Archives for posts with tag: comedy

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.

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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.

I have spoken about The Big Bang Theory a few times before, but as we are now into the final season it seems a good time to summarise the entire show. An attempt at a eulogy, if you will.

It is a show that has its detractors. It is regularly mocked and scorned for a variety of crimes, real and imagined. Personally, I think the only one it truly committed was becoming too popular, if you can deem that a felony. Perhaps it is, considering how this age is defined by finding the next big thing rather than just enjoying it while it is big. Also falling into this category are Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, presumably the recipients of such bile because they refused to stay small and humble and instead, oh the horror, played to the mainstream and became successful.

It is true that the previous season of Big Bang was quite weak. It had got lazy in its plotting and jokes, although it still occasionally landed a good episode. But everything before, and the current season, have been strong. It does what only American sitcoms can do well, allowing characters to grow and change with humour yet also knowing when to go slightly for the heartstrings. The episode where Howard’s mother died was a beautiful example of this. Comedies that rely on dragging down their characters into misery should take a note that joy can be equally powerful.

The predictability that so many hate is actually a strength for the fans. We know the episode will revolve around Sheldon becoming obsessive or uppity about something. Whoever is his foil that week will be deigned to control or revolve the situation, while the rest of the cast have their own adventures. It is predictability that makes those moments like Howard’s mother’s death so powerful – at a moment when everyone is a little lost, it is Sheldon who surprisingly offers the most-tender words.

Of course, for a show to end well the fans must feel the story is complete. Friends did it perfectly, with everybody going off on new adventures. They would not forget each other, and may still be part of each other’s lives, but it was time for a new chapter in all their lives that didn’t involve drinking coffee together every day. If Big Bang pulls something off like this, it will have done well.

It will be weird to say goodbye. It has been on so long that it will inevitably feel like a huge gap has appeared. But let us not mourn the passing, but celebrate the life. This was a show that only offered us warmth. It is only fair to reciprocate.

I finally had a breakthrough this week and managed to get round to watching This Country, a show that has been top of my must-watch list for over a year now. I had heard constant hype about it and clips on social media had whetted my appetite. So did it live up to my expectations?

Well, not quite. But first, let me go over the premise for the uninitiated. Cousins Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe live in a small English village. Their surroundings are picturesque but dull. Most of their time is spent wandering the streets and upsetting the neighbours or sitting around Kerry’s house talking nonsense. Importantly, both are deluded as to their own importance, believing themselves to be the coolest people around.

A lot of the humour comes from the gap between their outward bravado and the reality, and the lies they tell themselves to bridge it. The mockumentary style works well, as it is allows that distance between what is said and what is done to be played out to the fullest. As a result, it is funny, but often in a more low-key way than expected.

The funniest scenes are when some trivial argument gets out of hand, for instance, the fight over who gets the top shelf of the oven. Also, kudos goes to Kerry’s mum, never seen but always heard. She is a Mrs. Wolowitz from Big Bang style presence, able to draw a bigger laugh from bellowing something from another room than most of the cast can from being physically present.

It does fall prey to some of the traps of low-key comedy though. When you watch it, you can only do that. No trying to surf through social media on your phone or internet shop at the same time. The humour is from a twist in language or a sudden and brief change of expression. And because this is a comedy about having nothing to do, little happens, so the temptation to distract yourself is high. It rewards the attentive viewer and the modern world means these are often in short supply.

But I still enjoy it. It is endlessly quotable – you will have yourself muttering Kerry’s ‘I have enemies in Upper Cerney’ speech as soon as you hear it. Those that put the time in will be rewarded with well-drawn characters that become instantly recognisable. So if you have some distraction-free time, invest in it. Just don’t try and watch it with only half an eye.

The Good Place has never been a conventional sitcom. Not in a downbeat, angry white male kind of way though, which by the way there are far too many of. If anything, it is relentlessly upbeat whilst tackling the big questions.

Its unconventionality lies more in its ever-shifting premise. Season one was about Eleanor avoiding being discovered as not belonging in The Good Place. Season two became about the entire cast avoiding The Bad Place, which actually involved being sent to said place. Season three sees them back on Earth living mortal lives, initially unaware of their previous experience in the afterlife.

Of course, for a show that sees humour and philosophy intertwine, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Philosophers change what it means to be good, and even whether it is important to be so, on a regular basis. If the first season was about the difficulties of actually being good (Chidi was punished despite being a nice person), the focus is now on ‘why should we be good?’ With the gang guaranteed eternal damnation, and they know it, the good they do is coming from a more selfless place. This is the point where you can start debating on how possible is it to perform a purely selfless action. If you want that debate, please have it.

Now the characters have built up a backstory, I am actually finding the show funnier. Not just a glib ‘oh that’s quite good’, but genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. There is a strong satirical bent to the humour, which is where the show is strongest, not least in its openness to critique the trappings of the modern world.

The difference between a sitcom that works and one that doesn’t isn’t just about the jokes though. It is about investing in the characters. Thankfully, he whole cast has grown on me, even Jason, whose stupidity has progressed from irritating to charmingly naïve. Janet still remains my favourite. D’Arcy Carden tells a whole joke with just her facial expressions, and for saying she is playing the least human character, is also the one that brings heart to the cast.

The risk with changing premise and creating almost drama-like cliffhangers is the risk one won’t pull off. A change too far or a ‘jumping the shark’ that leaves the viewers at breaking point. So far the show has avoided that, but there will be a point where there is a reset to many.

Until then though, it is one of the warmest shows around but still has a message. In a bleak and cruel world, that alone should earn everyone involved some Good Points.