Reviews of latest TV and streaming comedy produced in the UK and US
Index of Reviews
Sophie Willan, ‘Alma’s Not Normal’ creator, writer and star deserves all the plaudits she gets
All avingagiraffe.com reviews are spoiler free.
Broadcasters have a tendency to overhype the launch of a new comedy. The pre-launch blub always promises a brilliant script, a hilarious storyline and an outstanding cast: well BBC Two kept their promise with Sopie Willan ‘Alma’s Not Normal’.
Sophie Willan who created, wrote and stars, deserves all the plaudits she gets for this ‘bitingly funny and unflinching take on class, sexuality, mental health and substance abuse.’
The pilot won Willan a BAFTA for Best Writing and this full series is sure to win more categories from more awarding bodies. It gets off to a flying start and soars with each episode.
The series, which is now available on iplayer, follows Alma as she struggles to get her life back on the rails after a break-up with her long term boyfriend. But left with no job, no qualifications and a rebellious streak this wannabe actress it’s not going to find it easy. Meanwhile her mum, who is battling a heroin addiction, has been sectioned for arson and Alma’s vampish Grandma Joan wants nothing to do with her unstable daughter.
Alma eventually settles into a job at which she excels, without ‘A levels’.
The superb cast for the full series alongside Sophie are Siobhan Finneran (Happy Valley, Downton Abbey) as her mum Lin who has a passing resemblance to Mrs Overall with Government issue teeth; Lorraine Ashbourne (The Crown, Cheat) as her Nan Joan, a lover of animal print and fried spam, Jayde Adams (Crazy Delicious) as Alma’s exuberant best friend and confidant, Leanne, James Baxter (Still Open all Hours, Emmerdale) as Alma’s ex-boyfriend Anthony and Nicholas Asbury (Doctor Who, Chewing Gum) as Jim, Lin’s schizophrenic ‘boyfriend’.
Completing the cast are; Thanyia Moore (The Duchess, Jamie Johnson), Dave Spikey (Phoenix Nights) and Ben Willbond (Ghosts, Yonderland).
There have been four brilliant sitcoms launched this year, all written by females with female leads: Alma’s Not Normal, Starstruck, We Are LadyParts and Back to Life. BAFTA will have an unenviable task in choosing Best Comedy 2022 when entries open in October.
The Cleaner: a big up to Greg Davies and the excellent cast
The Cleaner Review: The German nation is not renowned for its sense of humour so to base a UK comedy on the German series Der Tatortreiniger (Crime Scene Cleaner) may not seem to be the best idea that Greg Davies has ever had.
Davies created and writes The Cleaner (BBC One & iplayer) in which he also stars as Paul ‘Wicky’ Wickstead who insists, at every opportunity, that he is not just a cleaner but a ‘crime scene cleaner’ described, in the pre-launch blurb, as someone sent in by police to mop up the mess left behind after gruesome killings and accidents. There-in lies the first problem: having watched the first three episodes there is only one gruesome killing which has occurred in the first. In the second episode there has been a domestic accident, not a crime and in the third episode a death by natural causes and Wicky never actually gets to go inside the deceased’s house anyway.
Greg Davies has written each episode as fundamentally a two-hander, furthermore he has been deferential in giving the dominant role to his co-star. In episode one, the magnificent Helena Bonham Carter plays a long suffering housewife who, at the end of her tether, has murdered her husband in a stabbing frenzy. The one episode in three where a crime has actually been committed.
This is a good start to the series with some cracking lines and moments of slapstick amid the gore. However in the second episode there has been a death but no crime has been committed so Wicky is simply the domestic cleaner which he has previously insisted on refuting. Again basically a two hander with David Mitchell expertly playing his often seen short-fused angry man role. This time Mitchell is a writer with writer’s block who rants on and on while Davies creates slapstick mayhem.
The third episode has nothing to do with crime scenes or cleaning but everything to do with Wicky avoiding perceived disability and dietary faux pas in conversation with BAFTA nominated Ruth Madeley. Somehow she manages to keep from corpsing – although I’m sure there are plenty of outtakes for a blooper reel.
The Cleaner is a series of sharply written stand-alone comedy plays blending verbal comedy, slapstick and pathos.
It is a credit to Greg Davies, to the excellent cast and the production team. It will surely be re-commissioned.
The Cleaner Review 11/09/2021
Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back
This show has some interesting environmental content and addresses some problematic issues but wrapped in a blanket of dubious humour it loses a lot of impact and credibility. Fully understand that it’s not simple to blend light hearted entertainment with serious issues but, for example, the ‘humour’ in the Greg Wallace ‘Inside The Factory’ item was at best juvenile at worse infantile. The battle of the cola brands was pointless despite the best efforts of Mark Silcox.
Lycett is of course to be congratulated on his promised success with Yoplait. It’s a start but then everything has to start somewhere. Let’s hope other F&B manufacturers take note.
Joe is a very accomplished comedian and presenter but in this first episode he falls between using humour to tackle real issues and pure pantomime.
A League of Their Own
Romesh Ranganathan took the chair of A League of Their Own on Sky One last night alongside team captains Andrew (Freddie) Flintoff and Jamie Redknapp. As usual the female guests, on this occasion comedian Maisie Adam and presenter Laura Woods, struggled to be heard over the domineering alpha males. The other panellists were Welsh rugby player Georg North and the lively Tom Davis freed from his Gary King alter ego.
It was a great start to the 16th series, refreshed, as it was, by Corden’s absence and Ranganathan’s management of the pandemonium. Even though at one stage he did get ‘arsey’, which is something that will, unfortunately, live in the memory for quite some time.
This excellent comedy returned on Sunday/Monday for a second series in which creator and writer Liam Williams plays a thirtysomething unhappy version of himself. The reasons for his grumpiness are seen as we flash back to his A level years when formative moments in the life of the teenage Liam (Oscar Kennedy) shape his future self. Liam the elder narrates each flashback scene on camera as some kind of benevolent spectre at the feast.
Cultural references to the early Noughties are sprinkled throughout the script, particularly in the scenes when young Liam, feeling ostracized from his group tries to join a another clique of six formers led by Huddsy, played in deadpan style by Jack Caroll (Trollied).
Buffering promised so much but delivered so little
Buffering review: Buffering (ITV Hub) is billed as a sitcom. Unfortunately it’s just a sit. Almost devoid of comedy: which is extremely disappointing given that its creators are two accomplished comedians, Iain Stirling and Steve Bugeja who plays Finn.
It’s not even a dramedy, despite part of the storyline in episode two.
What we have is a group of disparate house sharing millennials: Rosie (Jessie Cave), who, thanks to her late granny, is the owner of the house and therefore the landlady. Rosie thinks her late boss is haunting her mobile Scrabble app: as puerile as it is unfunny.
Ashley (Rosa Robson) and Greg (Paul G Raymond), an unlikely couple who take to sexting each other even though they co-habit. Greg however is not proficient at sexting so enlists the assistance of Thalia (Janine Harouni) to spice up his missives. This she does but, as we are not privy to whatever it is she writes nor indeed to what she photographs, the whole sequence of events falls flat. In one scene the couple are lying back to back in bed sexting each other. More an indictment of technology based modern relationships than a moment of comedy.
The fifth housemate is our protagonist, Iain, a children’s TV presenter, predictably not enamoured with his audience. Iain is in a relationship with his producer, Olivia (Elena Saurel) from whom he splits. Hence the need for the house share. Through a dating app he then pursues a dalliance with promiscuous single mum Steph (Sam Womack). Iain and Olivia’s past relationship develops into a tragic situation at the end of episode two. Again pushing this production in the opposite direction to comedy. Only strong comic characters can withstand scenes of such pathos.
