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.