Reviews of latest TV and streaming comedy produced in the UK and US
Index of Reviews
Hullraisers should hook you from episode one
Generally speaking, the first page of a novel needs to grab the reader and move them on through the first chapter without them realising: so it is with the first episode of a TV series. Thankfully the opening episode of ‘Hullraisers’ was more than enough to get you to continue with the following chapters of the series.
An excellent cast delivering some funny lines in a fast-paced script should prove to be a winner.
Set in Hull, the home city of Lucy Beaumont, who wrote the pilot (see interview here) Hullraisers primarily deals with three friends, all in different life situations: Rana (Taj Atwal) a promiscuous single police officer, Toni (Leah Brotherhead) an unemployed ‘actress’ and mum of two seeking to recapture her misspent single years and Paula (Sinead Matthews), an established stay-at-home mum with a rebellious teenage daughter and a penchant for vaping ‘meat pie’ flavoured vapes.
Along with Beaumont we now need to see how writers Caroline Moran, who, with her sister Caitlin, wrote the underrated Raised By Wolves (not the Netflix series of the same name) and Anne Marie O’Connor (Trollied) develop the characters and storylines. With the pedigree of those three we should be in for a treat. But we don’t have to wait, the whole series is available to watch on All4 now. Do so.
The Bubble. Over all an entertaining couple of hours
Review: The Bubble Netflix. The Bubble is set in a palatial hotel in the English countryside which appears to have all the facilities of a major film studio. The cast and crew have been assembled during Covid to shoot a hundred-million-dollar fantasy-action sequel film, the sixth in the fictitious Jurassic style “Cliff Beasts” series. Much of the action revolving around green screen sequences with and without CGI.
Being set during lockdown, it is essential that everyone takes extreme anti-covid precautions, hence forming a bubble from where the title comes.
The Bubble is directed by Judd Apatow (Funny People, This Is 40, Knocked Up). The film within the film, Cliff Flyers 6, is directed by the hot indie director Darren Eigen (Fred Armisen), a relative newcomer with a swollen ego who shot his previous film on a smart phone. The cast, all but two of whom appeared in the previous five films, includes Lauren (Leslie Mann) and Dustin (David Duchovny), who are newly divorced from each other having recently adopted a belligerent 16 year old; Sean (Keegan-Michael Key), who in between films has launched his own quasi-religion; the debauched Dieter (Pedro Pascal); Carol (Karen Gillan), who, having refused to sign up for number five, making a failed ‘political’ movie instead, is now desperate to revive her career and reputation with her co-stars; new to the franchise, Krystal (Iris Apatow), a teenage Tik-Tok influencer with no acting experience but a hundred and twenty million followers and last but by no means least the manic Howie (Guz Khan).
Attempting to keep the bubble intact are Gunther (Harry Trevaldwyn) and Bola (Samson Kayo), under the draconian guidance of producer Gavin (Peter Serafinowicz). Gavin is frequently interrupted by video calls from studio boss Paula (Kate McKinnon), checking on progress from the many luxurious ‘covid-free’ locations where she’s seeing out the pandemic.
In an interview with The Denver 7 Channel, Judd Apatow said, “I think everyone was just trying to figure out how do we keep our lives moving, how do we live, how we work, how do we raise our kids. I thought this bunch of actors trying to complete a flying dinosaur movie was a fun, exaggerated way of showing the nervous breakdown we all had from being isolated.”
That “nervous breakdown” experienced by most during lockdowns is at the hub of the movie. The physical and emotional effects on cast and crew of firstly isolating then living in a bubble are all too painfully recognisable.
“Cliff Beasts”is not the greatest film franchise, in fact Dieter considers his movies “shit,” and his philosophy is: “You just wipe, you flush, and you move on.”
The Bubble itself doesn’t quite fit within that philosophy but at 126 minutes, it is a little too long, with some scenes stretched for no real benefit. There are a few really funny moments but a lot of near misses.
Over all it’s enough of an enjoyable and entertaining watch not to think you’ve wasted 2 hours of your life watching.
Review: The Bubble, Netflix
Deep Heat no holds barred
Reviewing this whilst remembering the sort of adage that “if you can’t say anything good about somebody/something, don’t say anything”: so
Deep Heat Monday ITV and ITV Hub
Helen Bauer rocks it as Kate in Small Doses
Helen Bauer’s full on character Kate is an uncontainable stream of bubbling effervescence. She fills every moment of this all too brief pilot sitcom short with a manic persona.
The show written by Helen and Rose Heiney sees Kate returning from Germany under a cloud, having worked as a family au-pair for eight years or so. Returning to the family home in Fleet the ‘very boring, non-descript town’ she grew up in, flat broke with limited prospects. Kate has total lack of self-awareness, bursting into the lives of her family and friends like the proverbial bull in a china shop.
