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Posts Tagged ‘David Mitchell’

 

Over the past few years The Big Fat Quiz has become customary holiday fare round my place, mainly because I force my loved ones to watch it with me. In fact, it’s very much like a family gathering if your relatives include an angry uncle who habitually rants about the state of the world and a constantly snacking, eccentric brother who wears flamboyant capes to Christmas dinner.

Certain aspects of this broadcast have become traditions in and of themselves.  For example, what could be cozier than Charles Dance seated next to a blazing fire reading from a reality star’s tell-all biography? Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow is always a festive addition when he delivers song lyrics as a news story and then dances like no one is watching…but we all are. And it isn’t The Big Fat Quiz until those adorable Mitchell Brook Primary School Players reenact an event of note from the year gone by.

This, of course, is coordinated by a man with all the dominance of an overwhelmed substitute teacher with a really implausible laugh.

 

But in the end it’s the the celebrity competitors who determine how entertaining a given quiz will turn out to be. Let’s look at how well our trio of teams performed.

The Tinsel Sisters (David Mitchell and Roisin Conaty)

 

Famed curmudgeon David Mitchell is the winning-est panelist in the history of the BFQ. He has made twelve appearances and won eight times (whereas chat show host Jonathan Ross needed sixteen tries to achieve the same number of victories). This year David was paired with a newcomer to the year-end quiz, creator and star of the very excellent sitcom GameFace, Roisin Conaty. In terms of an end result, this team worked well seeing as (SPOILERS!) they won the trophy with a total of 35 points. However, it was Mr. Mitchell who stood out in the comedy department with his diatribe about the substandard quality of a sign that was displayed behind Prime Minister Theresa May , a lesson about the specific vitamin deficiencies responsible for rickets and scurvy and finally, his insistence upon the importance of proper chronology and punctuation. It’s not that Ms. Conaty isn’t funny; their interactions just weren’t very dynamic.

Team Pain (Big Narstie and Katherine Ryan)

Now this was a more interesting pairing. If you aren’t familiar with either of these entertainers, Ms. Ryan is a Canadian comedian based in the UK and Mr. Narstie is an English grime MC? Yeah, I’m not sure what that is, but he turned out to be quite impish and entertaining. He had a problem with names, identifying most of the panelists by their CVs. Mitchell was continually referred to as Peep Show guy, Richard Ayoade as IT guy and rather insulting to Noel Fielding was that Narstie clocked him as Nigel Planer who played Neil the hippie from The Young Ones. Just a clarification to Mr. Fielding, Nigel’s age is 64, not 90 as you asserted. To Jimmy Carr’s chagrin, Mr. Narstie repeatedly made a heart shape with his hands and insisted on calling it the “Mo Farah sign” after the gesture made by the British distance runner to celebrate a win. The thing that worked well with this team was that Katherine acted as something of a cultural interpreter without being condescending. She was also very familiar with viral trends and other pop culture references which significantly contributed to their more than respectable second place finish of 33 points.

Cakes in the Maze (Richard Ayoade and Noel Fielding)

This twosome are the most experienced of the BFQ teams on the program.  With twenty-four appearances between them, they have won twice as a team and three more quiz titles separately. Admittedly their win/loss ratio isn’t as impressive as David Mitchell’s,  but it’s not as if they aren’t as smart or culturally aware. David Mitchell and Richard Ayoade were students at Cambridge University together; Noel Fielding has a background in art, a wildly creative mind and a mildly concerning obsession with satsumas. These two are obviously invited to this gig to be, as Jimmy Carr has described them, toddlers at a wedding. Don’t let their contrasting sense of fashion – Gandalf and the Professor – fool you. These two are in cahoots to undermine authority and infuse the proceedings with a bit of whimsy. Whether it’s Noel luring us into a surreal world of sharks with no knees or Richard making an appeal for their responses based on sub-text , several facts are clear. Jimmy Carr loses control of the quiz from time to time and this duo are major instigators of all that lovely chaos. It matters not a jot that Cakes in the Maze came in third place with 19 points. The Big Fat Quiz is at it’s best when Ayoade and Fielding are on the same team.

 

 

 

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Colman and Mitchell as Sophie and Mark in Peep Show

Colman and Mitchell as Sophie and Mark in Peep Show

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, that  David Mitchell. The one who has disastrous luck with women and constantly finds himself in awkward dating scenarios on the sitcom Peep Show. The one who rants about all the minutiae that annoys him on panel shows like Would I Lie to You and QI. 

