Friday, September 21, 2018

My Top 3 BBC Sitcoms for Each Decade

Of course these are only based on what I've actually seen, who knows what could go on this list next week?

One of the charming things about shows from the 70s is that the sets and production look like they were made with a $20 budget. And when I say that, I say it with affection. There’s a cozy quiet to them, which let’s you focus on the characters and comedy.
To the Manor Born
A lot of British sitcoms are about class but none more explicitly than this one. Throw in a will-they-or-won’t-they? Between the great Penelope Keith (The Good Life) and always debonair Peter Bowles (The Irish R.M.), and it’s hard to mess this one up.
Fawlty Towers
Basil Fawlty is without a doubt the most irredeemable stomp character ever. There is not one second of any episode in which he is remotely nice or warm. But he is one thing: hilarious.
Ronnie Barker’s world-weary cynicism mixed in with his affection for young Godbar (Richard Beckinsale, who tragically died young at 31) is our magic. And another spot of genius is have the yin-yang of two security guards, one a hard-ass and the other a softie, to have Barker play against.

The 80s (and 90s, really) were a bit barren for comedy at the BBC, at least what I’ve seen so far. To be honest I originally wanted this to be the best 5 of each decade, but simply couldn’t think of 5 I love from the 80s.
Only Fools and Horses
The Greatest of All Freaking Time. Period.
A remarkable show that spent every minute of it’s run being incredibly funny & snarky and then in the last minute pulled the rug out from under all of us, leaving us gasping in wonder.
Yes, Minister
A brilliant, if not terrifying, behind the curtain look at how the sausage gets made. But unlike Veep’s brilliant nastiness, this shows more of a gentle hand from those who know how things actually get done (or, more importantly, don’t) leading those who enter the arena with a charming, if useless, idealism.

The Vicar of Dibley
The King (or should I say Queen) of the era’s warm, cozy embraceable sitcoms. Every character is funny, but what else would you expect from the British National Treasure that is Richard Curtis?
The Royle Family
The second this first aired, every single tv writer in England surely thought “a show about a regular lazy-ass broke family lounging around watching tv? WHY THE HELL DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT??”
The Alan Partridge Show
Another British protagonist who is extremely unlikable and doesn’t have a single kind moment in the whole run, yet we love it because he’s just too damn funny.

People like to claim the 1970s was the “Golden Age” of the BBC, but the fact is the 21st century is stuffed to the gills with great sitcoms. I had more trouble paring these down than any other decade.

Gavin & Stacey
Hard to imagine a single show having a mix of so much heart and so many funny characters. While the the two leads play it mostly straight, the supporting cast is an all-star team. And of course it delivered to us another British Treasure in James Corden (who also wrote it, along with co-star Ruth Jones.)
The Inbetweeners
Since this hysterical raunchiest came out, seemingly countless shows have tried to imitate it, all failing miserably. These four are The Beatles of their genre to everybody else’s Herman Hermits.
Peep Show
A horrifying answer to the question, “what if we could hear what someone’s really thinking?” And when one of them is a George Costanza and the other bit of a psychopath, the comedy simply does not stop.

The Wrong Man(s)
A comedy spoof of every spy/thriller movie ever made, but essentially boils down to we love it for pretty much one thing: James Corden being James Corden.
Moone Boy
A big warm-hearted hug of a sitcom from late-80s Ireland, what draws us in is Chris O’Dowd because one thing we all as human beings have all agreed on is that we all love Chris O’Dowd. But what keeps us is the main character, a kid so naturally funny I dread the day he pull a Theo Huxtable and realizes he’s on camera and has to be an ACT-OR.
I first noticed Darren Boyd in the great Whites, thinking “wow, this guy was made to play John Cleese (which it turns out he did). That led me to this show in which not only is he great, but also a lunatic Richard Lindsay and a genuinely funny, asshole little kid.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Office Beef #1

The Hot Girl
Season 1, Episode 6

I never understood why some random girl would set up shop in the office to sell bags. There's no foot traffic - wouldn't she just stick her head in the door and say "hey anyone want one of these bags?" and then leave? 

Weary Nation Finally Gets Some Good News.

