Archives for posts with tag: comedy

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.

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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.

Last week I talked about being on the curve with some of my Netflix habits (not ahead mind, I will never be ahead). Well, this week is me returning to my natural state of being miles behind. Because, after years of hype, I am finally getting round to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

The plot for those who are unaware; a woman who has been trapped in an underground cult gets rescued and decides to start a new life in New York. The comedy comes from her adjusting to the modern world, both in terms of its technology and its social mores. Her naivety is designed to make her endearing and, possibly, highlight some of the negative impacts of our complicated modern lives.

There are several things I like about the show. Top of the list is Titus, her unwilling new roommate, a gay black man desperate for a career in showbiz. Like Kimmy, he has escaped a small-town way of life. His melodrama and social commentary adds a deeper layer to what could be fluff. His scene where he tries to ‘out’ a fellow former cult member’s boyfriend by dressing as a ‘sexy’ farmhand had me guffawing more than anything I had seen in a long time.

A close second is Lillian, the odd but well-meaning landlady. As I’m still part way through the first season she hasn’t developed the depth of the other characters, but her appearances are delightfully batty, not least the hints to a slightly criminal nature and lack of filter in her thoughts. The scenes with Titus and Lillian bounce in a way that drives the whole show.

On the flip side, the two other main characters are less appealing. Jacqueline is a cliché of the New York socialite, a trope that has been done to death. Whilst it is always easy to get kicks out of painting the well off as out of touch, idiotic and shallow, there is nothing here that hasn’t been done in other shows. Maybe as the show progresses something of interest will make her worthwhile, but for now, I hit a mental snooze at the jokes about cosmetic surgery and her rampant consumerism.

The other problem is Kimmy herself. The supposed endearing qualities she has are, to me, irritating. I almost find the way her cluelessness is used to highlight the faults of the modern world clumsy and almost preachy. Endless sunny optimism and a strict moral code are not an exciting combination. Maybe I have got too accustomed to deeply flawed characters being the lead, but I can’t help feeling that in any other show, Kimmy would be a secondary character to the more intriguing Titus.

It is early days though, and there is enough for me to keep going and see if the faults get ironed out. First seasons are always either perfect jewels that should never be touched or flawed gems that just need buffing up, and this is more in the latter category. And besides, there is little else to distract me right now.

Panel shows are surprisingly difficult to get right. The best of them are like dropping in on a conversation between friends, full of sparkling repartee and witticisms. Sometimes you can even find out something new along the way.

When they are done badly though, it is painfully obvious. The sparks that seem so easy to manufacture elsewhere never materialise, the jokes fall flat and everyone appears wooden. All of which results in a very painful half an hour to an hours viewing.

Hypothetical very nearly veers into the second category. The concept is that guests are set hypothetical challenges and must come up with the best way to complete it. For example, how would you make an S Club 7 musical a runaway success on Broadway? Would you rather wear a big hat or a little hat for the rest of your life? As with a lot of panel shows, there is not a lot at stake.

It is hosted by Josh Widdicombe and James Acaster, the latter also acting as points giver. Widdicombe in particular doesn’t quite fit as a host, not least because he falls into that common trap for comedians, not being able to read an autocue. Considering it is the job of a stand up to be able to ad lib, I don’t know why they are forced to read from one anyway.

Acaster is better, but flourishes when he is allowed to go off script and just converse with the guests. In fact, it is a bit too obvious that the show doesn’t need two hosts and that Acaster could carry this by himself if needed.

The quality of the guests matters. To be fair, both episodes so far have at least had a few good ones on. But the whole show only zings when the guests almost forget what they should be aiming to accomplish and just start riffing off each other. Which is fine, except it makes the whole point of having a concept pointless. Whilst all panel shows rely on a particular tangent catching fire, most still seem to be able to stick to the central point without detracting from the fun.

Overall, you get the feeling that the show isn’t quite there as a finished product. It’s a bit like when someone gives you a deconstructed dessert – you can see all the bits are there, but it would me much better if it came as a whole thing. But it does show promise. Some smart fine tuning to the basics would see it really fly. Let’s hope they get the chance to do so.

