Monday, 20 October 2008

Bye bye for a bit

I am off to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Santa Monica for two weeks or so, hence no postings on here. Excited to be in the States in the run-up to the presidential election, as well as having a much-needed break in t'sun.

Yay that.

I'll watch some random television there too, like always, and report back at some point.


Thursday, 16 October 2008

I watched the rest of that Peter Kay thing...

... and it was even worse than the first hour. All the same criticisms - lack of satire, lack of jokes, lack of editing... contrasting massively with overabundance of money. Woolly and all over the place. The mock ITV1 end credits and odd trailers for other pretend reality shows with long names were strange to see on C4, almost childish in attitude as they didn't even mention C4's esteemed competition... even if they raised the odd smile to a tv insider ("on this time next week - except Border and Grampian")

And to see Kay's 'Geraldine' mime the winner's song (oh-so-hilariously called 'The Winner's Song') for three long minutes... and then the other lot sing their perky-ed up version for another mind-numbing three minutes... yawnarama.

If I had been producing this - yes, yes, I know, not likely as I believe the exec producer was the same as the star and the main writer (ahem) - then I'd have done a Larry Sanders-style split between the infront of camera stuff and behind-the-scenes' wrangling. All those minor celebs that appeared in clips etc., lots of fun to be had there for a start. OK, I don't think Cat, Nikki, Foxy and, er, Watermannie could've acted in it properly - as they certainly couldn't in the bits where they had to act in what was broadcast, but we could've seen Mr Kay doing different characters, as in Phoenix Nights, and had a bit of fun with the format even if it risked being too tv-insiderish. Although this is C4, they are allowed to be a bit edgy, aren't they? Isn't that what they're for?

The thing is that this show will be regarded as A Huge Triumph for the channel as it rated incredibly well. Good in a way - original UK comedy does well for the channel in difficult times, it means they'll hopefully invest more in original UK comedy - but I have to say this was the worst thing I've seen for ages. And that includes the new sitcom on BBC Three written by someone who is seventeen or something.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Spoofs.. or is the plural spooves?

The Peter Kay X Factor spoof did incredibly well last night - 6.1m viewers on C4? Superb numbers there. And as a big fan of Mr Kay (more in the consistently funny sitcom Phoenix Nights than his nice-but-trad stand-up act) I was waiting with baited breath for it.

OK, so I haven't seen the last hour yet - and I will watch it, I promise - but the first hour was one of the biggest disappointments of the year for me.

I thought it couldn't fail. One of Britain's top comedians writing and appearing in it, what certainly looked like a vast, huge, enormous budget, an obvious target to take the piss out of, and a stunt schedule just like proper reality shows - well, it's an easy winner.

Except they forgot to put any jokes in. OK, that's not 100% fair - there were a few jokes. The name for one. A vaguely funny thing on paper even if it grated when lovely Cat Deeley said it for the tenth time.

Ah yes, the casting. Again, on paper, proper reality presenter (Cat!) alongside real judges (Pete! Foxy! That woman off of Pop Idol!) - very funny, so accurate, spot on. Errr, no. They can't act. Waterman pretending to flirt with Kay's character was just horrible. Not in the comedy-of-creepiness way that was intended but in the just-bloody-awful no ability to act or carry it off way.

The little boy's gran died when he told her he'd been kicked out, so they put him back in. Hohoho. That one gag stretched over ten long minutes. The songs were another flaw - they were just songs really, not much comedy there. Mimed too - tsk, no reality show would put up with that.

The group 2 Up 2 Down with two ladies in wheelchairs - chortle-tastic! Well, a bit - again I think of Phoenix Nights here - but it simply wasn't that good. When the ladies flew out of their chairs as superheroes on wires I simply sighed.

And then Kay turns up - finally, after 40 minutes without him! - and woe betide my splitting sides but he's (a) a lady; and (b) transgender. Well I never. Now Kay is a great comic actor and he lit the screen up with charisma and timing and even some one-liners (unlike anyone else) but again him being a ladyman is one joke not a third of a show.

The whole thing looked almost perfect - if a bit cheaper than the real thing, which isn't a surprise as X Factor is a stunningly well-made studio show that drips of money.

