Archives for posts with tag: comedy

This is my second attempt at writing this post. The first came to an abrupt end when my other laptop decided to freeze the mouse pad because it wanted to install an update and I lost everything in the reboot. So apologies if this post is tetchier than normal. Although to be fair, my judgement hasn’t changed on the programme I’m reviewing.

Year of the Rabbit is an historical sitcom that follows the exploits of Inspector Rabbit. He is assisted by nice-but-dim posh boy Strauss and wannabe first female copper Mabel. The format generally follows a daft crime of the week that vaguely satirises Victorian culture (and to a lesser extent ours) with a background plot of a shadowy feminist organisation.

Let’s start with the weaknesses. Or rather, weakness that is repeated throughout. It is frankly far too heavy handed in its delivery and character building. Northern chief constable Wisbeach comes out with trite sayings. Strauss’s naivety/stupidity is dull, both in its boringness and bluntness. The jokes about Mabel wanting to be a woman copper and then turning out to be the best detective on the team might as well have massive arrows pointing to them. It is all so overdone, if it was a steak it would come out of the kitchen as a piece of charcoal.

There are bright spots. Matt Berry is good as Rabbit, even if his Cockney mannerisms are as overplayed as everything else. There is at least the balance of a streak of eccentricity in him that allows the unexpected to be played out. This ability to surprise the audience is, after all, the source of the best comedy. Having said that, the fact the best line of the opening episode was his explanation for losing an eyebrow (‘the dog chewed it off last year’) is a good marker for how weak the rest of the jokes are.

The other is Keeley Hawes, although is tends to be a bright spot in everything. As shadowy gang leader Lydia out to get Rabbit she is showing a delicious streak of evil. Best of all, she is actually showing how to underplay something and let the lines speak for themselves. Her plotline is one of the few things keeping me gripped.

This show could have been great if the writing was allowed to be more subtle and the performances likewise. As it is, it feels like a wall of noise and stereotypes. Overall, a wasted opportunity.

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I like it when a new show I’m watching takes me by surprise. I’m not talking about some big twist, although that is of course welcome. I’m thinking here more of when you watch something that appears fluffy and shallow but actually reveals itself to have a surprising amount of depth.

This happened recently with The Other Two. On the surface, this is a simple mocking of the shallowness of the entertainment industry and fame. The show follows the two adult siblings of the latest teen pop sensation. Both are jealous of his sudden success but also know he could be a passport to greater glories for their own stalled careers. Cory is a failed actor, Brooke a professional dancer.

It is brilliant at getting laughs out of this simple concept. The media machine, both traditional and social, are easy targets but well done. It straggles the line between sharp but not cruel, at least to the characters who aren’t cruel themselves. The episode where Chase’s media team navigates the LGBT fandom, with the video being considered either hot or not depending on the latest tweet, was a prime example of this.

But where this show surprised me is the tender portrayal of Cary. He is a gay man who is out, but still not comfortable with himself. He allows his supposedly straight roommate to engage in sex acts on him despite knowing there is nothing deeper there. He takes pride in not being identified as gay He even straight-washes himself to get parts he wants. The same episode as detailed above saw him realise some of the damage this causing to him. Suddenly, I went from liking him to wanting him to triumph. Drew Tarver is note perfect.

This is not to downplay some of the other characters. Helene Yorke is great as the vacuous, scatter-brained Brooke, who is herself going on a journey and realising what it means to be an adult and taking responsibility. While she hasn’t had the Road to Damascus conversion of Cary yet, I hope she does.

I also think we should recognise Wanda Sykes as the sharp-elbowed and the even sharper-mouthed record executive. She is one of those characters who can steal a scene from only a few lines or gestures.

This show is great. It is genuinely funny and clever, and amazingly hits you with a few sucker punches as well. It will probably pass most people by unnoticed but I can also imagine it gaining a loyal following from those that do watch it. And you really should.

Sometimes, I am very on the fence as if to whether I like a programme or not. I can see the germs of something I like, but also see a lot that I don’t. These are often the hardest shows to review, as I end up writing something that justifies to myself why I’m watching, rather than selling it to you.

The Ranganation falls into this category. The format is that Romesh Ranganathan gathers a cross-section of the British public to talk about the week’s news. It is a blend of Gogglebox and Have I Got News For You, although I’m not sure it has captured the best of either.

