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Labor Day weekend is upon us in the States so this week’s Five for Friday list honors hard working British people on the telly. Makes perfect sense to me. I have opted to omit the expected establishments such as The Office’s Werham Hogg Paper Merchants and The IT Crowd’s Reynholm Industries in favor of some possibly lesser known workplaces.

HWD Components employees’ canteen is staffed by a small group of dedicated food service workers (aka dinnerladies). Well, Bren (Victoria Wood) is competent at least. As in any work environment,  there’s a fair amount of gossip and inattention to customers. And yes, that is Last Tango in Halifax‘s Anne Reid struggling with a tricky body shaper.

 

The trained professionals of The Job Lot‘s Brownall Job Centre are committed to finding their clients meaningful employment – in theory anyhow. The centre’s manager Trish (Sarah Hadland) tries to inspire her staff to greatness or at least more respectable performance numbers. However, with a few unenthusiastic workers in the group and a zealous fraud manager in the field, she certainly has her hands full.

 

The NHS hospital wards of King Edwards (and subsequently St. Judes) are the settings for the stressed medical personnel of Getting On. While curing and comforting the sick should obviously be everyone’s goal, the staff sometimes find themselves at cross purposes. Doctors teaching and conducting research and efficiency consultants looking for waste can often be at odds with nurses like Sister Den Flixter (Joanna Scanlan) who’s just trying to care for her patients.

 

Trollied’s Valco Supermarket is a microcosm of personalities and ambitions. Manager Gavin (Jason Watkins) does his best to keep his troops happy and his store running smoothly. From the butchers and naughty bakers to the bored cashiers and thieving stock boy (who happens to be a grown man), Gavin’s biggest challenge is his interim deputy manager Julie (Jane Horrocks) who is simultaneously rude and insecure.

 

Grace Brothers Department Store is the setting of the classic sitcom Are You Being Served?  It takes us back to a more civilized time when co-workers called each other by their surnames, supervisors kept a tight ship and lewd talk was cloaked in innuendo…

 

No matter which side of the pond you’re on, I hope your weekend is work-free and full of laughter.

 

Last week there were reports that both the “historical” comedy Blackadder and the relationship dramedy Cold Feet might be returning to our TV screens. If you’re like me, your original reaction is “Yes, please!” But after thinking about it for a few seconds, I’ve come to believe one must tread carefully when it comes to bringing back a beloved and popular series. Let’s think this through.

First off, before we get all excited, are these entertainment news blurbs mere speculation or is there some concrete support behind bringing these shows back? Just because Sir Tony Robinson (Baldrick) told The Sun tabloid, “I do think a new series of Blackadder is on the cards. I have spoken to virtually all the cast about this now.” What’s that mean anyway? I’ve run into my co-stars and we’ve all agreed it would be fun to get the gang back together?

Tony Robinson as Baldrick image credit BBC

Tony Robinson as Baldrick
image credit BBC

Besides which since this original statement Robinson has back pedaled when he spoke to the Radio Times. “Journalists often ask if there’s going to be another series of Blackadder, and how does anyone know that? That’s up to the people who run channels, and not performers. But when they say that, I guess I have a renewed affection for how we all were in those days. But it was in those days, rather than these days.”

In addition, there’s not been a peep from the BBC or any other network about plans to revive Blackadder, nor any corroborating responses from the other cast members. If Blackadder himself, Rowan Atkinson, or the show’s writers Richard Curtis and Ben Elton had been the ones announcing a probable return, I would give it more credence.

As for the return of Cold Feet an “insider” told the Daily Mail “Cold Feet is coming back, the deal is very nearly done. Filming will begin early next year and the new series will be ready to go by next spring.” Every article I’ve read from the Telegraph, Daily Express and Independent suggest ITV has plans to slide the rebooted show into the coveted Downton Abbey time slot. The only official word I can find from the network, however, is an unnamed spokesperson who says in every article,  “This is speculation as there’s always so much interest in a Cold Feet reunion.”

Cold Feet cast image credit Granada Television

Cold Feet cast
image credit Granada Television

And as far as the cast are concerned, back in January of 2014 Fay Ripley who played Jenny told the Radio Times.  “All the actors have always said we would do it again, but I think that might have changed now. We have all taken a long, cold look in the mirror and we have said it’s just going to be awful. There was a point when we would all do it but now I think we just have to put it to bed.” Done deal?  I’m not so sure. 

