Forget the Queen’s birthday. It’s National Tea Day, an occasion to celebrate a hot beverage that inspires very strong feelings across the United Kingdom!
You may recall that last summer I wrote a glowing post about the debut series of the BBC sitcom Detectorists. I touted this mature, gentle BAFTA-award winning show for its appealing characters and smart writing. Triple threat (writer, director and actor) Mackenzie Crook and his co-star Toby Jones brilliantly portray Andy and Lance, two ordinary guys who share their love of metal detecting and quiz shows and, on occasion, provide advice and emotional support to one another. This is quite probably as close to a bromance as two English blokes can ever get.
I was thrilled to hear another series had been ordered and was set to be broadcast in the UK in the autumn of 2015. Finally this week, Acorn TV made the entire second series available to its streaming service subscribers here in the US. And let me tell you, if you loved the series one you will not be disappointed as you reacquaint yourself with the members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club.
Without giving too much away, I can tell you Andy’s life has changed quite a bit. He and his girlfriend Becky (Rachel Stirling) have gotten married and now have a three month old cherubic son named Stanley. Becky has continued to work as a teacher while Andy, who has finally earned his archaeology qualifications, has become a default stay-at-home dad. However, Becky is itching to leave her boring job and petty co-workers behind and take her young family on an long planned adventure. Unfortunately, Andy seems to have settled into their comfortable domestic life a bit too well.
In other news, Andy and the other detectorists are concerned about Lance as he has been quite solitary and secretive since his ex-wife Maggie left town. Lance’s friends suggest he try out some on-line dating sites, but he has something much more pressing going on in his personal life that he obviously wants to keep to himself.
The DMDC also gains a new member named Peter (Daniel Donskoy). The young German man enlists their expertise in finding his grandfather’s final resting place – a WWII warplane crash site – with special help and attention from ancient history student Sophie (Aimee-Ffion Edwards).
The Antiquitsearchers aka Simon and Garfunkel (Paul Casar and Simon Farnby) are back with a new name and are up to no good as usual. Russell (Pearce Quigley) and Hugh (Divian Ladwa) have started up a jewelry retrieval service while club president Terry (Gerard Horan) balances his two passions – metal detecting and his eccentric but sweet wife Sheila (Sophie Thompson).
I found that plenty of amusing situations, human stories and just the right amount of heartfelt moments make this follow-up series a delight. However, I have to admit my favorite part of the show is when Andy and Lance are out alone in the fields searching for important artifacts when they inevitably come upon modern litter instead – ring pulls, combine harvester parts and can slaw (mangled aluminum cans).
I loot I live for though is the British pop culture trinkets the pair tends to find every few episodes. It’s getting more and more difficult for me to come across references I don’t know on telly these days. I virtually squeal with delight as I Google away, trying to find out why Lance and Andy’s discoveries are funny.
For example, Lance unearths a promising piece of Roman jewelry or so he thinks…
Status Quo is a classic British boogie/psychedelic rock band that formed in the 60’s and still exists today. They had next to no presence on the American record charts; however, if you watched the Live Aid concert in 1985 you may remember Status Quo as the band that opened the epic sixteen hour televised event with their hit song, ‘Rockin’ All Over the World.’
And here is a selection of the band’s pins and brooches from a posting on eBay. Perhaps Lance found one of these!
Another example of Lance’s spoils from this series is a Blankety Blank chequebook (without it’s obligatory pen).
Blankety Blank was a TV game show equivalent to our Match Game in the States. Celebrity panelists would be read a sentence by the host with a word or phrase left out. The panelists would fill in the blank and two contestants would compete to see how many of the celebrities answers they could match. The one with the most matches at the end of the show won and the loser apparently received the lovely consolation prize above.
Finally we come to Andy’s only significant find of the series – a Tufty Club Badge!