An oasis of relief appears in this comedic desert when Ashley and Greg take a cookery class with Chef Diane (Lolly Adefope) who delivers the only laugh out loud lines in the first two episodes.
The cast did their best with a rather mundane script. Maybe the other four episodes develop the characters and the comedy but, as there is nothing particularly likeable about any of them so far, it’s doubtful.
Might need to do a Buffering review update after watching more but unlikely that this is a slow burner.
King Gary: full of good intentions
King Gary S2 E1. Gary King is described in the programme description as a ‘geezer diva’. If the definition of a ‘geezer diva’ is someone who is insensitive to the feelings of others; intrusive; unaware and self-centric, then Gary King, or King Gary as he is known is indeed every bit a ‘geezer diva’.
Last night’s opening episode of series 2, sees Gary King (Tom Davis) and his partner Terri (Laura Checkley) gate-crash a strangers wedding to gather ideas for their own forthcoming nuptials. Car-crash would be a more appropriate description: there is nothing subtle about this offensively ill-mannered couple. Having attended this, their fourth wedding of the day, they then attend a neighbour’s funeral (geddit) where they continue their charm offensive.
The main plot however is that Gary hires a skip to clear the couple’s spare room. As an act of neighbourly kindness he announces that the skip is open to all but then he and his young son stand guard over it to arbitrarily decide what can and cannot be thrown in.
Meanwhile his dad, ‘Big’ Gary (Simon Day), has a problem with an animal fouling his garden so recruits Winkle (Neil Maskell) as a night watchman/pest controller.
As a sub plot mumpreneur Terri has started an online candle business through a well known retail portal. Without too big a spoiler, the first thing she should have done before launching the product was to test that it works.
And so back to the skip…
Gary wakes up the following morning to find that someone has added ‘greedy boards’ to the skip and inevitably overloaded it during the night. An occurrence that was done to greater effect in One Foot In The Grave when Victor Meldrew wakes up to find a Citreon CV dumped in his skip.
Deep down somewhere in that giant frame Gary is full of good intentions: as those intentions bubble to the surface they become offensive, noxious even. However, remarkably and so refreshingly, none of the characters resort to expletives for laughs. A sitcom that could be screened before the watershed is rare and so welcome.
Review: King Gary summary: King Gary is funny in parts; cringe-worthy in parts and silly in others but the combination is a fairly enjoyable half hour’s viewing.
Intelligence Series 2 is no laughing matter
When writing this review my Grandmother’s words sprang to mind: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
On that basis I should end the review here.
I wanted so much to like this series because I criticised the first for being absurd. Absurd that the incompetent staff members would ever be employed at GCHQ let alone be allowed to be involved in State security. I decided for the second series that I would suspend my need for a degree of reality and treat the show as a farce, a pantomime, a nonsense play. A decision based on, creator and writer, Nick Mohammed’s interview (see post 1st June) in which he said, ”… it’s such a silly show, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s been a fashion of late for a lot of comedies to be quite dark or tipping over into drama. Whereas this is unashamedly fast-paced, gag-heavy, silly, farcical, character-driven, out-and-out comedy. It absolutely puts comedy first.”
I do agree that the line between comedy and dramedy is narrowing. A lot of dark humour is screening at the moment: some good, some bad. But, having watched the first two episodes of Intelligence series 2 there is so much in his penultimate sentence with which I disagree. “Gag-heavy”: there are few but mostly they fail to land. “Silly, farcical, character driven”: absolutely agree. It is farcical for the reason mentioned earlier that the characters are totally incompetent. In episode 1, these idiots are the world’s last chance to stop a Chernobyl type catastrophe happening at Hinkley Point nuclear power plant. Fortunately Jerry (David Schwimmer) developed the virus that the hackers are using and if he can only remember the password he can turn it off and avert disaster.
So we have 25 minutes of him trying to remember the password whilst we are subjected to Beano/Dandy standard jokes; Joseph (Nick Mohammed) doing nothing to help whilst phoning his girlfriend and trying to book a table for dinner with his dad, and a mole keeping Russia informed of matters. Then Jerry remembers that the password is in a notebook taped to the back of his refrigerator back home in the States. Eventually he remembers and disaster is averted.
The second episode has a really weak storyline revolving around Jerry receiving a vase of flowers for Valentine’s Day then walking around cuddling it all day whilst trying to discover who sent it to him. Meanwhile Christine Cranfield (Sylvestra Le Touzel), head of the division, has decided that she and her work averse daughter, Uma (Eliot Salt), will be the only people in the whole of GCHQ to dress up in WWII military attire, for a week, to celebrate 76 years since the end of the conflict. Jerry discovers that Mary (Jane Stanness) is the mole before putting her through a ludicrous, slapstick interrogation.
“It absolutely puts comedy first” said Nick Mohammed. I think not. I’m sure, as Nick and David said in their interview, that it was great fun to make. Unfortunately it is not great fun to watch.
So, despite the fact that Diane Morgan will make an appearance soon as Joseph’s love interest, it will not be enough to justify watching further episodes.
Murder They Hope: Dales of the Unexpected. Last night the wheels fell off.
Fortunately, last night the third episode of Murder They Hope: Dales of the Unexpected aired at 9 pm thus giving viewers the opportunity to avoid an hour of Eurovision. The regular ensemble cast was joined by Lee Mack, Jason Manford and Hannah Waddingham amongst others.
Lee Mack is a very funny comedian. Also a brilliant captain on #WILTY and the creator, main writer and star of ‘Not Going Out’ where he delivers the script like, well, a very funny comedian. Whatever character he portrays he is always Lee Mack. It’s Roger Moore Syndrome. So casting him as the deranged serial killer in Murder They Hope: Dales of the Unexpected did little to help lift the script out of the realms of pantomime.
All the previous episodes have had an element of farce, it’s what makes the series funny and enjoyable but unfortunately last night, writer, Jason Cook pushed the genre too far.
The storyline could have been intriguing enough – a serial killer linking his murders to a children’s song – but the script or direction requiring Lee Mack’s character to signal his insanity by laughing like an insane cartoon character was OTT.
In a comedy we can perhaps overlook how he manage to manufacture a fairground ride in the middle of a field (never mind how it was powered), we can maybe overlook how a huge church bell could have been transported to another field and dropped onto a victim but can we really overlook how one man managed to gag and bind a coach load of passengers to their seats without any resistance?
As usual Terry (Johnny Vegas) and Gemma (Sian Gibson) got up to oddball things in their pursuit of criminals, like dressing up as furry canines to catch a dog snatcher. Predictably the police were led by an incompetent boss, in this case Chief Inspector Shepherd (Hannah Waddingham).
Unexpectedly, Shobna Gulati’s role as police sergeant Vicky was given more scope to express her talent and it was good to confirm that Jason Manford, also a very funny comedian, can be funny and act concurrently. A fact he has already proven in Ordinary Lies and Scarborough. His cameo as Vicky’s husband was brief but honed.
There will no doubt be further ‘Murders’ from the pen of Jason Cook to come but he should be watchful not to jump the shark.
Afraid to say that his episode wasn’t quite up to the mark. It wasn’t so much farce as farcical.
We Are Lady Parts: Another breath of fresh air from the rising tide of female talent
Nida Manzoor’s, We Are Lady Parts was first commissioned as just Lady Parts by C4 almost 3 years ago. Originally as a Comedy Blap (don’t ask, I guess everything has to be called something) a short 4 minute, three part mini pilot to encourage new writing talent and test ideas. Despite Lady Parts causing some social media comment when aired, C4 went ahead and commissioned a full series a year later. The result is a terrific, vibrant musical comedy that is very funny yet surprisingly touching. A commentary on second-generation cultural complexity and feminism.