 

Who knew that Mr. Mitchell actually had something to say about matters of the heart? Well, here are just a few examples of his over-analyzed musings on topics that fall into the realm of romance…

 

The Definition of Passion

 

The Audacity of Giving Flowers

 

The Psychology of Paying Compliments

 

Consider it my Valentine to you…emotional guidance from a cynical realist with confidence issues.  A better gift than chocolate, I dare say!

 

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I started watching this most recent Mitchell and Webb project expecting something more like Peep Show or their sketch comedy offerings.  Let me tell you right now, Ambassadors is something almost completely different.  This three-part BBC Two dramedy is set in the fictional central Asian country of Tazbekistan. David Mitchell plays Keith Davis, newly appointed British ambassador to the former Soviet territory and Robert Webb plays his experienced Deputy Head of Mission, Neil Tilly.

 

 

The entire embassy team must work together to strike a balance that keeps both the corrupt Tazbek president and their own demanding government officials happy.  Often faced with monetary versus human concerns, the diplomats walk a tightrope of moral dilemmas.

I found that the one hour format made the tenser moments tend to drag while funny moments were far too infrequent. What I did like about this show is that even though the action takes place a few thousand miles from the UK, it’s very much about being British.  Here are some of the lessons I learned from watching Ambassadors.

 

Eccles cakes should contain raisins…I mean currants:

Keeley Hawes and David Mitchell as Keith David, the British ambassador to Tazbekistan and his wife Jennifer

Keith Davis, the British ambassador to Tazbekistan, and his wife Jennifer

 

The British Embassy is, as you might expect, the official presence of Old Blighty in foreign lands.  Even Tazbekistanis have an appreciation for Last of the Summer Wine and the excellent reputation of Harley Street physicians.

In an effort to convince the Prez (Igor Naor) and his advisors to contract with the British government for military helicopters, Keith and his associates pull out all the stops to put on cultural festival. Unfortunately the staffer in charge of planning the event is a native of Tazbekistan.  Her understanding of the Best of British is a pork pie demonstration, Morris dancers, a band of medieval musicians, a chutney booth and a one-man dramatization of Frankenstein performed by Britain’s least talented, yet most deluded, Shakespearean actor.  Keith’s wife, Jennifer (Keely Hawes) can’t even coerce their staff cook to make a proper batch of Eccles cakes.

 

The Royal Family actually has to earn its keep:

 

Prince Mark of Bath (Tom Hollander), a minor royal family figure, is being sent to Tazbekistan in his capacity as a trade envoy. Initially the embassy staff find his adamant sense of entitlement and insistence on staying at the Four Seasons (even though there isn’t one in the whole country) infuriating, but his position makes it impossible for them to say anything about it.  Soon enough however they find the Prince’s expertise invaluable as he helps them with a business deal and surprisingly a human rights issue as well.

 

British bosses are intimidating, even more so via Skype:

POD skyping with his embassy staffers

Foreign Office bigwig POD (Matthew Macfayden) grilling his staffers

 

If the job of a diplomat isn’t difficult enough, the constant pressure of a critical boss can send some civil servants around the bend (and apparently Davis’ oft-mentioned predecessor was one of those people). The bane of Keith and Neil’s existence is a man known only as POD – short for Prince of Darkness.  Thanks to internet technology, they are at his beck and call and it goes without saying that video chatting with POD is never a friendly or pleasant experience.

 

More British News Makers I Don’t Know

In episode two, we find embassy personnel discussing the logistics for the arrival of Prince Mark in Tazbekistan.  As an indication of HRH’s character and judgment,  someone mentions the godparents of his children.  If you’re not familiar with these names, as I wasn’t, the joke just doesn’t fly.

Here are Prince Mark’s choices as good moral influences on the lives of his offspring…

Jonathan Aitken, former Conservative MP

Jonathan Aitken, former Conservative MP convicted of perjury

Fred Goodwin, RBS head infamous for his part in the financial crisis in the UK

Fred Goodwin, RBS head infamous for his part in the financial crisis in the UK

Sue Barker, former tennis player and TV presenter. Her only scandal would be her past relationship with singer Cliff Richard
Sue Barker, former tennis player and current TV presenter. Her only scandal would be her past relationship with singer Cliff Richard

If you don’t know why the Cliff Richard reference is funny, please follow my usual procedure and Google it.  If you’ve never even heard of Cliff Richard, you’re more behind the British culture curve than I am, dear chum.

Ambassadors just finished airing in the UK this week, so it might be available to view on the iPlayer.  No surprise, I found it on YouTube.

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