Mike and the Mad Dog - 10 Years Ago?!?!?!?

I still can't believe Mad Dog is gone. Just like that. So fucking sudden. At least he called in yesterday. I'm so fucking depressed. What the fuck. I'll continue to listen to Mike, and I'll listen to Dog wherever he ends up. But it won't be the same. If I could have two voices in the background of my day 24/7, they would be the ones. I'm so depressed. - Xmastime August 2008
It just occurred to me it’s been over 10 years since Dog’s last show with Mike. How depressing. It’s hard to even remember how much of a presence they had in my life. Well, from 1:06pm to 6:20pm Monday - Friday, that is. Just always there in the background for me whenever I needed it. These days I toggle back and forth between Mike on WFAN and Dog on Sirius, but it’s not the same as when they were together. But it can’t possibly be. It’s like when Bird said the game wasn’t the same for him after Magic retired.

Oh well. We still have some clips, like the one below with Dog’s dad (who would call a few times every summer in despair about his long-beloved Yankees) calling in after Dog left. This was the one moment in 3 decades in which Mike expressed something even remotely close to a human emotion, so that’s pretty amazing.

And, of course, the single greatest post of all time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

My Top 10 Favorite BBC Sitcom Characters

With a few exceptions, this list was agonizing to pare down. The runner-ups are in the dozens. More from Only Fools and Horses could’ve made it but I made the decision to just include Del Boy. I feel bad there’s not more women on the list but again, there are plenty in #s 11-199. I genuinely love each of these characters, each of which gives me amazing entertainment any time I ask for it. Other than Del Boy being #1, this is in no order. Enjoy!

Del Boy Trotter (David Jason, Only Fools and Horses)
What can I say that I haven’t already on these pages? He’s simply the greatest sitcom character of all time. He’s funny of course, but he’s different than a lot of other sitcom characters in that he actually TRIES to be funny with his friends. He doesn’t just effortlessly toss out remarkable witticisms every 30 seconds without acknowledging he’s joking. And of course the best of Del Boy came shining through when the episodes were extended from 30 minutes to 50, as we got to see more inside his heart with the incredible David Jason’s acting chops nailing it every time.

When you meet Del, you assume he’s a typical oily douchebag salesman. And while it’s true he could "talk his way out of a room without doors”, over time you see WHY he’s somewhat like that. With his mother dying and father leaving him when he was 16, it’s was up to him to raise not only 3 year-old Rodney, but the lovable but useless Grandad. We start seeing over and over again that the one thing that means more to him than anything is his family - he never got married because girls didn’t want to help raise Rodney, so he stuck with Rodney. Opportunities came up - like moving to Australia for a big-time job - but Rodney couldn't come with him so he turned the job down. He was always loyal to his friends and if you were in a fox-hole, you’d want him with you. As someone once said, “Del Boy could fall into a viper pit and come out wearing snakeskin boots."

This exchange perfectly encapsulates his always feeling the need to take care of his elders (probably due to how much he absolutely reveres his dead mother) and yet can compartmentalize making money:
Del: I'm not a ruthless mercenary. Who is it that goes around the estate every Christmas time, making sure all the old people have got enough to eat and drink?
Rodney: Yeah, and who was it, during the Brixton riot, that drove down in the van, selling paving stones to the rioters? I mean, what did you think they were going to do with them, eh? All run off home and start building patios?
Del: Mine is not to reason why, mine is to sell and buy. 
This scene is just simply fa really funny scene I've always loved; to see the breadth of Del Boy see the last video in this post from last week. Mange tout!

Smithy - (James Corden, Gavin and Stacey)
Talk about a character who has become a beloved national treasure. Since this was written by Corden and is pretty much the exact same character he plays in the wonderful The Wrong Man(s) which he also wrote, I think it’s safe to say this is pretty much Corden being Corden…which is, in a word, delightful. Just like in The Wrong Man(s) his character is the Costanza to his partner’s Jerry, always living at a high pitch while the other is even-keeled. His reactions to Gavin moving on in life - getting married, moving to Barry, etc - are half immature, half spurned wife. He can be selfish and boarish but then he lays out his food policies - like not sharing food family style - and I revel in the fact that it’s just like me. There’s also something so warm about Gavin’s family basically being his own, and the effect he’s had on them re: his many goofy sayings (“Don’t mind if I do? Then don’t mind if I don’t!") is telling of how much charisma and warmth he really has. Brits will be looking for Smithy every year on Red Nose Day, and with each year I bet they love him even more. I know I do.

