Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sworn Statements

One weekend, maybe five or six weeks back, I was flipping channels late in the evening and accidentally stumbled upon a couple of godawful new sitcoms on BBC3. The first featured witless students, the second moronic office drones, and the one thing both shared was that they were just utterly useless.

Frankly, I wasn’t surprised to discover two more massive turds floating in BBC3’s stream of effluent. Around the same time the BBC Trust announced it was launching a service review of BBC1, BBC2, BBC4 and the red button service. Seeing the headline, I figured they’d come to the similar conclusion that the third channel was simply beyond saving. Reading further it appeared a review of BBC3 had already taken place. As it was designated one of the Corporation’s channels for “young people”, obviously for those weaned off the tit of CBeebies, it’s no wonder that the youth of today are such feckless, clueless retards.

Catching sight of each, it was my own fault for not paying attention while thumbing the remote and getting arse while looking for arts. Whenever the other channels come up woefully short, there’s always arts and culture on BBC4 to fall back on. Sunday’s schedule, for instance, kicked off with documentaries celebrating the work of Tamara de Lempicka and Jacques Henri Lartigue. Both half an hour in length, neither was padded out nor felt like it was outstaying its welcome, which makes a change from many current programmes. They were followed by A Tale of Two Britains, a fascinating look into the prosperity in the United Kingdom during the 1930s, and then, later on, the next episode of the French policier Spiral.

Last week, as an added bonus, there had been late–night repeats of The Rise of the Nutters and Spinners and Losers, The Thick Of It’s two hour–long specials from 2007. Obviously being shown again in the run up to the new third series, in the wake of the success of In The Loop, Armando Iannucci’s award-winning political satire had been poached by BBC2 and dropped into the Saturday night schedule. Arriving in the wake of the new BBC production guidelines, implemented to crackdown on “intimidation and humiliation”, luckily those rulings don’t apply to fictional characters.

While the Taste Standards report demanded that any kind of maliciousness should never be “celebrated for the purposes of entertainment,” a lot of new comedy – those BBC3 sitcoms included – doesn’t actually seem to have been made for the purposes of entertainment. Which is probably why, pretty much at the same time, the report also highlighted the fact that audiences want the BBC to take more creative risks, even if that means causing offence to some sectors. In the end it all comes down to context, and whether people take to The Thick Of It depends on how they would react to knocking on Malcolm Tucker’s door and being told to, “come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off!”

People may be turned off by the language but at least as a political sitcom that doesn’t attempt to be politically correct, the show is inventive with the invective, most of which comes courtesy of Ian Martin, The Thick Of It’s special “swearing consultant”. As much as I love the near constant barrage of offhand or particularly piercing insults volleyed at the ineffectual ministers and their woeful advisors, oddly enough, while re–watching Spinners and Losers, I laughed just as hard as, following a brief food fight, Jamie MacDonald, the demonic Press Officer, went after pompous Whitehall wonk Julius Nicholson screaming, “Eat the cheese, Nicholson!”

For the new series of eight episodes – lasting longer than the first two series combined – a new PM at No.10 and the Cabinet reshuffle that follows means a new minister taking over from the absent Hugh Abbot at the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship. It’s a great idea to bring in somebody new and unfamiliar, especially since Nicola Murray MP was so far down the list of candidates that Malcolm Tucker’s only alternative to run DoSAC was his ball sack. Unable to “fuck the i’s and fist the t’s” before she takes over the appointment, the ferocious Downing Street enforcer doesn’t quite know who he’s up against.

Though Murray isn’t going to stand for being the sort of verbal punchbag that advisers Glen and Ollie have become, Tucker still manages to convincingly win the first round. It takes a certain kind of writing for a comedy to round off the episode with the lead character merrily announcing, “I’m off to wipe my arse on pictures of Nick Robinson. I’m getting good at giving him a quiff!” It’s not exactly something you’d hear from Tom or Barbara Good. Larry David, though, might give it a go.

Of all the returning shows thumping down into the schedules, the seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm was the one I was looking forward to. Admittedly back when it initially appeared on the BBC, who then inexplicably gave up on it, the show took a while to get going. But as the first season came to an end with an embarrassing typo in a newspaper obituary and then LD accidentally finding himself participating in an incest survivors group, I figured this was a show to stick with.

Though I was wary of some of the later themed seasons – while Larry David investing in a restaurant was a triumph, bringing the third season to a terrifically potty-mouthed triumph, his role in The Producers the following year probably wasn’t successful – but this new season certainly piqued my interest because it revolves around the Seinfeld reunion. With that beginning in earnest in this Thursday’s episode, LD first had to wriggle out of his relationship with the cancer–striken girlfriend in preparation for winning back Cheryl.

Whatever the storyline, and however excruciating the situations LD finds himself in, the comedy never swamps the big questions that always need to be asked. In last week’s Vehicular Fellatio, the poser was: How long an interval do you wait to be kissed by a woman that has recently given your friend a blowjob? Genius!


At 10:04 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Ah, the sheer joy of Capaldi in something well-written and well thought out. I watched that Torchwood ‘special’ a while back, hoping that with him on board it might take a leap toward decent, but it was uncomfortable seeing him desperately attempting to do his job in such a sea of offal.

LD nails the target way more often than not - why do so many of our UK attempts at the same thing (Lead Balloon, etc.) seem so horribly contrived and lifeless?

At 11:55 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

On the Sunday evening, the day after I caught sight of those dreadful BBC3 sitcoms, BBC2 showed a repeat of Porridge. If I remember rightly, it was the episode where Fletch and Godber temporarily share their cell with a new inmate who turns out to be the judge that sent Fletcher down. Over thirty years old now, it had me laughing from start to finish simply because Clement and La Frenais nailed it in terms of wringing every last drop of comedy from the characters and situation.

A couple of nights back I was watching a rerun of Minder that had a very young Peter Capaldi in a small supporting role. This must have been not long after Local Hero came out. As good as he was in both those roles, I’m sitting there watching it thinking, ah man, ahead of you lies greatness! (And not just as an actor but a director as well. The recent BBC4 sitcom Getting On, which he directed, was just as good).

There was a pretty decent article in The Times on Saturday – amazingly written by the Moron woman who obviously managed to extract her tongue from RTD’s arse – about the process of putting an episode of The Thick Of It together. It’s interesting that when it comes to the table read of the third episode of the series the script, which has gone through the hands of the show’s writers, is up to 121 pages long. So they have a wealth of material to begin with, as opposed to the useless sitcoms that appear to have nothing at all to begin with and then stretch it to fit.

After watching the cheese incident again last week, and following on from a similar incident in I’m Alan Partridge, I’m sure some wazzock pissing away the days on a useless Media Studies course will write their thesis on ‘Anger and Dairy products in the comedies of Armando Iannucci’.

I got home just in time for the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode yesterday and it was pure genius. Even when it’s not always firing on all cylinders, the show is still better than most other sitcoms because it doesn’t have that clammy “please like me” attitude that you get over here with stuff that isn’t up to snuff.

It’s like everyone involved doesn’t have anything left to prove so they can just get on with it and have some fun, especially when they can go against the perceived image the public has of them. (Hearing Michael York exclaim, “Bugger and balls!” at the restaurant opening was something quite special). Not to mix the real Larry David up with the onscreen persona but you get the feeling he could tell the head of NBC to go fuck himself.


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