We Are Lady Parts (WALP) is like a super-sized firework. Episode one starts by lighting the touch paper. Amina, (Anjana Vasan), a microbiology PhD student and part time guitar tutor, with sparkling eyes the size of saucers, is focussed on finding a husband and settling down. She meets with the traditional family of a prospective suitor. Flanked by her liberal parents the interview does not go well, as the young man’s family, far more religious than Amina’s mother and father, become increasingly alarmed at the apparent lack of religious dedication of the prospective in-laws. Amina’s mother, Seema (Shobu Kapoor) is particularly anxious that her daughter finds her true self rather than rushing into marriage.
We then meet the three rebellious band members of WALP and their niqab wearing ‘manager’, Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse), who seems to float around reminiscent of Cousin Itt whilst incessantly vaping. The three musicians, lead singer and rhythm guitarist Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey), bass player Bisma (Faith Omole), drummer Ayesha (Juliette Motamed) know that they need a lead guitarist to complete the band. Saira recalls that Amina, although no Slowhand, plays a mean lead guitar and sets about recruiting her into the fold. She enlists Ayesha’s brother Ahsan (Zaqi Ismail), whom Amina fancies, to ensnare her into auditioning for the band.
And so our firework explodes into vibrant life and burns brightly for five more episodes that are compulsively binge worthy viewing (WALP would have worked equally as well as 3 x 60). There are plenty of laughs along the way in Nida Manzoor’s excellent scripts in which the characters and the strength of their sisterhood are beautifully crafted. They play together, pray together and ultimately stay together.
Whilst dreaming of gigging they just about hold down jobs. Saira, exorcises her latent anger by wielding a meat cleaver in an Halal butchers shop (which also doubles as their rehearsal room); Bisma, a talented artist sells (or rather , doesn’t sell) a self-produced gruesome, feminist comic called The Killing Period (You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Blood), in the local market; Ayesha drives a 20 year old Uber, whilst enduring taunts from her, mainly white, passengers.
In episode one, on the way to publicising their auditions, they playout a Wayne’s World homage with a wild rendition of the Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). One of several conventional songs they ‘punk’ during the series. Most of the music however is original, written by Manzoor and her two siblings Shez Manzoor, who also scored the show, Sanya Manzoor and Benni Fregin. The lyrics of which are a release from built-up anger and frustration of the daily lives of the women. It is doubtful that many people outside generation z will be downloading the soundtrack unless they are nostalgic for a bygone age of The Sex Pistols. Those people, however should watch the programme, as it will undoubtedly change their stereotypical view of Muslim women, in particular.
We Are Lady Parts is the latest manifestation of the rise of refreshing female talent in TV comedy. Last month saw the premiere of Rose Matafeo’s ‘Starstruck’ (which was also a C4 Comedy Blap at the same time as WALP) and has been commissioned for a second series. Last week saw the launch of the very funny all female Today, Yesterday And The Day Before
There can be no doubt that We Are Lady Parts deserves a second series and more. I for one, can’t wait.
Will these three new quizzes win over the viewers?
Unbeatable (BBC1) is a misnomer despite the best efforts of Jason Manford to breathe life into a very dull format. The show suffers from ‘have technology, will use it’ syndrome. The idea is, in itself, simple enough: four contestants play individually and against each other to choose the ‘unbeatable’ answer from a choice of six e.g. list of six rivers including the Thames: question which is the longest in the UK.
Having chosen (guessed, in most cases) their answer, the computer graphics, aided and abetted by Manford, kick in. The viewer is then required to sit and watch while, in Robot Wars style, a visual representation of the alternative answers smash into each other until the last man’s standing or not.
The problem is that if the viewer knows the answer they still have to sit through the graphics sequences until the answer is revealed on air, which can be somewhat tedious. Jason Manford holds the show together, which in less (not fewer, Twitter joke) capable hands would make the 45 minutes pass even more slowly.
Giving contestants the answer to the questions has proven popular in the second stages of such shows as Tipping Point and The Chase where a choice of three suffices. So we come to C4’s The Answer Trap, a quiz enthusiastically hosted by Anita Rani. This hour long show, up against ITV’s established but dwindling, Tenable, requires contestants to select and place correct answers into two categories. Some of the answers are incorrect and designed to entice the contestant to place them incorrectly into one of the categories thus falling into the Answer Trap. Gedit?
All would be well except that if the answer the contestant chooses falls into a trap, we have either mathematician and author, Bobby Seagull or talented artist Frank Paul, both expert quizzers who bait the snares, explaining, in too much detail, why it was a trap. Totally unnecessary when the host could have given a short rationale. Answer Trap would be every bit as watchable, if not more so, without the disruptive intervention of the two ‘brainiacs’ but then it all helps to fill an hour of what could, and should, be a faster paced 30 minute show.
Another show that would be better at 30 minutes duration is Tom Allen’s new Quizness. In the first episode our affable host spent 7 minutes on the introduction to the show and the contestants before getting into a series of very silly question rounds.
Tom Allen is a superb stand-up comedian and raconteur whose full personality shines in this infantile quiz show. Of course many viewers will love the childish nature of the rounds, more suitable to Crackerjack than an adult peak-time quiz show. But then this really isn’t a quiz show. It’s an entertainment format masquerading as a quiz show.
The first round entitled ‘Subbly Jubbly’ sets the tone. Contestants are required to answer questions but substitute any words in the answer beginning with D, M or W with the words Dibble, Mibble and Wibble. Thus A Midsummer Night’s Dream becomes A Mibble Night’s Dibble. Hilarious? I think not.
The second round takes the contestants back to play school where they answer questions with one or two word answers but have to string the answers together to form a sentence. Last night the answers when strung together formed “I need a poo oh too late” Really? Adult entertainment?
Whilst not going as far as ridiculing the contestants the format does rather make them the butt of the humour however one contestant had the last laugh walking away with the £25,000 top prize. With 5 more episodes to come, that probably won’t happen again.
All in all, it is unlikely that any of the three will have the longevity of daytime quizzes Tipping Point and The Chase . However with Adil Ray set to return with Lingo along with, hopefully, Omid Djalili’s Winning Combination, afternoon viewers should be well satisfied.
Inside No9, Wuthering Heist, punderful surreal fun.
As Columbina (Gemma Whelan) broke the fourth wall to explain, “It’s a sort of cross between commedia dell’arte and a heist movie, I guess because they both use masks… but, hey, for series six you’ve got to allow for a certain artistic exhaustion.”
Commedia dell’arte, to save you Googling it, ‘is a theatrical form characterized by improvised dialogue and a cast of colourful stock characters that emerged in northern Italy in the fifteenth century and rapidly gained popularity throughout Europe.’
No artistic exhaustion was on display in this first episode of series 6. It was madcap, yes, but every bit as brilliant as all five preceding series. If co-writers Reece Shearsmith (also Scaramouche) and Steve Pemberton (Doc) had half as much fun creating this episode as this reviewer did watching it, then a good time was had by all.
The half hour was crammed with oral and visual puns and one-liners, together with running gags , one involving musical references and one that left Arlo (Kevin Bishop) and me hungry for more (you’ll see why). Thank goodness Wuthering Heist is available on BBC iplayer because it will have to be watched again, and maybe thrice, to catch all the jokes.
That will be no hardship.
With Paterson Joseph (Pantalone), Rosa Robson (Hortensia) and Dino Kelly (Mario) completing the excellent ensemble cast you are in for a treat. In fact, I’m off to watch it again now
Motherland Series 3 is pure comedy gold
You don’t have to be a parent to empathise with this group of mummies and a daddy as they navigate through life in each episode. From the very first episode of series one to the current series the scripts have been spot on. Perm any 4 characters from 6 and we know them. We’ve met them at the school gates, at parent’s evenings and fundraisers. Well, to be honest, you’ve probably never met anyone quite so skittish and pathetic as Kevin (Paul Ready) but I’m sure he exists.
