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Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

David Brent and Foregone Conclusion image credit BBC Films and Entertainment One

David Brent and Foregone Conclusion              image credit BBC Films and Entertainment One

As soon as I saw that the David Brent movie was coming to Netflix, I knew we had to review it. My son and I have been fans of The Office for years so the prospect of discussing this film was never in question despite the concerns a spin-off brought up. How would David Brent fare as a protagonist without his familiar and counter balancing Wernham Hogg co-workers? And beyond missing old characters, would an all-Brent-all-the-time project be a bit much to bear?  So it was with a mix of anticipation and trepidation that we set about watching and contemplating all the various aspects David Brent: Life on the Road. 

When we meet up with David, twelve years have passed since the Christmas specials. Now working as a rep selling cleaning and feminine hygiene products, Brent is no longer in charge but rather a worker bee mocked and scorned by a significant percentage of his colleagues. Perhaps this is why David has held so tightly to his dream of becoming a rock star.

Brent enlists a group of opportunistic session musicians and a skeptical sound engineer for the resurrection of his old band, Forgone Conclusion.  So with the old Office documentary crew in tow, they embark upon a foolishly expensive and pointless regional tour of pubs, colleges and battle of the band contests that everyone but David can see is an unmitigated disaster.

Here are some the of the thoughts Ross and I had about Gervais’ newest David Brent adventure.

Favorite new character

Mum: I was looking for the person who would be stepping into the shoes of my favorite character from The Office, Tim Canterbury. At first I thought David’s talented but underutilized rapper friend Dom Johnson (Ben Bailey Smith) was going to take on that role of the normal guy who is the voice of reason when Brent starts spiraling out of control.

But in the end it was sound engineer Dan Harvey played by Tom Basden who took David aside and set him straight on his foolhardy spending and the insecurity behind it. He also did a kind thing for Brent, against his better judgement, which is what Tim would have done for sure.

 

 

Ross: My fave new character was Karen, the receptionist (Mandeep Dhillon), who says David brightens her day and that, though many others in the office don’t, she finds him funny. I especially liked when she stood up for David’s friend Nigel (Tom Bennett) against the office bully. Nigel provided for Brent what Mackenzie Crook as Gareth Keenan never could. He was a co-worker (on equal footing) that saw Brent as a friend of similar spirit, and not someone who, as the milk monitor, had to suck up to whoever would show him favor because of the negativity that came with being the boss’ dog. David Brent had to become what he was always good at (a salesman) in order to realize there are friends out there for everyone, and they will like you for who you are. (Props to Ben Bailey Smith as Dom for that as well).

karen-life-on-the-road

image credit BBC Films and Entertainment One

 

Most Cringe-Worthy Moment

Mum: One of the most awkward situations in the film is just the fact that a man my age is trying to impress and pal around people who are closer to my son’s age. That rarely works, unless you’re a pop icon. It’s embarrassing that his band mates blank him so often and, though it visibly affects him, he doesn’t get it. In fact, it’s frustrating that in all this time David still hasn’t learned that he should be himself and not try so hard to make people like him. It always backfires anyway.

That being said, the scene where David shoots a woman in the face with a t-shirt gun is pretty mortifying and therefore classic Brent.

Ross: Any sexual reference David makes, particularly at the beginning about his rock n roll sex song.

I can’t begin to imagine the amount of flak that David had to take over the 12 years between documentaries over his personality and behavior. In what he thought may be a portal to stardom or notoriety, office manager Brent took a beating to his ego and his overall being as a human. Like many TV series and movies that I enjoy, it’s the perceived despicable characters at their truest moments of vulnerability that make the entire journey worthwhile.

So, in that vein, David’s visit to his psychiatrist before his tour is such a telling scene in his personality that my heart reached out to him in a moment where he felt everything he did was wrong, but that’s the art of being human, living by trial and error. Sometimes, many errors at that.

 

Most Touching Moment

Mum: I used to be under the impression that in The Office and other Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant projects, Merchant must be the compassionate one, the writer who found humanity in the most flawed of characters. Then Gervais went solo and made Derek. It was then I discovered he was the softy of the pair.