The other question is, of course, should these programs be resurrected? There’s always the worry that a new run of a much admired series will not only be rubbish, but could ruin our opinion of the original. Sort of like when I watched the the simulcast of Monty Python’s final performance of their farewell tour. I felt a strange mixture of joy (in seeing my comedy heroes perform some of their most famous sketches) and loss (in knowing my that the last time they did those skits they were septuagenarians who weren’t at their witty, edgy best).

That could be the case with Blackadder since it has gained a cult status of sorts, drawing fans who weren’t even born when the comedy first aired in the 1980’s. If they don’t do this right, it could blemish the fond memories of all of us who quote Blackadder to this day.  Only if they can assemble all the major players, choose the right time period for the series and come up with script with classic gags like this one from Blackadder Goes Forth should this cunning plan go forward.

 

I fear Cold Feet would not fare as well.  There are some series that are a perfect fit for their time, but don’t work in a different decade. A dozen years have passed since Cold Feet went off the air. Dream sequences, the issues of thirty somethings and the honest comedy/tragedy of relationships may well have been the magical formula for a millennial era series.

 

The question is how will today’s TV viewer accustomed to gritty cop shows, satirical mockumentaries complete with talking heads, brilliant yet aloof private detectives and, yes, the sweeping grandeur of landed families and their servants receive a Cold Feet reboot?

I’m not even sure where this dramedy would pick up. In a show about three relationships, one of the main characters died in the final series. The other two couples’ marriages ended in divorce. Under what circumstances would these people come back together? I’m not one to turn down the chance to see James Nesbitt in anything; however, in the end I believe Cold Feet would have to transform into a whole new show to be interesting and relevant. And if that’s the case, why revive it at all?

How do you feel about the possible resuscitation of Blackadder and Cold Feet? Would you like to see the casts reunited or do you believe we should let good shows remain in the past where they can increase in our esteem?

Tuppence (Jessica Raine) and Tommy (David Walliams) Beresford image credit Acorn and Endor Productions

Tuppence and Tommy Beresford, stylish sleuths in 1950’s Britain
image credit Acorn and Endor Productions

I have quite a few series on the go at the moment so it was sort of difficult to narrow down to a favorite this week. However since I happen to be making preparations for Mystery Month at the library where I work, I’ve kind of had Agatha Christie on the brain. (September 15th is the 125th anniversary of the famous mystery author’s birth, just in case you were wondering.) For that reason I have chosen Christie’s lesser known amateur detectives, married couple Tommy and Tuppence Beresford and their new Partners in Crime series as my pick of the week.

Tommy (David Walliams) and Tuppence (Jessica Raine) live in the suburbs with a son George (who is mostly away at boarding school) and a beautiful golden retriever who guards the house and roams the garden. Tommy is a devoted husband and a struggling entrepreneur. Cautious by nature, he’s just never found his niche, career-wise.  Tuppence, on the other hand, thinks fast on her feet and is always ready for an adventure. She pushes Tommy to take chances and together they make a good team.

The pair stumble into the spy game while on a train journey home from France when one of their fellow passengers disappears. Just to make things more interesting, it’s the Cold War era and Tommy’s uncle, Major Carter (James Fleet), happens to be the head of a branch of British Military Intelligence. After discovering that his nephew has already gotten tangled up in the government’s current spy crisis, Carter recruits Tommy and Tuppence to assist him in finding a mysterious Soviet assassin. Despite their lack of intelligence training, they move ahead anyway. The situation proves to be a challenge of Tommy’s fortitude and a source of excitement for his adrenaline junkie wife.

The series is made up of two three-part adaptations from the Christie novels, The Secret Adversary and N or M? As I was watching it, I immediately saw a different formula in these stories than what I have come to expect from the typical Marple or Poirot mystery. Partners in Crime is less a whodunit and more about finding the enemy spies before they can complete their mission. Agents who are killed are just “part of the game” and our hero and heroine find themselves in mortal danger on several occasions.  Also the violence and sordid side of life are more front and center here. Finally, whereas all the suspects know they’re being observed and accessed by Marple or Poirot, Tommy and Tuppence assume identities to do their sleuthing, constantly in danger of having their covers blown.

