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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Ayoade’

 

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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image credit North One and Channel 4

image credit North One and Channel 4

Move over Michael Palin, Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry and just about any other British celebrity who has presented a travel program. Richard Ayoade’s in town and he’s leaving forty-eight hours after arrival.

Last weekend during Winter Storm Jonas I binge-watched both series of Ayoade’s offbeat tourism program and delighted in every quirky moment.  (In the spirit of honest journalism and full disclosure, the winter storm didn’t really affect my part of the country. However, it was a good excuse to curl up on the couch and obsessively watch something funny as a symbol of solidarity with my less fortunate neighbors.)

The premise of Travel Man is that IT Crowd star and frequent celebrity panel guest Richard Ayoade undertakes the task of making mini-breaks more efficient and less boring. In aid of this he invites a celebrity mate to join him on his journey. I find it comical that a man who suffers from a number of conditions that make traveling unpleasant- sea sickness, vertigo and horse allergies – was given a show like this to present. Travel Man doesn’t shy away from the dark side of holiday making and neither should we.

Once at their destination city, Mr. Ayoade and his companion attempt to cram as many cultural experiences as possible into 48 hours with the ultimate goal being to answer the question “We’re here, but should we have come?”

What sort of cultural experiences you ask? Well, one important aspect of any society is their cuisine. In Vienna, Richard tried Käsekrainer (Austrian cheese sausage). In Paris he sampled snails and a calves’ head casserole. Copenhagen brought its A-game with open-faced sandwiches called smørrebrød (which you must eat from left to right on your plate). But probably the most courageous thing Richard attempted to ingest was this Icelandic delicacy:

While Ayaode doesn’t like everything he tries, he makes up his mind to give it a go without a lot of whinging, a la Karl Pilkington, for example. He also isn’t much of boozer, but he does imbibe at least a few sips of Carlsberg beer, schnapps, Sturm (that’s partially fermented grape juice), vodka at 10 am, and absinthe for God’s sake.

Seeing the city in some way other than a traditional bus tour is a must for our prudent sojourner. Be it mini hot rods, yacht, helicopter, or camel, it’s imperative to get a unique view and avoid a malodorous coach ride whenever possible. Nonetheless, if you can’t keep up with the tour guide, what’s the point?

 

Museums are another essential stop when it comes to travel abroad. From a self-guided street art tour in Paris or a stroll through the artistically lit Cisterns of Copenhagen to Moscow’s cosmonaut museum and collection of Soviet arcade amusements, interactive is the name of the game. Until someone or some thing gets hurt, that is…

 

At the close of a given episode we learn what each guest appreciated most about their holiday. Chris O’Dowd found Vienna clean, nice and he liked the shiny caravan with (almost)enough head room that Richard had booked for him instead of a hotel suite. Noel Fielding immensely enjoyed the midway horse racing game, Gallopen, that they played at the Tivoli Gardens (Walt Disney’s inspiration for his own Disneyland) in Copenhagen and Greg Davies marveled at their evening at the Moscow Cats Theater. However, the champion of answers came from Mel Giedroyc who sweetly claimed the best part of her holiday was hanging out with Richard. Perhaps she was angling for another mini-break in the next series, but I have to say despite my general distaste for the City of Lights, I thought the Paris episode was superior to all others.

 

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If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed my recent spate of posts about “Things That Make Me Sad.” Lest you think me a chronically depressed Anglophile, I want to share something I watched this week that made me smile from ear to ear.

 

The IT Crowd Finale -The Internet Is Coming

The IT Crowd Special -The Internet Is Coming

 

Though it aired in the UK a month ago, it took a while for this one-off special episode of Channel 4’s The IT Crowd  to find its way onto YouTube.  I didn’t discover it had been uploaded until last weekend but rather than greedily watching it right then and there, I delayed gratification and waited until my son and I could experience it together.  And so it was that Tuesday evening we sat down to share a significant British comedy moment – the last chapter in the Jen, Moss and Roy story.

 

 

Creator Graham Linehan constructed a great episode for the show’s fans. It contained the signature elements we’ve come to expect from The IT Crowd; awkward situations, misunderstandings blown out of proportion and, of course, bizarre behavior from one of the most memorable geeks of all time, Maurice Moss.

I reckon the words “women’s slacks” will forever bring a chuckle to my throat.

 

There was also plenty of reminiscing and calls back to jokes from earlier episodes including this classic gag from series 3:

 

And as if a solidly funny episode wasn’t enough, my prayers were answered by a cameo appearance of my favorite recurring character:

Noel Fielding returns as Richmond Avenal

Noel Fielding returns as Richmond Avenal

 

For those fans who haven’t yet had the opportunity to watch “The Internet Is Coming”, I don’t want to give away much more.  It was a celebration of a sitcom beloved by many. ( Is that what makes it a “cult” comedy, I wonder?)  And though it’s not officially being called the finale of The IT Crowd, there was a definite air of finality to it especially when you hear the last line of the closing scene. Bet you you can guess what it is…

I also sensed a swan song feeling as I watched the interactions of Reynholm Industries employees Roy, Jen and Moss. There were quite a few moments when couldn’t help seeing actors Chris O’Dowd, Kathleen Parkinson and Richard Ayoade instead.  They’ve moved on in their careers.  So while it was gracious and sweet of them to return, this episode was about giving devotees closure and not a set-up for recurring specials.  Besides after this, I’m not totally certain I want to see this particular trio 10, 15, or 20 years down the road.