Therefore, I knew to expect moments of human kindness from Life on the Road. Besides Dan paying for the snow which I referenced earlier, I think Pauline (Jo Hartley) from accounts embodies that spirit as well. When she talks about how reviving the documentary is bad for David, Pauline truly grasps the situation and worries for his well-being.

Gervais obviously wants to hit home the point that since the original Office documentary, the world is meaner, more selfish. We see this demonstrated in most of the people David encounters on tour from a taunting radio DJ to the mercenary PR representative David hires to the woman he picks up at the ATM looking for a free room and a mini-bar feast on him. Pauline’s concern is warranted and poignant considering David has hardly ever taken notice of her.

pauline-life-on-the-road

image credit BBC Films and Entertainment One

 

Ross: I’m going to have to echo everything my mom said in this part. A meaner world full of harsher, more anonymous social media is what has been created. Walls are built up by others before anyone can show how they truly are, leading to more mixed signals, brunt, up-front shutdowns, and overall distrust. Ricky Gervais puts a mirror up to a society that doesn’t even want to glance, and that shines through in every interaction David Brent has on camera with everyone in the documentary. Pauline and Nigel are the two shining examples in a world of negativity that everyone has a chance.

 

The Music 

Mum: I found the music and musicianship surprisingly good. Of course all the lyrics were written for comic effect to show us how seriously David takes his songwriting and how badly he misreads the tone of issues featured in his music. I found ‘Slough’ to be interesting because unlike most of the other songs which were Brent’s obvious attempt at hard-drinking rock and roll or socially conscious anthems, this one was just a love song, a declaration of loyalty to an oft maligned place as our hometowns so frequently are. It also nods to The Office as “Europe’s biggest trading estate.”

 

Ross: The music, as far as Foregone Conclusion originals, was like a parody comedy troupe with no boundaries. So overall I laughed the hardest at the ‘Please Don’t Make Fun of the Disableds’ song.

 

Does it stand up to The Office?

Mum: No, because it lacks the strong ensemble from the TV series and I doubt that was Ricky Gervais’ ambition in the first place.

However, I do think it’s worth watching if you are interested in encountering an older, more fragile but foolishly optimistic Brent. One can only hope he gives up on fame as a life goal and listens instead to those who genuinely care about him.

Ross: Life on the Road is a poetic ending to a character that has become a dying star heading towards a black hole. But, despite it all, every time I see Ricky Gervais on camera, I leave feeling happy and hopeful that whatever comes next will be okay. 4/5 for movie fans, The Office fans may find it more of a down the middle 2.5/5. Worth showing to friends and family who love cringe-worthy humor with a pointedly deserved message.

 

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boomers

The Boomers cast     (image credit Hat Trick Productions)

Late one evening as I surfed around my streaming sites hoping something new would strike my fancy, I noticed that series one of the BBC sitcom Boomers had been added to the browsing menu on Acorn TV. I had been watching mostly dramas of late and was looking for some levity, short and sweet. From a brief look at the cast list it was obvious Gavin and Stacey‘s Alison Steadman was the marquee name and hey, I liked Pam Shipman and her Fat Friends character as well. So Boomers it was! Little did I know how quickly I would be hooked.

Set in the fictional Norfolk-based town of Thurnemouth, Boomers is an ensemble piece about three couples of retirement age who apparently spend most of their free time together. The mood is established with a peppy (and expensive to license, I would expect) soundtrack of 60’s and 70’s Motown and rock favorites. I get it, the older I get the more I just want to listen to music of my youth.

But don’t think for a moment that this is a comedy about mature adults living in the past and resistant to the future. They have a fair grasp of technology (laptops, tablets, smart phones) not to mention the myriad of problems that accompany our modern lives.

For Joyce (Alison Steadman) and Alan (Philip Jackson), retirement isn’t turning out to be a smooth transition. Part of it is about temperament – Alan wants to slow down, Joyce wants to speed up. But an even bigger issue has to do with finances.

