Author Archives: arialbold

Rev. (Series 3, Episode 1): Present and Engaged

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Having had to try to explain Rev. (NB Guardian Style Guide, it does have a vital full stop in title to indicate pedantic outdated abbrev.) in pub to friend who had never seen the programme before today, I decided it was both too complex and too simple to do it justice. Just watch it, was my advice.

The prologue to this first episode in the new series encapsulated this – a bare 60 seconds that delightfully counterpointed in fast cutaway scenes Alex (Olivia Coleman) giving birth in a taxi and destroying the otherwise poised calm of the Archdeacon (Simon McBurney), with the wedding of the headteacher (Lucy Liemann), object of Tom Hollander’s fantasy lust, ending with his trademark desperate run down the streets of East London to be present at the birth.

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Rev.: Series Two, Episode One

Rev. (note the well observed abbrev. punctuation) kicks off that classically difficult second series and can’t be said to have hit the ground at full pelt. But it speaks of the high standards set by the first series, that this delicately observed and beautifully written piece can still be below expectations.

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Fry’s Planet Word: Episode 2

S Fry not in exotic location

How is Stephen Fry allowed to get away with this?  A production budget you could buy a small football club with, or at least which you could lay out in multiple piles of notes, nail to a piece of wood, set fire to and call art. Profligacy thy name is Fry.

I suspect a younger, hungrier Fry would have satirised the fuck out of this patchy and uneven effort. As it is, as with late era JK Rowling or French & Saunders, once you become a national treasure no-one is prepared to take you aside and tell you that you’ve confected a pile of poo. Continue reading

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Campus: Execration, execration, execration

I have just wasted an hour of my life. An hour! Mind you, the people who made this university-based series have wasted months of theirs. And they have squandered the comic legacy endowed to them by Green Wing.

The Channel 4 announcer was at pains to point out the towering antecedent of this new comedy – ‘If like me you have been suffering Green Wing withdrawals for what seems like forever, then your prayers are answered’, he breathlessly intoned.  With a build up like that it had better be good. And Lord knows it was not.

Benny Hill meets It Ain’t Half Hot Mum with just a hint of The Office. That’s the nearest I can get to listing its real antecedents.

With the same creative team as Green Wing – but none of the same cast – why did it not work?  Here’s a list of my top seven reasons:

  • Can you do a fairly poor imitation of David Brent for us please? The main character – Vice-Chancellor, Jonty De Wolfe (see what they did there?) – was clearly intended to be a corrupt, ruthless, alpha male, making Kirke University spin around his every whim. He came across as the palest copy of David Brent, without the undercutting identity of being a regional sales manager.
  • Let’s take non-PC language and ideas dare to use them in cutting edge comedy, that will defy convention. So we had “spastics”, “cripples”, mockery of Indian students, fat women “jokes”. See that was funny wasn’t it? Continue reading

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Father Ted Night: Careful now

With remarkably ill-chosen timing, perhaps the only two new home-grown programmes worth watching this festive season were broadcast head-to-head:  Eric and Ernie on BBC2 up against Father Ted Night on C4.  Of course with the joys of iPlayer and 4OD – and I gather some new fangled technology of ‘video-recording’ – one can watch them anytime. But still …

Not being able to cope with Victoria Wood in E&E, I opted for FTN, and the delights of writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, plus many, but inevitably not all, cast members from the finest comedy of the 1990s.

As with all the greats – Fawlty Towers, Rising Damp and Mr Benn – there were remarkably few episodes:  just 25.  That’s little over a season of some US shows.  Within this, they invented a unique comedy – one that clearly has proved hard to live up to for some.

Linehan is the subsequently more successful – having gone on to write the IT Crowd – and has embraced new tech comedy garnering 77,000 followers as @glinner on twitter.

Arthur Mathews gave the impression of being the spitting image and soundalike of their own Most Boring Priest.  Linehan clearly admires him as a comedy god (did the Greeks have a god of comedy?), which is a little lost on the viewers, as he seems to say only the mildest of remarks. Continue reading

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The Grandma’s House Game

Simon Amstell’s new comedy Grandma’s House is marmite TV and I’m on the dark side.

