Saturday, June 25, 2011

If you liked the ROYLE FAMILY...

If you liked the ROYLE FAMILY, I think you'd enjoy two recent series: GRANDMA'S HOUSE and FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER. Both center on a family and it's dysfunctions. Like ROYLE FAMILY, the dialogue is clever and edgy, but there is a little less focus on characterization (though certainly enough to make these 'real' people) and a lot more plot (especially in Friday Night Dinner).

Monday, February 22, 2010

Three Sitcoms from Wales

Most discussion about television comedy in the U.K. tends to focus on England with occasional forays into Ireland and Scotland. Wales is typically a forgotten place, with Gavin and Stacey proving the exception. Admittedly, it's a funny and well-written show. But if you're looking for some out-of-the-ordinary programs...think of something in the order of Father Ted, and you've got an idea of what I'm talking about. Well, if you like wacky comedy, laugh-out-loud characters and plots, I've got three recommendations for you. First is Fun At The Funeral Parlour. The title alone tells you this is not run-of-the-mill stuff. It's about a family, father and sons, who run a most unusual funeral business.

Next, there's Satellite City. It's about a quirky family, husband and wife and his father, who take in a border, a most unusual visiting American student, after their previous border, "English Stan" has died. Truly, you'd miss the 'flavor' if I tried to describe it. Like an exotic dish, you have to 'taste it'.

Finally, you simply have to try High Hopes. This followed and was written by the co-writer of Satellite City, Boyd Clack (who also appears in the series). There were six seasons. I have portions of seasons 4 through 6. It has never been released on DVD, but there is an online petition to try to convince the BBC to release the complete series on DVD. You can sign the petition at the following website:

As with Satellite City, to describe this program as a domestic sitcom would miss the entire point. It features a son, his elderly mother (who proudly and repeatedly reminisces about her work history as a stripper!) and two adolescents whom they've, sort of, adopted. Try it; you'll like it!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Favorites from Scotland

With no intention of even approximating an exhaustive listing, I'll mention just four of my favorite comedies originating in Scotland. The first two shows I'll note both feature that wonderful comedic actor: Gregor Fisher. 

First, there's the classic series Rab C Nesbitt, based on the books by Ian Pattison. Rab is a layabout alcoholic, who survives, along with his wife and sons, on the dole. He avoids work like the plague. Yet, it's hard not to love him. He's something of a philosopher and oftens pauses during the show to talk to the viewing audience, to register his frustration with society. There were eight series and a handful of 'specials' produced. 

A more recent outing by Gregor Fisher is Empty, which just finished its first-series airing of six episodes. The show is written by Iain Connell and Robert Florence and co-stars the extremely talented Billy Boyd. The two men work for a company which clears and/or repairs empty or damaged flats (or, as in the final episode, commercial properties). Though there are a few other actors in the episodes, the stories essentially revolve around the interactions of Fisher and Boyd (Jacky and Tony). This is a gentle comedy with no laugh track. It's intelligent, endearing, and I certainly hope that another series is commissioned!

Third is the sketch show Chewin' The Fat. You'll notice a number of the cast are familiar, as they went on to greater fame in subsequent shows. The format is unremarkable, similar to most sketch shows. However, the writing is very clever, and the characters well-drawn. The bottom line is that it's very funny.

Finally, I recommend Still Game. Starring Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill, this show features them (with a wonderful make-up job) as a couple of widowed pensioners who have been lifelong friends and live in the same council estate. You'll recognize a number of the recurrent (and incidental) characters from Chewing' The Fat. There have been six series, several Christmas and Hogmanay Specials and a recording of a live performance at Glasgow's Cottiers Theatre. The words I would use to describe this series are: intelligently written, beautifully acted, very very funny, warm. Kiernan and Hemphill are thoroughly believable as the aged duo Jack and Victor. This is another modern classic to be.

My website may be viewed here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Politics: Having A Laugh!

Absolute Power  is a gem of a program. Starring Stephen Fry and John Bird, it consists of two seasons, each containing six episodes. The co-stars play the officers of a major public-relations firm. As professional as they are cynical, they specialize in 'spinning' what appear to be major public-relations disasters into assets for their clients, all high-profile. 

