Category Archives: Comedy

The Archers: 0, Staged: 1

4FE3F3A2-9842-4F93-9E42-2D409E050E3DOften, it’s the smallest things that introduce a moment of disquiet. As lockdown started, news came that The Archers would be reducing the number of broadcasts per week to eke out its recordings. In fact, I discovered that it was quite nice to escape the real world and be reminded each time that Ambridge was coronavirus free. Then we had the archive episodes. Having heard what came after, I’m all for saying can we go back to these please? After all, there must be 300,000; 34; 974,000 hours of material, to borrow from our beloved Home Secretary. Personally, I would very much like to hear Helen’s trial again, with the special jury deliberation episode.

I’d been all eager to hear the first instalment and awaited 7.00pm in my kitchen in childlike-excitement. Like all irritants, once something’s gone you miss it at some level, and the Twitter tweetalong has been a muted, sombre place the last few months. Other writers (Miranda Sawyer, for example), have already explained beautifully how disappointing this first episode was. David, patriarchal overlord, wanging on tediously about lasagne to Bess (that’s a cow, not a long-suffering family member), intercut with his equally tedious, grumbling spawn. Continue reading

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Motherland: It’s life, but not as we know it.

motherland 2People kept asking me if I was watching Motherland. In addition to being a mother, I also work with mothers, so it was an obvious question. I did indeed watch it and I enjoyed it, although not as much as I had hoped, nor did I feel the series quite matched up to its pilot. The characters, who appeared there in glorious technicolour, were stretched to their lowest common denominator here.

Take for example, Liz, the sitcom’s only non middle class representative. She must have been toned down, because several people commented on the lack of social diversity, not even noticing she was different. She was still feisty and devil may care, but the quirkiness – which manifested itself in the pilot in a number of ways, such as keeping all her food items in the freezer – seemed to diminish, as she was seen wanly trying to attract one man after another.  Continue reading

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Love, Nina: Don’t ever give her socks

love ninaBritish comedies with a central female character usually fall into two camps. If she is young, she must be impossibly cute and winsome; the main premise being her woeful love life, her quest to get hitched, or her attempts to have a baby. If she is older, it’s possibly all of the former, but more likely her status within her family, her juggling of her exceedingly busy life, or her illicit affair with Roger from Number 36. What drew me to the five-parter ‘Love, Nina’ was that it was less about her traditional role as female and more about a young person coming of age in London in the early eighties, working as a nanny for an eccentric family.

Faye Marsay was the titular heroine, a fairly under the radar actress, who will no doubt pop up more in the future. Cute, but not impossibly so, she captured that sense of gangling awkwardness of the just turned twenty but still feeling like a little girl and not quite knowing how to be grown-up. Padding barefoot between the supermarket, her yoga class and her almost-boyfriend Nunney’s house while trying to fathom her place in the brave new world she found herself in was captivating. She often puts her bare foot in it, frequently embarrassing herself, or acting thoughtlessly, but still very endearing.  Continue reading

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The Joy of Sets: Stella

ruth jones stella(Guest post by Grace C)

I recently made a trip to London to visit a childhood friend of mine. With both of us having moved on to concrete pastures away from our green-belted Scottish haven, it was inevitable that we would end up with a bottle of wine reminiscing long into the night. It’s fair to say that one of the most common causes of our laugher were discussions around the particular oddball characters or town quirks that formed the backdrop of our youth. Like a homemade patchwork quilt, we all have our distinctive squares coloured by different accents, houses or backgrounds, but the feel of it is the same. It provides a familiar comfort, even if at times it can be a little itchy or smothering.

Relating to the nostalgic intimacy of a tight-knit, eccentric community isn’t what drew me to Stella (it was the presence of the talented Ben Glover on the soundtrack that did that), but it is a main part of what got me hooked. It wasn’t a shock that such a vivid and relatable character-led comedy drama would come from Ruth Jones; the whirlwind success of Gavin and Stacey proved she is Queen of the small-town caricature, but there is something about the extra grit and emotion alongside this that gives Stella its own identity. Before the end of the first episode you already feel an attachment to the characters, both those who are there purely as eclectic village furniture and also those who fulfil the more dimensional roles.  Continue reading

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From Corrie and Family Guy to The Chase and Christopher Jefferies: What Our Man has been watching this week

soaps-eastenders-4973-06While I have been nursing my throbbing, swollen, pus filled tonsils back to health during my annual Winter blogging hiatus, I have characteristically managed to keep up with what I normally would have written about, had the lovely germs from Jack Frost allowed me to do so.

