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Archive for March, 2011

After the non-events that are January and February, what with everyone trudging around in a fog of overbearing depression, it is with great relief that the Cowboy finds himself inhabiting March, 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, we’re now well into the latter stages 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 each 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 (now seen since first half of this list was posted – review to come), 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 The Day Today’s 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.

5. Knowing Me, Knowing You/I’m Alan Partridge [BBC]

It’s pretty difficult to write anything original about the Partridge character, widely-recognised as Steve Coogan’s finest moment, shortly behind balling Courtney Love and being blamed for the attempted suicide of Owen Wilson. That is a little harsh, perhaps, with Coogan having been in resplendent form of late, triumphing over Rob Brydon in Michael Caine impressions on The Trip (see below), and penning a pitch-perfect damnation of the boorish Top Gear in The Observer. Partridge, least we forget, was also the brainchild of Armando Ianucci, later creator The Thick of It, and celebrated stand-ups Stewart Lee and Richard Herring. Highlights from the show are numerous, with choice offerings including the Bald Brummies Against The Big Footed Conspiracy Party, the “cock piss partridge” car graffiti, not to mention the oft-quoted “monkey tennis” meltdown, as Partridge pleads, unsuccessfully, for a second television series before shoving a round cheese in a BBC executive’s face.  Give me a second series YOU SHIT.

4. Black Books [Channel 4]

The brainchild of Father Ted’s Graham Linehan and stand-up god Dylan Moran, Black Books was never going to be jostling with My Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and My Hero for the shitest sitcom in history award. Not content with a stellar creative team, it roped in Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig to be the (relatively) straight guys to Moran’s unhinged central character, Bernard, a bonkers alchy who runs a would-be pretentious second-hand book shop with a nihilistic attitude to its success, or indeed lack of. The show is brilliantly set-up, with Manny (Bailey) endearingly seeking to change Bernard’s lackadaisical ways, while Fran pretends to have similar intentions, despite being self-obsessed by her own neuroses and shortcomings.  The group have an excellent dynamic, while benefiting from line after line of fantastic writing, as well as the occasional inspired visual gag (the sweeping finger of dust shown in the clip below). As Masterchef’s Greg Wallace might say while motorboating a breast-shaped chocolate fudge cake at his favourite stand-up gig, “I tell you what, John, comedy don’t get much faaaaarkhan better than this.”


3. Flight of the Conchords [HBO]

Watching the first series of the Conchords’ eponymous TV series was a joyous experience, akin to the time when I innocently purchased a football magazine and found a dog-eared copy of Razzle locked in its laminated embrace. The show worked on numerous levels, mixing traditional structured plots with irreverent musical interludes. Cross-referencing it with Beavis & Butthead, it’s hard not to see similarities. Like MTV’s slacker delinquents, Jermaine and Brett suck at everything they do, only coming to life in the alternative world of their musical parodies, where real-life limitations are cast-aside in favour of surreal and outlandish riffings on hermaphrodite ladies, racist greengrocers and Ravi Shanker. It is these music features that lend the show its genius, with the music from the first series having – at the time of writing – racked-up over 400 cumulative plays on my iTunes. With lyrics such as “a kiss is not a contract but it’s very nice, just because we’ve been playing tonsil hockey doesn’t mean you get to score the goal that’s in my jockey” it’s hard to find flaws.

2. Father Ted [Channel 4]

It’s a toss-up for first place between this and Bottom, with only a gnat’s pube between the two. In the end, Bottom secured top spot because of the furious energy which carries the whole show, although the more I type, the more I wriggle with mirth at the images of Bishop Brennan, tearing down the garden screaming “Crilly!!!!!” (Father Ted Crilly to you and me), before bending him over and laying a slippery boot on his backside. Such is the appeal of Father Ted: off-the-wall humour, colourful characters glued together by a warmly dysfunctional household. The show ages remarkably well, no better evidenced by a recent showing of the viewer’s choice episode (Speed 3) on the Father Ted night a few months ago. Speed 3 is arguably the series’ finest hour, with a plot centring on a geriatric milkmen (Pat Mustard) who delivers his own variant on full fat dairy products during his early morning rounds on Craggy Island. Appalled by his antics, Ted brings Mustard’s activities to his superior’s attention, who sacks him shortly after failing in his attempts to steal some murky images of Mustard on the job from the parochial house. Cue a rip off from Hollywood blockbuster Speed, where Dougal (the short-term replacement milkman) must keep the bus above 4 miles per hour. As with the best comedy, the secret is the attention to detail, for example Mustard’s milkfloat being delightfully adorned by the stickers ‘Young Banger’, ‘Shit Happens’ and ‘Milkmen do it on your doorstep’. Gold.

1. Bottom [BBC]

Watching Adrian Edmonson ponce around on mind-numbing soft comedy and drama programs on the Beeb, it’s hard to recall the days when he boasted some comedy pedigree. While I could take or leave The Young Ones (his other notable success, also involving Rik Mayall), Bottom – in which he played the exquisitely named Edward Hitler – became a personal obsession and remains, to this day, the funniest thing I have ever seen. As the name implies, Bottom was as low-brow as it gets, a dismal record of the schemes and activities undertaken by two sad and pathetic desperados starved of sexual activity and with an appetite for casual violence. As with most successful comedy duos, the characters neatly dovetailed: Eddie, a loveable booze-hound prone to boats of genius but generally devoid of any mental acumen; Richard Richard (aka “Richie”, played by Rik Mayall) a deranged pervert and prodigious masturbator who wrongly believes himself to be a member of the English upper-crust. Throughout proceedings, they are joined by equally squalid associates: Dave Hedgehog, a short man with grey hair bereft of social understanding; Spud-gun, a gormless chubber with a monosyllabic delivery and Dick Head, a grouchy barman with a sensible name. Like ACDC, the formula for success is consistent, but what really makes it stand out is the commitment in the performances, with something happening at every moment. Classic episodes include a flutter on one-legged horse ‘Sad Ken’ and the triumphant Halloween episode (extract below). However, the funniest episode to my mind is Dough in which Eddie sets-up a money forging press in his bedroom, creating masterpieces such as the £27 note, in which Sylvester Stallone appears fisting old Mr McHenry from the Magic Roundabout. Classic dialogue below:

“Eddie: They’re the Queen’s jugs (in response to Richie’s query about the strange constitution of Eddie’s forged five pound note).

Richie: A. The Queen doesn’t have jugs, she’s royalty. B. If she did, she certainly wouldn’t get ’em out on the back of a fiver, she’d save ’em up for the fifty!

Eddie: If you have a look at my fifty, you may find it a bit more risqué…

[Richie glances at it and winces]

Richie: Eddie, that’s tantamount to treason!… She’s got three knockers!

Eddie: No, that’s Bobby Charlton in the middle.

Richie: Are you insane? You couldn’t buy these under the counter in Hamburg!

Eddie: That’s the point, mate. The barkeeper will be so mesmerised by the classy erotica, I’ll have had ten pints by the time he realises how crap the squiggly lines are!”

Titbits

A couple of other choice highlights below, including Attention Scum by the League Against Tedium (aka Simon Munnery), Coogan and Brydon in The Trip and old Channel 4 favourite The Harry Hill Show.


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