As far as performances go, I would single out Jessica Raine for her portrayal of the irrepressible Mrs. Beresford. Raine always seems at home in a period piece as if she is of a different age. Her characterization of Tuppence as fearless is believable; an admirable trait in a mother, but in a spy it’s indispensable (and in a Doctor Who companion as well…). I also felt Jessica picked up the slack when her co-star’s dramatic chops were lacking. David Walliams has many talents – sketch comedy, writing children’s books and swimming long distances are just a few. But when forced to tone down his campiness, his performances can go a bit flat and Raine was there always pumping up the energy.

Overall, I found Partners in Crime to be a nice mix of retro charm and suspense. I normally lose interest in traditional slow building spy thrillers, but PIC is faster paced than your normal espionage fare and the marital banter and nostalgic atmosphere help break the tension. There are a few good twists in the Secret Adversary story line, but I never  felt lost in an overly complicated cat and mouse plot. Not having read any of the corresponding novels, I can’t speak to how true they are to Christie’s narratives or characters, but I assume the spirit of the original tales are there.

If you want to check out the Tommy and Tuppence mysteries yourself, it’s just finishing up in the UK; however, episodes begin airing in the US on Acorn TV on September 3 with a new installment added each Thursday through October 1st.

The cast of W1A and the "brilliant" minds who are tasked with saving the Beeb image credit BBC

The cast of W1A – Can these people possibly save British TV?
image credit BBC

This week my Five for Friday list is all about my favorite subject, British television. Or more precisely, telly about telly. From network level bureaucrats to writers and TV news to chat shows, television is a medium that is fully prepared to poke fun at itself. Let’s begin at the highest level first, the people who develop the shows we watch…

In the mockumentary W1A produced by and about the BBC, we find an institution full of jargon, ineffectual management and in a constant state of crisis management.  If the creative minds at the Beeb are anything like these characters, it’s amazing quality programming ever gets produced at all.

In a time when the BBC’s future is in question, was making such a scathingly funny show about itself  merely an exaggerated confession of its ineptitude or a comic stroke of genius?

 

Next we move on to the storytellers, the people who create the concept and write the scripts.

The thing I hate most about successful British TV shows is that they entice greedy American television executives to buy the rights and rework them until every bit of charm or edge that made the original so wonderful has been wrung completely out of it. Take Episodes for example. British husband and wife writing team unknowingly agree to ruin their witty private school sitcom about a intellectual headmaster by transforming it into a mediocre comedy about a hockey coach played by has-been Friends’ star Matt LeBlanc.

As you’re probably already aware, Episodes is actually an American show. This gives me hope that some people in Hollywood see how ridiculous it is to cannibalize good British telly rather than producing something original instead.

 

Drop the Dead Donkey is a 1990’s era sitcom about a TV newsroom. Its editor, George Dent, walks a tightrope between good news practice and pleasing the new owner of the station, a media mogul figure meant to be something like Rupert Murdock. George must also deal with squabbling news anchors, rogue reporters in the field and the conscience always peering over his shoulder, his assistant editor Alex Pates.

This show was actually set on the eve of the 24 hour news cycle.  Now spin and opinion count for more than facts but at least our friends at GlobeLink News tried to be professional.

 

The Kumars at No. 42 is a weird combination of family sitcom and amateurish chat show. Sanjeev Kumar’s parents have indulged his dream to be a television presenter by building a TV studio in their back garden. Somehow, for reasons that are never explained, real celebrities show up at their house to be interviewed by the whole Kumar clan. Sanjeev tries to keep everything professional, but his family members always have something else in mind for the guests.

Apparently the interviews were never rehearsed  though most interactions between the family were scripted. The only talk show more disorganized and chaotic than the Kumars is just about every episode of The View.

 

And finally I come to the phenomenon called Gogglebox. The premise is simple – watching other people watch TV. We get to overhear the comments and conversations between family members, couples and friends as they watch a pre-determined schedule of TV programming. There’s ususally some sort of marquee show like Downton, a movie, a reality competition and some heartrending documentary about 9/11 or Korean dog nappers who steal people’s pets and kill them for dog food. I kid you not!

This concept is simple, but addictive to watch. After all the TV is still the one of the few spots in the house where families gather so it’s the perfect situation to observe social interaction. While it’s mostly fluff, some important issues can come up in the course of an evening’s viewing and the telly can facilitate those conversations.

