A very funny European blog this week so let’s get started.
This week we primarily have shows that fall into the comedy genre in one way or another but we start off with a review of BBC4′s latest European import Borgen. Obviously after the success of The Killing the Beeb wanted another Scandinavian show to garner similar attention and it seemed that this political drama was the programme to do it. Set in and around the world of Danish parliament it stars Sidse Babet Knudsen stars as Brigitte Nyborg the leader of the Moderates a secondary party in terms of the political hierarchy. In the run-up to the election Brigitte’s spin doctor Kasper gets his hands on receipts proving that the prime minister is dodgy and when Brigitte doesn’t want to use this information he instead gives it to the head of the labour party. During the leaders’ debate the issue of the receipts is bought up but because the Prime Minister is attacked so much both men fall out of favour as a result and instead it is Brigitte and the Moderates who gain the most seats after she gives a passionate and relatable speech. After both sides offer her and her party deals she is encouraged to become prime minister herself by her friend and fellow minister Bent and eventually forms a coalition which is the country’s youngest and contains the most women in any cabinet in Denmark’s history. From there every week Brigitte has to deal with a new problem be it a new economics bill, meeting a foreign dignitary or deciding on new fighter jets. However Brigitte’s biggest problems come at home as she struggles to balance the job and her husband and two kids the former of whom is played by Ulrik Strange from The Killing. The thing that Borgen does the best is the subtle storytelling of the Prime Minister’s job engulfing Brigitte’s life and seeing her husband getting more and more frustrated as he plays second fiddle. These scenes are acted brilliantly even by the two youngsters playing her children who aren’t annoying in the slightest.
Playing alongside Brigitte’s story is the goings on on at the TV1 station and is focused around ambitious young reporter Katrine who always wants to get the bottom of the story even it frustrates her boss played by another former partner of Sarah Lund’s this time the guy who was Jan Meyer. The relationship between politics and the media is seen throughout Borgen and is best explored through the on-off romance between Katrine and Kasper which is fractured by the latter’s lack of openness about his past which is revealed to be tortured. In fact Kasper obtains the receipts after finding them in the possessions of the former prime minister’s aide with whom Katrine had been having an affair the revelation of this splits them completely. The media is also represented through the local paper when former labour boss Michael Laugesen takes over as editor mainly as a way of attacking the new coalition. I think you can draw a parallel between Katrine and Brigitte both women with high power jobs and who struggle to balance a personal life but by the end of Series One I feel that one makes a decision for the better while the other makes one that will haunt her. Despite Borgen not having the twist and turn elements of The Killing it still is a brilliant drama looking at the inner-workings of both the political system and the media both of whom ultimately work hand in hand. Some have described this as a Danish West Wing however that programme was more about the President’s advisers while in Borgen it is Brigitte herself making a lot of the tough decisions. The whole cast are completely brilliant even if they are ridiculously good looking and while The Killing concentrated on jumpers there is a lot of scarf wearing going on in Borgen. The only thing that bothered me slightly was how uncomfortable everybody looked in the TV1 studio as it seems that all the interviews and news bulletins are conducted with all involved standing up. All in all though an engaging and thought-provoking piece of drama which I can’t wait to see return which, according to the very vague BBC4, will be next winter so I’ll see you then.
OK onto the comedy now in all of its different forms we will begin with the return of a satirical news show which received mixed responses when it began last year. The aim of Channel 4′s 10 o’clock Live seemed to be to emulate American hits such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report which are both much-loved shows and for my money they really didn’t pull it off. It didn’t really have much to do with David Mitchell, Jimmy Car or Charlie Brooker all of whom were doing as they were supposed to do or even Lauren Laverne who really had little to do it was mainly due to cramming too much into the already overlong run time. In series two the creators seem to have learnt from their mistakes and have stream-lined the show cutting down the number of debates and letting everyone play to their strengths. Laverne’s role has essentially been cut down to one small speech and being the presenter chairing the round-table discussions. Carr’s opening news headlines where entertaining as was Charlie Brooker’s pastiche of the reason BBC royalist documentary The Diamond Queen in which he fashioned a hat out of a baby’s incubator. The negatives in this first episode were Mitchell’s debate about football which was more of a friendly chat and Carr’s Putin impression which really proved that all of the quartet should only get one segment each. The best parts of 10 o’clock Live are the round-table discussions between the four which seems like two witty, sarcastic friends, a guy who thinks he’s funnier than everyone else and a clueless women discussing current affairs down the pub. Sure this was a fairly uneven episode but based on this evidence there was enough to see that this series of 10 o’clock Live might do better than its predecessor even if it will never ever be The Daily Show.
The thing that on the outside seemed most like a traditional sitcom was Roger and Val Have Just Got In mainly because it was 30 minutes long and starred Dawn French. However those of you who watched the first series of this programme know that there are few laughs nestled between the everyday chatter of French and Alfred Molina’s titular couple. Though there were a number of comic incidents my abiding memories of the first series, which I watched sporadically, were the showdown in which it was revealed that the couple had a child that died after five weeks. The programme’s creators must’ve realised that not a lot of people saw series one so put a handy two minute long compilation of series one’s most notable moments including the aforementioned argument as well as Roger getting the sack. We re-join the couple as they return from a wedding with unpacking to do and discussion about the letter that informs that Val has got an interview for the deputy headship in the school in which she teaches food technology. Roger’s big series long story arc will involve his employment tribunal as he is suing his former company for wrongful dismissal however he seems to receive a threatening note which is seemingly try to deter him from giving evidence against said company. But in Roger and Val plot comes second to observational dialogue my favourite being the awkwardness of unpacking straight away after returning from holiday and what you should cook if you haven’t bought any food since you were last in. Once again there aren’t a lot of jokes and the ones that are present you can see coming a mile off such as flour spilling all over Roger’s head after a comment being made about one of their friends going grey. As in my review of the previous series Roger and Val is essentially a collection of two-hander versions of Alan Bennett’s Talking Head monologues about the mundane qualities of life and how it is lovely to have someone to share the ride with you. This style of television isn’t for everyone and occasionally I find it a little overbearing as not one couple refers to each other by their first name as much as Roger and Val do. But for fans of the films of Mike Leigh and his ilk this might be just the thing for you as it does have elements of some of his work cut down to a handy half hour format.