Oh yeah, and after promising to deliver a best man’s speech so funny that upon practicing it on Gary and Simon they “rinsed themselves”, he gave the greatest best man speech ever.

Audrey fforbes-Hamilton (Penelope Keith, To the Manor Born)
Her role as Margo Ledbetter in The Good Life could’ve easily gone in here since they’re basically the same character, but I chose this one because it’s the lead. It takes an amazing actress to pull off a character we’d normally be set up to not like, the sort of English upper-crust who believes people around her exist merely to maintain her own social status. There is a thrill in her initial “downfall”, but we quickly root for her because even though she’s a snob, she’s so damn likable. Partly because she’s of the (maybe?) last generation of “noblesse oblige”; she’s lost almost everything but the idea of letting her butler Brabinger loose out into the cruel world is unthinkable to her. Her role is to desperately fight maintain the status quo of her once and future estate. How good of a character is this? Incredibly, her natural sense of entitlement is somehow endearing. Now THAT is tough to pull off (at least to an American, I suppose.)

Jay Cartwright (James Buckley, The Inbetweeners)
Never before has one character been tasked with delivering so much bullshit and then delivering it in spades. As he’s constantly bullshitting about being “up to my nuts in guts!” he knows he’s bullshitting, his friends know he’s bullshitting, and he knows his friends know he’s bullshitting, and yet he simply cannot stop! It’s small wonder the producers of Rock & Chips thought of him when they were looking for a 16 year-old Del Boy. Ironically, the show’s only “earnest” moments - and they are flickering - are when Jay’s dad shows up and absolutely pummels him with insults about his manhood and being useless. You get a peek at maybe why Jay’s so desperate to be seen as more than he really is by his friends, after being told daily by his dad he’s even less than he really is. And the series’ best scene ever flawlessly combines Jay’s first heartbreak with his incredible ability to bullshit about his non-existent sex life.

Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan, The Alan Partridge Show)
There’s a million iterations of this character, so I’m sticking to the 1997/2002 series show. Watching Alan Partridge for too long can make you start to wonder, “gee, if I’m just a complete asshole to everybody maybe I can become quasi-famous and comfortable financially?” I’m not sure there’s ever a single thing he does for anyone else except of course for visiting the home of that psycho stalker fan. His personality is such that he seemingly always get out of getting his ass kicked because even as you’re hearing it, you’re thinking there’s no way someone just said that.

Which, of course, makes him intoxicating to watch.

(Note: the two men at the table are the creators of the classic Father Ted; on the right is Graham Linehan who would also write the great Black Books, The IT Crowd, Count Arthur Strong and more.)

Geraldine Granger (Dawn French, The Vicar of Dibley)
It’s hard to say if playing this part only 2 years after the Church of England legalized (maybe not the right word) women vicars was really edgy, since when it’s delivered it’s wrapped in the typical Richard Curtis warm, cozy embrace. Her character is equal parts empathetic, bombastic, spiritual and lustful, which certainly makes her more interesting than any member of the clergy I’ve ever met. Her handling of David Horton's disdain and her patience with Alice Tinker (both fantastic characters themselves) at every turn is a remarkable juggling act, to say nothing of doing it under the scrutiny of a “man’s job” while in such a backwards (or is it?) village. And she somehow pulls off the remarkable feat of being both timeless and current.

Norman Fletcher (Ronnie Barker, Porridge)
Ronnie Barker is a King of British Comedy over so many roles, but there’s no denying he was born to play the weary, savvy prisoner that is Fletcher. His seemingly having his finger on the pulse of everything and everybody inside is a marvel to watch, and him becoming a father figure to prison cellmate Godbar made for some of the best scenes on tv. And while his cynicism about the world would often feel dark, along with a sadness about having wasted his life, his credo about creating “little victories” to get through each and every day is nothing but inspiring.

