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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

This week has been about recognition of strong women – Thursday was International Women’s Day and today is Mothering Sunday in the UK.

Make no mistake, motherhood is definitely not for sissies; especially for those women who are raising the children (and sometimes, grandchildren) all on their own due to divorce or widowhood. Their grit, persistence and fierce love is inspiring.

Here are just a few examples of tough telly mums:

Louisa Durrell (Keeley Hawes) – The Durrells in Corfu

A widow and mother of four, Louisa takes a leap of faith to start a new life for her family in Greece. It’s a daily struggle to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, never mind maintaining the animal sanctuary her youngest child has established.

Sgt. Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) – Happy Valley

A 47 year old police officer, Catherine is divorced, lives with her sister who’s a recovering heroin addict, has two grown up children; one dead and one who doesn’t speak to her, and a grandson.

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Polly Gray (Helen McCrory) – Peaky Blinders

When she became a widow, Polly had her children removed from her care. She’s recently been reunited with her son Michael who made the choice, contrary to his mother’s wishes, to join of her crime syndicate family.

bbc two peaky6 GIF by BBC

DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman)- Broadchurch

Ellie is divorced and a working mother of two. First she had to come to grips with the fact that her husband was a murderer. Then her teenage son starts peddling porn. This mum is not a happy camper.

Image result for broadchurch ellie gif

Violet Crawley, The Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith) – Downton Abbey

The no-nonsense matriarch of an aristocratic family, the Dowager’s main concern is keeping her family’s reputation and fortunes intact. She expresses her love in blunt, but constructive terms.

Image result for dowager countess gif

 

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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!

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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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Sitcoms are full of archetypal characters and the fool is but one. Yet what better time to celebrate the silly, the slightly dim, the individual that marches to a different drummer than April Fool’s Day? So without further ado, a short list of telly twits.

Not Going Out – Daisy

 

 

Father Ted – Father Dougal McGuire

 

 

Up the Women – Eva

 

 

Blackadder – Baldrick (admittedly there are more fools than not spread throughout the this series)

 

Vicar of Dibley – Alice (update for 2018: I apologize if this one makes you cry more than laugh after the passing of Emma Chambers)

 

 

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When I realized Mothering Sunday was approaching, I wondered if I might give the annual mum-themed post a pass this year. I’ve written about TV matriarchs several times now and I figured I’ve covered that ground rather thoroughly.

But recently I watched Game of Thrones with my son and have wanted to write about it in some capacity. Granted it’s not a British series. However, with the number of UK actors in the cast and a substantial amount of it being shot in Northern Ireland, I think it’s fair game for my blog.

One thing I noted about this show from the start was the relatively large number of strong, powerful female characters featured in it so it occurred to me that marrying Mothering Sunday with this epic fantasy might just be the way to go this time around. That being said, strength is a relative term which can bring out the best or the worst in a mother. Let’s take a look at how the following characters chose to utilize their tenacity and internal fortitude, shall we?

In my book, Cersei Lannister one of the most hated characters in all of Westeros and environs. The only thing worse than this heartless, unforgiving woman is her son, King Joffrey, an alarmingly sadistic monarch with an exaggerated sense of self-importance (or as he’s known in my house, that little weasel-faced bastard).

And while the creation of a demon child can not always be attributed exclusively to the parents, I think we know that Joffrey learned much of his narcissistic attitudes and disdain for his subjects from dear old mom. But Cersei’s not blind to her son’s cruelty and I’m sure she’s smart enough to fear the child despite her love for him. To her credit her other children seem to be adequately normal human beings at this time.

I believe Cersei’s problems date back to the loss of her mother (she died giving birth to Cersei’s younger brother Tyrion). Her lack of a maternal figure and the presence of a domineering, power-hungry father molded her into a vindictive, calculating Queen who seeks “solace” with her brother and doesn’t truly know how to use her heart.

