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It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to hearts and flowers and bloggers try to find a new angle on the Valentine’s Day post. Looking back I have explored telly couples who were obviously destined for one another and, on the flip side, other pairings that probably weren’t a very good idea. This year I’m examining that tried and true plot device, the love triangle, in which one character has to choose between two (and sometimes more) suitors. I’ve compiled five examples of this exhilarating yet often heartbreaking scenario and at the end I’m going to ask you to vote for the trio who you felt did it best.

Miranda, Gary and Mike from Miranda

Once the poster girl for lonely hearts, now Miranda’s facing an embarrassment of riches (or proposals, as it were)!

 

Ross, Elizabeth and Demelza from Poldark

This is what happens when everyone thinks you’ve died in a far off war and it’s best for your betrothed to just move on. And then you meet a fire-haired street urchin…

 

Amy, Rory and The Doctor from Doctor Who

Miss Pond has carried a torch for the Doctor since they met (as adults anyway). Despite the fact that she married Rory, it takes some time for her husband to believe she prefers him over the fascinating Time Lord.

 

Assumpta, Leo and Peter from Ballykissangel 

What to do when you fall for a priest? Get married to an old school beau, that’s what.

 

Gillian, Robbie and John from Last Tango in Halifax

Considering Gillian’s track record with men, you could argue this one is a love square or perhaps even a pentagon. But since Robbie and John are her only age appropriate suitors, I feel I this qualifies as a three-sided love affair.

image credit Courtesy of Ben Blackall/© Anthony and Cleopatra Series Ltd

image credit Courtesy of Ben Blackall/© Anthony and Cleopatra Series Ltd

 

Now you decide. Take our poll and have your Valentine’s Day say!

 

 

 

 

When I read that Channel 4’s The IT Crowd debuted ten years ago this week, I thought, “Great! This will be a fun and easy topic to write about.” As a dedicated fan of this slightly surreal, smart and sometimes slapsticky sitcom, I wouldn’t need to do any research. In fact, I could talk about Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson), Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade) and Roy Trenneman (Chris O’Dowd), the staffers of Reynholm Industries’ subterranean IT department, ad nauseam. Easy peasy, right?

Not at all! Counting this version you are reading on your screen, I have started this post over four times. I thought of highlighting each character, choosing my favorite episodes out of the show’s four series run or focusing or what I felt was the strongest of the lot which for me would be series three. Series four was the weakest in my opinion. I had too much to say and no original thoughts on how to organize them.

My Chris O'Dowd autographed copy of The IT Crowd Series 3

My Chris O’Dowd autographed copy of The IT Crowd Series 3

One problem I tend to have with any post is finding just the right YouTube clips to illustrate my point. This issue gets magnified when you know the show so well that you spend hours looking for a certain scene only to find the video just isn’t out there.

So in the end, what I decided to do is share ten of my favorite YouTube-accessible IT Crowd moments. I figured if I don’t do it now the moment will have passed and I will have deprived you all of the laughs you desperately deserve this weekend – particularly if you aren’t an American football fan. In fact, think of these clips as alternative viewing – the anti-Superbowl, if you will. Those familiar with the show have to know where I’m heading with this, right?

Are We Not Men? Series 3 Episode 2

Roy and Moss think the key to happiness is knowing how to behave like manly football hooligans. That is until they actually attend a match…

 

Meanwhile in the same episode Jen has to find a way to break up with a new boyfriend. Again.

 

Calamity Jen Series 1 Episode 2

Moss shows his capacity to keep a cool head when an emergency strikes at the office…

 

Italian for Beginners Series 4 Episode 4

And speaking of fires in strange places…

 

50/50 Series 1 Episode 3

Roy has a disastrous date and sets out to prove to Jen that woman only love bastards…

 

The Work Outing Series 2 Episode 1

When Jen allows her co-workers to accompany her to the theatre, she learns that Roy and Moss probably shouldn’t leave the basement. Ever.

