Author Archives: arialbold

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


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 (NB Guardian Style Guide, it does have a vital full stop in title to indicate pedantic outdated abbrev.)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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Filed under Comedy, Rev.

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


Filed under Documentaries

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


Filed under Comedy

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


Filed under Comedy

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.

Posted by arialbold


Filed under Comedy

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


Filed under Documentaries