The cast is superb as are the beautifully observed and very funny scripts by Holly Walsh, Helen Serafinowicz and Barunka O’Shaughnessy. The laughs come from the situations not from contrived gags although there are some razor-sharp one-liners inimitably delivered by the peerless Diane Morgan. Nobody else could play Liz.
It is no spoiler to say that the opening episode has the group of parents having their children excluded from school whilst being sent home to deal with an outbreak of head lice of which the harassed, Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin), is accused of being the source. Ostracised by snooty Amanda (Lucy Punch) aided and abetted by the hapless Anne (Phillipa Dunne), Julia valiantly tries to atone for her apparent misdemeanour. The possibility of lice is the least of Meg’s (Tanya Moodie) problems.
If you didn’t catch series 1 & 2 it won’t detract from your enjoyment of series 3 but you’ve missed probably the best sitcom of the last two years (although it has to be said that Rose Matafeo’s Starstruck is pushing it hard).
Episode two sees the group facing that hardy perennial school catchment area dilemma with Julia going to heaven knows where in an attempt resolve the issue. Can’t wait for Joanna Lumley to make her appearance as Amanda’s mother.
Motherland Mondays BBC2 9pm and all episodes available on iplayer
Bloods’ paramedicsyou wouldn’t want to clap on your doorstep
As with, Nick Mohammed’s, Intelligence there is a fundamental flaw with Bloods, namely the incompetence of the main characters. Just as the group at GCHQ would not have held down their jobs, neither would Maleek and Wendy have stayed in post as ambulance paramedics. In fact how did Wendy (Jane Horrocks) get the job in the first place. Her back story is:
“Newly separated from her husband, Wendy has moved from Nottingham to London to make a fresh start. Freed from a dull domestic life, she’s determined to meet new and interesting people and will talk to anyone.”
Not to be too much of a buzz kill but it takes three to four years full time study to be a paramedic: so how does that work for her then?
In an interview for Sky One, Samson Kayo the show’s co-creator and excellent male lead, said:
“The main energy, and it was so key for me, was to make sure that we don’t make the NHS paramedics look as if they don’t know how to do their job. We really take that seriously, especially in these tough times. Maleek, he could have been a useless paramedic that’s always getting things wrong but he’s not. He’s actually really good at what he does.”
Good? Really! He’s so good at his job that he ‘electrocutes’ his partner with a defibrillator, glues a crack addict’s arm to his own, doesn’t spot a man on fire with the consequence that the man’s skin melts. Maleek is a kind of Frank Spencer meets Mr Bean lurching from one good intentioned disaster to another. Far from the character that Kayo says he set out to achieve.
Then we have the superb Lucy Punch (Motherland) doing a passable impression of David Brent sans the glances to camera whilst she insensitively chats up another colleague, Julian Barratt (Truth Seekers) who is grieving for his late wife. Adrian Scarborough plays Gary, a paramedic of 20 years standing, at that ambulance station, but whom, in a runnung gag, nobody recognises. He is tasked with on-the-job-training of an overly ambitious hospital patient bus driver, Kareshma (Aasiya Shah). Her patient care is a long way secondary to her ruthless desire for top management.
Okay so this is a comedy in which we are required to suspend reality in order to enjoy the jokes, of which, to be fair, there are quite a few. That’s a given. However you won’t need to call the paramedics to stitch your sides, they won’t be splitting, because the scripts, individually written by Nathan Bryron (also co-creator) and Paul Doolan ( Trollied), don’t quite hit the mark.
Sky would appear to have spared no expense on the production and William Sinclair’s extensive experience directing drama may well have saved this from becoming a farce in more frivolous hands.
All six episodes of the first series are in the can now, in fact all available for viewing, so it’s too late to administer palliative care but the demands for programme output volume is so great these days that this series is unlikely to get a DNR notice. So maybe, just maybe, with some expert surgery it can be brought back from the brink.
This Time with Alan Partridge – cringes and laughter in equal measure
What can you say about Steve Coogan’s, character Alan Partridge, that hasn’t been said before? Well how about he enjoys pamplemousse for breakfast. Whether he does, or not, I’ve no idea but I’m pretty sure it’s never been said before.
Steve Coogan’s comedy creation, first appeared 30 years ago, and is now back on our screens in the second series of This Time with Alan Partridge (BBC1 Fridays) and, if the first episode is anything to go by, it should keep us all cringing and laughing in equal measure.
The last series saw him summoned to the producer’s office for a dressing down, after his co-host Jennie Gresham found out he’d said she would “suffocate her own grandmother to get on the front cover of the Radio Times”. In the new series opener you get the firm impression that he’s on a final warning as to his conduct, he can’t quite relax. There’s a tension between him and Jennie, and there’s a new producer on the show – “a young chap from E4”, Alan’s PA Lynn informs him. The producer has already jazzed up the theme tune, much to Alan’s annoyance.
Alan trails a segment “a piece of television I’m very proud of… When I thought of the idea, I cried.” The planned segment is where two long-lost brothers will be reunited – Partridge having presumably slept through 14 series of ‘Surprise, Surprise’ and 10 series of ‘Long Lost Family’.
Putting Alan Partridge into a spoof One Show-like magazine show was a great idea and it’s a great idea to bring it back again. He is forever living off anecdotes from the Nineties and, just like another ex-presenter of a certain morning show, the only opinions he listens to are his own. There’s a smart opening cameo from Leila Farzad as a body language expert who has to suffer her entire short segment being over-talked by Partridge. “Sharon, do feel free to jump in at any stage,” he tells her but gives her little opportunity to do so. Sound familiar?
Thanks to the co-writers Rob and Neil Gibbons, together with Coogan himself the show has a tight knit group of well crafted characters: Susannah Fielding gives Jennie, Alan’s co-host the ability to keep smiling to camera whilst at the same time managing to display, withering disapproval;. Tim Key as Simon Denton, in a ‘slightly expanded role but no more money’ also taking live calls or not as you will discover; there’s the excellent Lolly Adefope as Ruth Duggan, reporting via live-link whilst studiously ignoring interruptions from Partridge and addressing Susannah directly; Simon Barnaby as Sam Chatwin, the historian who now has a travel show and lastly Felicity Montagu as Lynn Benfield, Alan’s long suffering PA who has just had a new hip fitted.
The script is of course excellent but the facial nuances of the main characters are not to be missed; the aside glances, the raised eyebrows, the fixed stares at camera when Alan makes another inappropriate or crass comment. It is those moments that make This Time cringe-worthy and very funny.
Rose Matafeo’s Starstruck is a beacon of light
That’s the Rose Matafeo, comedy, not the Starstruck which is a remake of Stars in Their Eyes which is yet to air. What the world doesn’t need now is yet another singing contest. The world does, however, need the acting brilliance of Matafeo and her writing skills along with those of Alice Sneddon.
If you’ve seen New Zealander, Matafeo’s stand-up, you’ll recognise her easy going charm in the character of Jessie, a twenty something, sexually liberated millennial. Jessie leads a chaotic turbo charged life, yet manages to hold down two jobs and a lot of booze.
This is not a laugh out loud side splitting comedy. It is a gentle, funny romcom that will have you smiling from start to finish and generate a warm glow that leaves you wanting more. That’s not to say that there are no audible laughter moments, there are plenty but where they fall depends on your age and attitude to flirty, sexually liberated young women.
It’s New Year’s Eve and after a heavy drinking session Jessie has a one night-stand with Tom (Nikesh Patel), who she discovers to be a famous actor. Surprisingly, much to her delight, he pursues her with genuine interest. Suddenly the first episode is over and you immediately hit play for another fix. There’s a joyful song and dance routine in the opening of episode two that sets the tone for the rest of the series and an all too brief appearance by Minnie Driver.
