Archives for posts with tag: American TV

Fans of The Great British Bake Off may be aware of the companion show in Britain An Extra Slice. A segment of this show is dedicated to showing people’s bakes from home, where they have tried to achieve an ambitious design, say a unicorn or pet dog. Some of them are successes. Many of them are not, ranging from the hysterical to the terrifying.

It provides a cheap but effective laugh. So effective, Netflix have turned the concept into an entire series. Nailed It! is a show where three amateur bakers attempt some of the most challenging designs possible. The problem is, none of them are actually good at baking and all of the instructions are similar to those from the technical challenges on GBBO, i.e. virtually non-existent. Whoever eventually gets closest to the finished product wins $10,000.

There is a lot I enjoy on this show. Although the disasters are made fun of, it always stays the right side of cruel. It helps that the contestants know they are in on the joke – they all know they are terrible. Nicole Byers, the host, is brilliant, and pitches the energy at the right level: manic but not annoying. And some of the guest judges are delights; I am already a paid-up Sylvia Weinstock fan after she grew bored of judging and decided to hover malevolently over people’s cakes and steal stock.

Something else I really like is the fact the errors are left in, like when someone reads the autocue wrong or stage hand messes up in the background. It is part of the show’s charm to not be completely polished. After all, the cakes aren’t.

I do have the odd frustration. One is that some of the contestants are too OTT – everyone on GBBO is so demure that to see everyday people trying to be as loud as the host is distracting. I also include in that the guy in the first episode who brought a martial arts bandana thing to wear. I have no truck with such pretensions.

The other is that because we only see each contestant in one episode, we don’t get attached to them the way we do on GBBO. I suppose the problem is that repeated viewings of them would see them get too good, but even so, there is no connection to them beyond the surface.

I would love to see a British version of this show. The humour would be drier and everyone that bit more self-deprecating, but it would still have the energy. Keeping the errors in would also be a must.

Nailed It! is a little slice of fun. The simple joy of life explodes from it. It is not a show that changes the world or passes comment on it, but it is a reminder that, underneath the crazy, most of us are just ordinary people trying to nail it. I hope there is more of it. An extra slice perhaps?

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I confess to a cynicism when hearing that the team behind The Big Bang Theory were producing a prequel about the early years of its lynchpin Sheldon Cooper. It seemed a way to spin out a franchise ready for when the parent show was finally put out to pasture. A reverse Joey, if you will.

To be honest, I also really didn’t see the point. We already know who Sheldon the adult is and his character always tells stories of his childhood, so how much more backstory did we need? Why not explore someone with a less well known hinterland, like Amy or even Leonard, who seems to have a much more complicated relationship with his childhood.

Yet within a few episodes of Young Sheldon, I was charmed. For a concept that seemed so cynical, there appears to be no trace of this in the show itself. The eccentricities of the character that in Big Bang can be irritating and even bordering on the cruel are actually sweet and naïve. I particularly loved the episode where his father had a heart attack, not because of that particular plot, but that we saw an essentially normal family that contained an extraordinary individual cope with something that tested them all. And, to top it all, it retained its humour even at moments of high sentiment.

Iain Armitage is brilliant as the young genius, carrying off the mix of high intelligence and childhood naivety beautifully. In fact, the cast as a whole is brilliant, proving that the strength of a sitcom lies in the ensemble not one individual. A special commendation goes to Zoe Perry as Sheldon’s mother, who seems to have picked up the comic timing of her mother Laurie Metcalf (who conveniently plays Mary in Big Bang).

If there is one flaw it is that I sometimes don’t see how the gap between the two shows can be bridged. How does the Mary in Young Sheldon become the one we see in Big Bang? Yes, she is a Christian in the former, but nowhere near as much in the latter. Likewise, the one appearance of Meemaw in Big Bang presented her as a kindly, but protective, maternal figure, whereas Young Sheldon suggests a fair less cuddly, and at times amoral, figure. For the two shows to work together, everyone’s stories need to stack up, not just Sheldon’s.

I admit this is me overthinking it. It is at its heart a beautifully put together coming-of-age tale. Even so, it does beg the question of if Sheldon learnt so many lessons as a child than how come he still hasn’t advanced as an adult? Is there some regressive period where he became more brattish? Again, overthinking I know, but one show can’t contradict the other.

Whatever, maybe I just need to sit back and enjoy it. Yet I can’t help but wonder, if Sheldon was in charge of this, would these not be the very questions he asks? Perhaps the best way to honour the character is for us to do the same.

An occasional topic I discuss on here is when should a show end. Once Upon A Time is a case in point. Season 6 seemed to end in such a way as to make the story feel complete – the biggest evil was defeated, most people got happy endings and a new, quiet life was dawning for many.