For anybody who enjoys comedic spoofs of politics, I'd recommend several other shows as well. This list would include the following: Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister (a sequel to the first show). It's a delight watching the interplay between the minister (Paul Eddington) and his chief civil servant (Nigel Hawthorne). For a reality-based drama about political machinations, The Plot Against Harold Wilson is certainly worth watching.

Root Into Europe, a mini-series starring George Cole, is not, strictly speaking, a political comedy or drama, but it would likely appeal to anyone who enjoys any of the above-noted programs. Cole plays Henry Root, and the program follows the travels of Root and his wife throughout various European countries. Henry considers just about any place outside of Great Britain to be barely civilized, and his cynicism is touched with just the right amount of gentleness. Though his views are English-centric, he is really a basically gentle man.

The Thick Of It was a recent series, including several 'specials',  produced in 'mockumentary' style (similar to The Office, in that respect). Starring Chris Langham and Peter Capaldi, it also offered a scathingly cynical view of politics. For example, on the way to make a speech favoring one side of an issue, a minister is informed that the party-line has changed, and he now has to change his speech in accord with the new line. 

This Is David Lander offered six episodes, also in 'mockumentary' style, with Stephen Fry portraying a crusading political reporter. Highly recommended.

Mock The Week is a fun celebrity quiz show about recent politics. The participants are all noted comedians, and host Dara O'Briain's opening monologues are always funny and biting. Five series have already been completed. Also, there's always the classic politics/news sketch show Not The Nine O'Clock News.

Two shows which lean more towards the gentler side of a comedic look at politics, but still very enjoyable and well-written, are My Dad's The Prime Minister and No Job For A Lady (starring Penelope Keith). For an over-the-top view of politics and politicians there's always the classic Rik Mayall's New Statesman. 

Finally, I wouldn't want to forget an excellent show based on fact: Alan Clark Diaries. This six episode series is actually based on the diaries of former minister Alan Clark. 

There's certainly a lot here to whet the comedic appetite of anyone interested in the political scene.

My website can be accessed here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

World of Lee Evans

World of Lee Evans aired in 1995. This was a short series, only four episodes, each about twenty-five minutes. If you've seen Evans either doing standup or in his excellent short-lived sitcom Lee Evans, So What Now!, then you're familiar with how much of his talent lies in physical humor, movement and facial expressions. Still, words are an important part of these performances. On the other hand, the 1995 outing is almost a return to the world of the silent comics: Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd. There's a minimum of dialogue, usually just brief comments. Most of the comedy in these four episodes relies on physical humor, much of it hilarious. It often revolves around misunderstandings and conflicting expectations. The other performers get right into the spirit of things. It's just regrettable that only four episodes were made.

[My website is at:]

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Another Canadian Sitcom

Since my last post, I've come across another Canadian sitcom well worth mentioning: Twitch City. The show revolves around a young man, Curtis, who never leaves his house, seems to spend just about all his waking time watching television, and his interactions with his tenants. The writing is clever, the plots are quirky, and there's no laugh-track. There were two seasons produced, for a total of thirteen episodes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sitcoms from Canada

There are a number of brilliant (imho) television shows from Canada that don't receive the notice or respect they deserve.

First, there's Trailer Park Boys. This show has already produced seven seasons, several specials, and a feature-length movie. The show follows the exploits (usually just the other side of legal) of Ricky, Julian and Bubbles, their extended families and friends. Their nemesis is the trailer-park manager and his strange (to say the least) assistant. The language can get kind of 'raw', but, if you can get past that, the show is hilarious and has already become a cult classic.

Next, I'll mention Made In Canada. This went through five seasons, though the length of each season was widely variable. For example, season one had six episodes, and season five had seventeen episodes. It's in the style of a mock-documentary, with the characters frequently speaking to the viewer. The stories revolve around the life and work of the CEO and top executives of a second-rate Canadian television production company. They have only two reasonably successful syndicated shows and are constantly trying to capitalize on these quality-disasters. If you liked The Office (especially the original series from Great Britain), you'll love Made In Canada.

Finally, I'd recommend a series from Saskatchewan, now in its fifth season: Corner Gas. This gem showcases the eccentric residents of a small, obscure town (village?) called Dog River. The writing is both clever, funny (very!) and seems to genuinely capture the individual personalities of the various residents. Most of the interactions take place in the gas station/convenience store and Ruby's Restaurant.

An additional note: my website can be accessed here.