There the spoilers end. Discover the delight of this series for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. Showing on BBC Three and iplayer.
Well observed dialogue delivering some smart one-liners, a superb cast and a polished production adds up to a six-part show that will leave you wanting more. Starstruck is sure to be re-ordered for another series.
Frank of Ireland trailer promises little and the show delivers it
Even though it comes from the Merman stable the trailers for Frank of Ireland didn’t hold out the promise of much laughter. It lived up to expectations.
Frank Marron (Brian Gleeson) is the eponymous central character: an unemployed singer-songwriter dreaming of producing a double-album about the counties of Ireland. Dreaming because he hasn’t actually written a single song since breaking up with girlfriend Aine (Sarah Greene) six years earlier. He is a fantasist. In those six years he has managed to come up with three or four pun-driven song titles but no lyrics or music.
Frank, a sociopath, is hirsute, uncultured and antagonistic by nature. He lives with his mother Mary (Pom Boyd), a sexually promiscuous Tinder scrolling, heavy-drinking woman. Frank’s best friend Doofus (Domhnall Gleeson), is a doofus by name and nature, he’s immature to the point of stupidity, is easily manipulated and led astray by Frank. Theirs is a co-dependent friendship.
In the first episode, at Aine’s grandmother’s wake, Frank offers his condolences to her son (Aine’s dad) “She isn’t your mam anymore,” he tells the grieving man “She’s just a dead old lady.” before plonking his belongings on top of the body in the open casket. Doofus meanwhile is trying to interest the mourners in some outdated CDs.
Against Aine’s advice, her dad asks Frank to sing the 23rd Psalm at the funeral the following day. Frank has other ideas. He then confronts Aine’s new boyfriend, Peter-Brian (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor ) a doctor who is also an exponent of MMA, prompting a laborious confusion about taking MDMA (ecstasy) and practising mixed martial arts). In the few hours before the event Frank manages to hire a female MMA trainer, then go on a bender with her before a drug induced and wine soaked night of sex.
The following morning Frank arrives late at the church outside of which Doofus has set up a merch stall. Attempting to impress Aine in front of her new boyfriend Frank screws up his performance whilst Doofus acts, well, like a doofus.
There’s a running thread of Robert De Niro quotes from Taxi Driver which are frankly irksome in the end.
The blurb issued for this series describes it as “the hilarious story of a man’s hapless search for respect”. Sorry, but, hilarious it isn’t. There are some smiles but few outright laughs. The second and third episodes fare no better. If you can manage the other three then good luck to you.
I Can See Your Voice (deep sigh!)
I Can See Your Voice, is a music gameshow that originated in South Korea, was imported into the US before being foisted upon the British public by the BBC
Basic format (very basic): two members of the public have to choose, by a process of elimination, which of the six singers, all supposedly random members of the public, can actually sing. The contestants are guided, or in some cases badly misguided, by a celebrity panel.
The singers are there to convince all concerned that they can sing without actually singing, hence the show’s title (gedit). In the first stage, for example, they just stand motionless with their hand held microphones and the celebrity judges expound on whether they are holding the mike in a professional way (so exciting); in the second stage they are lip syncing along to a recording whilst the panel and the two contestants try to guess from the visual clues which of the six singers can or cannot sing by their performance technique.
If after the tortuous process of elimination, the final singer has a good voice, the guessing contestants win £10,000. If the singer is bad then the singer gets the £10,000 and the contestants go home empty handed. So either the contestants or the singer wins £10,000 every show.
On last night’s show three of the six singers could actually sing, the other three were unashamedly tone deaf.
The panel of Amanda Holden, filling in time until BGT returns: Alison Hammond, The Liar Finder Pursuivant (she revealed that she once attended a course on liar spotting but then failed to spot which singer was lying) and Jimmy Carr, who has finally (hopefully) finished his metamorphosis are joined by Danny Jones of McFly who sings a duet with the final singer. We can only hope that Jimmy Carr has exhausted his fount of McBusted jokes by the next episode.
The two contestant ‘guessers’ were there to win the prize so that they could take their two young adopted children to Disneyland and tug at the heartstrings of the audience – not that there was a studio audience of course – and those of the viewers.
The show is hosted by a somewhat over exuberant Paddy McGuiness, of whom it must be said, does a pretty good job of generating what few laughs there are to be had.
(Spoiler Alert) The final two singers on the first show could both actually sing so the guessing couple were going home with the ten grand whichever they chose.
No doubt this show will generate mixed feelings and reviews. It is of the Masked Singer genre and will appeal to a similar audience (by the way be warned, the Masked Dancer is on its way).
Comic Relief: as much music as comedy
With the wealth of currently underused comic talent in the UK there seemed to be an imbalance of music to comedy in last night’s BBC Comic Relief evening.
Steering us through the three-hour first part of the BBC One show was Sir Lenny Henry who was the original creator of Comic Relief along with Richard Curtis (an incredible 36 years ago), Davina McCall, Alesha Dixon, David Tennant and Paddy McGuinness.
The evening opened with Dawn French appearing alongside real-life vicar Kate Bottley for a musical sketch in which the two women donned glittering vestments to enthusiastically lip-sync to Juice by Lizzo.
The talented, internet lockdown sensation The Marsh Family gave their comic pandemic version of Mike Batt’s, Bright Eyes and later they appeared on the BBC Two continuation singing their version of Total Eclipse of the Heart.
Canadian pop star Justin Bieber treated his “Beliebers” to an exclusive performance of his new single Hold On. Other musical performances came from Gabrielle and the cast of Back to the Future: The Musical (please may theatres open soon). We had The Proclaimers doing a rendition of Sunshine on Leith, against a montage film sequence of key workers, the late Captain Sir Tom Moore and a sea of waving lights with an emotional message of hope for the future.
Caroline Quentin and Jayde Adams shone brightly
The musical highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the performance of Jayde Adams, Alex Brooker, Andi Oshu, Caroline Quentin and Jennifer Saunders performing the classic Turandot aria Nessun Dorma live in the studio, having had a mere 24 hours mentoring and rehearsal with the ENO and Chorus. Charlotte Church, looking very glamorous, introduced them to the stage. All five performed extremely well but Caroline Quentin and Jayde Adams were outstanding.
The comedy was good spirited but patchy in content
One of the more amusing sketches was a spoof trailer for “2020 – the biggest blockbuster never made” – a disaster film about last year, populated by our lockdown superheroes. “Let’s hope there won’t be a sequel,” went the tagline. The all-star cast included Russell Brand as body coach Joe Wicks; Ainsley Harriott as free-child meals campaigner and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford; Anna Friel as the first woman to cut her own hair; Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley as mothers who’d been pushed to the limit with home-schooling, Sanjeev Bhaskar as the man Professor Chris Whitty irritatingly asks for the “next slide please”; Shaun Williamson as “Barry from EastEnders” appeared as the man who invented Zoom and the legendary Joan Collins uttered “I’m ready for my vaccine now, Mr DeMille.”
Jack Whitehall hosted a VIP videocall to thank everyone who’d made a donation. The A-List cast included Hugh Grant, Olivia Colman, Anya Taylor-Joy, James Corden, Idris Elba, Emma Thompson and Chris martin all logging on.
Mel Giedroyc, attired in lockdown jimjams, did a piece emulating Bridget Jones, featuring a string of celebrity cameos lip syncing to Celine Dion’s All By Myself.
