Category: Comedy

For the last few Tuesdays, we’ve been faced with a dilemma. When the clock strikes ten, do we tune in to Fresh Meat on Channel 4, or Cuckoo on BBC Three? Having spent all year watching and re-watching The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother to the point of over-saturation, it’s a little frustrating that when two genuinely amusing British comedies hit the screens, their programming slots collide.

The return of Fresh Meat heralds a new term at the fictional Manchester Medlock University. There’s a new Dutch housemate, a tiny triangular beard – sorry, soul patch – and boozy-bix has downgraded to meaty-bix, thanks to Howard taking a job in an abattoir. The success and appeal of Fresh Meat undoubtedly lies in the fact that almost anyone who has been to university can identify with at least one of the characters at some point in every episode. JP’s appropriation of biros and mouse mats, for example, could have been scripted by my boyfriend, who once collected seventeen free pens and a wooden spoon at a societies fair.

Competing with the students for screen time is Cuckoo, a new sitcom starring Greg Davies as a middle-class, Lib-Dem Dad whose daughter returns from her gap year with an American ‘spiritual ninja’ called Cuckoo – who she has married and brought home to live with the family. Andy Samberg, of The Lonely Island fame, plays Cuckoo and is a brilliant counter to Greg Davies as Ken. Whether he will save the world by selling baked potatoes remains to be seen, but even the more cringe-worthy scenarios have been more funny than painful and I’ll be happy to watch a second series if it gets re-commissioned.

Of course, it’s not as if the decision of which one to watch on Tuesday at 10pm negates ever seeing the other, as we have the wonders of Virgin Media’s catch up service at our disposal. It just means I have to decide which regular tea-time show gets relegated in Fresh Meat or Cuckoo’s favour: that Big Bang episode I’ve seen three times already or the HIMYM that was originally broadcast two seasons before the episode I watched only yesterday?

The Lure of Wisteria Lane

Susan, Lynette, Bree and Gabrielle: the Desperate Housewives

I saw the first episode of Desperate Housewives completely by accident.  It was a Wednesday evening in January 2005 and there was nothing else decent on TV, so my Mum and I decided to watch the new ‘darkly comedic’ suburban drama on Channel 4.  My 16 year-old self was instantly hooked and shameful as it may be to admit, I’ve not missed a single episode.  The final season started last Sunday on E4 and although I’ve come to expect the ridiculous over these last seven years (has it really been that long?), I must admit that a twist in the episode’s last minute has restored some of my faith that season eight will be action-packed with intrigue, if not with realistic drama.

The Fairview ladies really have seen it all: suicide, a tornado, cancer, divorce, a plane crash, more divorce…there have been some gripping cliff-hangers despite the unlikelihood of these multiple calamities.  It surprises me how genuinely upset I feel that Lynette and Tom, who were the only original couple to still be happily married, are now separating, which is testament to the on-screen chemistry of the cast.  In fact, if the previews are anything to go by, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for any of the relationships I’ve watched develop for so long.  The body of Gaby’s abusive step-father is buried in the woods and weighing heavily over everyone, particularly Susan, who is not even attending Wisteria Lane’s weekly poker game.  Could a desperate need for absolution actually spell the end of the Housewives’ friendship?

I’m not generally one to make predictions, but I have a feeling a few familiar faces might return in this final season.  Could Orson or Zach be responsible for the anonymous note left in Bree’s mailbox?  And did Felicia Tilman definitely die in that car crash we saw coming at the end of season seven?  Hard to say, but as Mary Alice guides us through the ruthless suburban streets one last time, I’m sure secrets will surface that even my years of loyalty to Desperate Housewives haven’t prepared me for.  There aren’t many shows that manage to keep characters human and storylines enticing in spite of what is, to be brutally honest, sheer farce.  So, as long as the doom and gloom are tempered with a few humorous moments along the way and there are at least a couple of happy resolutions, I’ll stay on board for the last stage of the ride.