My main beef (in amongst all the other beefettes above) was this didn't even try to be satirical or cutting. It was simply too close to the real thing to be a spoof. No-one would be shocked if an X Factor contestant turned out to have had a sex change, or a group had people in wheelchairs in it, or a small boy dedicating things to his gran. Kay didn't go far enough - a good spoof, for example, was The Day Today, taking news tv to it's supremely twisted conclusion (even if nowadays the real news is far more extreme than the Currency Arse or the Mile High Traffic Pod).

This was nice and gentle and, to be frank, if you switched on without knowing you'd simply think it was a genuine X Factor rip-off, yawn, and hop somewhere else. Too soft, almost as if it was in awe of the subject matter, instead of knowing and cruel and sticking the boot in.

I'll update this soon if the last hour was a work of genius but it's still an hour of my life I won't get back. At least the next hour I spent in the company of Lord Stephen of Fry, and his American adventure show wasn't exactly stunningly original or clever, but at least he's so lovely and jolly and trulu erudite company. Perfect for a Sunday night. I simply couldn't face more of "Doctor" Fox or Pete Waterman or Nikki Thingi.

The only bit I properly laughed at was one of the msucal montages going from 'Free Nelson Mandela' to 'Um-ber-ella ella ella'. That probably says much about my comedic taste (ie I've got none) but there you go.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Comedy, gays and a QIHBAFSR. Ahem.

Well I watched esipode 2 of Beautiful People last night and laughed quite a lot. Any show with a musical montage from Annie, Joseph and, er, another one (musicals aren't my area of expertise) has to be good.

Some sparky one-liners and a general positive-funny-happy feeling made it a pleasant half-hour. A typical British show about a camp kid and his even camper friend singing 'I'm A Barbie Girl' together in a school talent contest would've been full of bullying, homophobia and - even in a comedy - some bleakness. This was just, well, faaaabulous.

Great performances by the young actors again too. OK, I didn't howl at a great setup or roll around to a witty rejoinder (but did laugh loudly at someone mentioning Terry Waite and mum saying "that reminds me, I need to bleed that radiator" - look it up, oh young readers) but for a British gayish BBCish sitcom it was a smashing way to spend 28 minutes.

I still think it'd have been funnier set back in the sixties, and the plot was unconvincing in the extreme ("here's how I broke my nose"... fifteen minutes in, a nose injury... end of show: "actually, I didn't break it properly then, this is how it happened".. clip of nearer present day). I forgive them that as they were spoofing Lorraine Kelly at the time. Extra gay points all round.

Followed by Dame Graham Norton on Beeb2, and we also have E4 currently screening their only good show for a decade Rick and Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple In The World, in the words of The Flintstones theme music, "we'll have a gay ol' time!". TV is in a very slightly gayer-than-usual phases. I should mention the preceding show Buzzcocks with Simon Amstell and a very bemused Stephen Fry keeping the homo banner aloft for a full ninety BBC2 minutes. But I won't, as despite Messrs Fry and Amstell being funny guys, a quiz about music that's been running for 19 series makes me yawn.

Anyhoo, I do love Rick and Steve, it's offensive to everyone everywhere, be they gay, lesbian, dying of Aids in a wheelchair, addicted to drugs or, in the occasional minor character, straight. When the young guy who goes out with Aids Crippled Man (hey, it's how he describes himself - don't blame me) travels from the gay area (all rainbow flags, happy shoppers, gyms and flower shops) to the straight area (totally grey with shops marked "LIQUIDS" or "SOLIDS") it really made me giggle.

On the other hand it's six episodes in entirety and that'll probably be enough.

I know I said I'd watch that ITV2 thing with crap superheroes in it but I haven't managed to yet. Apparently there was A Special Effect in last night's episode. I will try, oh blogosphere, I will.

And to finish: Questions I Have Been Asked For Some Reason.

Q(IHBAFSR) 9th October 2008: "Is the current economic crisis affecting TV now?"

A: "Yes, sort of."
I won't leave it there - commissioners are looking to the future and what money that can spend, and cutting back. Lots have fixed budgets from a while back, and a level of discretionary spend for anything they really rate. I suspect their bosses will tell them they can't have that extra money from now on.