I take it that Tufty the squirrel was the mascot for a preschool traffic safety campaign. (Like we had Woodsy the Owl – “Give a hoot! Don’t pollute!”) At its peak, there were over 24,000 Tufty clubs sponsored by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
Learning the story behind Tufty puts this scene from Life on Mars into context and makes it so much funnier.
The point is Detectorists can be enjoyed on many levels. You don’t have to know who Jimmy Savile was or why Andy finding a “Jim Fixed It For Me” pendant in the last series made him throw it as far from himself as possible. (Google it and you’ll find out why that was an edgy gag.) You can just relax and enjoy the friendships, the quirkiness, and the Simon and Garfunkel banter and let the other stuff float past if you wish. And when you’re done, you can try out your own little gold dance right in the middle of your living room.
Think the only path to getting a TV show produced is by slaving over scripts and suffering through countless re-writes and rejections? Perhaps all you need is a really clever Twitter feed. Such was the case for tech magazine editor Rob Temple. Back around Christmastime 2012, he started a Twitter account by the handle @SoVeryBritish. He basically crafted humorous observations (in 140 characters or less) about the British population’s constant state of embarrassment and social awkwardness. This is one of his more recent gems.
Within six months, Temple had a lot of followers (the feed currently has 1.27 million) and a book deal. I received my copy of Very British Problems: Making Life Awkward for Ourselves, One Rainy Day at a Time as a Christmas gift two years ago.
Besides the obvious compilation of archived tweets organized into chapters such as “Rules of the Road” and “Public Speaking”, there are also longer sections. Historical and future British problems are included as well as a test you can take to see if you in fact “suffer from severe undiagnosed Britishness”. I took the online quiz and this was my result!
Well done! You are very British!
You should feel proud and then immediately feel ashamed of that pride. While you are not at ‘National Treasure’ levels yet, like Mary Berry or Sue Pollard, you will get there eventually unless some ungodly scandal is unearthed. But you do need to be careful. Keep those non-British characteristics under control. Whatever you do, don’t spend your time at a music festival having fun and listening to music, but instead frown at the poor queueing abilities of the people around you.
So after the success of a novelty book and an on-line clothing store where is there to go but turning it into a Channel 4 TV program?
You may be wondering how a book of tweets could be adapted for television. It’s rather clever actually. The always entertaining Julie Walters (Mrs. Weasley to the Harry Potter generation) is our guide/narrator through the many twists and turns of VBP’s (as she calls them). In that now familiar talking head style, a host of British comedians and other celebrities including James Cordon, Ruth Jones and Stephen Mangan share examples of how they have grappled with the peculiar mannerisms of their homeland. For example:
Being genetically incapable of saying what we mean
Very British Problems is comprised of three episodes which touch on the following areas. The almost impossible task of talking or interacting with other people. Difficulties encountered when Brits find themselves out and about (at work, shopping or on holiday). And finally how our friends across the pond deal with all those uncomfortable feelings and emotions. The third installment is probably the one that rung most true for me especially when they started expounding on the agony of singing or dancing in public; a very real issue for me. Just that whole concept of joining in rubs me, and apparently the British as well, the wrong way. And don’t get me started on being instructed by friendly but insincere store clerks to “have a nice day.”
Viewers in the US can soon watch this amusing sociological study on Acorn TV. All three episodes begin streaming on Monday, March 28. Whether it makes you shake your head in disbelief or nod in agreement and recognition, it’s an entertaining piece of self-deprecating British humor that had it’s beginnings in a social media phenomenon.
The only question I have is if Brits, as a nation, are all such rule followers, who are they tutting at, eh?
Before I get started with my story, I should probably make sure everyone knows who Noel Fielding is. After all, almost every time I mentioned I was going to see this show, most people had no face to go with the name. If the person I was talking to was a British TV comedy fan they might know Mr. Fielding played Richmond the Goth on The IT Crowd. Or if they were in my children’s age range, I could ask them if they know who Old Gregg is.