What with one thing and another – finishing my MA, job hunting and numerous family events – it’s been rather a long time since I blogged.  September was a pretty good month for me telly-wise though, with the BBC kindly broadcasting the Strictly Come Dancing launch show on my 23rd Birthday and Series Two of Downton Abbey starting a week later.  Who Do You Think You Are? returned as my staple 9pm Wednesday night fare in August and I made a couple of new discoveries that completed a very satisfactory weekly TV menu, keeping me entertained as the evenings drew in this month. So, without further metaphors (I really should stop with the food analogies!) here’s a breakdown of my Top Five summer-into-autumn shows…

My Own Route 66 Adventure: Pops

5.     Billy Connolly’s Route 66 

I was drawn to this four-part ITV series for two reasons.  Firstly; it was made by Maverick, where I was lucky enough to have a placement earlier this year.  Secondly; I travelled halfway across America in May, including a short stint on Route 66, so I was fascinated to see what else this iconic road has to offer.  Although Connolly didn’t visit Pops, the only landmark on Route 66 that I went to, the series did provide an insight into both the physical and cultural breadth of the USA.  It’s hard to imagine somebody doing a better job presenting this sort of travelogue than Connolly, hitting the highways on his trike and telling stories about people and places with honesty and humour.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and am now following the programme that’s taken over its Thursday evening slot: Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey.

4.     Who Do You Think  You Are?  

This is one that divides my housemates, some of whom claim  that who your great-great-grandparents were really has no bearing on you.  Whilst there is a degree of logic in this, I  have always seen WDYTYA as a fascinating avenue into history first, a genealogy programme second.  You never know what  era of history might be encountered as the celebrities trace their ancestors.  Larry Lamb’s episode was one of my favourites in this latest series: his mother’s family were travelling showmen, famous for their menagerie of exotic animals, and he actually tracked  down a previously unknown relative in America.   J.K. Rowling’s journey took her to France and Germany, giving an insight into the impact of the Franco-Prussian war on ordinary families.  No two episodes of WDYTYA are ever the same, historically or in the reactions of the celebrity participants.  It may be a little bit of sentimentality that draws me in as well as the history, but regardless of my friends’ opinions I’ll  certainly watch the next series when it reaches our screens. 

The Formidable Grandmother: Maggie Smith

3.     Downton Abbey

It’s all happening at Downton Abbey and the twists and turns this series have seldom brought happy news for the Crawley family.  It’s hardly surprising, given that the Great  War has been dominating the bulk of the storylines, but it would be nice to have some small glimmer of hope for Lady Mary and Matthew or for Mr Bates and Anna in previews of the next week’s episode.  Intriguing as all the relationships are at Downton, whether they’re platonic,  amorous, or crossing class boundaries, the heightened drama seems to be prohibiting even one match between two characters being satisfactorily cemented.  The costumes and setting are exquisite and Maggie Smith is still delivering superb lines as the Dowager Countess, but I’m hoping for more resolutions and less mini cliff-hangers over the coming weeks.

2.     Fresh Meat

Fresh Meat is a  new Channel 4 comedy that follows the escapades of six university students  forced to share a house after missing out on their places in Halls.  The characters and situations are often exaggerated for effect, but nevertheless strike a surprisingly realistic chord about the  ups and downs of moving to a new city and living with strangers.  Its appeal lies in the subtle but astute observations about how Freshers deal with the strains of University life,  creating new identities (who can forget the Pussy Man?) and desperately trying to please and impress new acquaintances, even if it does lead to one night stands with housemates.  The main characters represent a bunch of stereotypes who aren’t actually as stereotypical as they initially seem; from posh lad JP to alternative, don’t- care Vod.   We’ve all got mates who remind us of at least one person in Fresh Meat, or can personally identify with some of the scenarios – even if we wouldn’t admit it!  Each episode leaves me chuckling and it’s no surprise that a second  series has already been commissioned.

Russell and Flavia's Foxtrot, Week 3

 1.      Strictly Come Dancing

Admittedly something of a guilty pleasure, but I’m an avid Strictly fan, including tuning in for It Takes Two most week nights.  Sometimes I think it would be worth becoming famous just for the slight chance that I could be asked to take part in Strictly.  Not for the hair and make-up, but just for the opportunity to learn to dance with a professional like James (hint hint!) or Vincent, who’s certainly the best match for me height-wise…Dreaming aside though, I love watching Strictly because it’s solid entertainment: a visual spectacle, that ‘journey’ element, and plenty of amusing moments.  Yes, it’s sad when somebody leaves undeservedly, like Rory Bremner last weekend, and occasionally the judges go a little OTT, but nobody’s livelihoods are at stake in this competition; it’s really a very positive process.  Indeed, the ballroom bug seems to infect all who take part.  Russell Grant may not be the best dancer to grace the floor, but is truly a joy to behold as he learns each new routine.  I’m slightly apprehensive about seeing what Nancy Dell’Olio and Anton present this Saturday in the Halloween Special, but I wouldn’t miss it for anything.  Besides, it wouldn’t be so fun to watch if I couldn’t voice my own criticisms about dresses and routines.  My favourite to win? It’s early days yet, so perhaps I’ll save that for my next blog…