But one aspect which even the most ardent yeast addict admits is that Simon Amstell himself is a truly rubbish actor, which is quite a flaw in a programme centred on him.

So I’ve invented a new game which makes watching Grandma’s House even more fun:  who should actually be playingthe part of  ‘Simon Amstell’?

Here’s my top-of-the-head five:

  • Stephen Mangan: he would bring the right degree of hang-dog put-upon angst to the role.  Plus he’s got the necessary shaggy-haired lost look.  Is he too old for the role?
  • Chris Addison:  brought to mind since two of the gems in this programme are co-stars from The Thick of It – Rebecca Front playing his mother, Tanya, and James Smith her new boyfriend, Clive.  Maybe too clean cut.  But he could also tweet while he’s doing it which would bring a whole new social media dimension to TV comedy.
  • Chris O’Dowd from the IT Crowd:  plausibly lost and distrait.  Plus you can easily see him being put down by his family.  But can he ditch the Irish accent?
  • Benedict Cumberbatch?  Very now.  But no.
  • David Mitchell:  young enough.  Weedy enough.  But not sure he’s actually any better at acting than Amstell.

Alternatively, they could go postmodern and have Simon Amstell played by a different comic actor each week, culminating in a tour de force from Bruce Forsyth – with Lisa Tarbuck being surprisingly good and everyone agreeing that Alexander Armstrong should probably get the  job full-time.

There you go.  Suggestions for the part of Amstell welcome.

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The Normans: Part 2 – 1086 and All That

As time goes by, TV gets excited about different bits of history.  The Tudors have held sway for a good 10-15 years, with David Starkey expostulating as he stalked amongst the piles of Tudor mansions, and he voiced over many shots of ladies in ruffs and white face paint staring into a dramatic and vastly expensive array of candles.

Now we have the Normans as the new sexy period of our island story. Craggy Professor Bartlett stalking among cathedrals and wasted castellated sites.  Fewer costumed extras.  More sweeping shots over the English landscape.  And the inevitable use of imagery from the Bayeux tapesty.

There’s still the same emphasis on individual personality, but less personal emotional onslaught and whim, and more socio-economic, gender, linguistic analysis and strategic swathes of change.

And the thrust seems to be a re-presentation of history – you all thought Domesday book was a big tax gathering exercise? Think again – it’s about re-writing the history of England. Cathedrals to worship God?  Nope – it’s imposing Norman identity on England.  Pretty much everything comes down to power play and domination.

There’s also a happy use of parallels from modern society.  Vikings as the terrorists of their day. The Saxons as counter-insurgents inside England. Impoverished refugees fleeing famine. It all makes for a more vivid and enlivened perspective on early medieval England.

Professor Bartlett however doesn’t do simulataneous stalking and talking. He tends to stand looming into the camera.  Like a craggy eagle god he soars over years of history and miles of English countryside.

He’s not afraid to explain nearly everything – gender roles, strategic battle plans, linguistic change.  I’m not so sure whether his “cold and muddy names of animals in the field are old English yet when it’s cooked and on a table it’s French” line is right in all its particulars.  But it does make for a good illustrative soundbite.

He’s also good on buildings as the symbols and reality of power and oppression – taking in castles and cathedrals across the land.  The stonework also offsets his cragginess to a T. Continue reading

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Jaffa cakes and wanking: Rev episode 6

I have to confess to being a recent convert to watching Rev after I casually saw the first episode and then let it slip. A lapsed viewer.  I repented and used iPlayer to catch the final episode 6. How blessed I now feel.

Some have called it an inner city Vicar of Dibley. But this is about as weak as lumping together Big Train and On the Buses because their titles both reference forms of transport.

Tom Hollander essays Rev Adam Smallbone in a way that transcends just a comic performance and illuminates the quiet desperations of modern life.  An impressive thing to do as part of a half hour sit com.

I literally have no idea how episodes 2 through 5 unfolded, and recall little of episode 1, but my guess is that episode 6 allows  Tom Hollander to release many of his pent up frustrations, regrets and doubts that have weighed him down as he navigates his perceived failures and hopelessness.