 

The Dinner Party Series 2 Episode 4

Despite the experience immediately preceding this one, Jen foolishly invites her employees to a dinner party…

 

Calendar Geeks Series 3 Episode 6

In his never-ending quest to pull one of the pretty women on the 7th floor, Roy agrees to be the official photographer for a charity calendar celebrating “geek chic”…

 

The Speech Series 3 Episode 4

No retrospective of The IT Crowd would be complete without including Reynholm Industries’ culturally ignorant, lecherous but somehow likable CEO Douglas Reynholm (Matt Berry). Here’s an example of how he charms the press…

 

Reynholm vs Reynholm Series 4 Episode 6

And finally I’m killing two birds with one stone by featuring my favorite recurring character Richmond Avenal (Noel Fielding) while also showcasing one of the clever fake promotional clips that were featured on show over the years. This is the return of Richmond (who disappeared after series two) and his new business venture.

 

If you enjoyed this stroll down memory lane, please share your favorite moments from the basement and beyond. If you’re new to The IT Crowd and these snippets have made you peckish for more, you can watch all four series on US Netflix or Hulu. Only Hulu offers the one-off special which aired in 2011 and you don’t want to miss that one. Moss learns about the magic powers of women’s slacks!

image credit North One and Channel 4

image credit North One and Channel 4

Move over Michael Palin, Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry and just about any other British celebrity who has presented a travel program. Richard Ayoade’s in town and he’s leaving forty-eight hours after arrival.

Last weekend during Winter Storm Jonas I binge-watched both series of Ayoade’s offbeat tourism program and delighted in every quirky moment.  (In the spirit of honest journalism and full disclosure, the winter storm didn’t really affect my part of the country. However, it was a good excuse to curl up on the couch and obsessively watch something funny as a symbol of solidarity with my less fortunate neighbors.)

The premise of Travel Man is that IT Crowd star and frequent celebrity panel guest Richard Ayoade undertakes the task of making mini-breaks more efficient and less boring. In aid of this he invites a celebrity mate to join him on his journey. I find it comical that a man who suffers from a number of conditions that make traveling unpleasant- sea sickness, vertigo and horse allergies – was given a show like this to present. Travel Man doesn’t shy away from the dark side of holiday making and neither should we.

Once at their destination city, Mr. Ayoade and his companion attempt to cram as many cultural experiences as possible into 48 hours with the ultimate goal being to answer the question “We’re here, but should we have come?”

What sort of cultural experiences you ask? Well, one important aspect of any society is their cuisine. In Vienna, Richard tried Käsekrainer (Austrian cheese sausage). In Paris he sampled snails and a calves’ head casserole. Copenhagen brought its A-game with open-faced sandwiches called smørrebrød (which you must eat from left to right on your plate). But probably the most courageous thing Richard attempted to ingest was this Icelandic delicacy:

While Ayaode doesn’t like everything he tries, he makes up his mind to give it a go without a lot of whinging, a la Karl Pilkington, for example. He also isn’t much of boozer, but he does imbibe at least a few sips of Carlsberg beer, schnapps, Sturm (that’s partially fermented grape juice), vodka at 10 am, and absinthe for God’s sake.

Seeing the city in some way other than a traditional bus tour is a must for our prudent sojourner. Be it mini hot rods, yacht, helicopter, or camel, it’s imperative to get a unique view and avoid a malodorous coach ride whenever possible. Nonetheless, if you can’t keep up with the tour guide, what’s the point?