Conflicts with her divorced mother Julie (Julia Deakin), forcing her way back into the lives of old friends, like Emma James Khan (Olivia D’Lima) and Laura (Rosa Robson) paves the way for a series development. The arrival of Emma G (Rose Johnson) on the scene with an equally uncontainable personality may just be a clash of ids too far but we’ll have to wait for this series to be commissioned before we have the answer to that. And hopefully Small Doses will be commissioned. We need to see more of Helen’s Kate.
A lot more.
Small Doses is available on https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0btb9cp/small-doses
From Helen’s web site:
Known for being a comedy powerhouse with an electric stage presence, Helen is one of the UK’s most exciting rising stand up stars.
After leaving college with an E in Economics and an allergy to the education system, Helen Bauer moved to London to share a bed with her cousin and work in Accessorize on Oxford Street. She lived in London until she was 23, making sketches, waitressing and drinking. She then moved to Berlin to do the same there, and discovered stand up. Helen honed her comedy skills performing in Germany. You can now find Helen’s creative writing, charming attitude on stage and special love of pop music all over Britain.
TV appearances include Live At The Apollo (BBC2), Stand Up For Live Comedy: BBC Presents (BBC 1 & 3), Edinburgh Nights (BBC 2), Period Dramas (BBC 3), CelebAbility, The Stand Up Sketch Show, The Emily Attack Show and Hey Tracey (ITV2), The Dog Ate My Homework (CBBC), Pep Talk, Fat Chat and Comedy Central’s Digital Fringe (Comedy Central), CALM Gala and Hypothetical (Dave).
Radio appearances include Unexpected Fluids, Wheel Of Misfortune and Scarlett Moffat Wants To Believe (BBC Radio 1), Radio 4’s Comedy Club and Newsjack Unplugged (BBC Radio 4).
In August 2019, her debut show at the Edinburgh Festival beat out 700 other shows to be nominated for the Best Newcomer Award. In February 2020 she performed the show at the prestigious Soho Theatre in London.
Helen co-hosts the podcast Trusty Hogs with fellow comedian Catherine Bohart as well as co-hosting the hit podcast Daddy Look At Me (with Rosie Jones) – The Guardian’s Recommend podcast.
Hacks is the antithesis of Newark Newark in setting
Hacks has all the glamour of Vegas (Las not Johnny) and Jean Smart is at home in the luxurious surroundings. Smart plays Deborah Vance, an established Diva, with a capital D, of the stand-up comedy scene who lives and performs in Las Vegas “the international entertainment capital of the world”. Vance is headlining nights at the Palmetto Casino whilst presenting on a shopping channel and doing corporate paid gigs. Maintaining a glamorous public persona but going home alone to rattle around her sumptuous mansion with her pampered dogs. Deborah has put her career first above everything else in her personal life including her recalcitrant daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olson).
Vance’s star attraction is dwindling, fans are becoming fewer: the owner of the Palmetto, Marty (Christopher McDonald), although a friend, wants to give her Friday and Saturday slots over to a rising star who is ‘big box office’. In an attempt to rekindle Vances’s career, her manager Jimmy (Paul W Downs) sends a young TV comedy writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) to help her freshen up her act with more relevant material.
Ava has been unemployed since writing a joke about a closeted senator and his gay son although by the standards of some of today’s real life comedic gaffs it was pretty tame as we later find out.
After a yin and yang start to their working relationship, the pair accept the situation and the rest of the series sees their generational relationship develop from professional toleration to a mutual understanding and friendship. Both Deborah and Ava are confident, even defensive, of their individual comic talent but come to the understanding that they are both in need of each other’s strengths and experience to survive, not just in the challenging world of stand-up but in life in general.
Hacks is an excellent watch and Jean Smart more than deserves the numerous awards she has received for playing Vance.
A much anticipated series/season 2 is on the way
Hacks is now streaming on Prime Video in the UK
Newark Newark is showing on Gold
Newark Newark. Fresh. Funny. Four star comedy
This is a good sitcom that deserves a bigger audience than it will initially get on Gold. There are just two niggly points: Terry (Mathew Horne) is incongruously hirsute to have been married to Maxine (Morgana Robinson), and her assistant, Claire’s (Saskia Chana) pseudo patois speech is out of place.
Those niggles apart, the whole cast is excellent with standout performances from Robinson and relative newcomer Jai Hollis as her son, Leslie.
Episode one of the sitcom, created and written by Nathan Foad, revolving around the 40th birthday party of, George’s Plaice fish & chip shop manager, Maxine, established all the characters in a whirlwind episode. Episode two settles down and gives the characters and the viewers time to breathe.
Maxine is frustrated with her life, yet trapped within it. Now middle aged and finally divorced from the hapless Terry, who longs to regain his lost love, she is the glue that holds the family together. Hollis as the son is superb as he attempts to come out to the family. Although he is as soft as slice of halloumi on a barbecue, he can’t help speaking his mind despite clashing with the local bullies. His best, and only, friend, Amber (Jessie Mae Alonzo) sticks by him, joining in the fun as the party finished with everyone dancing in the kitchen despite Leslie’s grand coming out announcement, which was greeted with little surprise by his gran.