The show is at its best in one of two scenarios. First, a member of the Ranganation says something so daft that they become playful cannon fodder for Romesh, who often unleashes the grumpier side of his personality at this point. The second is Romesh’s interactions with his mum, who is very good at innocently stealing the show.

When either of these two things happen, the show really flies. Ranganathan, like many comedians, is better when unscripted and he can just riff off someone. Sometimes the debate within the audience can actually get quite funny as well.

Where the show falls down is when the opposite happens and everything feels boxed in with a script. The opening prelude feels lazy and full of cheap shots. Even worse, it is stilted. The panellists are like coiled springs waiting for the actual show to start.

Of course, the biggest question is around the sincerity of the panellists. Are they really how the come across on camera, or are they putting on affectations, hoping to be the next Scarlett Moffatt? There are also a handful that seem to force themselves to be more prominent than others, even if they have less knowledge of what they are talking about. This show feels ripe for a fact checker to be employed on.

Overall, it’s enjoyable enough and currently uncontested for me in its time slot. But for me, the jury is out on if it deserves a second season or not. It falls in that awkward category of I would watch it if it did, but not miss it if it didn’t.

Sometimes it’s good to be proven wrong. The new relationship your friend starts that you think won’t last but then results in their eternal happiness. The idea at work you are convinced will fail but actually makes turning up that bit easier. Or, on a smaller level, where you feel a TV show has lost its way only to surprise you by a return to form.

Taskmaster did just this. After what I felt was a ropey series 5, series 6 then became one of my favourites, with series 7 nearly matching that. The fear of downward spiral ended as I was able to put the stumble in quality down to a blip.

I still had worries for series 8 though. The line-up unnerved me. Only one of the cast was a stand-up comedian, although two others admittedly were, just not known for it. The other two are comedy actors, who I feel struggle on environments like this, as there is a certain element of ad-libbing that doesn’t work for those who depend on a script.

If the first episode is anything to go by, I shouldn’t have worried. Sian Gibson, one of the actors, is actually very good at handling the spontaneous nature of the show, perhaps because Car Share, the show that made her a star, was largely unscripted. Joe Thomas, the other actor, struggles more, and looks hopelessly out of his depth. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing, as it makes him a convenient receptacle for his fellow panellists’ barbs.

The others (Paul Sinha, Lou Sanders and Iain Stirling) are also on good form. In the case of Stirling this is already bordering on excellent. Sinha is another potential walking punchline as he seems to be the contestant most likely to repeatedly make a pig’s ear of things.

The tasks remain as inventive as ever as well. The first episode saw everything from sexy ventriloquist dolls to competing powerful smells. For a show that depends so much on original and eccentric ideas, it is surprisingly still thriving.

Greg Davies and Alex Horne remain brilliant of course. It is impossible for them not to be. Having said that, an episode of Taskmaster where they are the funniest thing is a poor episode, as the driver should always be the contestants. Good news – they are not.

This show is one of my hours of unadulterated joy. If it can maintain this form I never want it to end. I was as wrong as wrong could be last time. And it has never made me more happy to be so.

Consumer shows are not a favourite of mine. I put this down to two reasons. The first is that I have spent a lot of my working life in customer service roles, and have been on the receiving end of more than one unjustifiable rage. Yelling at the person behind the till should not be an option any sane human contemplates. The second is that they are often dry affairs, where any attempt at humour is so false, forced and overdone that it becomes decidedly unfunny.

Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back is the very antithesis of this. It is a consumer show presented by the aforementioned stand up Joe Lycett, where he rights consumer wrongs through pranks and comedic exposes. For example, he pursues the failure of EasyJet to give compensation to customers by creating an alternative ad campaign and putting it up around Luton airport.

One of the things I like about this show is that it recognises the importance of brand reputation to success. So what better way to move a company into taking action then to highlight the damage the company is doing to themselves in being shoddy.

It does so in a very modern way at times as well. For example, when going after a bank that was failing to refund a customer that was a victim of fraud, Lycett impersonated the CEO on Twitter to show how easy it is to fall for some ruses. This is before descending on their headquarters and doing a song and dance routine in reception.

The humour feels natural. As anyone who watches Lycett’s stand up knows, he is an excellent complainer and is wickedly inventive in how he goes about doing it. His tongue-in-cheek asides as he presents the segments of the show are genuinely funny and he does seem to get results. He also achieves that rare feat of being a stand up who can read an autocue, a surprisingly rare talent.

It is also worth mentioning his sidekick, Mark Silcox, a fantastically dry yet witty person. He is an example of someone who has very few things to say but each one is a gem. I can see him being the breakout star of the series.