The beauty of this setting seems to be that it allows carefully observed language and subtle characterisation to co-exist alongside references to Poker Party, social media, the St James Bible and school fund-raising.

It would of course be pretentious to compare this jamming together of websites, crap TV and the Bible to TS Eliot’s  The Wasteland so I wouldn’t do so.  But I might if I was as drunk and uninhibited as Rev Smallbone.

The most commented upon scene in this episode was the dancing, in which a drunk Tom Hollander in fancy dress as a vicar at a Vicar and Tarts party, tries to seduce the local headmistress, seen as akin to Ricky Gervais jaw-dropping dance in the Office.

But I prefered his sink of iniquity lying  on his couch throwing a sickie, drinking and watching daytime TV.  His exchange with his wife Alex returning from her working day:

“Is the crisis over? What have you done today?”

“Stole some jaffa cakes.  Ate them all.  And then I watched seven episodes of Channel 5’s Farmer wants a Wife.  And then I had a wank.”

“And have these things restored your faith in God?”

“No they haven’t. The farmers keep choosing the wrong women. The wank was quite nice though.” Continue reading

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BBC News Election Special: “Coalition of the winners”

And the winner is …. TV.  After months in advance of being told “it’s social media, stupid”, this election has made us realise that TV rules.

They can do fast, they can do slow.  They can give us the raw numbers, they can give us the raw human emotion. They have all the players and the movers and the shakers.  They can even get the movers and the shakers to hit each other when it gets a bit boring.

The only place they couldn’t yet get to was inside the Palace.  The badly taken snap of Cameron with her Madge – probably taken by Phil on his phone while making bad taste jokes about SamCam – was the last redoubt, shown rather embarassedly amongst the literally more moving footage.  Next time, next time we’ll have the Buck House CCTV and a Royal camera crew with live feeds to play into the 24 hour news.

This election – from the leaders debates to the common-sense defying but spot on exit polls, from the aerial shots of Whitehall to the No 10 door-step in and out – has been TV’s by a mile.

But interestingly, there is no coalition for these guys.  BBC, ITV and Sky still pretend the others don’t exist.  They’ll happily review all the papers and show off their Twitter feeds to demonstrate just how chébran they are.  But as they stand outside No 10 or on College Green they all seek to keep up the pretence that they’re the only TV crew there.

No 10 – or in Nick Robinson’s hypervent state “the most famous address in the world” (which I think the US president, the Pope and even the Queen might have grounds to query) – does provide the best backdrop for the chosen few political editors.  Hoi polloi have to goggle through the iron gates several hundred yards away.

No 10 is instantly recognisable and flatly iconic like a Warhol picture of a door.  It lends gravitas and honour to the chosen few allowed to stand in front.  It has sufficient comings and goings to make it interesting and yet not so many that it’s just another thoroughfare.  And they can be sure that no idiot will appear behind them and start doing silly walks. Continue reading

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Election News Special 2010: “Coalition of the losers”

The longest TV election night in UK history now reaches its 96th hour.  Have they allowed David Dimbleby some sleep?  Judging by his appearance at the hurriedly arranged 8.30 pm BBC1 Election special, he’s had a few hours kip.

But under the hallowed unwritten UK constitution it’s actually a requirement that a Dimbleby remains on TV until a new government is formed.   It’s going to be a long night.

You guys all wanted a hung parliament – and this is what it’s like.  We’re watching the formation of a Government in slow-mo, something  that usually happens in just a few hours on the early hours of a Friday morning after the polls close.

But you’ve got to admit these are great, dramatic political events.  Today (Monday) perhaps the best of all as Gordon Brown shifted the dynamic once more with his resigning as leader, but remaining PM.  It’s one of the great features of that same unwritten UK constitution that we can do this – “I’m resigning as leader, but I’m still in charge of the country”.  Beleaguered leaders elsewhere must see this as a pretty neat trick.

General Election Night, usually the time of highest drama as MPs fall and rise, now feels like the phony war.  There was no Portillo moment then.  But I think we’ve had it now, with Gordon falling on his sword outside No 10.  But “were you back home in time for Gordon?”, sadly doesn’t have the same ring to it. Continue reading

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