Cersai Lannister

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) image credit HBO

 

 

Catelyn Stark, on the other hand, is an exemplary mother who truly knows what it is to sacrifice for your children. After the execution of her husband Ned for treason, her oldest son Robb resolves to dethrone Joffrey and bring the justice his father sought to the Seven Kingdoms. While Catelyn supports her first born’s intentions, she has five children to protect. Her instinct to save her daughters Sansa and Arya from the Lannisters forces her to go against Robb’s orders and secretly has their prize prisoner, Jaime Lannister, released in hopes his family will free her girls as well.

In the end, Catelyn does what all mothers are certain they would do if in the same situation. When her family and cohorts are ambushed at the infamous Red Wedding she first takes their attacker’s wife hostage and then heartbreaking pleads with him to let her son go and offers to remain a hostage in his place. Her heroics alas are all to no avail, but we all felt a twinge of recognition as she attempted to save her own flesh and blood.

Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) image credit HBO

Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley)
image credit HBO

By her own admission, Catelyn could not find it in her heart to love her husband’s bastard son, Jon Snow, thus proving no mother is perfect.

 

Even the most uneducated and unworldly of women have motherly instincts. Gilly Craster is no exception. Forced to live in an incestuous, wildling cult, Gilly and the other women have learned that male babies are not part of the family, but instead are given up as a sacrifice to the terrifying White Walkers. While her father/husband is providing lodging to the men of the Night’s Watch, Gilly has the sad misfortune of giving birth to a boy.

Luckily for her, she finds a protector in watchman, kind-hearted Samwell Tarly. She risks everything she’s known by first hiding her son from Craster and then escaping with Sam at an opportune moment when a battle has broken out in the compound. When Sam sends her away to Mole’s Town to keep her and the baby safe, Gilly uses her wits to hide from a band of wildlings who attack the village. She then finds her way back all on her own to The Wall and to her trusted friend, Sam.

Gilly (Hannah Murray) image credit HBO

Gilly (Hannah Murray)
image credit HBO

 

Olenna Tyrell is the matriarch of an influential family and the grandmother of the future Queen Margaery. Technically that means she is a mother even though she doesn’t speak very well of her son Mace or any other man for that matter. Lady Olenna is the Game of Thrones’ equivalent of  Downton Abbey‘s Dowager Countess – both are witty, sarcastic and feel they’ve earned the right to speak their minds. She is an expert on court politics and knows how to manipulate the system. She is also fiercely protective of her granddaughter and has taken some rather extreme measures to see that Margaery is safe and well-placed in the power structure of Westeros.

Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) image credit HBO

Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg)
image credit HBO

 

Lysa Arrryn could not be more different from her sister Catelyn Stark. Both have lost their husbands to the Lannisters’ treachery yet Catelyn soldiers on for her children while her sister has retreated into madness, which is putting it politely. The woman is batshit crazy, if you like.  She still breastfeeds her beloved son Robin despite the fact that he looks to be eight or nine years old. The boy’s a bit touched as well to say the least. She caters to his whims and encourages him to delight in their special form of execution, pushing people to their death through the Moon Door. Another entitled sadistic nobleman; that’s just what is needed in the Seven Kingdoms…

Lysa Aaryn (Kate Dickie) image credit HBO

Spoiler: We find out later that Lysa was in cahoots with a lover and killed her own husband so she can’t blame her irrational behavior on the grief after all.

 

Daenerys Targaryen, while not mother to a human child, is known as The Mother of Dragons. In fact, it is an official part of her extremely long and quite pretentious name. How did she earn this unusual title you might ask? She walked into a fire with three dragons’ eggs and came out the other side unharmed and with a trio of dragon hatchlings. As you can imagine, even in a fantasy world, dragons are the stuff of legend yet this remarkable young wannabe queen had the power to bring mythical creatures into reality.

