Archives for posts with tag: E4

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.

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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 tend to wait a couple of episodes before discussing a new series. This is because I tend to find the first episode to often be an outlier in terms of the rest of the season, in that it is either preoccupied with set up or is stronger and punchier than future instalments. Either way, it is hard to judge where we will be by episode 4 from it.

When it comes to Crazyhead though, I just have to break the rule. This is largely because it already feels perfectly pitched, with little to no wobbles in the tone. I don’t think I can say anything about the first episode that will fundamentally change by its finale.

For the unaware, Crazyhead is about a Amy (Cara Theobold), a girl who can see people that are possessed by demons but who thinks she is suffering from a mental illness. That is until she meets fellow ‘seer’ Raquel (Susan Wokoma). Things get even more complicated when Amy’s best friend becomes one of the possessed.

Obviously, with its strong female leads and horror/action/comedy genre blending, it is only natural to see it as a successor to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was one of the true great TV programmes of my youth. Yet it also shares a tone and style with Misfits, which is unsurprising given that it is from the same mind. It certainly mirrors its oddly affecting moments, for instance, when Raquel is musing on her lack of social skills and friends with her brother.

What I also like about it is its attempt at having a long-term story arc in the style of Buffy by having a ‘big bad’, in this case a psychiatric doctor. There is a delicious scene between him and two fellow demons that I won’t spoil other than to say it blends the comedy and violence perfectly. Teaser for next week’s episode suggest this arc is only going to get stronger, whilst the complications for our heroines in all the other plotlines grow as well.

There is something so joyously fun about the show, even amongst both the touching and violent moments, that you feel a warmth from it. Teenage/early 20’s angst has been captured many times before, but this show puts a spin on it I love. Yes, it borrows from other shows, but so little is truly original on TV nowadays that even just a flicker of it is enough. In this case, we have an interesting portrayal of mental illness and how we define ‘crazy’. I don’t think I’m taking too big a risk in saying that this is going to be an enjoyable ride to the end.

Summer has been quiet TV-wise here in the UK. We’ve been hosting a certain sporting event, and faced with peerless coverage from the BBC, the other main channels have barely put up a fight with the schedules, broadcasting nothing much other than repeats. No big new drama launches for us until the autumn it seems.

So it is to the digital channels I turn. And, more disappointingly, to American imports. Don’t get me wrong, I love American television. But when the only thing British networks can offer that isn’t sport is something from across the Atlantic that was shown about 6-9 months ago, you know you’ve hit desperation levels.

Thankfully, the quality is good. A Radio Times critic recently chasitised American sitcoms for lacking any new ideas, which seems unduly harsh. Besides, if there are only 5 (0r 6, or whatever number it is) basic plots to a novel, surely there is a similar limit on sitcom ideas? In which case, the key is the execution of the idea. And my, the execution is brilliant right now. New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, all fantasticly written and wonderfully played. And now Suburgatory joins this list.

The format is the tried-and-tested fish-out-of water scenario, with New York father and daughter George and Tessa upping sticks to the suburbs, where they are surrounded by manicured lawns, Stepford housewives and botoxed teenagers. So, not the most exciting premise. But, you guessed it, it doesn’t matter. The characters are played pitch-perfectly, even the minor ones, like neighbour Sheila’s younger sister who has developed an alarming crush on George.

As with a lot of these shows, it is the bad, or at least the slightly-bad, that win the best lines. In Suburgatory, this comes from pink-clad mother and daughter Dallas and Dahlia. Human Barbie doll may be a cliched description, but it’s accurate. I almost fell on the floor laughing at Dahlia’s attempts to blink whilst wearing too much mascara, and her sleep bitchiness: “no you can’t sit here, this is the cool table” she murmers whilst dozing.

However, there’s nothing worse than a sitcom where the side characters are perfect but the leads are poor. Will and Grace suffered from this problem, as did Gavin and Stacey. Thankfully, Jane Levy as Tessa holds her own with the script. She surveys the madness that surrounds her much as the audiences at home does, with a sense of bemused horror. Her interior monolgues are clever, witty and sharp, acknowledging both her failures and her strengths whilst still playing it for laughs. This is why we connect with her, because we are able to feel the same way she does. Because for her, and for many of us in the same situation, this isn’t Suburgatory. This is Suburghell.