Among those ‘enjoying’ the party, despite the rain, a lack of salad cream and the unwanted presence of Tex-Mex dips, were Maxine’s sharp-tongued mother, Pauline (Beverley Callard), her sofa surfing grandson Rudy (Vahid Gold), the aforementioned ex-husband Terry accompanied by an itinerant musician Dariusz (Bo Poraj) and Claire.
Gold have some excellent original comedy programmes.This is one to watch. Fresh. Funny. Four stars.
Kate and Koji is a brilliant pastiche of 70s sitcoms
Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin have pulled off a brilliant pastiche of 70s sitcoms with KATE AND KOJI, whether it was meant to be is another matter. The second episode of the second series aired last night on ITV 9pm.
The series, set in Joan’s Café, a run-down seaside café, stars Brenda Blethyn as cafe owner Kate (who took over from her mother Joan) and Okorie Chukwu as asylum-seeking doctor Koji. How the café stays in business is a miracle given that only four regulars ever eat there: Medium Dan (Blake Harrison) Kate’s nephew, who sometimes works for the local council. Why he is called Medium Dan was probably explained in the first series but passed me by; Mr Mullholland (Victor McGuire) who has eaten far too many of Kate’s fry-ups since his days in Goodnight Sweetheart; Kris (Nick Sadler) a muscular non-intellectual to put it politely and Iris (Rosalind Ayres) a batty spinster stereotype. It would help if ITV could stretch the budget a smidgeon to have one or two extras having a cup of tea, just to add a touch of atmosphere. Occasionally Kate’s nemesis, Councillor Lavinia Bone (Barbara Flynn) pops in to renew hostilities.
Last night’s episode saw Kate with her leg in a cast, allowing Koji to run her cafe while nephew Medium Dan wanted feedback on a fantasy novel he had penned. The jokes are somewhat corny and signposted miles in advance but nevertheless the show has a kind of nostalgic warmth that is kindled by the strength of Brenda Blethyn.
It’s a sitcom that has split opinion but, as always, no one is forced to tune in. “Doctor it hurts when I poke my eye with a stick”: don’t poke your eye then. There is room for all kinds of comedy, we can’t all like the same things, so if Kate and Koji is not your cup of tea, fine, don’t watch it. Vote with your channel changer. However over 5 million did watch the very first episode and 2.6 million returned to watch episode one of this series on the night – figures will no doubt increase on catch-up,
‘Holding’ on with warmth & wit
Conleth Hill plays local police officer Sergeant PJ Collins, a gentle man who hides from people and fills his days with comfort food and half-hearted police work. He is one of life’s outsiders, lovable, but lonely and a bit rubbish at his job. When the body of long-lost local legend Tommy Burke is discovered, PJ is called upon to solve a serious crime for the first time in his career. Unearthing long buried secrets amongst the villagers, PJ finally connects with the village he has tried so hard to avoid.
Directed by the inimitable Kathy Burke, the cast, Siobhán McSweeney and Brenda Fricker among them, deliver characters with genuine charm and wit. Not so much a dramedy but a light drama filled with gentle smiles that will infuse a warmth to the soul in these dark days.
The Witchfinder – Comedy? Dramedy? No, tragedy.
The much heralded The Witchfinder is not a comedy nor a dramedy but a tragedy. A tragedy because although the production by Baby Cow Productions is excellent, as is the cast led by Tim Key, Daisy May Cooper and Jessica Hynes, they are let down by a puerile script, devoid of comedic lines, jokes and even visual gags. That is the most disappointing aspect of this show – writers Neil and Rob Gibbons have a pretty good pedigree (numerous Alan Partridge shows and an episode of Veep) but this script isn’t worthy of the production budget.
It is 1645 in rural England. Gideon Bannister(Tim Key) is an incompetent wannabe Witchfinder, an occupation that should be easy enough given that just about any woman can be accused of being a witch. There is a sort of running gag that nobdy knows who he is, to which he reacts by channelling Ricky Gervais/David Brent.
John Stearne, the Witchfinder General’s right-hand man, visits Gideon’s village to uncover a coven of witches. He is found murdered, why and by whom we know not, or perhaps, as Old Myers (Hynes) kind of proffers, he could have “got drunk, fallen on the straw and impaled himself on that metal thingy” which is sticking out of his chest and, visually at least, disembowelled himself. This happenstance, which is taken no further, allows Gideon to set off, with Thomasine Gooch (Daisy May Cooper), who he has already falsly found guilty of witchcraft, to engineer a ‘chance meeting’ with the WG in the hope of taking Stearne’s place.
He takes Thomasine along so that he has a ’witch’ as proof of his imagined prowess. What little humour there is in this poor script comes from Cooper’s deadpan delivery of putdowns and asides to Gideon.
The show has a 10pm time slot because of the gratuitous use of the F word and a C bomb thrown in for no good reason whatsoever – Tim Key even looks embarrassed delivering it. A simple deletion of those words, which add no comedic value, and this would be a fine programme for children, except that Horrible Histories does it all so much better.
