Tag Archives: comedy

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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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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Fags, Mags and Bags: OMG!

Photo from the BBC

I was hanging up the washing, as you do, or maybe you don’t, in which case give me a ring and I’ll do it for you, I love hanging washing, you can keep your hoovering but give me a basket full of wet linen and a sunny day and I couldn’t be happier. I had a couple of pegs in my mouth as the Radio 4 announcer said, ‘And now comedy with Fags, Mags and Bags,’ and I thought, oh lordie, another Radio 4 alleged comedy with a terrible title. But I’ll go to the foot of my stairs if in just a few moments I hadn’t spat the pegs onto the patio because I was laughing, properly laughing at the sharp witty writing, the cracking use of language and the Wall of Crisps. The episode centered around the shopkeeper trying to invent a new sweetie, and I don’t think I’d be over-stating if I said it was the funniest thing I’d heard on radio since Graeme Garden sang Kung Fu Fighting to the tune of Greensleeves.

I was riveted, I tell you, riveted for the whole half hour and as soon as it was over I rushed to my trusty steed Google thinking, I must tell the world about this tiny unknown programme, only to discover I’d arrived rather late to the party. I mean all wine gone even the Romanian stuff only dust in the twiglets bowl late. It was series four I’d stumbled upon and it turns out Fags, Mags and Bags has deservedly won awards and a cult following. Still, I never mind jumping onto a bandwagon, long as someone in the back has a flask of tea, and at least I have proved you can join in at any time.

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Friday Night Dinner: Why I’m happy there’s going to be second helpings

I was ever so pleased to hear that a new series of Friday Night Dinner has been commissioned. In a week when the dreadful Campus has had us bemoaning the state of modern British TV comedy, it’s good to know we have something to look forward to.

FND (which finishes its first series tonight, C4 10pm) has been an absolute treat. A programme which does what it says in the title, the basic set-up is that we join the Goodman family (mum Jackie, dad Martin and sons Adam and Jonny) at the parental home for their Friday night family dinner.

Jackie (Tamsin Greig) is in charge of the cooking (apart from when she had a sprained ankle, and then dad took over kitchen duties, serving “Potatoes. And some meat”). She’s also in charge of trying to keep her physically (though not mentally) grown up sons under some sort of control. This is an easier job than trying to control Martin, who will insist on eating toast out of the bin and taking his shirt off at inappropriate moments because he’s hot. Martin wears a hearing aid, and often uses his deafness to get out of doing what Jackie wants him to do, such as destroying his beloved and vast collection of back-copies of New Scientist.

Mark Heap plays neighbour Jim, the sort of neighbour who’ll turn up just as you’re sitting down for dinner and then hover around saying “something smells nice” and hoping you’ll ask him to stay. Jim is an oddball, something like Roy Cropper in Corrie used to be, kind of sinister but basically harmless. He’s always accompanied by his faithful dog Wilson, who frightens him a bit, and he has a crush on Jackie. Mark Heap is an absolute master of physical comedy, and the scenes involving Jim are toe-curlingly, blissfully awkward.

And that’s it, really, as far as plot is concerned. Adam puts salt in Jonny’s water and Jonny puts squirty cream under Adam’s napkin. Grandma turns up eager to try on the bikini Jackie bought for her in Spain, and Jonny coaches her to say “Happy birthday Pus-face” to his brother. Jonny’s girlfriend Alison fails to appear yet again and Adam’s convinced he’s made her up. A normal Friday night round at the Goodmans’ – and I can’t wait for series 2.

(If you’ve missed series 1 so far, catch up on the FND website here).

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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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Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Heading for the big drawer

As a title, Roger and Val Have Just Got In sums up the premise of this new comedy nicely. We get to spend half an hour with middle-aged, middle-class couple Roger and Val (Alfred Molina and Dawn French) after they’ve got home from work. Then we get to smile a lot and chuckle a little bit as we recognise that they’re having exactly the same conversations and doing exactly the same sorts of things that we do when we get home from work.