During lockdown some comedians and actors created some excellent podcasts to entertain the nation and keep the home fires burning. One of the most successful has been the pairing of Michael Sheen and David Tennant along with their real life partners. Their Luvvies-in-Lockdown comedy podcasts were brilliant. The two actors, and great friends, reunited (virtually) for a special historical skit, set during the London Plague of 1592-3 in which 20,000 died. Tennant played William Shakespeare, Sheen was Christopher Marlowe. The two playwrights discussed whether the people preferred social realism or “escapism, maybe something with a donkey”. Lenny Henry zoomed into the call to remind them they were actors, not writers.
Stand-up comic and ‘punny-man’ Tim Vine dished out a string of quick-fire puns and visual gags from a Punch and Judy style kiosk to a small gathering of giggling RAF personnel at RAF Northolt
A piece involving Fleabag and Normal People was good. Filmed under strict Covid protocols in a London church, the seven-minute skit saw Andrew Scott’s priest from Fleabag receive two unexpected visitors in his confessional booth: Normal People’s young lovers Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones).
The script, written by, Connor McPherson, was first aired on Ireland’s ‘RTE Does Comic Relief’ last year and has been seen by 423k people on YouTube since it was aired.
The three hours more or less ended with the much vaunted sketch featuring Catherine Tate’s hilariously shocking Nan character and Daniel Craig as James Bond. Disappointingly the sketch was not as hilarious as anticipated nor as shocking. Instead of Nan’s normal acerbic comments culminating in uttering her inimitable punchline “what a f…ing liberty” it was given to Bond and even then it was bleeped. Shame, it was well after the watershed after all.
By 10pm, the donations had reached almost £46m
The show then switched to BBC Two for a Comic Relief-themed edition of live music stalwart Later With Jools Holland. Lenny Henry appeared again – to pick his favourite musical moments from Comic Relief including Tom Jones, Dizzee Rascal, Supergrass, the Spice Girls, George Clinton and Kate Bush.
There was also the first ever Prizeathon hosted by Amanda Holden and Jason Manford.
We live in strange times and, although the day was not quite up to the memory of previous years, the fact that technology allowed the event to take place at all is something for which to be grateful but the most important thing is the incredible response of the public in raising over £52,000,000 for good causes.
Viva Comic Relief.
The much anticipated and vaunted 11th series of Taskmaster aired last night.
The format is beginning to look a little tired. Even, Greg Davies, the Taskmaster himself, looked less enthusiastic than usual. Despite the calibre of the contestants the first episode lacked the vitality of previous shows. Perhaps lockdown blues have taken their toll or perhaps the brilliance and hilarity of series 10 has set a bar that’s just too high. (Review here)
Series 11 stars, Charlotte Ritchie, Jamali Maddix, Lee Mack, Mike Wozniak and Sarah Kendall struggled to make the tasks, devised by the show’s creator Alex Horne, as entertaining as in previous series. Even the improvisational brilliance of Lee Mack was stretched to the limit in capturing a motorised rat. The saving grace of the first episode was Charlotte Richie as she went about her tasks with sheer joy and almost childlike exuberance.
If this was your first experience of Taskmaster you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Well go to All4 and catch-up with the previous 10 series and you’ll find out.
Taskmaster is totally dependent on the enthusiasm, commitment and comic inventiveness of the celebrity contestants which allows them to laugh at themselves and for the viewers to laugh along with them.
With another 9 episodes to follow, the pace of the tasks and the sarcasm of the Taskmaster will surely pick up and justify this show being the highlight of the week.
Funny Festival Live gets off to a flying start.
It’s been a tough year for stand-up comedians. Most, like much of the population, have struggled to pay the bills, so the BBC’s initiative Funny Festival Live is a much welcomed light in what has been a long and very dark tunnel.
It got off to a flying start on BBC 2 last night
hosted by the excellent Jason Manford in top form. Although it was of course performed live it was actually filmed over 5 days at the Bedford in Balham, London, a regular comedy club venue. The BBC explained “The ‘audience’ was not really an audience. They were members of our crew who were not needed in their jobs at the time of recording. They were there simply to react to the comedians’ jokes, to allow the comedian to understand if their delivery was working. In most cases the people in vision were trainees.” Manford also set the scene in his opening routine
Between 600 and 800 people watched each show from home, and with special technology, the BBC audio team selected the clearest audience internet feeds. It was these people’s laughter that was then played onto the studio floor live as the comedians performed. It worked. It worked well.
There are 5 shows in the series and inevitably, or purposely, much of the material revolved around lockdown and the pandemic but it was no less funny for that. However if the remaining sets linger too long on lockdown(s) the material could become repetitive. There’s only so many times you can laugh or cheer ‘it’s good to be out’.
Last night’s first episode featured the ebullient Judi Love whose excellent set referenced her Jamaican upbringing as much as lockdown: Michael Stranney, a promising new Irish comedian who could benefit from making a little more eye contact with his audience, just saying: Toussaint Douglass, a likable rising star who really knows how to work his audience. Finally, and by no means least, the effervescent Jayde Adams who, by the sound of her experience with her partner’s gastric habits during lockdown, would have been better off exchanging her surgical mask for a gas mask.
The show was bright, breezy and a brilliant start to the series. Stand-up legends including Jo Brand, Sara Pascoe, Kiri Pritchard-McLean will introduce the best comedy talent, including Darren Harriott, Dane Baptiste, Joanne McNally, Chris McCausland, Rachel Fairburn, Zoey Lyons, Nabil Abdulrashid, Rosie Jones, Thanyia Moore and Catherine Bohart in the remaining 4 shows with episode two on Monday night at 10 pm.
BBC III’s Stand Up For Live Comedy showcased some excellent emerging comedians
BBC 3’s Stand Up for Live Comedy presented some excellent new comedians, some who are already pretty well established and one or two who will need a lot better material to succeed in this difficult and competitive field.
The series filmed in advance in front of a socially distanced audience in outside locations was a mini Live at the Apollo and it proved that there is no substitute for live stand-up. Shows were filmed in Bristol, Belfast, Birmingham Glasgow, Margate (which was supposed to be in Wales but was switched due to their blanket lockdown) and London. Reviews of latest TV comedy
Each show was compared by an establish comedian, I was however not enamoured with Jamali Maddix’s, London knife crime routine and neither, I think, were the audience. However the acts that followed were excellent and I will give a particular shout-out to Helen Bauer, who is destined for great things, probably as Britain’s answer to Rebel Wilson (as was).
I’ve only seen Rachel Fairburn once before when she supported Stewart Francis on his ‘Last Ever Tour’ Tour in Nottingham. She was excellent then and was excellent on the Belfast show even though she is a Mancunian living in London. She is also one half of All Killa No Filla with the host of the Margate show Kiri Pritchard-McClean.
All of the 18 acts had their own unique style and personality and all grasped their opportunity well. As part of his set, Andy Field used some material from 2017 Edinburgh Fringe show about a line from the Exorcist which went on far too long. Toussaint Douglass had fun embarrassing a young lady in the audience about race – she, her friends and the rest of the audience enjoyed it as well.
Eighteen acts is too many to mention all of them individually so if you missed the series catch up on the BBC iplayer do some talent spotting for yourself.
Truth Seekers – a beautifully baked pie with no filling Reviews of latest TV comedy
Truth Seekers, the new Amazon Prime series falls between two stools with a loud bump. It is not strong enough to be a horror and too weak to be a comedy. Nick Frost stars as Gus Roberts, a full-time broadband engineer for 6G provider Smyle and part-time amateur paranormal investigator. His boss, Dave (Simon Pegg) asks him to take on a totally inexperienced apprentice named Elton John (must be joke in there somewhere but it is well hidden). Reviews of latest TV comedy
Whilst doing his day job and training Elton, Gus is more intent on ghost hunting and making hand held films for his YouTube channel. For over 20 years he’s been listening to an apparent radio channel that continuously transmitted the one word, the number one. Why would he do that? It does have some significance to the storyline unlike the role of Malcolm McDowell, as Gus’s dad, which is apropos of nothing.
