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.
ALL 4 TV REVIEW – DERRY GIRLS (2018 – 2019) – SEASONS 1 & 2
Created and written by: Lisa McGee
Directed by: Michael Lennox
Cast: Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Dylan Llewellyn, Nicola Coughlan, Tara Lynne O’Neill, Siobhan McSweeney, Tommy Tiernan, Ian McElhinney, Kathy Keira Clarke etc.
Original Network: CHANNEL 4 – (Available on ALL 4 and Netflix)
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
There have been many dramas over the years on the stage and screen about the “Troubles” in Ireland. For decades, civil war had divided the Catholic and Protestant people of Ireland, precipitated by the English occupation of Northern Ireland. Many lives were lost in the fighting and the tragedies. It unsurprisingly drew attention from writers, artists and dramatists. Recently though Lisa McGee created and wrote a comedy called Derry Girls, which was also set during this era; and very funny it is too.
Set in Derry (also known as Londonderry) in the 1990’s, Derry Girls introduces us to four teenage girls, their families and friends during these difficult times. The main characters are: the vocal and passionate Erin (Saoirse-Monica-Jackson); the voice of reason Clare (Nicola Coughlan), often crude, anti-authoritarian, Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell); and detached eccentric Orla (Louise Harland). Joining them is James (Dylan Llewellyn), an English kid who has to join the girls’ school for fear of what the Irish boys may do.
As well as the British army’s occupation of Derry and the divide between Protestants and Catholics providing a backdrop to the girls’ everyday lives, they also manage to find themselves in loads of other trouble too. Episodes centred around: family squabbles, romance, sex, music, drugs, school projects, religious artefacts and holidays create a relatable familiarity to many episodes. The events and energy evoking the girls’ school days reminded me especially of another Channel Four hit comedy, The Inbetweeners.
While the performances by our lead protagonists are very good, scenes are often stolen by the older supporting cast. Siobhan McSweeney as the deadpan and jaded Sister Michael is really funny. As is one of my favourite stand-up comedians, Tommy Tiernan. His downtrodden Dad tries to keep the peace, but often finds himself at the butt of abuse from Ian McElhinney’s contemptuous remarks. Nonetheless, the humour is always good-natured and not nasty, especially toward faith or authority figures.
Overall, Derry Girls is a fast-paced and very funny situation comedy. It’s well written, acted and directed comedy, with loads of fun and eccentric characters to enjoy. While not overtly political in its representation of the “Troubles”, it uses that situation intelligently as part of the narrative and wider social context. Above all else, however, it shows through many fine comedic episodes, that despite the ongoing divide within the country, humans will strive to overcome adversity through friendship, family, community and humour.
8 EPISODES WHY CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM IS “PRETTY GOOD!”
There’s absolutely no reason why a situation comedy about an aging, wealthy, neurotic and narcissistic Hollywood writer should be one of the most consistently funny comedy shows of the last twenty years. There’s no real substance or depth in Curb Your Enthusiasm; in fact not much really happens of great value as it occurs very much in a bubble. Moreover, in anti-hero Larry David you more often than not find his behaviour abhorrent as he goes about upsetting friends, family members, celebrities, colleagues and strangers on a daily basis.
David, who plays an extreme version of himself (one hopes), revels in pedantry, un-PC behaviour, poor decisions, risky statements and strict adherence to the social etiquette and unwritten rules of life that make him a right royal pain in the backside. Yet, incredibly, because the writing, situations and storylines are so clever the whole show works a treat. To celebrate the recent release of the 9th season of HBO’s classic comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, I have chosen one episode from each season to praise. It’s a difficult choice to pick my favourites but I think you’d agree these episodes are pretty, pretty good!
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
SEASON 1 – EPISODE 4 – THE BRACELET (2000)
I was going to choose Beloved Aunt because of the monumentally unfortunate typo which involved Larry upsetting Cheryl and his in-laws. In an obituary for a recent departure the words “Beloved Aunt” became “Beloved C*nt” and Larry gets the blame. However, The Bracelet is a classic for me as it involves Larry going head-to-head with comedian Richard Lewis for the said jewellery item. The slapstick and race-against-the-clock narrative are hilarious as is their meeting with an ungrateful blind person they help. The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions!
SEASON 2 – EPISODE 7 – THE DOLL (2001)
One of the delights of the show is when Larry, having made some terrible social faux pas is ripped apart by one of the supporting cast. Arguably, his most fierce nemesis is his agent’s wife Susie; portrayed with vicious, black-eyed venom by Susie Essman. The narrative thrust of Season 2 involved Larry trying to get another Network show commissioned, but when he erroneously trims the hair (god knows why) of a child’s doll he become embroiled in a head-swapping comedy of nightmarish errors. When Susie catches him and Jeff using her daughter’s doll’s head, all hell breaks loose and Larry gets a volley of joyously ripe abuse!