So news of a season 7 took me aback. Surely there were no more curses that one group of people could endure? How many more times must we sit through Emma and Hook being all ‘will they, won’t they?’ and Mr Gold turn briefly good before his Machiavellian streak emerges again? Hence why I avoided it for so long.

But, having given in, I feel more satisfied than expected. For a start, we have almost an entirely new cast, bar a few characters. And it is the best ones. The drippy Snow and Charming are gone, but Queen of Sass Regina/Roni is still around, Rumple has a new guise and Hook is still eye candy for those who are into their men who wear an excess of guyliner. We do have an adult Henry, less irritating but still too vanilla, but this is Disney.

I am loving the plot the as well, which seems to have dialled up the crazy several notches. There seems to be at least four villains this time, with Rumple joined by Lady Tremaine/Victoria, Drizella and Gothel, people coming back to life and a slightly grittier feel to the setting. The whole thing is deranged in the best possible way.

I do have bug bears. Whilst the plot is crazy fun, it is getting manic in such a way that I have no clue who is responsible for what and why. I’m not entirely grasping what the end game is of the villains, but I can live with that for now.

My biggest frustration though is Tilly/Alice. I hate in when American shows cast a British character and only allow them to sound like royalty or Cockney sparrows. Tilly is the latter and seems to be channelling Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep from Mary Poppins. As a non-Londoner, I feel slightly insulted that we don’t hear many other British accents. We have to translate Deep South voices over here, I’m sure Americans can handle Scouse or Geordie with a bit of help.

Anyway, this is to be the last season, hence the feeling of reckless abandonment with so much of it. I hope it builds to a satisfying end, even if it is not necessarily a happy one. Who am I kidding, this show lives on schmaltz of the highest order, of course it will be a happy one.

When I first heard Will & Grace was coming back, I was annoyed. To me the show had ended on the perfect note, with both of them married and raising a family and finally healing a rift in their friendship. It felt as if their story was complete.

Yet this had been ripped away from us as a delusional dream of Karen’s. Instead, they are both alone and weirdly dependent on each other. Jack is still a shallow preening wannabe, Karen a pill-popping drunk of unknown age. There was no development, no sense in the intervening years the characters had grown up. It felt like a weirdly bum note to open a sitcom on.

Yet it was the only thing that made sense. This was never a comedy about the perils of parenting and family life. So the only thing that has changed is that the cast is now older but not wiser. This was employed to good effect in the second episode where both Will and Jack hooked up with younger men, with Will finding the new generation of gay men too shallow and having it too easy, Jack desperately turning the clock back physically.

The big controversy though came from the first episode, where the majority of jokes were anti-Trump. Now, I have no issue with this. But a lot of people in America did. I find this odd though for two reasons. Firstly, the ‘don’t diss my president’ crowd would not have leapt to Obama’s defence that quickly if he had been the butt of the jokes. Secondly, the whole aspect of not mocking your leader full stop. In Britain there isn’t a politician or member of the Royal Family that has not been ridiculed. It is what healthy satire is built on.

I suppose the biggest question is it still funny. To this I would say yes, largely. It is slightly predictable what the jokes are going to be, but that isn’t always a bad thing. If the characters are still who they are then the punchlines need to match.

I do have one quibble though. Where the hell is Rosario? The back and forth between her and Karen was on the highlights of the show, not least Rosario’s deliciously barbed insults (a favourite being ‘Lady McBreath’). I hope she makes an appearance. Ditto the barking mad Beverly Leslie.

Overall, this feels like a warning of why nostalgia should be left as so. Yes, it is still funny and in this age could offer new stories to tell, but it still feels a shame that in order to tell the stories we need to resurrect an old show instead of making something new. Whilst that would have been more difficult, it would have been of greater value. It’s good to have Will & Grace back. It would have been better to have a new generation carry the torch.

The problem with this time of year is that so many old staples return to TV that it is hard to make time for anything new. Yes, I know there is catch-up services and streaming, but I like to keep a balanced life and that makes it hard for me to make time to watch everything. I have a list as long as my arm of shows I want to see – The Good Place, Rick & Morty and Shit’s Creek have all come highly recommended.

So when I put off watching these, it is annoying when something I invest time in starts to not repay me. That is the problem I am currently facing with 2 Broke Girls. It has always had its critics for its base humour and stereotyping, but for me it had always just been knock-about fun, a counter-balance to the more thoughtful New Girl or The Mindy Project.

The last season has only just begun in the UK, such is our lack of interest in it – The Big Bang Theory comes out within a few weeks of the US episodes. The two episodes I have seen so far have been verging towards the dire.