It has high production values and with the Pegg/Frost pedigree you’d be forgiven for being excited by the prospect of this series but any excitement is quickly extinguished. This has none of the brilliance of Shaun of the Dead nor lesser collaborations like Paul and World’s End. It frankly limps along like the ghost of Jacob Marley dragging his chains. You keep hoping the chains will break and it will gather speed but sadly it doesn’t. There are of course one or two semi-shock moments and the occasional, very occasional, funny line but overall it is nothing more than lockdown time filler fodder. Maybe as a 100 minute movie it might have been sharper but halfway through the eight 30 minute episodes you lose the will to watch more, if not the will to live.
If you are a truth seeker, watching this is four hours of your life you’ll never get back.
Out of Her Mind may be too early to judge after just one episode
A situation comedy is an amusing television drama series about a set of characters. The abbreviation sitcom is also used.
Collins Dictionary Reviews of latest TV comedy
It’s important to remember that definition because episode one, like so many of the current crop, is amusing but not funny (see article Are Laugh Out Loud Sitcoms Extinct)
The show is a clever idea, very well written by Pascoe and has excellent production values. However if your expectation is that it will make you laugh out loud, other than at the toilet humour, you need to lower your expectations.
The main character is Sara Pascoe herself: a singleton of some 15 years since being dumped by her then fiancé. She resents that her peers, friends and her family are enjoying relationships and somewhat selflishly attempts to disrupt their lives and turn the spotlight onto herself. She is desperately, and sadly, in need of love and affection. Reviews of latest TV comedy
Her sister Lucy (Fiona Button), has a child and is planning her wedding. Sara’s best friend, Scoopy (Cariad Lloyd), is in the late stages of pregnancy with her first child, causing Sara to complain that “the bump is pushing her further away”. Sara’s mother Carol (Juliet Stevenson) has belatedly decided to regain her ‘lost’ past after her husband left her 30 years previously with a young Sara and Lucy.
Fleabag, Miranda and Mrs Brown’s Boys, for example, break the fourth wall (speak directly to the viewer) in this show Pascoe absolutely demolishes the fourth wall to explain scenarios and to display scientific biological graphs of the chemical reactions in the human condition. The show is a kind of illustrated stand-up routine.
One episode may be too little upon which to judge the programme. I have been wrong with slow burners before. I hope I’m wrong again.
Out of Her Mind Tuesdays 10pm BBC Two
Follow-up to Review
Out of Her Mind – yes she probably is close to the edge. Having now watched the first three episodes, enough is enough: my first impression of the show has been confirmed. Having said that, I am clearly not the target audience for this show which was written to appeal to women, in much the same way as The Duchess was. No adult woman needs menstruation explained to them so I’m guessing that Pascoe thinks that men do, hence the biology lecture and the technicolour uteri dancing Fantasia style while she sings.
I believe that the surreal scenes are meant to depict the inner workings of her crazed mind projected onto our consciousness. If that is so, then it would appear that she is on the edge of a nervous breakdown: a breakdown that has supposedly been brewing for the previous 15 years. Her mind is unravelling before our eyes, erupting into a display of manic boorish behaviour. This Sara is the kind of person you hope would not sit next to you on the bus and if she did you would studiously peer out of the window to avoid interaction.
Pascoe’s unhinged behaviour doesn’t make her funny. It makes her a rather tiresome, self-obsessed, sad individual for whom it is difficult to have any empathy. The storyline in which her manic behaviour is packaged is not in itself strong enough to bring balance to the proceedings.
A danger for the real Pascoe is that she frequently asserts that the character is actually her, which begs the question, will we now perceive Sara Pascoe, the excellent stand-up performer, as this neurotic person for whom we can at best only show sympathy.
Comedy programmes can make a point but they must be funny. Laughter should be a spontaneous reaction to a situation or a group of words: it should release the endorphins that make us feel happy. If I want to think deeply, I’ll turn to Bertolt Brecht or Sartre.
Out of Her Mind will undoubtedly receive a lot of critical acclaim for pushing the envelope, I do not however go along with Emperor’s new clothes syndrome: so although it will no doubt be widely acclaimed, no doubt win a BAFTA and no doubt be commissioned for a second series, it is sadly not for me. Reviews of latest TV comedy Reviews of latest TV comedy Reviews of latest TV comedy Reviews of latest TV comedy
Taskmaster – the medicine the whole nation needs
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The new, socially distanced, series of Taskmaster got off to a flying start. For those of you who have not seen the show before, the difference between Taskmaster, now transferred from Dave to C4, and the other ‘comedian’ game shows such as Comedy Game Night and Guessable is that Taskmaster contestants are not playing party games. They are undertaking ludicrous tasks devised by the show’s creator, Alex Horne at which most of them fail miserably with hilariously results.
Spoiler alert: for those viewers who are nervously awaiting Daisy May Cooper to laugh herself into childbirth, as she was seven months pregnant during filming, have no fear, the baby, Jack Michael Weston, was safely born in September. Now you can relax and enjoy the rest of the series and if the first episode is the shape of things to come then we are in for a treat.
An estimated 1.7 million viewers watched the five contestants attempt to complete the tasks with Greg Davies commenting with mock sarcastic vitriol on, and awarding points for, their efforts. The first round was simple enough but after that their attempts to complete the tasks went down-hill rapidly with hilarious, laugh out loud results. No one laughed louder or longer at the judging than Daisy May Cooper whose volcanic eruptions were so infectious (probably not a good adjective to use in the current climate).
More details would spoil the opportunity for you to see the inventive tasks first hand. However it must be said that watching the problem solving attributes (or rather non attributes) of Katherine Parkinson, Richard Herring, Mawaan Rizwan, Johnny Vegas (who was attired as if he’d come straight from Lark Rise via Candleford) together with those of ‘Achievement Woman’ Cooper will give you the most laughs you’ll have over the next 10 weeks.
Taskmaster C4 Thursdays 9pm
Motherland is a funny not to be missed sitcom
I once held a children’s birthday party the day after having had a vasectomy. It was going smoothly and without incident until one over energetic attendee decided I’d make a good buffer in a game of chase. As the pain seared through my groin I wished, probably aloud, that his father had had a vasectomy seven years prior. Such is the joy of organising children’s party activities. So if you’ve been fortunate enough to have done so, you’ll sympathise with the burdens of parenthood experienced by the characters in BBC 2’s Motherland. Reviews of latest TV comedy
If you didn’t see Series 1 or missed Series 2 first time round you are missing a brilliant comedy with many laugh-out loud moments.
Motherland is all about navigating the trials and traumas of middle-class motherhood, looking at the competitive and unromantic sides of parenting – not the cute and acceptable public face of motherhood. It is a primarily a school-gate comedy with just the right level of profanity and none of the crudity of The Duchess.
The scripts are superbly crafted by the prolific Sharon Horgan alongside Holly Walsh, Graham Linehan and Helen Linehan with Barunka O’Shaughnessy taking over from Graham Linehan for the second series. Both series are performed by a brilliant cast including:
Amanda (Lucy Punch – A Series of Unfortunate Events) is very much the Queen Bee: everything in her life is organised, clean and sparkly – designer clothes adorn her slender coiffured frame as she lords it over the less successful school mums whilst being lauded by a posse of admiring yummy mummies and an obedient lapdog acquaintance called Anne (Phillipa Dunne). Reviews of latest TV comedy
At the other end of the spectrum there’s the anarchic Liz (Diane Morgan – Mandy) now a single mum who leads a chaotic lifestyle, doesn’t give a flying fig for Amanda and her cronies. She feels her kids should enjoy free expression because that’s the easier route through motherhood.