 

Museums are another essential stop when it comes to travel abroad. From a self-guided street art tour in Paris or a stroll through the artistically lit Cisterns of Copenhagen to Moscow’s cosmonaut museum and collection of Soviet arcade amusements, interactive is the name of the game. Until someone or some thing gets hurt, that is…

 

At the close of a given episode we learn what each guest appreciated most about their holiday. Chris O’Dowd found Vienna clean, nice and he liked the shiny caravan with (almost)enough head room that Richard had booked for him instead of a hotel suite. Noel Fielding immensely enjoyed the midway horse racing game, Gallopen, that they played at the Tivoli Gardens (Walt Disney’s inspiration for his own Disneyland) in Copenhagen and Greg Davies marveled at their evening at the Moscow Cats Theater. However, the champion of answers came from Mel Giedroyc who sweetly claimed the best part of her holiday was hanging out with Richard. Perhaps she was angling for another mini-break in the next series, but I have to say despite my general distaste for the City of Lights, I thought the Paris episode was superior to all others.

 

Every so often the good folks at Acorn TV send me screeners for British TV shows that will soon be available on their streaming subscription service. The most recent DVD I found on my doorstep was a mini-series called Midwinter of the Spirit, a thriller based on a novel by supernatural mystery author Phil Rickman. On the cover I read review quotes from UK papers like “truly spine-tingling” from The Daily Telegraph and “An everyday tale of exorcism, with the ghostbusting turned all the way up to 11” from The Guardian. Everyday exorcism? That made me curious enough to pop the disc in my DVD player and this is what I found…

 

image credit ITV Studios

image credit ITV Studios

 

Set in the bucolic Hereford countryside, we meet vicar Merrily Watkins (Anna Maxwell Martin). To say her that her life is not idyllic is a huge understatement. We quickly learn that she has recently been widowed and rather than bereaved she just seems angry. She’s raising a teenage daughter Jane (Sally Messham) who is missing her dad and, well let’s face it, is sixteen years old. Enough said.

And if Merrily’s personal problems aren’t enough to deal with, she’s been tapped by her encouraging and slightly inappropriate boss, Bishop Mick Hunter (Nicholas Pinnock) to train to be a deliverance minister. A less loaded word than exorcist, but you get the idea. The current holder of this position is Canon Dobbs (David Sterne) and it has been decided that he’s losing his marbles. Or is he?

Unfortunately Merrily’s deliverance tutor Huw Owen (David Threlfall) senses she is fragile and now may not be the best time for her to undertake this type of job. Merrily takes his assessment of her readiness as sexist and shakily accepts the challenge.

On a side note: I still find myself surprised anytime I see Threlfall in something where I can actually understand what he’s saying. Guess all those years as Frank Gallagher on Shameless has conditioned me to expect slurred Mancunian incoherence.

Almost immediately two detectives (one who just so happens to be Kate Dickie aka crazy Lysa Arryn from Game of Thrones) show up on Merrily’s doorstep requesting her assistance in investigating a ritualistic, crucifixion-style murder. She’s literally just finished her exorcism seminar and they’re looking to her to be an expert in these matters?

On the heels of that upsetting discovery, Merrily is called to hospital to give the last rites to a dying man called Denzil Joy (Oengus MacNamara) – not because he requested it, but because the nurses felt a demonic presence penetrate them whenever they were in his room. I guess they thought Merrily could force all that unpleasantness to die with him. Needless to say, Denzil infects the vicar with his poisonous spirit and the stage is set for a clash of good and evil with Merrily’s faith as the battleground.

 

Merrily at Denzil Joy's death bed image credit ITV Studios

Merrily at Denzil Joy’s death bed
image credit ITV Studios

 

Other forces at work against Merrily are Angela Purefoy (Siobhan Finneran) a local medium and a dark mysterious new girl in town called Rowenna (Leila Mimmack). Both women befriend Jane with the intent of turning her against her mother for their own nefarious purposes.

 

Angela Purefoy-her name couldn't be further from her intentions image credit ITV Studios

Angela Purefoy-her name couldn’t be further from her intentions
image credit ITV Studios

 

My impressions of Midwinter of the Spirit are that it’s an absorbing story that is well acted, particularly by Maxwell Martin, Threlfall and Finneran; the first two for their portrayal of modern day people of faith who aspire to do their calling despite spiritually dangerous consequences and the latter for being a proper villainess you just want to hate. She did play the scheming O’Brien on Downton Abbey after all so she’s had plenty of practice.