 

Financial planner Trevor (James Smith) and his wife Carol (Paula Wilcox) are comfortably set for the next stage in their life. It’s forty years of marriage, an empty nest and a disintegrating state of communication that plagues this couple. But they’re making an honest attempt to rectify the problem, though personally, I feel Trevor is more committed to the process than Carol.

 

John (Russ Abbot) and Maureen (Stephanie Beacham) are the most social and adventurous couple of the three. For them 60 is the new 40. However, they are dealing with a very common challenge among this generation, caring for an elderly parent – in this case Maureen’s mum, Joan (June Whitfield) who is transitioning to a care home.

 

Whether they are celebrating an anniversary or retirement, mourning the death of a friend or taking the obligatory summer holiday trip together, it’s the relationships that are the touchstone of the show. The marriages, friendships and even the complicated parent/child bonds portrayed in Boomers feel authentic because they are constant, dependable and, in many instances, awash with ambivalence. I particularly enjoy the friendship between the three amigos, as Trevor likes to call them.

So despite the fact that I am almost two decades removed from the experiences of these characters and firmly established as a Generation X’er, I can relate because I understand where they started. I too had a close-knit circle of couples for friends that were a second family of sorts. If relocation and a very sad premature death hadn’t occurred, I could see us being much like this group to this day -certainly not perfect, but a reliable and caring support system all the same.

I’m also not so far removed from their situation that I don’t connect to the issues that loom ahead. How better to cope with the inevitability of aging than with humor and friendship no matter how smothering it can become at times?

Programming note: If you are an Acorn TV subscriber, series 2 of Boomers will premiere on Monday, October 10th.

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As you probably know the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio are officially underway. My family watched the opening ceremonies Friday night and I have to say I found the event a let down compared to the 2012 London spectacle. I mean Gisele Buchchen strutting across the stadium for what seemed like an eternity…or Her Majesty and James Bond parachuting into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium. It’s like they say, the Brits do pomp and pageantry extremely well.

A performer playing the role of Britain's Queen Elizabeth parachutes from a helicopter during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (BRITAIN - Tags: OLYMPICS SPORT)

image credit REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 

After all the samba dancing and selfie-sticks, the athletes are presumably back to focusing on their respective competitions. Years of training will come down to seconds in the pool or on the track; the scrutiny of judges regarding mechanics and style; or on which team has the better day on the court or pitch.

It occurs to me that, as in most things in life, British comedy offers important lessons that can apply to many aspects of human endeavor. Vital truths lie beyond the laughs and these can benefit anyone striving to excel in sport.

For example, A Bit of Fry and Laurie demonstrate how important it is to start your training with an experienced and reputable coach.

 

One of the major roadblocks to athletic excellence is fear as Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) so adeptly illustrates.

 

The late, great Victoria Wood (it still hurts my heart to say that) bears witness to the absolute necessity for an athlete to have a dedicated and reliable support system.

 

In this sketch Big Train‘s Simon Pegg and Kevin Eldon showcase how working tirelessly to get the little things right can pay big dividends in the end.

 

And finally, don’t despair if your athletic passion isn’t even on the list of sports recognized by the IOC yet. The cast of Not the Nine O’ Clock News encourages you to always keep in fighting form in anticipation of the day when you get to the opportunity to achieve your Olympic dream.

 

Best of luck (and laughter) to all the athletes competing in Rio!

 

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image credit Channel X North and Chris Harris

image credit Channel X North and Chris Harris

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!

I’m thinking Lance found the one that looked like a  gold coin…

 

Another example of Lance’s spoils from this series is a Blankety Blank chequebook (without it’s obligatory pen).

Blankety Blank chequebook

Blankety Blanket trophy – Les Dawson edition

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!

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.

Sam Tyler and Gene "Tufty" Hunt            image credit Kudos Film and Television and BBC

Sam Tyler and Gene “Tufty” Hunt image credit Kudos Film and Television and BBC

 

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.

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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.

VBP

 

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?

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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!

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