Archive for February, 2011

After the non-event that is January, what with everyone trudging around in a fog of overbearing depression, it is with great relief that the Cowboy finds himself inhabiting February, a month rich with high-end cultural offerings, including the Coens’True Grit, new Bright Eyes album The People’s Key and Martin Lawrence’s Big Mommas: Like Fathers Like Sons, the conclusion of a genre-defining trilogy in which Lawrence showed what could be achieved with a fat suit and some crude racial stereotypes. Just in case this isn’t enough to sate your creative appetites, the coming week also sees the return of Masterchef, a show that poses as many questions as it provides answers: will Greg Wallace literally cream himself while hoovering a note-perfect soufflé?; how long into the first episode before John Torode implores [insert name] ‘to deliver on flavour?; can the woman responsible for the show’s voiceover take her husky delivery to the next level by moving down yet another octave? Exciting stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Pending my forthcoming review of the latest Big Momma instalment, I have been ransacking Youtube’s archives for fleeting moments of joy from my favourite comedy shows. I’ve gone for the tried and tested ‘top-ten’ angle, so a lot of decent stuff failed to make the cut including, in no particular order of merit: Blackadder, The Fast Show, The Simpsons, Peep Show, The Day Today, The Harry Hill Show, Southpark and The Office (American version).

10. Yes Minister/Yes, Prime Minister [BBC]

Satire is one of the hardest comedy genres to pull off. When done badly, in can be smug, indulgent and seriously dull (anything involving Bird and Fortune). However, when tightly written and skilfully acted (Yes Minister and the subsequent Yes, Prime Minister), the result is a slow-burning pleasure, being both interesting and extremely funny. Most fans will pick out Nigel Hawthorne’s velvet tongued spin doctor (sorry, permanent secretary) as the show’s fulcrum, but I was always drawn to Paul Eddington’s excellent minister, Jim Hacker, a loveable buffoon who never seemed to know what was going on around him, a premonition of George Bush (“now watch this drive”), perhaps.  The link below finds Hacker PM eloquently dissecting the journalistic appetite in British shores, with ample support from his private secretary.

9. Beavis and Butt-head [MTV]

Few things are more pleasurable than crying with laughter, provided that the outpouring of mirth doesn’t take place at a funeral, hospital waiting room or in the midst of an anticipated sexual encounter. The first conscious memory I have of doing so was watching the credits to Beavis and Butt-head roll at the start of their four-year tenure on MTV during the early/mid nineties. The opening credits, monotonous guffawing from Butt-head and pitch-shifting cackles from Beavis, captured the essence of the show: two illiterate juveniles getting excited by nothing. Their feature-length film – Beavis and Butt-head Do America – remains a personal favourite. The plot is, of course, ridiculous and gets under way with a character voiced by Bruce Willis (one of numerous celebrity voices) asking the protagonists to “do” his wife (as in murder), which they wrongly interpret as a chance to score, cue a surreal road-trip involving gambling old ladies, the Hoover Dam and The White House. As ever, the dialogue is delightfully silly:

“Beavis: Yeah. We’re gonna score.

Little Old Lady: Oh, well, I hope to score big there, myself. I’m mostly gonna be doing the slots.

Beavis: Yeah, yeah. I’m hoping to do some sluts, too. Yeah. Do they have a lot of sluts in Las Vegas?

Little Old Lady: Oh, there are so many slots, you won’t know where to begin.

Beavis: Whoa. Hey, Butt-Head, this chick is pretty cool. She says there’s gonna be tons of sluts in Las Vegas.

Butt-head: Cool.

Little Old Lady: It’s so nice to meet young men who are so well-mannered.

Beavis: Yeah. I’m gonna have money and a big screen TV and there’s gonna be sluts everywhere. It’s gonna rule.

Little Old Lady: Well, that’s nice.”

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm [HBO]

Current TV schedules are packed full of faux-reality shows, from LA puke-fest The Hills to television’s answer to Chernobyl, aka The Only Way is Essex. Other recent incarnations include David Crane’s Episodes, featuring his former Friends’ star, Matt LeBlanc, playing a parody of an actor not dissimilar in mannerisms to Matt LeBlanc. The blurring of reality lines is not confined to the small screen, with Jean–Claude Van Damme getting his art house game together in JCVD, a surprisingly enjoyable film where Damme plays a washed-up action star, ergo himself. This modern trend of celebrity parody owes a great debt to Larry David’s sublime Curb Your Enthusiasm, which follows the Seinfield co-creator through the daily grind of D-list Hollywood life. David is a revelation, disenchanted with the world and people that inhabit it. Where a ‘normal person’ will tolerate the disingenuous chat offered-up by till staff at a corporate coffee chain, David’s character refuses to accept the bullshit and openly challenges or undermines anything he doesn’t agree with. One of the greatest moments takes place where one player at an after dinner poker game fails to go all-in despite possessing an ace high. Appalled that no-one seems to be taking the game seriously, David playfully calls him a cunt prompting everyone to make their excuses and leave. Hero.

7. The Thick of It [BBC]

Often described as a modern re-working of Yes Minister (see above), The Thick of It similarly follows the inner workings of British government, firstly through clueless minister Hugh Abbot (closely aligned to Jim Hacker) and then through his inexperienced successor Nicola Murray, played as a ditsy, highly-strung career-female parody by Rebecca Front. Both ministers are ‘advised’ by a ramshackle group of self-obsessed civil servants, an eclectic mix of lifers and youthful sycophants (stand-up comic Chris Addison). In terms of structure, the episodes follow a traditional set-up of a central farcical situation being handled by inept staff, thus building a gradual snowball of hilarity. Particularly enjoyable is Peter Capaldi’s demonic spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker, a globally feared bullocking machine whose authoritative presence perfectly exposes the political inadequacies of his charges. The success of The Thick of It is the marriage between note-perfect comedy performances (the actors also provide much adlibbed material) and the inspired writing of Armando Ianucci (Alan Partridge), Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show) and various other collaborators, including posh-boy stand-up and Jersey export, Will Smith. Some choice clips below from movie feature In The Loop.

6. Phoenix Nights [Channel 4]

“Keith Lard? Yeh, he got done for in’fering with dogs.” “He got off though, didn’t he?” “Yeh, you try getting an Alsatian to testify.”

Long before selling out venues across the land with enthusiastic renditions of family weddings and Teletext holidays, Kay could be found sipping pina coladas in the Phoenix Club as fictional social club owner, Brian Potter, a wheel-chair bound tightwad with delusions of grandeur. The success of Phoenix Nights owed much to the supporting cast, including chauvinistic bouncers Max and Paddy (“I wouldn’t mind ‘anging out of that”), mulleted DJ “Ray Von” and Potter’s social club nemesis, Den Perry (“like I say, she has got a cock, so you have been warned”). Classic episodes include a psychic evening hosted by Clinton Baptiste (“I’m getting the word…..NONCE”), episode 1 guest-featuring Roy Walker and racist folk-band “Half a Shilling” and the imported bouncy castle complete with an inflatable cock and balls. However, Kay’s greatest creation is the uber-anal fire safety officer, Keith Lard (played by Kay), who’s comic mileage is derived from a past charge of bestiality. Unfortunately the quality of the clip leaves a lot to be desired, but captures all the key dog-related quips. If you don’t own both series on DVD, get involved.

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