Being only three episodes long, it’s not really a slow burning story of suspense. However, it still manages a respectable amount of chill and creepiness as we follow Merrily on her hellish journey of feverish delusions and desperation to protect her daughter.

I also learned some things about the Anglican Church including the story of St. Thomas Cantilupe of Hereford and that the fact that ordained C of E staff actually perform exorcisms. The movies always led me to believe that was the domain of the Catholic Church alone.

Anyhow, if this series sounds like your cup of tea and you’d like to check it out in the US, episode one will begin streaming on Acorn TV Mon., Jan. 11. The remaining two installments will be added on consecutive Mondays. If you already watched it when ITV aired it in the UK last autumn, please feel free to share your spoiler-free comments below.

Turner as The Hobbit's Kili image credit New Line Cinema

Turner as The Hobbit’s Kili
image credit New Line Cinema

Before you get the wrong idea from the somewhat misleading title of this post, let me clarify the nature of my rendezvous with the owner of the most talked about abs of 2015. Through no obsession or conscious planning of my own, I found myself, on and around January 1, binging on a lot of Irish actor Aidan Turner’s recent work.

Never mind the fact that my daughter and her boyfriend had been watching The Hobbit trilogy which featured Turner as Kili, the designated heartthrob in a pack of thirteen dwarves. I was already part the way through Poldark: Series 1 on DVD when I discovered the newly broadcast Agatha Christie mystery And Then There Were None was available to stream on Daily Motion. I was on Aidan overload, but there are worse things that can happen on New Year’s Day so I went with it.

If I’m honest, Poldark, a remake of the 1977 post-Revolutionary War period drama, had been a bit of a slog to get through. I’d watch an episode or two, then take a break of up to a week sometimes and then resume with a new sense of resolve. It wasn’t that the Cornish landscape wasn’t breathtaking or that the love story between Turner’s gentleman Ross Poldark and his wild servant girl turned devoted and pure of heart wife, Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson), wasn’t engaging. There was just so much misfortune and so little joy in these characters’ lives, it got to be a chore to watch what would befall them next.

And not all of the bad stuff can be blamed on fate or various societal inequalities of the time period. Yes, Ross has many strengths, among them being a friend to those of lower station, his apparent incorruptibility and his loyalty to his family and all others who can earn his trust. However I couldn’t help thinking that if he had been a bit more amiable to George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) who was obviously eager to be sitting at the “cool table” with Ross and the other Poldarks, he might not have been arrested on a number of serious counts at the cliffhanger conclusion of the series.

In the end I endured the unfair imprisonment of Jim Carter (Alexander Arnold), the downfall of well-meaning but ineffectual Francis Poldark (Kyle Soller who is American by the way), the shunning of cousin Verity (Ruby Bentall) and of course the heartbreaking death of Ross’ baby Julia as a result of the putrid throat epidemic (which turns out is what we now call diphtheria.) And for what? For moments like this one…

 

On the other hand, the three part mini-series And Then There Were None was compelling and practically beckoned me to watch it. In this 2015 adaptation of the Agatha Christie tale about eight strangers and a pair of domestic staff summoned to a secluded island in Devon under false pretenses, Mr. Turner portrayed mercenary Phillip Lombard. When each house guest is accused of a murder, Lombard freely admits to his slaughter of twenty-one East African natives in order to gain access to a haul of diamonds. He is unapologetic, brutally honest and charming which, in the end, does him no good when he finds himself one of the last survivors on this island of revenge and terror.

There are several particularly notable moments for Turner in this series. One is obviously his provocative towel scene. In the story each guest is required to strip down to a robe or towel so the others may search their room for Lombard’s missing revolver. It worked very well for Aidan – for Toby Stephens, not so much.