David Jason played Blanco alongside Barker in Porridge (as well playing Granville to Barker’s Arkwright in the classic Open All Hours), and in Porridge’s sequel Going Straight it’s revealed his son is played by Nicholas Lyndhurst, the future Rodney Trotter. In my eyes, the very fabric of British sitcom is woven throughout the character of Fletcher.

This is one of my favorite bits, from the very first episode.

Jim Royle (Ricky Tomlinson, The Royle Family)
It’s hard to beat the Wikipedia description of Jim Royle:

Misanthropic, cynical and negligent, Jim is a slob who spends his days sitting in his armchair watching television doing as little as possible and enjoys announcing his visits to the lavatory. Jim is an ill-tempered miser and regularly roasts his family, in particular Antony and his mother-in-law Norma, when not slamming celebrities on television. Jim's outbursts are often accompanied by his mocking catchphrase, "my arse!" On occasions he shows a more patient side, especially when his family is in serious trouble. 

It’s hard to imagine Jim Royle getting a woman to marry him in any generation after his own; no woman today would serve him like a pack mule for over 50 years as Barbara does. And he’s such an enigma - does he work? Has he EVER worked? How does he get the cash to even go to his beloved pub, The Feathers? Either way, he’s beyond entertaining, and while I’m pretty sure any family member who is about to introduce a friend or more to Jim Royle for the first time goes thru an extensive warning about being in the same room as Jim,  he’s definitely the dream dinner guest for any 12 year-old boy what with the farting and cussing and making fun of anyone he can think of.

Here's a typical scene from the show, of which is 99% family sitting on the couch watching tv.

Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon, Gavin and Stacey)
This makes Gavin and Stacey the only show here with 2 characters (and Pam Shipman almost made it 3), but I’ve always had a feeling the writers didn’t know what they had on their hands when they first began writing Bryn. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen such a compelling character for being so earnest, so naive, so well-intentioned, so childlike - if you don’t root for Uncle Bryn immediately, I probably will be suspicious of you. And it’s all those qualities that made his most amazing moments - snapping the families into place when they got into a fight about where the wedding would be held, reading his brother’s posthumous note to Stacey on her wedding day and, most of all, his song at Baby Neil’s christianing. Here you have a guy who's obviously been kicked around his whole life, never had any friends, and you realize he's singing about himself, his own having to be strong every day just to get through. You think he's gonna get made fun of, but it's just overpowering. Once this hit me, I've never been able to watch without some waterworks. I love Uncle Bryn.

Wolfie Smith (Richard Lindsay, Citizen Smith)
Just as his very name suggests, he’s a lovable scamp that considers himself a revolutionary Marxist who really has nothing tangible to say about anything and couldn't actually tell you what he’s fighting for. But watching him do it, while dragging his daft but earnest friends along is a joy to watch, as well is his Fonzarelli-style living quarters above his girlfriends parent’s apartment. Sitcom 101 dictates the father is woefully disapproving of Wolifie’s “socialist” lifestyle, and of course the mother dotes on him while calling him “Foxy.” It’s no wonder John Sullivan’s first sitcom would lead the way for Only Fools and Horses; Wolfie is like a much younger Del Boy who peddles bullshit politics instead of cheap, crappy merchandise. Freedom for Tooting!

(Unfortunately there’s not a lot of clips on YouTube so here’s the entire pilot.)

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Laugh du Jour

Just heard Paul McCartney tell a story about a guy calling him up angry about using the name “Jude” and saying he was gonna send his son around to beat him up. Imagine being a young guy in 1968 and you get tasked with kicking Paul McCartney’s ass. 😜

Thursday, September 13, 2018

My Top 10 Only Fools and Horses Episodes

(In chronological order)

BIG BROTHER – the pilot that started it all. Does a great job of quickly setting up the Del/Rodney dynamic, including their dead mother and how they make a living. Also introduces Grandad and, of course, Trigger:
Rodney: We shouldn't have anything to do with them Del. The police are probably looking for them right now.
Del: Tell us the truth, are the police looking for these things, Trig?
Trigger: (pushing the case under the table) No they're not Del, and that's the truth.
Rodney: Why are you hiding it under the table, then?
Trigger: 'Cos you never know when they're gonna start looking for 'em, do you?