If not, I was pretty much at a loss to explain who this English celebrity is because if my American friends don’t know the Boosh or Richmond, they’re never going to have come into contact with him on Never Mind the Buzzcocks or the Big Fat Quizzes of the Year.
I can only describe Noel as a Renaissance man; stand-up comedian, actor, visual artist, frequent panelist on comedy quiz shows, and dabbler in music (particularly the crimp style). This talent, however, is beyond explanation. Channeler of Kate Bush perhaps?
Anyhow, you get the idea. So there I was, just arrived in Boston from Cleveland to experience Noel Fielding live with my son and co-conspirator in slightly deranged British comedy. We Ubered into the theater district on a rainy evening and pulled up in front of the Wilbur with a few hours to kill. We loitered across the street at the Rock Bottom brewery nursing our Roy Rodgers and lemonade until we could get in to the show.
Once inside we found our seats with the aid of a justifiably confused usher. I ask you; post it notes on cheap restaurant chairs and seats from row 13 and 14 located right next to each other. Nevertheless, I was pleased at how close we were to the stage and was reassured that not everyone in attendance was dressed as a Noel Fielding creation though there were plenty of those as well. Including someone who looked a bit like this…
The point was we were all together, the flamboyant and the quiet Noel lovers, all eager to witness whatever hilarious weirdness he was about to throw at us.
And on that account Fielding didn’t disappoint. He made his entrance in this sparkly ensemble:
He quickly shed the cape and headdress and got down to business with a good forty-five minute stand-up set in which he bemoaned the descent into his 40’s, explained what “chavs”are and regaled the audience with a bizarre dream he had about being an herbal tea bag.
For those of us who arrived at the appointed time, we could delight in our host’s playful scolding of latecomers, giving one couple an in-depth recap of what they’d missed so far.
Being the first audience of this North American tour, we got to be Fielding’s guinea pig in some respects. Very considerately he had thought to translate certain terms and brands from British to American. Examples were the cheeses Dairylea and Laughing Cow and modelling clay brands Plasticine and Play-doh (which aren’t exactly the same but close enough).
The rest of the show featured Noel’s brother Michael as Hawkeye (a half bird half man creature that somehow has something to do with tennis umpiring) and Noel’s cheating wife. We got “treated” to a glimpse of his bum as well. American actor and frequent Mighty Boosh co-star Rich Fulcher played a multitude of characters including Antonio Banderas, a clueless harlequin and a triangle. That last one is just too convoluted to explain. For me Mr. Fulcher is fine in small doses but the crowd really seemed pleased every time he stepped on stage.
The cast interacted with Fielding’s famous animated moon and a menacing Plasticine Joey Ramone.
One of my favorite parts of the whole show was when Noel waded into the crowd followed by a camera (I can’t tell you why) and interviewed members of the audience. In fact, he stopped to talk to the couple seated in the row directly in front of us. Alas we didn’t get to tell him about our city of origin, interesting jobs in the library world, nor that we were in fact mother and son. For my dear boy it was a close call; for me a case of so close yet so far.
I have a new appreciation for Noel’s improv skills and rapport with the fans which you don’t get to see from his more structured TV appearances. He seemed surprised and chuffed that anyone in America knew who he was let alone a sold-out crowd in Boston. If he’s coming to a city near you and you’re game for some avante-garde comedy, I’d highly recommend taking in the show.
It was all that I could have hoped for and well worth the over 600 mile journey. In the end I didn’t even seek Noel out at the stage door to see if a selfie or autograph was possible (and as you may have gathered, I’m a shameless fan girl). Why ruin my perfect evening or mar the impression of a person I’ve found fascinating since early in my British comedy awakening? I was right about him all along. That’s all I need to know.
I’m back once more with a pair of offerings from the American online streaming service with (almost exclusively) British content, Acorn TV. Both are cop dramas. In one, the dialogue was improvised and was shot in documentary style; the other starred the mini-series biopic queen, Sheridan Smith. I found one much more enjoyable than the other. Let’s see if you can guess which is which!