Somewhere in the middle is the hapless Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin – The Frankenstein Chronicles), an events organiser who, when she forgets it’s the school holidays, realises her organisational skills are nowhere near the level of the ‘Alpha Mums’. Julia is a user of friendships and family members as she struggles with career and family commitments. Her hedonistic husband is an absent father. Also in the mix is Kevin (Paul Ready – Bodyguard), he’s a weak willed stay-at-home dad, distanced by his wife and desperate to ingratiate himself with the mums who both tolerate and dismiss him in equal measures. Amanda treats him like something she stepped in.
In series 2 the cast is joined by Tanya Moodie (Rise of Skywalker) a flamboyant entrepreneur with 5 children and a put upon mother.
A third series has been commissioned
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Jonathan Ross’s Comedy Club was a pot pourri of emerging comedy talents. Inevitably there were some good acts, some okay acts and some acts that, like Thursday’s child, have far to go .
No names, no pack drill. Reviews of latest TV comedy
The headline act of the evening gets around 4 minutes however, because we are familiar with them, their style and their personality, their sets generally work from the start. Not so for the newer acts. Whilst it’s great that the show allows experienced comedy circuit acts to gain some limited exposure to a wider TV audience, 3 minutes allocated to them leaves no time to establish a personality nor that all important rapport with the audience but just 90 seconds for the two novice acts is totally insufficient for them to establish a routine before being hooked.
The biggest problem for new comedians is finding a unique voice or a route that is different from the plethora of emerging wannabees. Much of the material was not up to the mark. Some acts succeeded, most didn’t but they all have my total admiration for trying. To paraphrase: those that can, do; those that can’t, review.
The 5 part series ran for about 25 minutes per episode of which the 3 main acts have 9 minutes between them and the 2 green shoots, 3 mins so that’s 12 minutes of pretty mundane comedy with few laughs (despite the all too frequent cut-aways to Jonathan Ross laughing inanely, at what, I have no idea). Add to this the headliners 4 mins and we end up with 16 minutes of comedic content. Mawaan Rizwan’s musical interludes, whilst demonstrating his obvious talent, add little to the proceedings neither do the pointless interviews with the headline acts.
For me this show falls far below expectations and, I suspect risks terminating more careers than it launches.
BBC2’s Stand Up For Live Comedy series (a sort of mini-Apollo) on the other hand allows sufficient time for the four acts to perform fuller sets. Naturally not all the acts will set the world of comedy alight: some won’t become headliners but it’s a far better showcase of talent than JR’s Comedy Club. The first two episodes set a reasonably high bar. Only when the 6 part series ends will it be pertinent to review the whole show. Reviews of latest TV comedy
Comedy Game Night and Guessable cut from the same cloth comedy review
Guessable and Comedy Game Night are two new game/panel shows pretty much cut from the same cloth. Both shows are on Comedy Central and, although produced by two different production houses, the format of both is almost identical: two teams of socially distanced celebrities complete a series of party games, versions of charades, Pictionary, name that tune, who/what am I?, many of which you may have played during festive periods. Each team is awarded points based on ability or in some cases, lack of it. Basically the viewer is like a maiden aunt sitting on the sofa after Christmas lunch whilst the rest of the family join in the fun and games.
Guessable, hosted by Sara Pascoe with team captains Alan Davies and Darren Harriott, has a bit of a twist in as much as the answers given during the course of each hour long episode supposedly give clues to the name of a person whose identity is concealed in cheap looking cardboard box. I say supposedly because not even Sherlock Holmes at the height of his powers would have deduced the answer. I won’t divulge the answer but neither team was remotely close. The clues, such as they are, are recapped by John Kearns who, whilst pleasant enough, is about as necessary to the show as Sean Walsh was to Play to the Whistle.
Both Pascoe and Liza Tarbuck, who hosts CGN, handle their jobs well, Tarbuck, supported by team captains Sue Perkins and Guz Khan, is probably the more relaxed and comfortable with the presenter role but they both add to, rather than detract from, the enjoyment of show.
Both programmes are light hearted, cheerful and generate laugh out loud moments, particularly from the participants. Hardly adult entertainment but would make passable family viewing were it not for the inevitable, but unnecessary, expletives.
Ghosts is great family fun
Ghost hunters claim that they feel a chill in the air when in the presence of a ghost. Not so with the diverse band of spooks who haunt the somewhat dilapidated Button Hall. They exude warmth. And therein lays the charm of Ghosts.
Those who watched the first series in 2019 will know that the concept, which borrows a little from the1976 series, The Ghosts of Motley Hall, is simple : Alison (Charlotte Richie) and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) inherit rundown Button Hall. Their arrival disturbs the array of ghosts who, unlike those in the 70 series have gathered in the house over thousands of years not just the past 500 or so, some died way before the house was even built. A slight accidental head injury gifts Alison the ability to see the ghosts, although they remain invisible to Mike.
And so the fun begins. Yes it is fun: prime time family fun. That is the joy of Ghosts: well-crafted scripts with gentle humour devoid of expletives to generate shock laughter. The cast, many of whom appeared in, and wrote, episodes of Horrible Histories are perfectly suited to their characters. From Lady Fanny Button (the double entendre speaks for itself) played by Martha Howe-Douglas to caveman, Robin (yes a cavemen called Robin) played by Laurence Rickard they somehow all manage to get along with each other despite her Ladyships feeling of entitlement. Others include poet Thomas (Mathew Baynton) Mary, a witch (Katy Wix) and The Captain a punctilious Army Officer (Ben Willbond).
Alison and Mike have to find a way to save Button Hall from complete ruin and their house mates do their best to help them succeed or not as you will see when you watch this gently humourous, thoroughly charming series.
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The current trend in sitcoms/comedy dramas is akin to the radio ‘shock jocks’ of the 80s. Those radio presenters had the deliberate intention to literally shock their listeners, cause outrage and gain notoriety.
Today’s sitcom scripts that rely on sexually explicit terms or ‘c’ bombs to generate laughs are lazy. It’s unnecessary for After Life’s Tony Johnson to call 10 year old boys c**ts to prove that he’s embittered. The award winning Fleabag would be every bit as funny without the explicit references to anal sex. If anal sex makes you laugh, you’re not doing it right.
So the fact that Katherine Ryan’s character sank to that level in her Netflix sitcom, The Duchess, did not help the somewhat lacklustre script.
Let me be quite clear – I am a fan of Katherine Ryan’s stand-up so I was really rooting for her first foray into sitcom. Unfortunately whilst Ryan’s acerbic wit can be quite cutting and very funny in her sets, her character in the Duchess has no charm or redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Bluntness is one thing but being abusive and rude to everyone, with the exception of her best friend (yes, surprisingly, she has one) leaves no room for empathy with the character. It is supposed to be semi-autobiographical but allowing for comic exaggeration this Katherine character clearly has a personality disorder. In an interview with Gemma Dunn for the Belfast Telegraph back in 2018 Ryan said “I might be a very nasty woman, but I’ve got manners.” It’s a pity she didn’t write, even a hint of those manners into her character who shows no respect for anyone. When you know that the tone of every conversation will be blatant rudeness it loses its impact and becomes wearisome.
The Duchess is a self-obsessed, self-centred egotist. She claims to want another child for the sake of her daughter Olive, who, at 9 years old is way past the age where it will make any difference to her childhood. The need for a child is Katherine’s need. And the process by which she goes about it demonstrates her misandry.
So the Duchess is an obnoxiously rude, crude misandrist with a way off the wall dress sense, setting a poor example to her daughter who, despite her mother’s offensive behaviour, is trying her best to be normal.
By episode 6 Katherine is beginning to show a hint of benevolence but we’ll have to wait for a second series (if Netflix commission one) to see if Katherine’s wish fulfilment makes her a chameleon or a leopard. Reviews of latest TV comedy