SECOND TIME AROUND – really, really funny episode that begins the running joke of Del getting engaged so many times. Great to see Rodney & Grandad team up, and them going to the wrong aunt’s house is John Sullivan 101. Also the first instance of our seeing the sadness of Del Boy wanting to find his true love; tho in this case he can’t blame it on having to take care of Rodney. Pauline was just fucking nuts.
TOUCH OF GLASS – known mostly for the incredible chandelier scene, this episode is great for two other reasons: Del’s endless jokes about Asians eating dogs, and dropping Del into old English blue-blood society . This was a stroke of genius; to be honest it maybe should've happened more often, as it shows Del Boy thinks of himself as being able to easily fit in with high society:
Rodney: They don't wanna know the likes of us do they? 
Grandad: No, they think we're peasants!
Del: Peasants? What do you mean 'peasants'? They may think that you two are peasants! Well come to think that I think you two are peasants! But me, I'm one of them that's accepted anywhere – whether it's drinking lager with the market boys down at Nine Elms, or sipping Pimm's fruit cup at Hendon regatta! 

HEALTHY COMPETITION - great myriad funny scenes throughout, and recalls the pilot when Rodney’s frustrated with Del’s control and tries to break out. Introduces us to Rodney’s best friend Mickey Pearce which begs the question, why the hell is Rodney friends with this asshole? Del fucking them over at the auction is a thing of beauty, as are his later machinations behind Rodney’s back to make him successful which Rodney of course manages to botch.

FRIDAY THE 14th - One of the rare instances of a sitcom in which one of my favorite episodes mostly takes place outside of its normal setting (A Touch of Glass is another). Some great physical comedy, and who wouldn’t pay money to watch Del Boy play imaginary snooker with an ax murderer? The obvious Friday the 13th/Halloween nods are great, as is Grandad's voice of reason:
Grandad: He can't be in two places at once.
Rodney: No, of course not. Oh, he's most probably half-way to London by now.
Del: Yeah, of course he is. He's most probably looking for an empty place up there.
Grandad: Hope he don't find our flat!

STRAINED RELATIONS - obviously notable for being the first episode after Grandad died, filmed mere weeks after Lennard Pearce’s funeral. Opening with a funeral scene is ballsy, and the scene with Del Boy explaining to Rodney why he’d spent the after-funeral reception cracking jokes et al is one of the best in the entire series. Funny, warm episode and definitely a classic.
And of course we’re introduced to Uncle Albert in a great way - the family keeps dumping him off on one another and then moving, probably because of his family name:
Rodney: Del, Uncle Albert only wants to stay for a couple of nights, and get himself sorted out!
Del: He's a Trotter Rodney.
Rodney: We're Trotters!
Del: Yes I know, but we take after Mum in nature. He's from Dad's side of the family! You know what they're like. You offer 'em a cup of tea and they think you've adopted 'em. Look at that time when Dad came round here he wanted to stay 'one' night! Took us nigh on a fortnight to get rid of him!
Rodney: Uncle Albert might not be like that!
Del: Oh leave it out Rodney! You've heard him yourself when he was telling us about that time he came round the Cape of Good Hope, he was three months on the same wave!

DANGER UXD - just another fantastic John Sullivan idea. Even the bits about the tomatoes are laugh out loud funny. Probably the best sight gags of the show’s run. It’s tough to top the Trotters’ reactions to the moment the dolls first blow up but this always gets me, as another little snapshot of Del Boy:
Del: Well, you know where I was last night while you was up at the Albert Hall, head-banging? I was having a drink with the managing director of the Advanced Electronics Research and Development Centre!
Rodney: Didn't that used to be Ron's Cash and Carry?
Del: Yeah, yeah, that's right, but he changed the name. That bloke's come on a bundle in the last few years. That man is at the front of new technological frontiers. He's got a Queen's Award for industry plaque.
Rodney: I know. I was there when you sold it to him.

