Archives for posts with tag: comedy

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.

Jo Brand is one of my favourite people. I love her self-deprecating stand up that is unfairly stereotyped by her critics as just being ‘It’s hard to be a woman’ humour. I adore her no-nonsense approach to panel shows, not least her slapping down of male guests whenever a whiff of misogyny enters the air (check out her take down of Ian Hislop and Quentin Letts on Have I Got News For You last year). Mostly though, I love her sitcoms. Truthful, raw and decidedly unglamourous, but never bleak.

Damned has returned for its second series. Set in the world of children’s social work, its title comes from the saying ‘Damned if you, damned if you don’t’, referencing the constant kicking social services receive in the media for either intervening or not. It is an aware Brand has an astute knowledge of, owing to her mother working as a social worker.

The characters all feel very real. There is the world-weary Rose and Al (played by Brand and Alan Davies), the latter of whom has no patience anymore for the rule book. There is the obnoxious, but essentially useless, Nitin (Hamish Patel). Dim-witted receptionist Nat is played by Isy Suttie, Kevin Eldon is team leader and slightly OCD Martin. This series sees the edition of virtue-signalling Mimi played by Lolly Adefope. With the exception of Mimi, none of these characters feel like stereotypes.

The situations are on the button as well. Episode one focused on a woman raising two children and having to resort to sex work to boost the minimum income she received for her legitimate work of cleaning. Sounds harrowing, yet the humour shone through thanks to deft and sympathetic writing. Having said that, the end of the episode is heart breaking.

There are some good background plots too. There is the blossoming connection between Rose and her boss Denise’s brother Dennis. The tension is growing between Mimi and Nat, with the latter unimpressed with the former’s being fast tracked. Plus there is the very timely storyline of historical abuse that they can’t tackle, but a growing storm outside is saying they should.

I think I love this because my work inhabits a not entirely different world, working as I do for a government regulatory body. The constant three-way battle between the morally right solution, the common sense answer and what the rule books say is a constant fixture of my world, although the stakes are rarely as high. It’s a relief for someone to be calling it as it is. Especially the chaos that erupts when meetings get derailed.

Or maybe I love it because it is a show about generally good people trying to do the right thing that is also very funny. The humour maybe dark, but it’s never cruel. Rather, it is smart enough to point out what is going wrong. It’s rarely the people on the front line.

Word of mouth is a surprisingly valuable asset for streaming services. Hype can get a ball rolling, but it is the ability to make the show a watercooler conversation that is the most valuable. Netflix and its ilk gets the most benefit from this as their shows stay on forever, whilst on-demand sites are more time orientated, with hits disappearing only to potentially return as an archive later.

Word of mouth means even a sleeper show gets a shot. I was recently put on to the case of Schitt’s Creek, a Canadian comedy that is completely unknown in the UK unless you stumble across it on Netflix. I was put onto it by the same person who recommended me The Good Place, and they were more than right about that.

For the uninitiated, a rich family is stripped of all their assets for not paying their taxes bar a small town they bought and have to move there to start a new life. The town is awful in the way backwater towns are, and the programme avoids the cliché of the town folk being sweet and humble by making them equally as bad in some cases. Having said that, I’m only two episodes in so forgive me if I have misconstrued something.

The best scenes feature Dan Levy as the son David. Acid tongued, shallow and melodramatic, he is also that little bit vulnerable. He hogs the best lines, but rightly so, as he delivers them so brilliantly. An early favourite of mine his is comment on his dad’s Ebenezer Scrooge nightshirt: “Give my regards to Bob Cratchitt”. I howled.

With any comedy the question is always ‘is it actually funny?’ I would argue this is, although in a sporadic, low-key way. I certainly feel the ‘rich people become poor’ plot has been done a lot before, so I hope there are some other interesting developments. There is also the question of whether or not this show will trip into that cliché of everyone learning a lesson and becoming better people, which is fine so long as it stays funny.