Yet I can’t put my finger on why. The plot of the episodes has always been wafer-thin, so it isn’t that. They have never gone for surprising jokes – you have always seen the next line or visual gag coming. The characters haven’t changed, although admittedly over six seasons you expect to see some development.

I can therefore only put down my change in view towards it down to myself. I feel as if my taste in TV has matured over the last few years. I was never the kind of viewer to get invested in Line of Duty for example, but I now want the next series of that to come around more than anything else in the world. I’ve also grown tired of Family Guy, although I did think the episode spoofing the Emmy’s was quite clever in its own way.

The thing is, knowing this the last season makes me want to persevere with it. I want to know if we are going to see a happy ending (although the plot of the first two episodes suggests Caroline has seen too many of Max’s), both in terms of the business and the personal lives of the characters. Even so, it will be a relief when it is over. Whether I will get round to completing my wish list after all, well, that’s a different story.

After what feels like an eternity, I have once again returned to The Middle. My pause from it was caused by my obsession with working my way through all 12 seasons of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. My word, the contrast is huge. It feels like entering a sunny landscape after days of hiking through rough terrain and a biting wind. Not that I don’t love It’s Always Sunny, it does edgy so well after all, but watching a comedy that isn’t full of anger and with people who are at a basic level likeable feels almost a relief.

Not that there aren’t clouds in The Middle. It’s just that it is the clouds are what drives the family together. Financial hardship, the perils of adulthood, dissatisfaction with life – they are all on display. But there is a love between the characters. And that’s why you buy into them as a real family.

Also, like with any family, you find yourself siding with different people each time. I have watched episodes where Brick is almost a hero to me, fighting his social awkwardness with a charming naivety. Then, in the next episode, these very qualities become overbearing and frustratingly child-like. Likewise, Frankie can be too naggy in one episode, wanting too much from her family and life and then giving up on her dreams when a minor bump appears. But then, you suddenly feel sorry for her when you see how much she tries to support her family with little gratification in return.

I’ve said it before, but it’s true – American TV truly comes into its own when it allows over a number of seasons at twenty or so episodes at time the characters to develop. Long-running plots can develop without being rushed and even minor characters can be fleshed out.

I think, more than anything, you come away from The Middle wanting the characters to be happy. Obviously not too happy. There is no comedy or narrative tension in a smooth life. But happy enough so that you come away affirmed that life can occasionally at least go your way.

You don’t always want happy in a comedy. Life isn’t like that and humour can come from the darkest place. But sometimes fiction needs to lift you up, even if it’s not aspirational. And that’s because aspiration alone doesn’t lift. It takes people to do that. Even dysfunctional families can make things better.

TV has been dire recently. Summer is always a silly season, where the foot gets taken off the peddle. But this year feels particularly bad for some reason. No wonder people are turning to streaming services more and more, when you consider the alternatives on offer.

Because of this, I am forced to discuss a show I have written about before, namely It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. To be fair, I am now on season 11, so another look at it is worthwhile. The passage of time always changes things. Some shows dip, others find their form.

I feel It’s Always Sunny is in the latter. The plotlines that are designed to shock have been done away with, like racism or drug addiction, in place of a more standard pattern of the gang gets into a scrape or come up with a ridiculous idea and either get out of trouble or fail miserably, depending on what the plot requires. There are some episodes that specifically pastiche certain genres (‘The Gang Hits the Slopes’ mocking of 80’s movies for example’) but there is still a fairly simple rhythm.

This has helped the show in many respects, as the humour is now driven by a character’s flaws directly interacting with a simple set-up and allowing things to spiral, rather than trying to satirise a specific aspect of society. There is still an outrageousness and blackness to the humour, but it is more character driven.

One of my personal favourite episodes is ‘Charlie Work’ from season 10. In it, Charlie tries to get the bar past its health inspection, but is undermined by the rest of the gang’s scam involving live chickens and contaminated steaks. There was a great use of unity of time as Charlie became ever more frantic and the eccentricities of everyone else also built (Dennis’s insistence on playing his role as barman in the style of Matthew McConaughey, Frank flushing his clothes down the toilet etc.). All this leads to a perfect denouement involving a bar stool.

When it is this good, it is hard to see why the show isn’t bigger. Having said that, there is a frustrating lack of consistency in quality of the show. Or maybe it’s just that I get uncomfortable with it at times. For example, the gang’s behaviour is fine when they are just harming themselves, but where there is a large-scale cast involved it feels like the humour is just that bit cruller.

Maybe though that is how the hard core fans like it. Maybe the episodes I love are too soft and don’t create enough awkward tension, as the gap between the character’s expectations and reality is smaller. The bigger the gap, the bigger the laughs for some people. Still, it wouldn’t hurt for the show to be more toned down. It has adapted successfully once, it can do it again.