All of this would mean nothing of course if everyone is just having fun but not getting results. Yet they do. For all the daftness there is a sense of the wrongs being righted. This show is fun and the perfect tonic to the staid world of consumer shows. I hope it continues for quite some time.

How to make a comedy that somehow appeals to both a niche crowd and the mainstream? How do you mock and pastiche a community without offending the members of that community? Any sane comedy writer would avoid even attempting to answer these questions, particularly the second. In an era of internet outrage, only the most gentle and inoffensive escape unharmed.

Yet Dead Pixels tackles exactly these two issues. The sitcom revolves around a group of gamers who are obsessed with the game Kingdom Scrolls to the extent where the outside world may as well not exist. Dates are cancelled in order to defend a castle. Parenting duties neglected so that the grind can be completed. Potential relationships ruined because the other person is too much of a game ‘noob’.

Making a sitcom about the gaming industry is a risky business. The people who devote their time to it are defensive about the sacrifices they make to achieve success in this world. But luckily the show never strays into outright mocking. It merely shows that for game aficionados, the real world is actually the one they play.

There are some interesting points raised as well. For example, the second episode revolves around the news that Vince Vaughan has been cast to play the lead in a movie adaption of the game. This is the cue for much outrage from the gang. And actually, anybody who has seen a book they have loved adapted for the screen, big or small, will sympathise. I can remember not so long ago having a moan on this blog about the casting of Count Fosco in The Woman In White, writing him as a charming slim line rake, whereas he was written as an obese man.

What it highlights though is the right way to express outrage. A simple online protest or a few terse emails to the movie company, yes. Joining an alt-right gang and sending outright violent abuse to the actor themselves, no. Because as much as the online and real world are in some people’s heads separate, they actually aren’t. It’s a surprisingly serious point in a sitcom that is far from serious.

Of course, amongst all this, we come to the eternal question: does it make you laugh? Well, yes. Even for me as someone who is not a gamer, it is actually funny but rarely cruel to the characters. I mean, I’ve not roared with laughter, but I’ve had a giggle at more than a few bits.

But how are the gamers taking it? Well, I’ve not seen Twitter alight with anger at the show, so I’m assuming well. It seems that the risk has paid off. A mainstream sitcom has managed to have its own niche. More importantly, a community has been ribbed but not hurt. A success all round.

Comedy has long been used to make a political point. In fact, that was pretty much the reason it was invented. You can trace it from the plays of Ancient Greece, through the satire of Swift and the comic pieces in Dickens, right up to now, through both stand up and sitcoms.

One of the newest sitcoms to attempt to get some laughs out of modern Britain is Home. It revolves around Sami, a Syrian immigrant who sneaks into Britain in the back of a family’s car. Peter, who we later learn is not even himself fully part of the family but is just mum Katy’s new partner, is appalled, and represents all the anti-immigrant behaviours that we see and hear. The rest of the family though are delighted and welcoming.

A lot of the humour comes from the misunderstandings that we have around immigrants. This includes the sincere and well-meaning, for example, the family automatically assuming Sami is a Muslim and making him a prayer room in the home office, not realising he is actually Christian. But it also covers the less pleasant – the belief that an immigrant comes to take advantage of our welfare system, the constant gnawing fear they may be a terrorist.

When the show is trying to make these points through comedy it can be very, very good. The prayer room scene was a brilliant example of this, ditto the scene where Sami mistakes marmite for chocolate spread.

Yet it also has increasingly become a drama. The scene where Sami found out his family were safe and well in Germany before finding out they had no intention of coming to Britain was designed to be one of ecstasy followed by agony. But the emotional gut punch missed me. It all felt slightly out of place.

The show also strays over into preaching. Maybe I’m too aware of the media bias against immigrants, but the scene where the newsagent showed pro-immigrant newspapers being dwarfed in size and popularity by the anti- ones was as unsubtle as they come. The fact is the people who need to be converted won’t watch this show; they will simply hear the premise and run a mile. Those who do watch will already be in sympathy to the lead character and see Peter’s xenophobia as ripe for mockery.

What Home really needs is to make a decision about what it is – culture-clash comedy or social commentary drama. Whilst it can have aspects of both it needs to wear one hat more (I would recommend comedy) and leave the other in a minor key. Currently it is trying to be all things to all people, causing the message to be both lost and also too obvious. And it is far too important a message for that to happen.