Alas the day has already come when TV watching doesn’t require an actual television, but here’s hoping TV shows (and shows about TV shows) will continue to be produced in some form or another. I’d hate to have to start calling myself a DVR or streaming addict. It sounds sordid somehow while “telly addict” has a friendly ring, wouldn’t you agree?

 

The international cast of Fortitude image credit Fifty Fathoms, Tiger Aspect and Sky Atlantic

Fortitude draws people from around the world with its bleak beauty
image credit Fifty Fathoms, Tiger Aspect and Sky Atlantic

 

I’ve only gotten three episodes into this psychological thriller, but from what I’ve seen thus far, Fortitude has certainly made me want to keep watching. For those of you who haven’t yet heard of this Nordic Noir series with lots of British accents, let me set the scene without giving too much of the mystery away.

Imagine a place were residents struggle with savage cold and months engulfed in darkness. Men, women and children carry rifles for protection from increasingly aggressive polar bears. Yet in the remote Arctic Norwegian community of Fortitude, crime is mercifully non-existent.

 

Or at least that used to be the case until a respected British researcher is found brutally murdered in his home. But who would want to kill this man described as a good and lovely person by everyone in town?  As you’d expect, there are a number of possible suspects and I assume more will surface in the course of the series.

Fortitude’s sheriff, Dan Anderssen, has never had to conduct a homocide inquiry and since the victim is a UK citizen, the London Metropolitan Police sends a forensic specialist to help with the investigation. Oddly enough he is an American, the enormously talented Stanley Tucci, who enters the case as a complete outsider to this close knit and secretive community. And it is through him that we learn about the dark side of Fortitude.

While the murder is front and center in this story, other important things are going on in the background. A young boy and his friend find what appears to be a mammoth tooth in some melting permafrost. Immediately after he returns home the lad faints and falls into a semi-coma. A well-known wildlife photographer is dying of terminal cancer and has a secret he shares with the sheriff. In addition, Fortitude has a open but unspoken swingers’ culture.

Though set in a Norwegian territory of the Arctic Circle, Fortitude is an international community brought together by its mining industry and environmental research center. The cast mirrors this diverse population with actors from Denmark, Spain, Romania, and Zimbabwe among others. This series, however, is first and foremost a UK based production and you will recognize many of the British actors popping up on your screen; Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Jessica Raines, Darren Boyd, Luke Treadway and Richard Dormer (a Northern Irish actor playing Fortitude’s Sheriff Anderssen).

Dan Anderssen, is a good cop or a bad cop? image credit Sky Atlantic, Fifty Fathoms and Tiger Aspect Productions

Dan Anderssen, is he a good cop or a bad cop?
image credit Sky Atlantic, Fifty Fathoms and Tiger Aspect Productions

 

Fortitude has already been recommissioned for a second series due out in 2016 so I assume the well-constructed mystery and taut story lines will continue for the remainder of the episodes I’ve yet to see.

Well, I’m going to get back to it. I hope to be able to fit in another episode or two before I turn in for the evening. If you haven’t binged on Fortitude, you can stream it on Amazon Instant Video or, like me, borrow the DVD set from your local library. If you have seen it, tell us what you thought of it – but no spoilers please!

For this week’s Five for Friday, I’m going to be quite quick. You see I’ve been occupied the past few days with helping my son prepare for his big move to Boston. There’s been shopping, laundry, and organizing to do and not much time for watching telly nor writing about it (though we have tried to fit in a few episodes of Peep Show each day).

You see, it’s not just my first born who is moving away. It’s my telly buddy who is leaving the nest as well.  Our favorite genre to watch together has always been comedy. I have often claimed that when I was pregnant with him, I found everything funny from stand-up comedians on TV to embarrassing situations in real life (hitting a bald man in the back of the head with a collection plate at church set me into fits of giggles).

When my youngster was introduced to the likes of Monty Python and Mr. Bean and he liked it, I knew we had a special bond.  Ever since then we’ve made time to watch funny stuff together and I will truly miss having him by my side on the couch.