Vera Claythorn (Maeve Dermody) and Turner in the OMG moment of And Then There Were None image credit BBC

Vera Claythorn (Maeve Dermody) and Turner’s Lombard in the OMG moment of And Then There Were None
image credit BBC

But I also felt he got the best line of the series. When Lombard tells the others he plans to kill their tormentor with a bullet between the eyes, Emily Brent (Miranda Richardson) is repulsed by his vulgarity and asks how he can say such horrible things. Lombard responds with a snear, ” I just open my mouth and it comes out.”

Aidan Turner is definitely on a hot streak and, based on the comments I get at the library from ladies of all ages looking for his work on DVD, he’s getting hotter as we speak. (To those who have discovered him through Poldark, may I recommend Being Human?)

And so there you have it, my first telly experiences of 2016. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead and, of course, to sharing my British TV observations with you. Happy New Year and happy viewing!!!

 

The Wests and Shipmans of Gavin & Stacey celebrate a big dysfunctional Christmas image credit Baby Cow Productions

The Wests and Shipmans of Gavin & Stacey celebrate a big dysfunctional Christmas
image credit Baby Cow Productions

As promised I’m back with a look at the Gavin & Stacey Christmas special from 2008. True to the experience of many, this holiday tale is fraught with familial secrets, disagreements and just plain too much togetherness. It all begins when Stacey’s family and friends from Wales make the trip eastward to Essex in order to spend Christmas with Gavin’s parents and assorted others.

The Yuletide spirit is high and everyone is quite congenial upon arrival. That is until Gavin (Mathew Horne) announces that he has been promoted at work which will mean (at least temporarily) a move from Billericay to Cardiff. While the Wests and company are obviously quite chuffed about the news, Gavin’s mum Pam(Alison Steadman) is distraught at the thought of her only child leaving her and immediately lashes out at her daughter-in-law.

The situation quickly escalates with each side closing ranks. Name calling and insults ensue and, in one unexpected altercation, a punch is thrown by the Shipman’s friend, Pete (Adrian Scarborough). Never fear! Before the sun rises on Boxing Day, hard feelings are smoothed over and the gang is singing ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ along to Mick’s (Larry Lamb) keyboard accompaniment.

Alas peace on earth, goodwill to men can’t solve everyone’s woes, particularly for Smithy (James Corden). On the heels of learning that his best friend is moving way, Dave Coaches’ (Steffan Rhodri) makes a very public proposal to Nessa (Ruth Jones). Despite his ambivalent relationship with Nessa, Smithy asks her to reconsider marrying the man he believes will take his place in his son’s life.

Other highlights of this episode include:

 

Santa Nessa with her dyslexic St. Nick laugh, scamming parents out of two quid and exposing the children to second hand smoke.

credit image Baby Cow Productions

credit image Baby Cow Productions

 

Smithy and Gavin singing a duet of  ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ via mobile phone. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a good quality clip  so you’ll have to settle for a behind-the-scenes look at how they filmed the song instead.

 

Nessa and Dave giving everyone exactly one piece of fun-size candy from a Mars Celebrations chocolate variety tub and waiting to see the reaction of each person to their gift. Stacey’s mum, Gwen (Melanie Walters) got the universally disappointing Bounty which I found amusing since I really like coconut. Apparently coconut is something people either love or deem totally disgusting.

Celebrations

 

 

Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon) and Gwen inviting neighbor Doris (Margaret John) to join them in a Christmas drink and her entertaining, if not a bit incongruous, excuse for forgoing the celebratory tipple.

 

And finally, the lively conversation about the EastEnders special with everyone sharing opinions about characters who died (or should have),implausible plot lines and someone named Frank Butcher who had a fixation on Pat someone. I found this bit particularly good because it highlights the shared television experience as a widespread UK holiday tradition.

Mostly this special makes me feel that these are people I wouldn’t mind spending my Christmas with. I reckon Mick is the best Christmas host ever seeing as he obsesses over the meal, defuses family squabbles with ease and is generally a laid back kind of bloke. Feel free to chime in with your favorite characters and moments from the episode.