The End of an Era for E4

Just over an hour ago I sat in front of the TV and watched Friends for the very last time on E4.  It’s the end of an era, as Channel 4 has held the broadcasting rights to the sitcom ever since it first aired to the British public in the mid 1990s.  Although it’s common knowledge that Rachel got off the plane and Monica and Chandler had twins, it’s still strange to think that Friends won’t automatically be that easy tea-time viewing choice any more.

Part of me wonders why I’m bothered; after all, I do own the DVD box set.  Maybe it’s because from now on I’ll probably only watch it on my own, instead of three or four of us congregating round the telly and pre-empting the one-liners. At the end of second year, my ex-housemate and I decided that we would watch, in order, all 236 episodes of Friends.  By the end of our degrees we’d made it to the end of Season 5, but then he went to China to coach tennis, thus Season 6 remains the only box in my set that’s still in its protective cellophane.  I’ve dipped in and out of episodes on E4 and gradually made my way through the later seasons on DVD, but I’ve yet to watch Season 6 in its entirety.  It would seem a shame not to complete the Friends quest, albeit alone, so perhaps in a month or two I’ll unwrap that last box.

You see, familiar as the jokes are, I’ll miss chuckling at Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey on a regular basis.  Friends has had a huge impact on popular culture, birthing catchphrases, coffee shops and even haircuts, but ultimately it’s great, light-hearted entertainment
with six memorable characters.   Why say goodbye to that?

The other morning the radio gently announced something about the Horrible Histories cast performing at the Proms.  In my semi-dreaming state I thought I might’ve imagined it, but a quick Google search (once I was more alert) confirmed that there will, in fact, be a performance of several musical numbers from the TV series at the Royal Albert Hall this afternoon.

Some of History's Most Horrible Characters

Like many people my age, I grew up reading Terry Deary’s Horrible History books.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when a friend recommended the CBBC series last year, but found I genuinely enjoyed the sketches and musical numbers that have been created for television, using Deary’s work as a basis.  What’s not to like about Spartans breaking into song and dance High School Musical style?  Kids love guts and gore and there’s plenty of that to be found in the past, so perhaps it’s not surprising that there have already been three series of Horrible Histories.  However, it’s not every day that a show written for children, albeit by adult comedy writers, gets its  best sketches showcased in six Sunday evening slots on BBC1, presented by Stephen Fry.

Horrible Histories takes to the Stage

Indeed, it seems that Horrible Histories has become something of a phenomenon.  A few weeks ago myself and five fellow  history graduates went to see it on stage, at the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham.  We were definitely the oldest people there  (who weren’t chaperoning our own offspring anyway!) but although it was clearly geared at a younger audience, we all came out satisfied that our £12 tickets had been well worth the money.  The Ruthless Roman Army captured a Celt and took her to Rome, educating her about the brilliant and disgusting aspects of their culture along the way.  A highlight of the first half was the How To Look Good Roman sketch, in which fashion tips were given to our Celtic “girlfriend” with true Gok Wan panache.  During the interval everybody was given “bogglevision” glasses and there were shrieks throughout the theatre as 3D spears, floating heads and even a crocodile seemingly made their way towards the audience throughout the second half.  Of course, everything was eventually resolved with a little help from Boudicca’s ghost and the Romans fled, never to attack the Celt’s farm again.

As well as its transition to the stage, it’s rumoured that some of the Horrible Histories songs will soon be available on iTunes.  The accompanying CBBC website is also definitely worth a look in, if only for the interactive Terrible Treasures game, where you explore four different periods of history before taking the Time Sewer Challenge.  The whole Horrible Histories brand has become a full package of subtly educational entertainment, appealing to an older audience as well thanks to the comedic skill of the writing team.  The next stop is the Royal Albert Hall, Series 4 is on the way and as far as I can see, the only way is up for this show and the retelling of more gruesome delights from history.