In the first episode, their hoover had broken, and the owner of the independent shop they’d bought it from (cocking a middle-class snook at big business chain stores) wouldn’t do anything about it without sight of the guarantee. But where was the guarantee? Val had already searched the more easily accessible places, but by the time Roger returned, the frightening truth was apparent – the guarantee was in The Big Drawer.

We’ve all got (at least) one of these Big Drawers – full of everything that seemed too precious to throw away at the time, until it became too full to sort through. Roger and Val’s root through theirs uncovers little souvenirs like a stone Roger once gave her on holiday. The Big Drawer is like a time capsule of their life together, and it prompts Val to speculate on how it’ll all become meaningless after they both die, and how she doesn’t want strangers going through her personal stuff. It’s apparent that the couple are childless, but they have a niece and nephew whom they hope will treat their belongings with respect once they’ve gone (Val says she’s a “bedrock” to these two because she knows when their birthdays are. “Mark’s is the 17th of September and Birdie’s is the… ffnnf of May”).  Even so, they won’t understand the meaning of something like an ordinary seaside pebble, which is only important in the shared history of Roger and Val.

So already, as in all the best comedy, Roger and Val has its poignant side. There are plenty of laughs (not gut-busters – as I said, this is more of a warm chuckle-type comedy than a laff riot), mainly to do with Roger’s insistence on calling up “Esther from Legal”  for legal advice about the hoover, and insisting on putting a thoroughly embarrassed Val on the line.

Dawn French does her usual cuddly, face-pulling routine. Alfred Molina seems a bit less comfortable, but then Roger is not a “comfortable” sort of man – slightly paranoid, somewhat stiff, it’s obvious that Val is the driving force in their relationship. The script goes off on some surreal tangents and sometimes seems a bit over-written, but there was plenty to enjoy and I’m quite looking forward to the next time that Roger and Val get in.

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Modern Family: Not your average sitcom. Or family

Guest post by The Lovely Nicola

As a child, Man about the House may have had me laughing fit to bust my flares, but since then the sit-com genre doesn’t seem to have come very far, apart from the odd exception with shows such as Outnumbered and Friends. Most are stereotypical mums, dads, kids and annoying elderly grandparents. Throw in a nosy neighbour and that’s your lot. But now we’ve got the latest import from America, Modern Family. We are actually up to the second series now but it is well worth trying to catch up on the first series via the wonder that is the internet.

The story centres on Jay (formerly Al Bundy in Married with Children, but we’ll forgive him for that), late 60’s, with a rather old-fashioned view on the role of men and women. He is on his second marriage to the gorgeous Gloria, a Colombian raven-haired beauty with a figure most women can only dream about and the biggest pair of boobs ever seen on a TV channel that isn’t X rated. Don’t hate her though, please. She’s loud, feisty and funny and she adores Jay ( maybe it’s the enormous house or his enormous wallet?). Gloria has a son, Manny, 12 years old going on 40. Little rotund Manny who acts like a grown man, giving out advice to his family in between Tango lessons.

Mitch is Jay’s son from his first marriage, a 30-something gay man, married to the fabulously camp and chubby Cameron. They have adopted a baby girl and are both busy playing the role of mummy and mummy. Of course Jay isn’t always comfortable around his gay son and his husband, often referring to them as “room-mates”, and Mitch seems to have spent his life desperately trying to win over his dad’s approval. In the last episode he says to the camera ( the programme is partly filmed in the style of a documentary, every now and then interviewing each couple) that he regrets not going to more “sports games” with his dad, upon which Cameron points out that “maybe the fact that you refer to them as sports games is more of a disappointment to him?”.  In the latest episode Mitch and Cameron overhear a man’s voice on the baby monitor, appearing to be shushing their baby to sleep.  Immediately Mitch panics and totally freaks out, but big bouncy Cameron (usually the one to go into hysterical drama queen-type fits)  jumps into action and, armed with a baseball bat, charges straight into the baby’s room to do damage to the freak who may be about to kidnap his daughter. It turns out to be  interference from the neighbour’s baby monitor.

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