Rather than spam the site with a ridiculous amount of articles at once, therefore, I am taking the concise and genius steps of merging my thoughts together in one post so that it’s easier for those of you who tend to skip my articles (I know who you are!).

From glittery costumes  and a very pregnant and non drugged up Kylie on The Chase to Homer Simpson beating up Peter Griffin, my viewing pains and pleasures have been as varied as the voices Emmerdale’s Belle Dingle is currently hearing. So let’s press on folks…the quicker I start, the quicker this will be over for all of us.  Continue reading

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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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The Simpsons: Krabappel of my eye

krabappel-simpsons-goodbye-660While there is much debate over the quality of this generation’s Simpsons episodes, fans of the show, both current and former, were united in their respect for much loved voice artist Marcia Wallace, who recently passed away.

Last week’s new Simpsons outing, an otherwise relatively bland affair involving another reprise by Kelsey Grammar as Sideshow Bob, officially laid Marcia’s beloved alter ego, Edna Krabappel, to rest, in a surprisingly apt and touching closing scene.

Mrs Krabappel has been a constant in The Simpsons since its  early conception and, over the years, the writers and Marcia managed to create a complex and layered character, riddled with flaws, but who was ultimately a warm hearted person. Edna was a sour, sarcastic and pessimistic teacher, who had lost her passion for her vocation long ago. But as we delved deeper into her barbed psyche, we discovered a lonely character, desperate for affection who, beneath her bitter exterior, showed lovely moments of genuinely caring for her students; even mortal nemesis Bart.   Continue reading

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Count Arthur Strong: The windmills of his mind

Count Arthur Strong - SpecialsBulent’s cafe found itself in the middle of a riot this week in Count Arthur Strong, as an angry mob smashed the place up. We didn’t see any of that – it was just a plot device to get the regular cast members to take refuge in the panic room of Bulent’s storage area, where they were subjected to the ultimate horror – Arthur “putting on a little show.”

And what a show it was. Arthur’s rendition of The Windmills Of Your Mind will surely live long in the minds of anyone who witnessed it, but was probably best experienced by Katya, who was asleep at the time.

We’re half way through the current series, and it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in years. It’s pleasingly old-fashioned – the comedy, while occasionally surreal, is firmly based in the characters. Count Arthur Strong himself, as played by Steve Delaney, reminds me of classic comedy characters like Frank Spencer and Basil Fawlty – his own view of himself is totally at odds with how others see him, and this is the source of a lot of the comedy, as is his own special way with the English language. He has excellent support from Rory Kinnear, who plays Michael, the son of Arthur’s old comedy partner. Michael’s life seems rather lonely and empty, so against his better judgement he’s drawn into Arthur’s little world, a lot of which is centred on Bulent’s cafe. Michael’s attraction to Bulent’s sister, Sinem, is one of the continuing story threads.

If you haven’t seen it (and it is on at the same time as Holby these days), get to iPlayer immediately and start watching from episode 1.

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Cabin Pressure. Simply brilliant!

Cabin PressureYou know how some people get when they have a fabulous new boy/girlfriend? They can’t stop telling you how brilliant said person is. They tell you the funny things they say All The Time. If they could clone them so everybody could have a boy/girlfriend as great as theirs they would. Well, I am currently that person – except I don’t have a boy/girlfriend. I am a late but enthusiastic arrival to the Cabin Pressure party.

Just when I had begun to fear my sense of humour was fading, I have found something that has literally made me spit out my grapefruit juice (luckily I was next to the sink) with laughter. I am to be found, earphones in and MP3 player on, giggling in the aisles of Sainsbury’s. I am utterly enthralled and addicted. I even traded in existing Audible books in order to gorge on all four series (plus a Christmas special) in less than a fortnight when I ran out of credits. If I had a pencil case and/or rough book, it would have Cabin Pressure quotes (Brilliant! The lemon is in play. Yellow car. etc) encased in hearts scribbled all over it.

CarolynWhy have I fallen so spectacularly for this Radio 4 sitcom about MJN, a teeny charter airline (or airdot – you can’t put one aeroplane in a line as MJN CEO Carolyn Knapp-Shappey once remarked)? Firstly, because it is really, really funny. (See previous paragraph.) I honestly think the last sitcom to make me laugh this much was Blackadder (on its first airing).