TV is rubbish over Christmas. The desire to please a broad, captive audience means that the mainstream thrives at the expense of anything interesting. No Christmas special of Killing Eve for those of us who loved it, at least not this year. Instead, updates of Poirot (albeit supposedly grittier), accompanied by the usual Call the Midwife and Mrs Brown’s Boys.

No wonder I have turned to the Planner, where, in a Christmas miracle, I found dozens of episodes of Bob’s Burgers. I have declared my love for it before, but with so little else on I am unashamed in doing so again.

One of the key things I love about it is that, in what seems to be an increasing rarity in comedy (animated or live), the characters actually love each other. I have got to the point with Family Guy and American Dad! Where I have stopped buying into them as loveable but dysfunctional. They just have pushed each other all too far.

But not the Belchers. There is genuinely a united front in the family and a sense of support for each other, even with the craziest of ideas. I know I may be reading a little too much into a cartoon, but it is a massive mood boost not to watch a family that brims over with resentment.

This means you can focus on the plot and the lines, both of which are at the top of their game. Again, some comedies by now in their lifecycle go for bigger targets and overreach. Suspension of belief is fine but there is a definite sense at times that they are going for plot at expense of humour. With Bob’s Burgers I can still buy into that this is just the regular adventures of a family.

The show isn’t scared of making the audience pay attention either. It can at times shoot rapid fire lines between the characters (Gene in particular goes for off the cuff remarks that you could miss if diverted) and that is one of the joys.

Of course, the greatest two characters are and always will be Tina and Louise. The former is an introvert dying to be an extrovert and fiercely individualistic. She is a hero to anyone who just wants to be themselves and finds themselves half in/half out of the popular group. Louise, meanwhile, is beautifully cynical and strongminded. She is one of my favourite characters from any show ever.

My last point in praise for the show is that even the minor characters are well drawn out (pardon the pun). They may only get a few minutes in an episode once or twice a year, but you still know them. Two of my favourites are Felix, the brother of Mr Fischoder, and Gayle, Linda’s sister, both of whom have the kind of nuance some shows struggle to get into their main characters, never mind secondary ones.

This show has got me through Christmas. It might even need to get me through January at this rate. Mind you, there are worse things. I could actually have to talk to my own family.

I spoke last week about the fad of having people who are fundamentally unpleasant as lead characters in sitcoms. The kind of person who is rude, selfish and not as smart as they think they are, living under the impression that the world should fall into their lap. Man Down is a good example of this genre, with the central figure of Dan never believing that the bad things are happening because of him, but because the universe is against him.

His co-star Roisin Conaty treads a similar beat in her own sitcom GameFace. In it, she plays out of work actress Marcella, who gets by on temp jobs that she can never keep and is forced into life coaching sessions. To be fair, she is not as rude as the above description but is always trying to take a short cut in life and failing. And, most crucially, she has that most crucial character flaw for the genre, a lack of accountability.

Yet you actually feel a bit more sympathy for Marcella. I wonder if this is a gender issue – there is that feeling that if a man fails it is because of his own actions, a woman because of those of others. Or it could be that her actions never stem from a place of anger; she is merely scatty and impulsive rather than aggressive.

Conaty is, of course, brilliant, although when you play an exaggerated version of yourself it is hard not to be. Still, no one can deny the air of authenticity on the show. Her elaborate daydreams add a surreal dimension to the show and are probably the highlight.

Also, it is actually funny in amongst some the cringe. The best humour comes from her one-line responses as opposed to any of the elaborate set pieces, although that is just my take. I have never been one to be bowled over my embarrassing people as a form of humour, preferring witty repartee or caustic off-the-cuff remarks.

Basically, this functions as a short diversion. It is certainly good enough for you to spend your time on, but is also slightly throwaway and disposable. It certainly doesn’t match the sharpness of This Country, which has grown on me from being mildly enjoyable to bloody amazing. GameFace is perfectly fine in its own way. It may follow a well-walked path, but you won’t regret going down it.