Future episodes have some stellar cameos which may raise the game, that’s if you can be bothered to watch any more. With so much good comedy, drama and documentaries available, The Witchfinder is unlikely to be top of your must see list.
Sarah Kendall’s Frayed – brilliant second series shines
The first series, written by and starring the very talented Sarah Kendall, was superb: the second series, if anything, is superber (sic). As we watch, widowed, Sam and her family live with their reduced circumstances we can sit back and enjoy the humour: sometimes black, sometimes dry and sometimes slapstick but always, always funny.
If you still haven’t seen the first series it doesn’t matter too much as there are enough flashbacks in the opening episode of series 2 to bring you up to speed. Sam/Simone Cooper (Sarah Kendall) is back in London in an attempt to both reclaim her property ‘stolen’ from her by unscrupulous family lawyer (Robert Webb) and equally to avoid any difficult questions from the police back in Oz.
She and the children, Lenny (Frazer Hadfield) and Tess (Maggie Ireland-Jones), are living in a squalid, rat infested flat for which the rent is overdue. She has a job in ‘automotive management’ – an office job in an exhaust fitting centre and does what she can to ensure the family’s survival. The children having at first hated the interruption to their comfortable lives when forced to move to Australia, are now longing to go back down under: where Diane Morgan as Fiona is still down under (in more ways than one).
Episode one leaves us, and Sam, with optimism that their recovery could be on the horizon after a hint of good news from her harassed pro bono lawyer, Hannah (Gemma Whelan).
The big dilemma is whether to find out by binging all six-hour episodes (46mins without the ad breaks) in one or two sittings or to savour them individually over a few days. In fact, Sarah Kendall’s creation is worth watching more than once. It really is that good.
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is back with a vengence
There’s no argument that Midge Maisel is back with a bang: there are however plenty of arguments in the opening episode of season four. Everyone seems to be shouting at everyone else – making Eastenders seem like a love-in – fortunately the shouting subsides before the onslaught of a monumental headache sets in.
If you haven’t seen the first three seasons, you missed a compelling show. If you did, then you’ll know that Midge Maisel was heading for the stars when her routine naively outing singing superstar, Shy Baldwin, gets her thrown off his world tour and knocked back down to earth, with a thud.
But that’s good for viewers because Midge, or Miriam, as she seems to be called most often in this series, is back where she started: making her way in smoky drinking clubs and strip joints. It’s the environment in which she feels most at home and performs at her best.
The magnificent cast has also returned in great form with sub-plots continuing their journeys through life’s trials and tribulations. Standout performances from Alex Borstein as Susie and Tony Shalhoub as Abe Weissman lead the way but there isn’t a weak link anywhere.
It is however, Rachel Brosnahan, as Mrs Maisel, who sets the screen alight delivering another impeccable performance as she has done from the start: never more so than when performing stand-up on small stages to intimate audiences. Although she yearns for the trappings and financial stability of success she feels more at home in smaller intimate venues. The glamour and glitz of the big tours, the arena performances, the razzamatazz does not set the inner Midge free. And she is only free when she is performing, spontaneously from the heart. It is both her strength and, as she has found out the hard way, her weakness.
So back at rock bottom, broke and fighting against entrenched male chauvinism of the 1960s comedy scene, will she claw her way back from the brink? Well, we’ll have to wait and see. Amazon are only releasing two episodes a week on Prime Video so we are yet to see what she and her manager, Susie, can do to restore her frozen career. I for one can’t wait for the thaw.
Starstruck series 2 every bit as good as series 1
In case, for some reason, you didn’t get around to watching the first series, a quick recap: Jessie (Rose Matafeo), is a free-spirited New Zealander living in London.
On a night out, she meets Tom (Nikesh Patel) in a bar. They hook up and the following morning she discovers that he is a well-known movie star, something that fascinates her friends more than it does her: yet, the couple have a magnetic attraction to each other. They have an on-off infatuation. Jessie decides to go home to New Zealand at the same time as Tom has to go to Ireland for a film shoot. The series ends with them on a bus together going to Heathrow. (See review here)
This second series, written by Matafeo, Alice Snedden and Nic Sampson, and produced by Avalon, which launched last night, picks up where the first finished – with them on the bus on their way to the airport. Needless to say, they both miss their flights – intentionally.
The usually impulsive, self-confident Jessie is apparently confused by her feelings for Tom and tries to keep a cushioned distance between them. She moves back in with her old housemate Kate (Emma Sidi). Tom, who despite his fame and fortune is surprisingly insecure, is summoned to Ireland by his demanding agent Cath (Minnie Driver).
So where do they go from here? Well, one thing of which you can be sure is that the rest of the series will loosely follow the same scenario as series one, with Jessie and Tom drawn together by a chemistry that leaves both of them unsatisfied. Jessie flounders in Tom’s showbusiness world and he in her’s. We’ll see what happens when a couple who could be compatible keep messing up.
You could binge the whole six-part series on iPlayer or, as Rose herself tweeted, “watch it at 10pm every Monday on BBC Three because it takes ages to make and there’s only six episodes so maybe take it slow baby”. Whatever you decide to do it is a superbly written and produced show with plenty of warm and funny moments.
