September 25th 2019 – December 11th 2019
UK Release: Comedy Central
Another year passes and another year of South Park! It has now incredibly reached its twenty-third season and the energy, humour, satire and desire to surprise and shock is still very much there in the latest ten episodes. However, I think that in Trey Parker’s desire to reinvent and reinvigorate the format, he seems to have taken a few missteps along the way. Because, while containing some sublime moments of comedy and wonderfully grotesque episodes, the latest season does not consistently reach the heights of previous ones. One could argue this is the weakest season in a long time.
Don’t get me wrong, I am just a humble worker drone and totally respect Trey Parker’s satirical genius. Yet, having worked on South Park for over thirty years Parker has arguably moved the furniture around too much in Season 23. I can understand why he has re-jigged the format, but for me, concentrating mostly on Randy Marsh’s Tegridy Farm enterprise in the first six episodes, many characters we love like Butters, Kyle, Kenny, Mr Garrison, Wendy, and even Cartman are sidelined to mere supporting roles. Of course, they do feature, but not as much as I would have preferred. I guess Parker just wanted a change and in recent seasons this has garnered many fantastic episodes. In Season 23 though, the over reliance and prolonged attempts at stoner and weed humour just did not make me laugh. Plus, Towelie as a comedy character has never worked and I wish he had over-dosed permanently, never to return.
There are some fine comedic moments throughout, and the themes are as strong as ever. Parker takes many satirical swipes at all manner of sociological, political, gender, health, economical and media targets. Through some excellent writing he successfully lampoons: media censorship, China, the anti-vaccine movement, plant-based food, transgenderism in sport, the PC or ‘woke/snowflake’ generation, drug abuse, streaming services, Christmas greed, addiction, drunk drivers, immigration detention centres, and, very briefly, the Trump administration. Ultimately, the season features several very good episodes, but arguably only Band in China and Turd Burglars hit the heights of classic South Park episodes of past seasons. Nonetheless, Trey Parker on autopilot is still one of the greatest writers and comedic voices around. If only he had a little less ‘Tegridy’, this season could have been another classic.
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 inLine 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.
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.
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.
Starring: Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz
Original network: FX
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.’
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
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
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.’
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.
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!