Archives for posts with tag: comedy

We are used to travelogues being about the familiar yet exotic. Japan, Brazil, China, India… we all know about these countries enough to be conscious of them, yet still have that distance to make us curious. For all their other-worldliness, they are open to tourists and trade off it successfully.

The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan takes a different slant by taking us to countries that are not so travel friendly. These are places with, to put it mildly, an image problem and have become trapped by a conception that the Western world has fixed upon it.

The first episode saw comedian Romesh visit Haiti. It epitomises many of the problems third-world countries have. It has suffered a combination of cruel dictatorships, that when they collapsed left a country with no real infrastructure for a democracy to grow, gang warfare and poverty that has arisen from a lack of law and order, and natural disasters. The island’s political history meant that just as other Caribbean islands began to take advantage of tourism, Haiti was shutting the world out. And of course, it is the place that Trump poetically called a ‘shithole’.

Romesh is a good host, adding some dry humour to the potentially bleak atmosphere. My favourite comment was when he was describing his mum giving him a blessing before he flew out- ‘it was only slightly undermined by the fact she was still wearing her Royal Mail uniform’. He also gets mildly hysterical when taking part in a voodoo ceremony, in what proves to be a highlight for the viewer.

But Romesh is not just some glib commentator. He is equally bewildered and appalled by what he sees, especially in some of the more poverty-stricken areas. Another comment of his is damning of our Western hunger for exotic luxury. Listing all the stereotypical delights of the Caribbean he is missing, he realises, ‘This place isn’t built for tourists because it isn’t even built for the people that live here’.

He does find some hope though. The beaches of Jacamel have been relatively unscarred by dictatorships and earthquakes. A bit of eco-conscious development here, and suddenly the economy could go. The island can repair its physical wounds and heal its emotional ones. This island does not have to be the prisoner of geography – look at its neighbour, Dominican Republic. The right politicians and a small dose of luck could see it rise.

The show is undoubtedly sobering. You realise that when cameras stop rolling, the people still need to keep living. There are ‘shitholes’ all over the third world that don’t have the skills to top being so. But a bit of global cooperation could go a long way.

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I am a fan of Jon Richardson. I like the fact that his comedy stretches beyond that stereotypical Northener, a trap many of his colleagues with similar accents fall in to. His foibles, though irritating, are relatable. He has actually done documentaries on his OCD tendencies, including one very moving one a few years ago.

He is now fronting Jon Richardson: Ultimate Worrier, a panel show where he and his guests try to rank worries in order of importance. Over the course of the show he discusses three of his own worries, his guests get one each and the audience has one at the end. Jon being Jon, this means people who don’t stack the dishwasher right are more anxiety inducing than the threat of nuclear war. It is a twist on the Room 101 format, except there is no competitive element.

There are things I like about the show. Richardson is as good as expected, which is very. Although a lot will depend on the quality of the guests, the format seems solid and some laughs do happen. My biggest came from Suzy Ruffalo’s horrifying puppet. They even have an expert on to discuss some of the worries, which is a nice touch.

But there are many things I need changing to really enjoy it. The sketches are awful and seem to be added to make what is essentially a 30 minute show into an hour. Richardson is also not a natural talker direct to the camera. Like many comedians, he is better at ad-libbing than following a script. He could, and should, just get on to meeting the guests and getting cracking, rather than taking us through an opening monologue.

My final thing isn’t really a thing that can be changed, and probably isn’t even a real bug bear, but I can’t stand when comics laugh at each other’s jokes. It isn’t a problem on some shows like As Yet Untitled or any other show that is heavy on banter, light on format. Maybe the problem is that I don’t believe them to be sincere laughs or that they are a form of canned laughter, a marker telling us what to laugh at.

So yes, it needs tinkering with. It needs to feel smoother and more natural, and tighter editing. But it is funny and interesting, which buys it enough credit with me.

I very rarely stop watching something after just one episode. I’m not sure if it is just that I am generous with my time or that once I make a commitment I stick to it, but very few shows get this treatment. In fact, I can only remember one, and I can’t even bring to me the name of it, which shows just how bad it must have been for my mind to block it out when it is more than happy for me to mentally relive my most embarrassing encounters on a daily basis.