Sorry Rose, I can’t wait, I’m going to have to binge the other five episodes right now.
John Bishop lights up Saturday schedule
John Bishop has left Dan behind in the Tardis to join his guests n a studio for a new ITV series unsurprisingly called The John Bishop Show. And, unsurprisingly, it was good.
Bishop is one of the country’s top observational comedians performing sell out tours over the past 10 years in between saving beluga whales. In this new series he performs topical stand-up to a fully masked studio audience and chats to guests. It doesn’t come across as a plugging show in the way that Graham Norton’s guests are there at the behest of their respective publicity gurus to plug their latest film, series, play or book. There was a musical interlude, of sorts: Bishop did a pastiche of 2021’s biggest selling album, Adele’s ‘30’, calling it 55, being his age. Not sure if it was actually the comedian himself singing but it was very well produced and a funny commentary o age and health.
His two guests on this first episode were the often outrageous but always hilarious, comedian Sarah Millican and actor James Nesbitt. Of course the host got in a mention of Millican’s current nationwide tour ‘Bobby Dazzler’ and raised Nesbitt’s current gripping Netflix hit ‘StayClose’ which he binged over two sittings. However it was done in a way that didn’t sound like an infomercial. It was conversational. This show is more chat than plug, even if Bishop himself does most of the chatting. Inevitably, in the age in which we live, there were smart phone video clips with some funny anecdotes from the guests, particularly Sarah Millican’s retelling of her accident with a mandolin – the kitchen utensil not that owned by Captain Corelli.
The John Bishop Show is a welcome addition to the Saturday night ITV schedule. If you missed this episode it is available on ITV Hub
Two Doors Down is an under promoted gem deserving of an earlier time slot
Monday night saw the return of the BAFTA nominated Two Doors Down, a no nonsense domestic sitcom, and a welcome return it was too. Now in its 5th series, the basic premise remains, neighbours barging in uninvited to Beth and Alex’s house disrupting their everyday life.
The formula hasn’t changed because it doesn’t need to: writers Simon Carlyle and Gregor Sharp continue to produce sharp scripts (no pun intended) delivering plenty of laughs. In Monday night’s episode Beth (Arabella Weir) and Eric (Alex Norton) are set for a quiet family gathering to celebrate the two-year anniversary of their son, Ian’s (Jamie Quinn), relationship with his vegan boyfriend, Gordon (Kieran Hodgson).
Beth was busy making a vegan curry when another neighbour, Christine (BAFTA winner Elaine C Smith), arrived to accuse Beth of being responsible for giving her a severe upset stomach via a suspect ham sandwich some days before. Christine’s discomfort and its inevitable consequences ran through the episode.
When intrusive neighbours Colin (Jonathan Watson) and Cathy (Doon MacKichan) invite themselves along for the meal they take over the evening, as they are wont to do, spoiling the anniversary dinner for all.
Two Doors Down is as much a soap as a sitcom. Relatable characters whom we have gotten to know well, relatable situations and a brilliant ensemble cast. The laughter stems from the pin-sharp portrayal of the character’s everyday lives.
For every, edgy, expletive laden new sitcom, as good as they are, we need the counterbalance of sitcoms that uses moderate everyday language in relatable situations. A sitcom where the laughs come from acute observation, well drawn, consistent, believable characters and a well-honed script.
Two Doors Down delivers in spades.
Look out for the Christmas special on December 20th 9.30pm
Britney: review: The BBC has another sure fire hit on its hands
Charly Clive and Ellen Robertson created and wrote the sitcom pilot based on their sell-our Edinburgh festival show. After several years in development it was dropped by one production company but BBC Three caught it before it hit the ground. And what a catch!
The story is based on Charly’s diagnosis of a brain tumour. Having graduated from drama school she had been living in New York and was working for a seedy agency, staffed by oddball characters handing out flyers around Times Square, while trying to find work as an actor. On what was meant to be a short trip back to her parent’s home in Oxfordshire, Charly went to see the GP, after not having had a period for a few months. She underwent an MRI scan which found the tumour. The news, received over the telephone, knocked the bottom out of her world.
This may not sound like the basis for a sitcom but the creators manage to wring plenty of humour out of the situation. It’s a part funny, part poignant but nevertheless uplifting story of a longstanding bond between the two girls. A story of a joyous friendship. The supporting cast is excellent with Omid Djalili shining as the GP.
In an interview when asked Did writing this programme make you nostalgic for your past?
Charly: Yes and no. It was definitely nice to revisit lots of the jokes and adventures we went on but it wasn’t a barrel of laughs dredging up the medical stuff. Having said that, though, it was very cathartic to look back on everything and choose how to tell the story, it was quite freeing in some ways.
You both seem to find the funny side of the darkest situations. Do you use comedy to get through difficult times?
Ellen: I don’t know if this answers the question, but the first thing Charly did after the diagnosis was put on an inflatable sumo suit and I wrote a comedy eulogy.