Suspects (Series 1 & 2 available on Acorn TV beginning Mon., Feb. 22)
Set in East London, the series follows the team of DS Jack Weston (Damien Molony), DC Charlie Steele (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and their guv, if you will, DI Martha Bellamy (Fay Ripley) as they investigate various serious crimes including murder, child abuse and sexual assault. The focus of this show is on the cases; we learn very little about the personal lives of our officers or about politics within the station.
I was interested in watching this because I read that the episodes were unscripted. I thought this a brave choice for a drama since you usually only find this level of improv in comedies…and Mike Leigh films. I had access to the first series and watched all five episodes with a bit of effort.
I have to say I was a rather disappointed in this experiment because I think the actors, Fay Ripley in particular, would have benefited from having actual lines to speak. Perhaps it’s because I know her more as a comedic actress, but all I could think when watching her scenes is “Hey, there’s Jenny from Cold Feet (or any number of other sitcom roles she’s played over the years) trying to convince us she’s a actual police officer. Damien Moloney lacked the very appealing charisma he displayed as Hal in Being Human and, as I am not as familiar with Ms. Ashitey, she could have been the most believable character had she not had this habit of repeating quite a lot of already stated facts almost verbatim. She was quite good in Doctor Foster though.
Truth be told, I found the people playing the witnesses, victims and suspects gave the most realistic performances probably due to the fact they had the most emotional parts to play.
Suspects has produced four series thus far (two a year) for Channel 5. The fact that I had never heard of this British network might have been a clue to the quality of the project. From their Wikipedia entry I would say this channel concentrates on reality/factual programs and American imports so good on them for trying something of this magnitude. To be fair, the show could conceivably have improved in subsequent seasons that I didn’t get the chance to see. It’s not the worst police procedural I’ve ever seen, but there are others that are far better.
Black Work (3 part mini-series already streaming on Acorn TV)
Now this ITV production was a much more engaging drama and is very intricately tied up in the personal lives of a number of Greater Yorkshire police officers. PC Jo Gillespie’s (Sheridan Smith) world is turned upside down when her husband, undercover officer Ryan (Kenny Doughty), is killed under suspicious circumstances. Thinking her husband had been away much of the time training new CID officers, Jo learns he was actually deep undercover. She does what she can to hold her family together but she’s obsessed with discovering who killed Ryan, if only to find out who he really was.
This story is apparently very loosely based on a real case of a detective going so covert that he took on a second, secret life. As I mentioned before, this genre is Ms. Smith’s milieu and she’s quite watchable as the bewildered yet determined wife trying to get to the root of the betrayal perpetrated upon her by her husband and her police family. The cast over all was strong especially Matthew McNulty as fellow police officer and “friend” Jack Clark, Geraldine James as the pragmatic Chief Constable Carolyn Jarecki and Phil Davis as the mysteriously threatening Tom Piper.
Black Work’s biggest strength is its seemingly unending series of twists. The tension mounts for the audience as each startling bit of evidence is revealed. Some may say the number of curves that are thrown Jo’s way is unrealistic, but I think it helps emphasize her sense of complete distrust and, quite frankly, justified paranoia.
Also the story is set in Leeds and I do favor a Northern accent.
Understandably those who make police dramas have to be on the lookout for new and interesting ways to build stories. In my estimation, Suspects creators (who happen to be primarily soap opera writers) took an admirable risk, but failed to deliver. Black Work, penned by Bridge of Spies writer Matt Charman, may have gone the more traditional storytelling route but came out with a more compelling tale to tell. But as Reading Rainbow’s LaVar Burton says, “You don’t have to take my word for it…” Check both of these series out for yourself on Acorn TV.
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.
Now you decide. Take our poll and have your Valentine’s Day say!