SEASON 3 – EPISODE 8 – KRAZEY-EYEZ KILLA (2002)
Larry’s experiences with members of the black community range from: embarrassing misunderstandings, accidental racism, satirizing lazy stereotypes and finally some very offensive situations. Some of it is hilariously funny while more often than not it can be very painful to watch. However, Larry David is a brave writer as he doesn’t shy away from subjects which could be deemed politically incorrect. More often than not though he himself is the butt of the joke! Season 3 had a wonderful arc of Larry getting involved with a Restaurant and the final episode had some glorious profanity. However, his run in with Wanda Sykes’ cheating rapper boyfriend Krazey-Eyez and Larry telling Martin Scorsese he “does too many takes” on set is just comedy gold!
SEASON 4 – EPISODE 6 – THE CAR POOL LANE (2004)
Season 4 benefits from one of the strongest narrative arcs of the whole series. Larry has been chosen by Mel Brooks to star in the Broadway show The Producers and includes the brilliant Ben Stiller and David Schwimmer. The Car Pool Lane finds Larry attempting to get into an upper-class-W.A.S.P-y country club and cajole Marty Funkhouser into giving up his dead father’s seat at a Dodger’s game. The comedy sparks really fly when in an attempt to get to the game he hires a prostitute to allow him to use said car-pool lane and beat the traffic. The dovetailing call-backs of his Dad’s glaucoma, trying to get off Jury service, Funkhouser’s dead Dad and country club narrative strands makes this one of the funniest episodes ever and features an effervescent performance from Kym Whitley as Monena the hooker!
SEASON 5 – EPISODE 7 – THE SEDER (2005)
What I love about Larry David’s writing – or retro-scripting to coin a phrase – is he is unafraid to ask intriguing moral or immoral questions within the comedy subtext. In the episode The Seder, he poses the idea that a sex offender, while having served his sentence, could possibly actually be a “nice” guy. Thus, Larry literally befriends a bald, Jewish sex offender (a brilliant Rob Corddry) much to the horror of his family, neighbours and friends. As thanks for an awesome golfing tip he even goes so far as to invite him to a Passover meal where all kinds of social embarrassment ensues.
SEASON 6 – EP. 3 – THE IDA FUNKHOUSER ROADSIDE MEMORIAL (2007)
After the steady mixed-bag comedic narratives of Season 5 – Larry’s potential adoption and Richard Lewis’ dying kidney – Season 6 introduced a new set of hilarious characters and situations. When Larry’s wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) “adopts” a homeless family, whose lives were wrecked by a hurricane, the comedy bar is raised to a whole new level. The season has some classic episodes but my favourite is The Ida Funkhouser Roadside Memorial. Despite Larry’s nebbish irritations quite often I am on his side when it comes to petty grievances. In this episode he deals with: unnecessary condolences and sample abusers, but stealing flowers off a roadside memorial is a totally out of order, So, Larry definitely deserves the stream of ire that comes his way when he commits this gob-smacking social “crime.”
SEASON 7 – EPISODE 7 – THE BLACK SWAN (2009)
Season 7 is most notable because Larry, having split up with Cheryl, is now dating Loretta Black (Vivica Fox). In order to get Cheryl back he orchestrates a Seinfeld reunion with all the gang (Jerry, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards), as a means to offer Cheryl a part. Firstly, though he has to dump Loretta, who sadly is now suffering from cancer. I mean Curb Your Enthusiasm must be admired for the lengths it goes to get laughs and how he “dumps” Loretta is something else. One of the funniest episodes is the Black Swan which occurs on the golf course. Suspected (he did it!) of killing the course owner’s treasured swan, there’s a scene where Larry’s customary “staring” motif is used against HIM!! The ending of this episode involving his Mother’s gravestone is also one of the great payoffs too!
SEASON 8 – EPISODE 3 – PALESTINIAN CHICKEN (2011)
I am not easily shocked by anything but I must say that this is one of the most controversial episodes of comedy I have seen. I was sat agog through many of the scenes in this one. I mean I’m not an expert when it comes to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict but I am aware of the geographical and religious issues which have occurred throughout the years. What Larry David does with his comedy is to skewer the significance of the conflict and satirize it within a consumer food war. Having began eating the chicken at a Palestinian restaurant Larry becomes attracted and begins a sexual relationship with one of the Arab customers. She is a sexual dynamo to him and her dirty talk is pure filth and anti-Semitic! As Larry puts his penis first and at the end is caught between rampant sex and his loyalty to his “people”! Again, another classic ending to a brilliant episode.