See full interview here
It’s being shown tonight at 11.35pm on BBC Three but you don’t have to stay up late, you can watch it now on BBC iPlayer.
The pilot is far too good not to be commissioned for a full series. So BBC over to you
Along For The Ride with David O’Doherty: A cycling yawn festHas there been a less interesting hour of television in recent years. Not even Richard Ayoade could raise this yawn fest above the threshold of paint drying. David O’Doherty says in the introduction that after lockdown he promised himself that he’d go cycling to beautiful places “with people I’d always wanted to go cycling with”. Those people being Richard Ayoade, Mel Giedroyc, Joe Wilkinson and Grayson Perry. Really? All very talented people in their own right but “people I’d always wanted to go cycling with”. Okay if you say so David. The four part series started with the ‘Travel Man’ himself Richard Ayoade. The two days of conversations between the cycling companions was as uninteresting as the scenery through which they cycled. Even the drone footage failed to inspire. As Time Out puts it ‘It’s impossible to escape the sense of having reached the end of the world when you get to Dungeness.‘ Despite being on cycles, Ayoade’s would have been more at home on the King’s Road, Chelsea, the banter was extremely pedestrian. O’Doherty giggled like a schoolboy at almost everything Ayoade uttered and struggled to say anything that was vaguely amusing, himself: even going down a comic cul-de-sac when discussing his distaste for cooked fruit. Cars that approached them from the rear apparently drove through some sort of Stargate, disappearing from sight. The most exciting occurrence was a near miss when being overtaken by a speedy tractor. Maybe if future guests pedal faster the show might pick up pace but on this showing, viewers will be disinterested in going along for the ride.
The first review did not do The Cockfields justice -moves from 3 to 4 stars
The danger of judging a series after one or two episodes is that you may not get the whole picture. The same goes for reviewing a series too soon as it may take the complete picture to do the whole series justice.
That certainly applies to series 2 of The Cockfields. The premature review (below), written after the first episode, did not do the show justice. So apologies are in order. Although Sue Johnston’s character, Sue Cockfield, remains very irritating throughout, by being overly well intentioned, the family unit generates plenty of laughs. She is the proverbial dog that won’t let go of the bone. Gregor Fisher has blended seamlessly into the role of know-it-all Ray, in fact is very much making it his own having taken on the role played by Bobby Ball in the first series. His confrontations with his new neighbours are a joy.
Susannah Fielding shines as the tactful and diplomatic Esther. Despite having ample provocation she contains the urge to scream out loud at the dog with the bone. The second son/step-brother David (Ben Rufus Green) who is seemingly straddling some degree of the spectrum, struggles with normal relationships, in fact any relationship.
The scripts by Joe Wilkinson and David Earl are superbly constructed and consistently good, with episode 5, featuring a scene at the bowling club, being an absolute doozy.
The series is nicely set up for a third (at least) series with Dad (Nigel Havers) and partner Melissa (Sarah Parish) inviting themselves over to the mainland to stay with Simon and Esther. However before then there will be a Christmas Special, so keep an eye out for transmission a date.
You don’t need to have seen series one to enjoy the second but If you missed either then you would be well advised to catch them now on Gold On Demand
The Cockfields S2: a gentle, watchable comedy of family life.
Written by Joe Wilkinson and David Earl, the series follows a week in the lives of 40-something Simon and his fiancée Esther as they stay for what they hope will be a relaxing short summer break with Simon’s parents and brother David (Ben Rufus Green)
After his uncomfortable experience in series 1 when taking his previous girlfriend, Donna (Diane Morgan), home to the Isle of Wight to meet his parents you’d think that Simon (Joe Wilkinson) would have learned his lesson. But no. In the second series Simon takes new fiancé, Esther (the radiant Susannah Fielding) for a week’s holiday at his parent’s new house. Mother, Sue (Sue Johnston) and step-father, Ray, now played by Gregor Fisher following the death of Bobby Ball last year, are well intentioned but intrusive and infuriating: not just to Simon and Esther but to the viewer as well.
Gold describe this show as “affectionate comedy about family life” but, just like the first series, don’t expect laugh out loud comedy. The Cockfields are a sort of middle class Royle Family family. The humour is conversational and stems from the gentle conflict between an over-anxious to please mother and blowhard step-father’s relationship with their world weary 40 something son who, it seems, deliberately or unthinkingly triggers his mother’s anxiety.
Michelle Dotrice joins the cast for this second series as Sue’s friend Lyn and begs the question: where would we be without a good old British fart gag?
With two episodes on the first night of transmission and another episode on each of the next four nights, Simon and Esther’s week long holiday is shown over the course of an actual week of enjoyable if uncomplicated viewing.
Mike Bubbins’ Mammoth deserves to be developed into a series.
Let’s accept that a PE teacher on a school skiing trip in 1979 , buried under an avalanche for over 40 years is found and brought back to life in 2021. Why not? All’s fair in love and sitcoms.