But now a second has been added to the list. Let’s Get Physical is a comedy about a slacker who seeks to earn his father’s inheritance by beating his high-school rival at competitive aerobics. Oh, and his rival is dating his ex-girlfriend. A bizarre premise, but I have never been put off by this.

What I am put off by is how unfunny it actually was. I’m not sure who set the quality filter on the script, but they should be fired. The jokes were lazy and stereotyping. It was also dull. One joke saved the episode, where our main character high jacked his rival’s iPad to order 1000 dildos, but that wasn’t enough.

The show also managed to both fat shame and fit shame. I’m not sure if the latter is a thing, but this programme has managed to invent it. It fat shames in equating being overweight with being lazy, unfocused and generally unkempt. Nothing about the ‘hero’ is appealing. If there is a nice guy underneath his exterior, the writers haven’t shown it.

On the flip side, the nemesis is painted as narcissistic and cruel, openly mocking his rival’s weight gain at his own father’s funeral and having a boot camp, joyless approach to exercise and life in general. He is the most ludicrous parody of the keep-fit industry.

I know presenting a middle ground of someone healthy and nice doesn’t make a show, but something to redeem both of the two men would have helped. Even Glee’s fearsome Sue Sylvester was given a hinterland, and a genuine wit, to make her likeable enough for you to keep watching. As it is, you want neither to succeed.

So no, I won’t be returning. I doubt anyone with any sense would. If anything, I’m doing myself a favour. I could do with half an hour extra in bed.

I’m going to be honest with you, it’s been difficult to write this week’s blog post. There has been little new for me to watch this week, and I feel I have discussed everything that is on a hundred times before. I now there are new shows every week, but I am one man, I have other hobbies and some shows that I am desperate to watch remain unwatched.

So what I thought I would do is list the shows I want to watch when I finally can. Maybe some of you readers can help me prioritise or maybe even advise me not to bother with them.

This Country: every article I read about this show praises it to highest heaven. The premise is that it is a mockumentary about two cousins growing up in a sleepy small town and the idiosyncrasies of such a life. I have seen clips online and it does look to live up to the hype, and it is also loved for being a little bit heart breaking in its humour. This is sometimes a red flag for me (why do comedies needs to also be tear jerkers?) but if done well can be the cherry on top of the ice cream.

Chewing Gum: another much-talked about comedy, following the adventures of Tracey and her quest to lose her virginity. It is hailed as a funny, rude and, above all, honest representation of female sexuality. It has earned its creator and star Michaela Coel awards for both acting and writing.

Game Face: another female-fronted sitcom. This time Roisin Conaty is our lead, playing wannabe actress Marcella. Again, there is a hunt for her dream man, which is making me wonder how many sitcoms by men are about guys finding their girl, at least in the UK anyway. The main appeal here is that I love Conaty in so many other things that this has got to be good.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Maybe you are seeing a pattern. What can I say, the argument women aren’t funny doesn’t sit with me at all. If anything, I find women are more natural in their humour and try and do each other down less. Anyway, this has been on my list for a while now. It seems warm and hopeful, qualities I sometimes thing sitcoms forget to include. Tina Fey is the brains here, and 30 Rock was another show I adored, so high hopes again.

There are very few dramas appealing to me, but then I have plenty to be getting on with for the next few months. I might dip into Designated Survivor. I may have a root around on Netflix for something else. If I get desperate, I may even get an Amazon Prime account.

So there you have it. Please suggest away anything else that should be on my list. Not Breaking Bad. So many people have wanged on about it I have now made it an ambition to never watch it, just to watch its devotees flail their arms and implore me to do so. But besides that, fire away. The floor is yours…

 

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.

On Mother’s Day, it seems appropriate to review series 2 of Mum. This low-key sitcom follows a year in the life of widowed Cathy and her family and friends over a series of inconsequential celebrations or minor life events. For example, one episode focused on a room needing to be cleared on Good Friday in time for a new carpet to be fitted.

The humour is in the turn of phrase within a sentence, as opposed to big gestures, although the most recent episode did feature the ghastly Pauline collapse in a deckchair. It is typical of the show that the joke didn’t rely on the physical, but on the barbed verbal exchange afterwards. Horrified at the impression that she had broken it, Pauline ensured events were span to construe the chair was already broken.