Overall, I like it. It has enough acid to keep it sharp and I feel actual storylines coming together. It is slightly lightweight, and I doubt when I have finished it I will be crawling the walls for more, but it fills a gap. At least until my friend gives me her next recommendation.

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.

I never had a gap year. To be honest, it didn’t appeal to me and seemed an expensive way to get drunk and have stories to tell. I certainly didn’t fancy going to places like Thailand I don’t deny there is beautiful scenery and a fascinating culture, but I like the familiar and my creature comforts.

Jack Whitehall, however, rues his missing gap year. So now he is having one, or at least a gap six weeks or so. And he is taking his elderly father with him, insisting that it will tick off things on his bucket list that don’t even exist. Hence the show Jack Whitehall: Travels with my Father.

The result is an incredibly funny programme about travel, families and the age gap. It is the last one of these that is played on most. Michael Whitehall wants his holidays to be about luxury and history. In episode one he took one look at the hostel that had been planned for him and bolted to the more refined hotel down the road, where he refused to eat the local food and demanded a lamb chop. Jack wants the backpacker experience and to take part in beach parties and free running.

It is their prickly but loving relationship that drives the show. Episode two sees Michael writing his autobiography. When Jack queries what exactly he is writing about, Michael reveals ‘well this chapter is about Hitler’ as if it is the most normal thing in the world, prompting Jack to query if his father was in the Hitler Youth. It is the silly meeting the deadpan that produces the biggest laughs, along with Michael’s lack of self-censure, at one point thinking that a man who was serving them had introduced himself as Stuart when he had actually said he was their steward. In another scene, he openly compared a temple priestess to Mollie Sugden.

I think the biggest reason I love this show is that there is a lot of me and my dad in this. There is a similar age gap and political misalignment. My father is as equally befuddled by technology and resistant to the modern world and makes politically incorrect statements and then has no understanding of the uproar he causes. My revenge for this public embarrassment is too be mildly insulting about his ways. The only difference is that my father wouldn’t even countenance leaving the country.

At just six episodes, it almost feels too short. I hope there is a second season, as there are still many cultures for Michael to mildly offend and bizarre situations to throw the pair of them into. It is after all Travels. It would be a shame to curtail their wanderlust, and our entertainment, so soon.

A big challenge facing TV wonks is how to make a potentially dry genre funny without it being a spoof, or at least not make it a spoof if you don’t intend it to be one. When you parody something, you potentially mock the very audience you intend to win over by making fun of the hallmarks of something they love, which leaves you with no-one watching.

One solution is to go for more of a pastiche – makes jokes about the genre, but do so gently. The other is to simply make something funny whilst using the genre as a setting. The Orville does a bit of both, and in doing so has made a genuinely funny yet also genre friendly show.

The Orville is a sci-fi comedy about a crew of a star ship. It is obviously designed to be a Star Trek with gags. There is the mocking of the diversity of the crew – a super-strong female alien security guard, a robot that is slightly sociopathic, two frat boy helmsman, etc. It could easily descend into something farcical.

What saves it is that Seth MacFarlane (yes, it is he) has actually invested in the plots. The opening episode introduced us to the evil Krill trying to steal a new technology that can speed up time. Whilst there were jokes, the plot was never forgotten about, even if it was a bit simple. Then again, early episodes of a show tend to be as the priority is to build cast dynamics. Again, this has been well done. There is a nice undercurrent of tension with Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) having to work with his ex-wife, who actually secured him the job without his knowledge.

The fact this show is happy to also be a more of a drama than a comedy is also, for me, a positive. It allows light and dark to balance each other, and stops you being whacked over by MacFarlane’s juvenile humour. It also allows more a commentary of society to be offered without being either flippant or sanctimonious.

The critics have panned this show. Interestingly, some have found it too silly and frivolous to be worth their time. Others have wondered where the jokes are for this to be a comedy. The fact it is pleased viewers a lot more though suggests that the critics have missed the point: it is simply an hour of enjoyable television. It has heart to it, a rare thing at times. And I’m not going to lie, for an average viewer like me, it is fun to see the critics get it so wrong.