The world however has moved on during those 4 decades but by being naturally cryogenically frozen Tony Mammoth, the PE teacher in question, has not. His mind set, memories and lifestyle are still firmly stuck in the lingering age of Glam Rock. Now to make sure we viewers grasp that fact, Mammoth’s clothes, toiletries, address book and car and probably a lot else have miraculously survived those 40 years. How or where they survived we know not but as a visual reminder of the logline Mammoth dresses as if he’s on his way to a 70s fancy dress party. Not only that, after all those years, he walks straight back into his old job.
Unlike John Simm’s DCI Sam Tyler in Life on Mars or Keeley Hawes’ DI Alex Drake in Ashes to Ashes, Mammoth is not unconscious or dreaming: this is reality, well sitcom reality.
In this pilot episode, Mike Bubbins, an accomplished actor and stand-up comedian, has created an interesting character in Tony Mammoth. He is a likeable, understanding and sympathetic teacher looking after the interests of his charges despite the best efforts of his head teacher (who probably wasn’t even born when the avalanche happened) to find every reason he can to undermine Mammoth’s position.
Bubbins’ sitcom has some good lines, clever moments and is worthy of developing into a series. Mammoth’s interaction with his peer group, who are now septuagenarians of course, has plenty of scope for development, so too does his conflict with the head teacher, as this latter day Lazarus comes to terms with the PC world in which he now finds himself..
Having been many months since his resurrection it’s time for Mammoth to ditch most of the blatant visual prompts; accept that we understand the premise and concentrate on the dialogue or risk the character being seen as an eccentric anachronism. He was a fashionable ladies man in the 70s, he’d be fashionable now.
Tracy-Ann Oberman elevates Sandylands to another level
As previously reviewed, the first series of Sandylands was a hybrid of Carry On and Donald McGill postcards. Bright, colourful end of the pier comedy full of ‘nudge,nudge, wink, wink’ double entendres. Funny, if lines like “My name’s Swallows, Derek Swallows. Please don’t make fun of my name”, delivered by David Walliams, tickle your funny bone. Funny, if lines like “Welcome to Sandylands Tours, come rain, come shine. Just come” set you chuckling.
The main characters, Sanjeev Bhaskar as Les Vegas (Verma) who fakes his death for the insurance and particularly Natalie Dew as Emily Verma, his daughter who returns to Sandylands for her father’s memorial service, held series one together.
In this second series the writers, Martin Collins and Alex Finch, have thankfully pared back the roles of Bob (Darren Strange) a local taxi driver who, for some unexplained reason, only wears an unbuttoned shirt and budgie smugglers and the duo at Chinos Club, Craig Parkinson as Terry Chino and Martin Collins as his sidekick Wayne. They weren’t so much characters as caricatures. Even the loud and ebullient Tina Taylor, played by Harriet Webb has been thankfully toned down. Simon Bird, however, is still Simon Bird dressed as a policeman.
Enter Les’ estranged wife Donna, played superbly by the very talented Tracy-Ann Oberman. In one stroke the show moved from a Carry On farce to a very enjoyable three part mini-series. Donna has returned to Sandylands, from headlining on cruise ships, to get her hands on Les’ insurance money only to find to her dismay that Les is alive and in hiding. Their backstory is told through a series of engaging flashbacks.
After worming her way back into her husband’s affections and eventually repairing her relationship with Emily the family get some bad financial news. The final episode leaves the door wide open for another series, which would be no bad thing, provided Donna remains an integral character.
The Outlaws, the BBC has another sure fire winner on its hands
The BBC has another sure fire winner on its hands. Stephen Merchant’s The Outlaws got off to a flying start. Co-written with Elgin James this dramedy combines the grit of a suburban gangster movie, the intrigue of a family drama and the laughs of a well written sitcom.
Take seven diverse characters and confine them to a situation where they spark off each other then add an over officious, petty jobsworth to watch over them. Sounds standard fare but in the directorial hands of Merchant it becomes a brilliant hour of television.
Each offender has their story told in flashback, so we find out how they ended up doing ‘community payback’
Merchant plays Greg, a solicitor whose wife left him on pancake day, he makes several jokes around his height in typical self-deprecating style.
Parentless Christian (Gamba Cole) , a young man in his early twenties is single-handedly trying to protect his younger sister from the manipulative gang of on their high rise estate. He takes a shine to Rani (Rhianne Barreto) an intelligent habitual shoplifting student from a rigid, uncompromising home. The shoplifting is an act of rebellion that earns her the same 100 hours of ‘community payback’ as the six other offenders.
It was Merchant who personally coaxed Christopher Walken into playing Frank, a worldly wise American ex-con released from prison on an ankle tag, on condition he stays with his daughter (Dolly Wells). She doesn’t want him there and primes her children to think of him as, “a lying, thieving, selfish old bastard.”
A left wing/right wing conflict is provided by John (Darren Boyd), a failing businessman and Myrna (Clare Perkins) a political activist. These two are polar opposites. Then thrown into the mix is Gabby, (Eleanor Tomlinson) a social media influencer with a glossy surface but a definite undercurrent of emotional angst. Her fixation with creating social media content for her 1.2m followers has an effect on others that she does not consider.