Next time we’ll be dropping in on Alan Partridge’s Christmas special where everything that can go wrong will definitely turn out worse than you can possibly imagine. Until then, AH-HA!

Vicar of Dibley's Geraldine and Jim  image credit BBC and Tiger Aspect Productions

Vicar of Dibley’s Geraldine and Jim
image credit BBC and Tiger Aspect Productions

The Christmas season which has been looming at the back of our consciousness for months is now suddenly and insistently in full swing. Christmas songs and adverts are in constant rotation, parties are underway and, while most of my halls are decked (thanks to my husband), we still have yet to finish trimming our tree.

For me the jarring effect of all things jolly and bright has somehow caught me off guard as it always seems to do each year. Therefore, I have concluded that the best way to join in with the spirit of the season is to immerse myself in the hilarious and often heartfelt genre of telly Christmas specials. As always my intention is to share as many as possible with you over the course of the next few weeks.

Let’s begin with an old favorite from 1986, Vicar of Dibley’s ‘The Christmas Lunch Incident.’

As the trailer explains, St. Barnabas’ beloved vicar Geraldine Granger (Dawn French) has been invited to share Christmas lunch at the homes of three different parishioners in very quick succession. After happily accepting the initial invitation from Frank (John Bluthal) and Jim (Trevor Peacock), Geraldine attempts to gently decline the others. However, soothing fragile egos and averting Alice’s threat of suicide end in the vicar agreeing to be the guest of honor at a trio of Christmas repasts.

Some highlights of this episode include:

After suffering a bit of writer’s block, it turns out that an off-the-wall gift of a Spice Girls biography, Zig-a-zig-ah, was the inspiration for Geraldine’s last ditch effort at her Christmas sermon. In her oration, she compared the girl group to Mary – virgins thrust into the public eye at a young age. And as Hugo noted, “Just like the Spice Girls, Jesus wants us to tell Him what we want!”

 

An already stuffed vicar engages in a sprout eating challenge with David (Gary Waldhorn). She does this in order to help Hugo (James Fleet) win this first ever bet against his overly competitive father.

sprouts

Settling a long standing Horton family sprout wager image credit BBC and Tiger Aspect Productions

 

Alice (Emma Chambers) dressed for Christmas dinner in a ballerina ensemble complete with fairy wings.

Christmas Fairy Alice image credit BBC and Tiger Aspect Productions

Christmas Fairy Alice
image credit BBC and Tiger Aspect Productions

 

Two guest appearances stand out; that of Peter Capaldi as Songs of Praise producer Tristan Campbell who shows up at the vicar’s door on Christmas evening with an unexpected proposal. Earlier in the episode, Jim tells a predictable Doctor Who knock- knock joke. Coincidence? I think no, no, no. not.

A possibly less obvious cameo was Mel Giedroyc (of GBBO fame) in one of her earliest TV appearances as Alice’s even battier sister, Mary Tinker. Both sisters have an obvious penchant for festive attire but Mary has apparently confused Christmas with Easter seeing as she chose to wear a bunny jumper to Christmas dinner.

The episode concludes with poor Rev. Granger gastrically uncomfortable and alone until all her village friends arrive at her doorstep to cheer and thank her for how her presence has improved Dibley for the good. Alas she must receive their compliments and thanks from the loo where she plans to be until the New Year.

My only disappointment? The episode didn’t end with Geraldine telling Alice a joke to which the dim verger never gets the punch line. I guess for this special the running Christmas cracker joke, “What do you do when you see a spaceman?” Answer: “Park your car, man” will have to do. I much prefer “How does Good King Wenceslas like his pizzas?” “Deep pan. crisp and even.” Bah-dum-bum-ching!

Next time we’ll explore the joy and stresses of Christmas with the Shipmans and the Wests of Gavin & Stacey. 

 

 

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