Thursday, July 8, 2010

Brits are Funny - Shows You Need To Watch

You may or may not be able to tell that the below was written by a uiversity student studying philosophy. Therefore, he has much spare time on his hands to surf around YouTube and source dvd's from around the globe. However, it is to the benefit of us Antipodean beings - turns out the Brits are a hell of a lot funnier than the Vicar of Dibley, Fawlty Towers and Jamie Oliver...

It’s no secret that, these days, the ABC descends further and further into a lame pastiche of its British correlative. There has been talk of those hipsters at Triple J ascending into the evil upperworld of ‘popular’ music in a brazen restructuring of our government’s public transmission service based on, you guessed it, those doyens of youth culture, Radio 1. Soon, expect to see Krishnan Guru-Murthy replace Kerry O’Brien in your evening retinue; and if the ABC’s forthcoming 24-hour newsathon is not at least 75% weather-related, please don’t hesitate to pick up the phone, dial 999 and brazenly assault your ‘numble operator with an aural assault of “well, well, well, wot’s goin’ on ‘ere, then?”

Fortunately, however, the past decade and a half of television in the motherland has been graced by a plethora of groundbreaking comedies, which one can only hope will find their way onto Australian TV sets, as the British invasion re-reaches its 1788 proportions. Of course, Graham Linehan’s (apologies to the Irish Linehan here, but succinctness necessitates my untactful lumping of leprechauns with beefeaters) the I.T. Crowd, Big Train, Father Ted and Black Books all receive the occasional graveyard shifts on the ABC’s (perhaps it’s time for a Beeb-esque nickname, the Ayb, maybe? Or aybo, to induce a peculiarly antipodean linguistic nuance?) secondary stations, and the Mighty Boosh, the Office, Peep Show and the Vicar of Dibley are not short of fanatics either, but bubbling underneath the popular surface are a series of equally influential (though often more sanguinary and cultish) programs which YouTube and multi-regional DVD hacking codes have allowed me to enjoy. So forget Beautiful People, forget Gavin and Stacey (not awful shows, but not indispensible to the weekly televisual palate either) and pull out those bobby hats and fork those fingers, for here’s a jolly rum-go at a list of the best British comedies currently unseen on the Australian Beeb (and, I promise, the end of the bracketed diversions):

1) Alan Partridge

Steve Coogan’s iconic character has spanned several programs (more of which to come) and, although remains popular in the U.K. has never (to my knowledge) seen airtime in Australia. Which is a pity. Those of us fortunate to have witnessed the obnoxious and maladroit talk show host bumble his way through Knowing Me, Knowing You, and the ensuing sitcom, I’m Alan Partridge, which follows his equally awkward personal life, know full well that the mere sound of ‘A-HA!’ signals the entrance of a British comedy character in the pantheon of David Brent, Basil Fawlty and Sir Humphry Appleby. For those who haven’t, a whole new world awaits.

In a few words: “Right, dry skin cream. I'm having an attack of the old flakes again. This morning my pillow looked like a flapjack.”

What to watch: I’m Alan Partridge (Series One).

2) Brass Eye
Some people may be aware of Chris Morris as the rash and eccentric boss Reynholm Denholm from Series One of the I.T. Crowd, but his satire of media sensationalism, Brass Eye (1997-2001), makes Denholm look like Julie Andrews by comparison. The 2001 special on paedophilia received several thousand complaints to the BBC, but the show is perhaps the most accurate send-up of populist media ever created. The genius of the show becomes apparent in the piss-take interviews with real celebrities who are coerced into stating blatant absurdities to support a populist cause – one particularly memorable scene depicts a British Labour MP straight-facedly stating that paedophiles were using ‘an area of internet the size of Ireland’. By comparison, Australian satire looks weak and uncontroversial. Morris’ previous effort, the Day Today (which unleashed Alan Partridge into the world – see his seminal 1994 World Cup coverage) is equally enjoyable viewing; even if many of the political jokes are restricted to now unfamiliar pre-Britpop and pre-Blair Britain. Moreover, a new film, Four Lions – a satirical look at modern Islamic fundamentalist terrorism – has recently found its way onto the screens of many obscure international festivals. Expect a DVD release in Australia some time before the fourth millennium.

In a few words: “An overdose of heroin is fatal - in the short term. But there has been no research whatsoever into long term effects”.

What to watch: Paedogeddon.
(Try )

3) Never Mind the Buzzcocks (Simon Amstell years)
This gratuitously obscene insult-fest was, perhaps surprisingly, the basis for the ABC’s cute and cuddly, family friendly Spicks and Specks. Hosted for a decade by the quirky but irritating Mark Lamarr, the fresh-faced, homosexual, churlish, witty Jew Simon Amstell took over the hosting role in 2006 to instant audience recoil (his first Christmas special concluded with the immortal words “Whichever religion you are, remember, only one can be right, so...let's have a war! Happy Christmas!”). Sparing no celebrity from his line of incessant insults (“Phil Collins is losing his hearing, making him the luckiest man at a Phil Collins Concert”, “Jordan's third favourite tit and second favourite twat - it's Peter Andre!”, Still going after seven years due to the unfortunate lack of murder, it's Westlife!”), the Amstell series of Buzzcocks are worthwhile viewing for the sheer bewilderment countenanced by the endless C-grade musical and BBC guests. Preston of the Ordinary Boys ( haven’t? No, neither have I) was a controversial victim of the assault, storming off stage after Amstell derisively read a selection from his reality-TV-star wife’s autobiography (“I can't believe that upset him...I mean...I don't know if he's read it. I've read the whole thing, and it upset me!”), but he is just one of many. I don’t believe this show has ever had a DVD release, but YouTube helpfully contains every episode from season 19 onwards in full. Hopefully one day Simon, Phil and Bill will replace Adam, Alan and Myf on our Wednesday night sets.
(Note: you must watch this. Must. It's totally a must. You will die laughing, or at least stay alive but wishing you had Simon Amstell's smirky wit.)
In a few words:
Simon Amstell: [sadly] Everyone knows Courtney Love apart from me.

Noel Fielding: She’d crush you like a twiglet.

Simon Amstell: She would. Or kill me and make it look like suicide...

What to watch: S20E02 – Donny Tourette (Towers of London) fatefully attempts to outwit Amstell and Bill Bailey, with predictable results.

4) In the Loop/the Thick of It
I’m told that those ever-vigilant sponges of quality, Blockbuster, are soon about to stock copies of Academy-Award nominated film In the Loop within the coming weeks. So, pop on your best Sherlock attire and be ready to sleuth your way through all the usual irrelevant genres in your local DVD library to suss out the singular copy that may find its way to your local, because it’s perhaps last decade’s finest piece of British comedic cinema (or, for us Aussies, this decade’s finest piece of British comedic cinema). The series on which the film is based, the Thick of It, is a brilliant piece of political satire in the same league as Yes Minister, only with high-level profanities. Delving into the harsh world of political spin-doctoring (obscene and abusive Director of Communications Malcolm Tucker is, apparently, based on Alistair Campbell), the show unfolds with the farcical rapidity of Fawlty Towers while never sacrificing its Office-esque subtlety. Famed for its ‘perfect swearing’, one YouTube comment contrasts Tucker with both Gordon Ramsay and Shakespeare – the cursing is as common and brutal as the chef, but as poetic as the Bard.

In a few words: “All these hands all over the place! You were like a sweaty octopus trying to unhook a bra” (Malcolm Tucker berating an MP for his overly dramatic television performance).

What to watch: In the Loop.

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