In honor of all the laughs Ross and I have shared together, here’s a short list of some of sitcoms and sketch shows we’ve enjoyed over the years:

Little Britain

Catchphrases, wigs and prosthetics and the tendency to mock British people of all classes and situations were the hallmarks of David Walliams and Matt Lucas’ irreverent sketch show. Besides men in drag always make me laugh…

The Mighty Boosh

My son found this one on late night TV, Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network I believe. This absurd cult comedy is rather difficult to put in a genre box. I mean there are musical numbers, animated sequences and special effects but in the end it’s about two friends, Vince Noir and Howard Moon, who go on fantastical adventures and sometimes just try to get on in life.

The Thick of It

Before Peter Capaldi was THE Doctor he was the most aggressive spin doctor ever, Malcolm Tucker. This political satire is House of Cards with lots more swearing and put downs. I don’t know how much we learned about the British political system but it was a fun train wreck to watch.

The IT Crowd

Two computer geeks and their technology challenged manager wile away the hours in the basement Reynholm Industries doing very little work and getting into some hilarious if improbable situations. It’s also very quotable which young men tend to like.

Roy and Moss have to be one of our favorite sitcom buddy duos. So much so that we’ve continued to follow the work of both Chris O’Dowd and Richard Ayoade ever since.

Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge, in any form, is a favorite of ours. From his dysfunctional TV chat show (Knowing Me Knowing You w/A.P.) to his vast experience as an inept radio DJ (I Am A.P. and Mid-Morning Matters w/ A.P. and the film Alpha Papa), Steve Coogan’s alter ego is a brilliant parody of British media personalities.

I know my son and I will carry on with our shared enthusiasm for British comedy. We’ll just have to find creative ways to do it long distance for now. Which comedies have you found that cross generations? What do you like watching with your mum (or children)?

 

Detectorists and best mates Lance (Toby Jones) and Andy (Mackenzie Crook) image credit Channel X

Detectorists and best mates Lance (Toby Jones) and Andy (Mackenzie Crook)
image credit Channel X

The first time I watched Detectorists it was on YouTube. It was formatted so the picture filled up only about a third of the screen. The rest of the field was taken up with a frame emblazoned with the show’s name across the top. Despite the poor viewing conditions, it was still probably the best comedy I saw last year. In fact, it won the BAFTA for best situation comedy of 2014 and a second series is currently in production.

So when I heard this BBC series was coming to the US via Acorn TV with all six episodes available on August 17,  I was excited to watch it again in better quality and without the visual distractions.

Mackenzie Crook (off of The Office) is the series’ writer, director and star. He plays Andy, a metal detecting hobbyist and aspiring archaeologist. He and his best friend Lance (Toby Jones) share interests in, not only in finding non-ferrous metals buried in the English countryside, but also University Challenge, pub quizzes and playing Lance’s musical compositions at open mike nights.

Andy and Lance are members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club, an odd mix of people who come together over their enthusiasm for unearthing old buttons, Matchbox Cars and shrapnel.

 

Other residents of Danebury are primary school teacher and Andy’s live-in girlfriend Becky (Rachael Stirling) who puts up with his hobby despite her total disinterest; Maggie (Lucy Benjamin), Lance’s ex-wife who runs a New Age shop and takes advantage of his lingering affection for her anytime she can; and Sophie (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) an alluring ancient history student who has been sniffing around Andy and Lance during their their excursions to find Saxon treasure on Bishop’s farm. Mr. Bishop ( David Sterne) is mad, by the way, but the eccentric gentleman takes a shine to the lads and gives Andy and Lance exclusive permission to search his land as long as they stay away from the paddock.

And finally enter the villains of the piece, the Antiqui-searchers. Nicknamed Simon and Garfunkel (aka Paul Cesar and Simon Farnaby) for their resemblance to the folk music duo, the pair tries everything in their power to get Andy and Lance, whom they see as unworthy amateurs, kicked off Bishop’s land and claim the permissions for themselves.

 

The Detectorists is a mature and gentle series, but that’s not to say it’s not smart. The humor stems from the characters’ preoccupation with their favorite pastime. Despite the chronic disappointment, Andy and Lance still dream of a historical find that will secure their reputations and make them rich in the bargain. In addition, Crook and Jones have great chemistry as friends who take the piss out of one another all the while knowing that their companionship is as important in beating back the drudgery of life as their avocation is.

I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves a subtle British comedy done well. No slapstick and not very edgy, but as satisfying as a good day detecting in the field.

 

 

 

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