Every character has their streaks of madness in their character. Cathy’s son Jason and his girlfriend Kelly share a dopiness and shallowness although seem to be fundamentally quite sweet, although both also have a dash of selfishness that comes from youthful self-absorption. Kelly also has an inconvenient habit of picking up random sharp objects and playing with them in absent-minded manner.

Then there is the bitterness of in-laws Reg and Maureen, angry at each other, everyone else and, most of all, old age. They spend social events sitting apart, refusing to engage and offering their blunt opinions to anyone who will listed. Dips in particular come in for a drubbing from them.

It is the aforementioned Pauline though who steals the best lines. A comic monster in the most powerful sense, she has disdain for all around her, despite her dependence on them. A virtual nervous breakdown over the thought of going to a carvery in the first episode was a sight to behold, not least her desperate musings on how you could possibly need three types of potato.

All this borne stoically by Cathy, a patient smile on her face which only drops when alone. She has her own problems, engaging in a delicate dance of flirting-yet-not with her late husband’s best friend Michael. The ‘will they, won’t they’ element between the two of them gives a bit of emotional heft to what otherwise would just be another comedy of manners.

The most recent episode set round a barbecue was as near perfect as it gets. All the classic elements were in place – Jason waxing lyrical on his dad’s technique, Pauline boasting of her connections at the golf club, Cathy and Michael negotiating a visit to the garden centre – but the last few minutes really rose it above. First, Reg had one of those all too common features of grief, as he looked around the room and realising his late son would never be able to join them. Then, in one of the most touching scenes I have seen, Pauline put aside her monstrous nature to help her boyfriend’s daughter fix a dropped stitch. It was a rare tender moment form her, betraying something soft within, a lost maternalism. Single shot looks don’t get better than that.

After a bit of a delay, I have finally got round to catching up on Derry Girls. For the unaware, this is a sitcom set in early 90s Derry at the height of the Troubles. Essentially, a coming-of-age story with a darkly humourous backdrop. Derry is a city that behaves like a small town, in that everyone knows everyone else. Part of my keen interest in the show is that one of my closest friends is from that neck of the woods and she has assured me that, yes, it really is like that.

The focus is on Erin, a fairly typical teenage girl, desperate to improve her status despite already having a loyal gang of mates. There is her cousin Orla, who is dim witted and flaky. Claire operates as the group’s moral compass, but is perhaps too moral and is quick to turn grass. Michelle is the gobby trouble causer, who always has a get rich scheme. And finally, there’s James, the only boy in an all-girls school and who has committed the sin of being, gasp, English.

Interestingly, all the characters seem to be increasingly well fleshed out, bar Erin. For a focal point, she seems a remarkably blank canvas. Her main role seems to be to contort her face in disgust at everything around her, which is getting slightly annoying. Thankfully, the other characters have enough of a footprint to raise the show.

The adult members of the cast are also good. Erin’s grandad constantly undermining his son-in-law, who seems to be an ocean of sanity amongst the madness. Orla’s mum, Aunt Sarah, is every bit as daffy as her daughter.

The show is stolen though by headmistress and nun Sister Michael. There is a delicious stony expression that lives on her face permanently, whether it is dealing with a failed attempt by Michelle to bully a Year 7 or banning ‘Love is All Around’ from the school assembly list. Her deadpan comments are a sheer delight and worth the entry fee alone.

The timeliness of the show cannot go unnoticed either. Just as the Good Friday Agreement comes under serious threat through a mixture of Brexit and the power collapse at Stormont, this is a reminder of the bad old days, where bomb threats and paramilitary attacks were worryingly routine. Whilst this is a fertile ground for dark humour (the first episode sees lots of jokes about a suspicious package on the main road through Derry) it should also be a stark message about not wanting to go back in time.

Is it funny? Yes, perhaps not side-splittingly, but will certainly raise a giggle. It is also well crafted and smart. And if all else fails, it has a corking soundtrack of early 90’s classics. Yes, the main character needs work. But that doesn’t stop it being a joy.