So these seven characters work for 4 hours each day clearing up a derelict community centre supervised by an easily distracted Diane (Jessica Gunning). Working within the Probation Service, having failed her Police entry, she not only stamps her authority on the group with the threat of extra hours of payback if they annoy or disobey her but also stamps her mark on every scene in which she appears.
Merchant never knowingly misses the opportunity for a dad-joke and the script has many causing laugh out loud moments but the drama holds good. This first episode was an excellent opener with more possible exit routes than Spaghetti Junction. It’s a journey you’ll enjoy taking over the next 6 weeks or you could watch episode 2 now on BBC iplayer.
Stath Lets Flats is absolutely not “the funniest thing on television in a long time”
If you want to watch a cast of accomplished actors talk drivel for half an hour, watch Stath Lets Flats.
The reaction of many reviewers suggest that it is the “funniest thing on TV in a long time”; the “antidote to bland comedy”, “rip-roaringly funny” and “the funniest and most novel comedy currently on British TV “ But to misquote Newton’s Third Law of motion. For every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Stath Lets Flats is not the funniest thing on television.
To quote one of its horde of fans, reviewer Isobel Lewis in The Independent “It’s silly, ludicrous and nonsensical – but a preference for word play and slapstick doesn’t mean the show lacks heart. Its characters may be idiots (every single one of them, no exceptions), but they’re well-meaning, expertly performed and treated with warmth by Demetriou’s script – even when speaking absolute rubbish.”
There are exceptions: Dean (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) is one of the sane characters, who counters the imbalance of idiots as is Carole (Katy Wix), although she could be considered an idiot for having a one night stand with Stath.
It’s a sitcom that has been intellectualised beyond its essence in order to justify the hype. The whole premise of this show is that an inept, socially awkward character mispronouncing every other word and misquoting phrases is rip-roaringly funny. It isn’t. It might make a good sketch (àla The Two Ronnies Society for the Premention of Pispronunciation piece) but the novelty soon wears thin. It does not sustain a sitcom series, let alone three. Stath saying that he wants to go “park-time” instead of part-time or calling landlords “langlords” is apparently hilarious.
Laughing at someone acting idiotically is one thing, laughing at an unfortunate idiot is another. Stath is an unfortunate idiot.
It will be interesting to see if the novelty has worn off for the half million or so viewers who watched the previous two series or whether their loyalty has lingered on. As this is a love it or hate it sitcom, it’s probably the latter.
The current crop of comedies such as After Life, Alma’s Not Normal, Back to Life, Lady Parts and Starstruck set a very high standard: what on earth is bland about those. Some reviewers have criticised these shows as being dramedies, being dark, being autobiographical, of just being ‘words’ (whatever that means). What utter nonsense. They are brilliantly written and performed.
Of course there is a place for all kinds of comedy even Stath’s pispronunciation and malapropisms but the funniest thing on television”? Not by a very long chart (geddit?)
Jon Richardson’s Celebrity Trash Monsters could not be taken seriously
The standout revelation from Jon Richardson’s Celebrity Trash Monsters was not how little the ‘contestants’ seemingly knew about the effect of our carbon footprint on climate change, not even that they would go into supermarkets and travel on public transport whilst covered in garbage but that two of them waste so, so much food.
Kerry Katona never cooks anything. Her family live on takeaway food every single day. The children have a full size pizza each, even the youngest, not that they manage to eat it all, so it goes to waste. The oldest child even has takeaway breakfast. Maybe in Alderley Edge, lobster with pasta is the go to takeaway but for most people fish and chips suffices. Furthermore it’s all delivered to their door and probably not by electric vehicles. The Katona family’s sheer disregard for their wastefulness was abhorrent.
John Barnes buys ready meals every day because he apparently doesn’t like to wait more than two or three minutes for food to cook. He has an addiction to food packaging. He’ll buy almost anything if it looks ‘interesting’ consequently he had a fridge/freezer packed with out of date ready meals that will ultimately end up in landfill.
Jodie Kidd’s ‘big sin’ was eating too much fresh meat but to be fair the move to plant based diets to reduce global warming is a relatively recent concept. However getting her to serve foraged food and fried crickets to diners at her country pub was meaningless. Fine for a few people in rural locations but try foraging for food in an inner city area. We’ll need to be in post Armageddon Mad Max territory before the populace will turn to eating weeds and insects.
Okay, so this was meant to be an entertaining way of getting an important environmental message across. Did it work? Partly. It was however too ridiculous to have celebs in garbage filled Sumo costumes to be taken seriously: at times it was like watching an episode of The Goodies.
Katona and Barnes are such extreme examples of wastefulness that most viewers would, I am sure, not associate themselves with their situation. They may even consider themselves to be so much more aware than those two that they may not feel the need to do more. And having a comedian delivering the message, even though Jon Richardson is earnestly committed to saving the environment, gave the whole production too much of a comic edge.
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).