For a while, the dragons are like her children. She dotes over them and they adore her. But just like a human offspring, the adolescent dragons become more and more uncontrollable as time goes on. The reptiles’ aggression moves from rowdy fire play to stealing livestock. It isn’t until one of the dragons incinerates an innocent child that the sanctimonious Khaleesi realizes how truly difficult it is to be a mother even to children of another species.

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) image credit HBO

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)
image credit HBO

 

In the Game of Thrones world, being a mother isn’t about baking cookies, carpooling, or attending soccer games. It’s a deadly serious business what with rival houses partaking in poisoning , birthing demon assassins, and throwing children out of tower windows. Survival of your family line is of utmost importance and a courageous, smart and selfless mother is key to that goal.

Tell your mums you love them and appreciate their sacrifices today! Even if they didn’t have to kill, lie, scheme or die for you, you can be sure that they would.

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I’ve been told that math-minded people get very excited for Pi Day because the first sequence of digits of a mathematical constant which expresses the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter corresponds with the numbers in today’s date. Coincidence or one of those mysterious laws of nature that binds our world together? I’m not really bothered either way. What is more interesting to me is a sciencey man resembling Michael Palin (in profile only) who sets out to solve for pi using actual pies as visual aids.

 

More fascinating still is trying to guess who the winner of my Favorite Pie Poll will be. Please vote below and if your preferred pie isn’t on the list, simply tick “other” and type in your choice. Vic and Bob clearly favor a pork pie but don’t let those fools sway you.

House of Fools Vic, Bob and gigantic pie image credit BBC

House of Fools Vic, Bob and gigantic pie
image credit BBC

 

 

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I can’t let a Valentine’s Day go by without sharing some sort of love related telly wisdom. As I’ve been married now for more of my life than not, I’ve learned that love changes with time, age and perspective. I’m not as swept away by stories of infatuated young lovers nor titillated by unbridled desire. (You got it, I will not be seeing Fifty Shades of Grey this weekend.)

The couple I’m most interested in is one that can laugh together, support one another and basically resist bolting for the door every time the other one does something annoying. Meet Sharon (Sharon Horgan) and Rob (Rob Delaney), the most endearing accidental pair you’d ever want to meet.

Sharon and Rob facing one catastrophe after another image credit Avalon Television and Channel 4

Sharon and Rob facing one catastrophe after another
image credit Avalon Television and Channel 4

 

A no-strings one week fling between an American advertising exec and an Irish teacher quickly escalates to a full-blown relationship when Sharon discovers she’s pregnant and shares the news with Rob. He immediately agrees to return to London to work things out with the mother of his child and is eager to take an active role in the rearing of his progeny. Sharon, on the other hand, is not so sure she wants this stranger barging into her life, though the realization that this may be her only chance for a baby does carry weight in her decision.

Rob and Sharon stumble through misunderstandings, introductions to hostile family and unpleasant friends and get blindsided by Sharon’s multiple medical conundrums. Through it all they become an authentic couple out of necessity and, I believe, an true fondness for one another.

 

My initial concern about Rob being American quickly melted away within the first episode or two. He is nothing like the stereotypical abrasive Yank even though his douche-bag friend Dave (Daniel Lapaine) surely is.  Rob’s many positive characteristics, those of openness, emotionally availability and height, could be attributed to his nationality I suppose. I’m just pleased to see a positive and well-rounded American character portrayed on British telly.

This couple is  a realistic example of mature-ish adults making the best of an unexpected and sometimes totally crap series of events. It rings true as a relationship entered into by grownups who are aware they must make practical, responsible choices. I can relate to that. I also like that they really fancy one another too.

Catastrophe is being called one of the best comedies of 2015. It’s a bit early in the year to go bandying that type of praise about; however, I do care about what happens to this trans-Atlantic couple and hope things go as well as can be expected for them. Not happily ever after but happily enough. That’s the type of love that lasts in my experience.

Here’s wishing you a Happy Enough Valentine’s Day!

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