CHAIN GANG - besides the tons of funny lines, one thing that’s great about this is it’s one of the rare episodes in which Del/Rodney/Albert/Boycie/Trigger/Denzil/Mike are all in scenes together. Even thought they’re basically trying to rip people off with crappy jewelry together, there’s a warmth to it when they’re all in the Trotter flat.
Del: No, you take that Georgie Collis. They only gave him six months to live. He was gutted, weren't he, Trig?
Trigger: Well, upset.
Del: Yeah, then they discovered, of course, that they'd only mixed up his records with another bloke's.
Trigger: Yeah, but the other bloke only had three months to live!

CLASS OF '62 - the other best example of all the characters being in the same scene. The scene where they’re waiting to see who planned the reunion is an all-timer. Del Boy reveling in sticking it in Rodney’s face that he got a fax from “….Rome, or New York!…oh, it’s from Mike down at the Nag’s Head.” Thrilling reveal when we find out who Raquel’s husband is. And Slater being played by the actor they wanted before David Jason for Del Boy turning it down reminds us how amazing luck can be.
Roy Slater: While I was inside, I found Jesus! 
Del: What had they fitted him up with? 
Slater: To be more precise, Jesus found me...round about the time I got a message to say my old man had passed away. 
Del: I know, Roy. I went to his funeral. 
Slater: Thanks, Del. I wish I could have gone. 
Trigger: Why didn't you? 
Denzil: Probably because he didn't have a black suit and a bloody big ladder! He was in nick, Trig! 
Trigger: Yeah, but I thought they let you out for acts of God like funerals and weddings. 
Slater: I applied for temporary compassionate release. My mum wrote to the prison governor... 
Denzil: And he wouldn't let you go? 
Slater: Not after what that old cow put in her letter!

MODERN MEN - Somehow I got it into my head that it was universally accepted that Modern Men was the weakest of the three Only Fools and Horses 1996 episodes, but now I realize it may be the best. The others are great too but this just has so many classic scenes. Suddenly-animal-lover Rodney being relieved to find out Raquel’s fur coat had been bought by Del, meaning it’s fake fur. Rodney unwittingly calling to apply for his own job. And of course the scene below, an incredible showcase of John Sullivan’s effortlessness in mixing drama with comedy. That 1996 Christmas trilogy episodes (which, like almost all of their Christmas specials, didn’t have anything at all to do with Christmas) are still the most-watched sitcom of all-time, and sometimes I wonder how amazing it must’ve been to curl up on the couch for three straight nights and gotten the country’s beloved show back after three years. Amazing.
Raquel: I worked with her when I was in show business. Look at her now, she's about to be in a new James Bond film!
Del: If she can be in a Bond film, so could you. 
Raquel: Oh shut up. Del: No, you could.
Raquel: Don't be silly.
Del: I'm serious. I mean, look at her, she's a dog.
(I'm miffed they cut this where they did, you can't see that throughout the rest of the scene, you can hear Del whimpering offscreen.) 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

And Me With a Birthday Just 10 Months Away...

The watch that finally made Del Boy a millionaire (briefly!) is up for sale:
The timepiece was made by the BBC props department for the memorable 1996 episode Time On Our Hands, which finally saw the Trotter brothers realise their dream of becoming millionaires. 
In the episode, Raquel’s antiques dealer father spots an old watch that had sat for years on an oven hob in her boyfriend Del’s garage. 
Her father correctly identifies it as the historic missing Harrison watch and it is sold at auction for £6.2million – causing both brothers, played by David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst, to faint in shock. 
Mange tout!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

It Ain't No Sin to Be Glad You're Alive

I remember the day after 9/11 when we were all at the Turkey's Nest, collecting ourselves and making sure everyone was okay, and listening to the tales of a guy who was downtown when it happened. We were dumbstruck as he told us stories of seeing falling bodies and body parts; we all, including him, marveled that he'd survived.

But the one thing I'll remember for all my years, long after I've forgotten about 9/11, is what he said at the door as he was leaving. Muttering under his breath, I don't think anyone else even heard him, he said "Now after all that, watch me walk out the door right now and get hit by a fucking bus."