Actually this” thing that makes me happy” could also go into the “things that make me sad” column as well.  It’s not a sappy sad.  I don’t think The IT Crowd could ever do sappy anyhow.  It’s a satisfying sadness for an ending that you understand has to happen. Say farewell to Jen Barber, Maurice Moss and Roy Trenneman and know that they are in a better place. I mean it.  If you watch the special and they have literally gone to a better place.

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This is by no means breaking news ( I’ve never claimed to be an investigative journalist after all); however, a few days ago I discovered that The IT Crowd will not be coming back for a fifth series.

Moss, Jen and Roy, you will be missed.

You see, I follow series creator Graham Linehan, who happens to be quite a prolific tweeter, and sometime in the past 18 months, he announced he was working on the scripts for series 5.  Time passed, as it is wont to do, and the other day, I saw a Linehan tweet that read:

” Should I be tweeting that the IT Crowd is on? Because it is”

I tried to embed the tweet but to no avail. Instead I resorted to this cartoon avatar of Linehan. I just felt I should put some sort of graphic here.

Hurrah, I assumed this meant the new episodes were now being broadcast!  I immediately began to search the web for info on the series only to find that last October it had been announced that The IT Crowd was calling it a day. On the website Reddit, Mr. Linehan explained that he hadn’t been looking forward to making this new series as much as he had in the past and felt series 4 was a strong ending point for the show.

Maybe so, but I suspect that the main factor in ending the adventures of those loveable social misfits at Reynholm Industries was that the actors were getting too busy and, in some cases, too famous to be bothered continuing with the “Crowd” any longer.

Let’s begin with Katherine Parkinson:

She’s everywhere! That ginger woman with the distinctive voice can shift from giddy outburst to breathy drawl to gruff growl in a matter of moments

Over the past few years, she’s appeared in a great number of other projects interwoven within her run as Jen Barber, IT relationship manager.  She’s played Pauline Lamb, surgery receptionist, phlebotomist and compulsive gambler on Doc Martin; Amber, the neurotic daughter of Old Guys geezer, Tom; and more  recently, no-nonsense restaurant manager, Caroline in the egotistical chef sitcom, Whites.

I enjoy her every time she pops up on my screen, including her guest appearance as Kitty Riley in the very wonderful Sherlock episode, “The Reichenbach Fall”.  She seems to have no shortage of work and I can imagine her availability is getting difficult to schedule around.

On to Richard Ayoade:

Who knew that behind the ultra-nerdy persona of Maurice Moss was a budding filmmaker?

With his unusual looks and eccentric delivery, Ayoade has been primarily relegated to surreal roles.  Basically when not playing the King of the Geeks, IT technician Maurice Moss, Richard has worked on the  The Mighty Boosh and off-shoot projects of its cast and creators.  However in 2010, I was intrigued to hear that Ayoade had written and directed a little film getting a lot of festival buzz.  A coming-of-age dramedy, Submarine is witty and quirky but exhibits a lot of heart.  After a while, I forgot “Moss” was involved in this in any way.

In addition, Ayoade came across the pond to make a Ben Stiller/Vince Vaughn 2012 sci-fi comedy called The Watch.  Intended to be one of those sort of raunchy summer movies, it was little more than average.  And while Ayoade’s role was pivotal, he didn’t have nearly enough screen time or punch lines. Nonetheless, I foresee him getting more screen time in front of and behind the camera in the future.

Richard Ayoade – unfortunately, his comedic strengths went underutilized in this Seth Rogen-penned comedy.

 

Finally we come to Chris O’Dowd, the main reason, I believe, behind  The IT Crowd is not continuing as a series:

This is where most Americans became acquainted with Chris O’Dowd.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame Mr. O’Dowd.  I’m sure that making it in Hollywood is the ultimate goal for a majority of actors…and I’ve seen it coming for quite some time.  From supporting roles in British films and tv, Chris started quietly making an impact with small parts in mainstream American films like Dinner for Schmucks and Gulliver’s Travels.  Then came that sweet policeman from Bridesmaids and all of a sudden he’s entered the awareness of people who would have never understood, never mind appreciated, The IT Crowd.  Whenever this happens I start to worry that my favorite British actors will go “totally Hollywood” and stop taking the sort of roles that made me appreciate their work in the first place, i.e. they’ll move to America and accept only roles in action blockbusters.

A generalization to be sure, but look at his recent string of films – Dark Knight, Taken and Titan franchises, Unknown, The Grey and Battleship. I rest my case.

 

As we speak, O’Dowd has a Judd Apatow comedy set for release this holiday season and a US tv series on the horizon so I’m hoping for the best. I am encouraged however that he has co-written and is currently starring in a British- based series called Moone Boy wherein he plays a boy’s imaginary friend.

 

Alas, the one small consolation is that we’ve been promised an extended IT Crowd special sometime later this year – Christmas, I’m guessing.  Maybe this will allow me closure and the time to accept that all good things must end.

As I’ve demonstrated above, there will be no shortage of screen time for these three actors( or probably for Graham Linehan either).  But whatever Katherine, Richard and Chris go on to do, I’ll always think back to where I first got to know them, in the manky, techie basement of Reynholm Industries.

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