12 REASONS WHY IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA IS ONE OF THE FUNNIEST SITCOMS EVER!
With the new season now up on Netflix I thought it advisable to revisit my awe and admiration for the clever, crazy and scurrilous comedy show that is: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I have reviewed it in the past here, but rather than simply do another glowing evaluation of Season 12 – which I loved by the way – I thought why not consider its disgusting genius as a whole. So, here you go! 12 reasons why the crazy gang from Paddy’s Pub completely rock!
**CONTAINS SPOILERS BITCHES**
Any successful comedy and drama show lives and dies by the characters who inhabit the storylines and world. In the show we have a rich differentiation of people collectively known as ‘The Gang’; who all work collectively within the comedy as a highly dysfunctional family. Charlie is the idiot youngest child; Dennis and Mac are the insane older brothers; Dee is the incompetent and much maligned sister; while Frank is the wayward father and the mother is, well, there is no precise mother but a random set of insane surrogates. What they have in common is that they are all deluded-self-serving-narcissistic-insane-lunatics all seeking to undermine each other in turn. Thus resulting in some incredibly hilarious episodes and seasons.
To me political correctness is a fair way to behave and make judgements within everyday life, but sometimes it can go too far and is used as a weapon to demonize behaviour meant as humour. Moreover, in life the unwritten and written laws of society deem it necessary – for upstanding citizens that is – to abide by a certain set of rules. Those same rules don’t apply to the characters in this show. Indeed, behaviour such as: doing drugs, blacking up, stalking, pretending to be gay, arson, selling fake cola, luring women into bed under false pretences, black market surrogacy, faking own deaths, blowing up cars and generally attacking and verbally abusing people around them, should get them locked up. However, the punkish and illegal shenanigans allow the viewer to both live out vicariously such bad behaviour; not so much shock for shock sake but as an attempt to drive the humour down very dark avenues for comedic impact.
The characters inhabit a world where it’s dog-eats-man-eats-woman-eats-dog; and in some ways this reflects the darker aspects of society. I mean we have become a selfie-taking-blogging-wait-until-you-finish-talking-culture only interested in getting one-up on each other. While of course there is much humanity and charity too in life, It’s Always Sunny is not a cosy or safe world where everything ends up great at the end. No! Dead dogs fall out of children’s coffins; tramps have anal sex under the New Jersey boardwalk; Frank exploits Vietnamese people in sweatshops; people pretend to have cancer; the long-suffering Cricket had his face and existence burnt off; characters laugh when others fall flat on their face or try to kill themselves etc. Today, and quite rightly, we should strive to respect each other so the show is a terrible role model for life and lurks in a world far away from and the warm hearts of other benign TV shows.
4. FORMAL BRILLIANCE
Throughout every season of It’s Always Sunny there is always an attempt to present episodes in an imaginative form and structure. For example, in Who Pooped The Bed we get a Rashomon-style-split-perspective murder investigation into who crapped in Charlie’s bed. While in The Gang Go On Family Fight, the humour is structured around the gang appearing on a classic gameshow. In addition to the hilarious historically anachronistic flashbacks in The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell, in Season 11’s Being Frank the whole episode was shot from Frank’s POV. In the current superb 12th season one episode is presented from a supporting characters dream perspective; while the most impressively detailed form presentation is in Old Lady House: A Situation Comedy. In this Dennis sets up a series of CCTV cameras in Mac and Charlie’s Mum’s abode and becomes a god-like TV director; editing their everyday lives into a bizarre but hilarious reality show/situation comedy. This intelligence and thought keeps the show fresh and funny in presentation and delivery.
As well as the impressive formal structuring all twelve seasons of It’s Always Sunny the plots are always pretty tight and logical in a twisted way. Of course some of the storylines can become quite convoluted for humorous purposes but the writers use pace and a plethora of plot twists to great impact. I especially loved the episode The Gang Breaks Dee which finds Dee finally hitting it big as a stand-up comedian only to find it was the Gang who set her up with a massively elaborate practical joke. Dee again was at the centre of a big mystery in Season 6 where she gets pregnant and tries to make money out of surrogacy. This plot became a classic arc for the season and the episode Who Got Dee Pregnant is brilliant twisted as each of the Gang debate as to whether it was them or not; including even Frank and Dennis! So essentially rather than being just a litany of abusive characters being horrible many of the narratives are tighter than a wrestler’s nut-sack in Speedos.
6. RUNNING GAGS
Throughout all the episodes there are a plethora of running gags such as:
Charlie is a perpetual glue or paint sniffer.