Things will bite for the commercial networks when the decline in ad income (5% for C4, up to 20% for ITV1, somewhere inbetween for most channels) hits their revenues over the next year or so.

As ever, if you're a top boutique supplier in any genre (ie Aardman in animation), a big company spread across all area (Endemol, All3Media), or a fleet-of-foot small company with a low cost base, you're less likely to suffer than the mid-market, mid-sized companies. In telly that means anyone with a receptionist I s'pose...

Friday, 3 October 2008

New comedy

So I've made the effort to watch some new comedy. And... er, mixed results.

I'll not judge Beautiful People yet as it's just episode one. Well, I'll make some comments now but hold total judgement off until a few more eps have aired. Good compromise?

I just finished reading the original book last week, and very funny and light it is too, if somewhat unstructured and dashing off all over the shop in time and place. The lightness understandably dims a little when covering Aids but otherwise the word 'perky' comes to mind - smiley, lovely and fluffy, no work of genius (unlike, say, a David Sedaris book)

The main thing that stuck in my mind was Simon Doonan's tale of growing up as a fey, gay, hip-hip-hooray kid in the sixties. It was very evocative of that era, and surprisingly upbeat for this kind of subject matter. Very few beatings, bleatings or suicide attempts for example.

And what have they done with the sitcom of it? Only just gone and scrapped all that, setting it in 1997 and having a young Simon (as opposed to his fiftysomething real self) in glam Noo Yorak, with a floppy haired teen back when Blair was just being elected.

Errr, right. This means they can put in, for example, a black camp friend instead of his white one. And make one of the many odd aunties he had Asian - so far, so PC. And, yes, I know it's to make it more modern/relevant blah blah blah.

But the story simply didn't ring true any more. Who made wine from potatoes in 1997? A daytrip on the bus to Slough was an adventure - really? Maybe in 1967 but not 1997. Gay kids weren't so hidden in the 90s compared to the 60s, true, but what made the book so cool was that there was this obviously, totally, utterly gay kid back in the 60s in a suburban environment, and here is a mainly upbeat and positive story of his life.

When Things Can Only Get Better started up I sighed. I didn't laugh much at anything much, to be frank. But to be positive, it was all very nicely shot and everyone seemed to be having a nice time as they made it.

Anyway, it's early days - it's got a great cast (the two young kids are fantastic, as is Mum), the premise is still interesting and in three series' time no-one will remember the book. Or something.

The next thing I watched was The Wrong Door, BBC Three's CG-heavy sketch show. I've seem them all (I think - BBC Three is very naughty when it comes to labelling repeats as new episodes so my Tivo gets huffy with them and doesn't record things at all sometimes).

I really enjoyed episode one but by this one (episode 5?) I think it's just all got a bit stale. Initally, seeing realistic-looking planes flap their wings was new and exciting, and CG monsters stamping London to bits looking for their keys was different. But seeing them yet again is... well, just not surprising any more. Ditto with a flock of buses migrating - they did it with scooters last week. Yawn. It proves how hard it is to get these repeated sketches right.

It's also weird to see the non-CG sketches - you just wait for something special-effecty to happen and it never does. And some of them just go on far too long. Last week's train pirates is one case (although Brian Blessed hammed away even more than usual, wonderful), and this week had a very poor James-Bond-but-a-clown series that I'd have thought a script editor would've crossed out at the ideas' stage. Oh look, it's 007 - but he's got a big red nose! Hahahah! And M is in a big top. Hohoho! And the gadgets are clown-themed! Heeheehee!

And then two series of sketches (the running ninja academy one and, oddly, last week's train pirate one that didn't feature at all this week) melded with the James Bond clown one in some grand plot amalgamation.

Well, they were setting it up as such when I got bored and skipped to the next show on the Tivo, which was Family Guy. It may have none of the sophistication of The Simpsons and little of the jaw-dropping shock of South Park (their spoof of FG is superb, check it out) but it's still got more gags in it than an enitre series of most British sitcoms.

Next week I promise to watch that superhero sitcom off of ITV2. If I can find where that is - it's not exactly my first call for viewing pleasure, seeming to consist entirely of X Factor spin-offs, that Celebair thing and endless shows with Peter Andre and Jordan in 'em.