It’s also extraordinarily well-written by John Finnemore. He has a way with callbacks that is astonishing. You think a line is perfect and funny and 25 minutes later he turns it upside-down, gives it a polish,  and makes it even funnier. But it’s not his fabulous plotting or genius comedy that makes me love his writing so utterly – it’s the heart that it has. For all the turmoil he puts Carolyn and her crew through at 35,000 feet, the deep affection he has for them, and writes into every line, is what makes Cabin Pressure special.

That and having an astonishingly talented cast, of course. Stephanie Cole, Roger Allam, Benedict Cumberbatch and Finnemore himself are the core as Carolyn, First Officer Douglas Richardson, Captain Martin Crieff and steward Arthur Shappey.

Carolyn is the alpha dog trying to keep her business afloat and her crew in order. She could be an awful harridan, but Cole never lets that happen.

benedict mjnMartin is the hapless Captain, desperate to be taken seriously and generally suffering at the hands of Douglas and/or his own ineptitude. Again, there is a real danger that he could turn into a whiner – but that’s never going to happen while the fantastically talented Benedict Cumberbatch is wearing Martin’s heavily braided Captain’s hat. Also he convincingly conveys the impression that Martin is both a good deal shorter than his own six-footedness and deserving of our sympathy. Then there’s Paris (series 3, episode 2) in which his own success in Sherlock is beautifully subverted. (Martin: But the thing is, we’ve taken away all the things that can possibly have happened, so I suppose the only thing that’s left, even though it seems really weird, must be the thing that did happen, in fact. Douglas: Snappily put.)

douglasThen there is Douglas. He might only be the first officer but he oozes the confidence and authority that Martin would give a year of his life to have. Once described by Carolyn as being like Stephen Fry’s favourite uncle. Always has at least see seven ulterior motives for doing anything. King of the laconic putdown. Roger Allam is simply superb. Douglas may be a sky god, but Roger is a radio god. I’d join his marathon-running team in a heartbeat (once you have listened to Vaduz – series 4, episode 3, you will know what I’m talking about).

arthur_shappeyLast, but in no way least, is Arthur the eternally optimistic but dimwitted steward (and Carolyn’s son). Arthur thinks pretty much everything is brilliant and even I might enjoy flying in his company.

Now, here is a link to Cabin Pressure on Audible, who will even refund you if you don’t like one of their books. You have nothing to lose (except your drink over the nearest surface, the ability to ignore yellow cars and the inability to say “Brilliant!” without sounding like Arthur).

Existing Cabin Pressure fans may also love this lovely video done in the style of the Nikon ads.

I could rave for hours, but the jokes are really best experienced firsthand from the professionals, so I’m off to listen to Ottery St Mary for the fourth time (Yellow car).

Posted by Jo the Hat

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The Security Men

security menThe Security Men was an hour-long, one-off comedy drama written by Caroline Aherne and Jeff Pope, and it was Aherne’s name on the writing credits and Ben Ryan Davies from Waterloo Road in the cast list that made me watch it.

The plot revolved around a robbery that had taken place while the security men were occupied watching a boxing match on telly. To save their jobs, they had to re-stage the robbery for the benefit of CCTV and add themselves doing their best to apprehend the villains, with the help of the aforementioned geeky  nephew (Ben Ryan Davies) who had to hack into the security systems. This was an excuse for some slapstick comedy and some comedy riding around on mobility vehicles.

It wasn’t big on belly laughs. There were a couple of risque (somewhat sexist) jokes, mainly about the wife of the character played by Bobby Ball (yes, of Cannon & Ball fame), who was never seen but could be assumed to be “a bit of a goer.” Excuse the 70s terminology, but in a lot of ways this was a very old-school piece of work. It could have been a pilot for a character-driven sitcom of the dinnerladies type, although the characterisation was nowhere near as acute as it could have been. This was disappointing coming from the writer of The Royle Family, and given some of the acting talent present. The characters were very broad-brush (the over-zealous boss, the work-shy team, the geeky somebody’s-nephew computer expert etc) and some of the jokes were crude and over-used. On hearing that one of the characters had had to sack his mother’s carer, one of the others (Brendan O’Carroll) asked anyone he came across if he would “wash his mammy – if she was lightly soiled.” It wasn’t very funny in the first place, but it was repeated at least fifteen times. This was presumably supposed to heighten the hilarity, but it was just distasteful. The only woman in the whole thing was a briefly-glimpsed cleaner, who was so lazy she hadn’t changed the water in her mop bucket since February. Most of the references to women were  disparaging and unfunny unless you were a character in a 70s sitcom yourself.

Not Caroline Aherne’s finest TV hour.

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