Charlie ‘loves’ and stalks the Waitress.
Frank and Charlie are garbage scavengers.
Frank always tries some underhanded money-making scheme.
Dee is a terrible stand-up comedian.
Dee has terrible taste in men who all suffer at her hands.
Dee is mocked for being a bird.
Cricket’s life and body is destroyed by the Gang.
The McPoyle family are the Gang’s sworn enemies.
Dennis thinks he’s the most intelligent but is just as dumb as the rest.
Mac thinks he’s a brilliant bodyguard with great fighting moves but isn’t.
Everyone thinks Mac is gay but he doesn’t know or admit it!
The Gang ALWAYS destroy Dee’s cars.
Dennis is a committed “lady-killer” with sociopathic tendencies.
Charlie does all the dirty work!
The Gang will promote ridiculous products such as: Kitten Mittens, Wolf Cola and Fight-Milk!
The Gang ALWAYS dumbfound and conflict with figures of authority including: Police; Lawyers; Health & Safety; Doctors; Therapists etc.
These and many more provide the spine for the show and give it a depth and wealth of humour throughout.
Similar to South Park many people who haven’t seen the show may think that It’s Always Sunny is just a gross and base comedy show. However, many of the episodes show the Gang attempting to resolve a national or international capitalist crisis. Usually led by Frank’s desire to screw someone over or simply because they prefer ill thought out and hair-brained schemes to actual proper work these episodes successfully satirise the world today. My particular favourites include: The Gang Runs for Office, The Gang Solve the Gas Crisis, The Great Recession and The Gang Recycles Their Trash all demonstrate a finger-on-the-pulse of political and social satire; albeit from a completely ridiculous angle.
In some respect the dialogue is some of the most disgusting words ever committed to TV. In fact I’m amazed there isn’t more controversy for some of the episodes. However, like the characters it remains on the fringe of the TV schedules remaining cult viewing. Here are just a few of their classic quotes:
“Hey-o! What’s up, bitches!” Mac
“Wildcard, bitches! Yee-haw!” Charlie
“I browned out that evening.” Mac
“You keep using this word “jabroni. It’s awesome!”Charlie
“If you’re in my room, you’re always being filmed.” Dennis
“I’m not fat. I’m cultivating mass.”Fat Mac
“Your mom doesn’t know dick! She’s a dumb, fat cow!” Sweet Dee
“Fight Milk! The first alcoholic protein drink for bodyguards!” Mac
In the latest season there is a wonderful cameo from Scott Bakula where his 1980s character Sam Beckett is shown to have jumped into the body of an old black man. Bakula features throughout with a wonderful hang-dog desperation as to how he ended up in such a crazy situation. Other cameos include: filmmaker Guillermo Del Doro and Games of Thrones writers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss who have actually written the Flowers for Charlie episode and guest-starred in one two. Other guest stars include: Josh Groban, Sinbad, Puff Daddy, Dax Shephard, Tom Sizemore and my personal favourite Sean William Scott as Country Mac. I think the appearance of said celebrities is not enough to get the laughs, but the writers often use them parodically and the actors really get into the craziness of the show.
Like many great contemporary comedies including South Park, Father Ted and The Simpsons many of the shows episodes are clearly influenced by the makers love of music, movies, TV and radio. Episodes parodying musicals, 1980s ski/sex comedies, gangsters, Reality makeover shows, animated kids programmes, horror films, detective and cop shows and many more. In Season 11 they parodied Oscar winning Birdman (2014) by filming the show in one-take to a jazz score and in Season 12 But the show doesn’t just mention or take plots from certain genres it mocks but it pays tributes to specific films too. For example in Season 9 they even made Lethal Weapon 6 with hilarious results.
Believe it or not the rag-tag-weirdo-idiot-boy Charlie (Charlie Day) is a songwriter of some ill-repute. The best examples of his music can be found in the legendary episode The Nightman Cometh where he gets the Gang to stage a musical for no apparent reason. It is complete and utter insanity but somehow actually works and the songs are pretty catchy too. Season 12 also finds the Gang stuck in The Wiz and having to sing their lines involuntarily. This is absolutely hilarious too as they attempt to find the rules of the parallel world they are trapped in.
12. LOW BUDGET
Incredibly the very first pilot episode was shot for $200 and ever since that the Gang and creators have stuck to the lower budget ideals of the debut season. In fact that is the strength of the show as they must use their writing and acting abilities to come up with ideas which do not need massive budgets or special effects. Indeed, the lo-fi charm of the show remains as it is from the first season. Okay, the Gang have got older and Mac got fatter and gayer but the same theme tune and credits play out in the current season as they did in the first; and that is very comforting to me, BITCHES!