Moving on to what would be my comedy of the week which takes us into spoof territory as Peter Capaldi writes and stars as himself in Cricklewood Greats a programme about fiction British film studio Cricklewood and the actors and actresses who starred in their films. Cricklewood’s output seemed to include a little bit of everything Britain is known for from Hammer and Ealing to Carry on franchise and the films of Gracie Fields. However Cricklewood’s Gracie Fields was Florrie Fontaine a woman who gave Britain a lot of joy but then was tempted by Hitler during World War 2 and ended up working in Nazi Propaganda films before opening a bar in Benidorm. The Hammer Horror elements were provided by Lionel Crisp a sort of amalgamation of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee who would play the vampire hunter in all types of exploitation films. For me though the greatest jokes came when Cricklewood parodied the Carry on films with the Thumbs Up collection starring the Barbara Windsor-like Jenny Driscoll who lowered herself to star in their space based effort entitled Thumbs Up Uranus! However the studio was finally finished off by the great Terry Gilliam, playing himself, when he is ultra-creative project Professor Hypochondria’s Magical Odyssey went stupidly over budget. As Capaldi is delighted to hear Cricklewod Studios is still open today however now today it has been transformed into a Wickes Superstore and in one of the show’s funniest scenes he is guided around by fellow Thick of It cast member Alex McQueen playing a Cricklewood enthusiast. It is true that great parody is best done with a straight face and there is no face straighter than Capaldi’s as he pokes fun as some of Britain’s best loved films while being completely serious. Cricklewood Greats was both funny and brilliant in equal measure and I’m hoping Capaldi and co-writer Tony Roche bring it back with the former documenting other great film stars and if it’s as good as this I’ll certainly be watching.
If Dave’s output is anything to go by then Britain’s best-loved form of comedy is that of the panel show and this week we got the start of a full series of Alexander Armstrong’s Big Ask after a pilot last year. I hadn’t watched the pilot so wasn’t aware of the format but it is pretty simple as Armstrong welcomes three guests onto his sofa and gives them a subject on which each has to ask the other two a question. In this opening episode the guests were Graham Norton, Sandi Toksvig and Marcus Brigstocke who quizzed each other on subjects ranging from dogs to China. The second round sees one subject presented with Armstrong choosing which one of the three got to ask the question before finally there’s a little bit of Mock the Week as he asks the guests what question they would pose to figures such as Ed Milliband and Jeremy Kyle if they were there. Despite their being an over-abundance of panel shows on our TV at the moment I quite enjoyed Big Ask even if it was very similar to the new format of Room 101. Though Armstrong seems to be an ambiguous presence on our screens at the moment he is also one that is charming and witty so I’m not upset when I see him appear on everything. My only negative was that Armstrong had seemingly bundled Come Dine with me narrator Dave Lamb from his announcing booth into a small room where he was tasked with finding facts on the subjects that the guests were discussing the main problem here was the he was used sparingly and if you’ve got access to Lamb surely you’d want to use him all in the time while we’re on the subject why couldn’t Armstrong’s Pointless companion Richard Osman have filled this role? This debut episode also survived because of its calibre of guests as both Brigstocke and Toksvig are seasoned Radio 4 panellists so know how to do this and it’s nice to see the latter freed from Eric Knowles’ Antiques Master mansion. While it was also a bit of a coup to get Graham Norton as he rarely appears on these sort of shows which sort of marked it above the rest of the panel show crop. For now then Big Ask is a hit but if next week’s show features panel show regulars Mickey Flanagan, Russell Kane and Sarah Milican then I’ll doubt it will be anywhere near as good.
Speaking of panel show regulars we finish the blog with Scottish comic Kevin Bridges going back to his roots and looking at the inspiration for some of his stand-up material. In Kevin Bridges: What’s the Story? we were given an outlay of his life story and his journey into the career that he is in at the moment. One of the problems with the programme is that he didn’t have a tough upbringing he got on with both of his parents and even sort of watched porn with his dad once even if it was on separate TV’s back in the days before Sky multiroom. He also didn’t have a cavalcade of bar-work or labouring jobs before his big break instead the only non-comedy job he had was to hand out the numbers in TK Max something he made a weak joke of in his routine. We then saw his bit where he talked about the differences between American high school parties and Scottish open house parties and he use the example of the All-American Chad Hogan. So surprise, surprise that he went all the way to Utah to meet the real Mr Hogan and attend one of his parties, I’m not quite sure why but hell it was a free trip to America! Finally he met hero Frank Skinner which was probably the best part of the episode which makes me wonder if they should’ve just done a programme about his comedy heroes. After watching this programme I thought Bridges came across as a thoroughly decent and charing chap and I have to say I laughed at some of the large plethora of his stand-up material on show here it also seems that he has become the natural successor to Frankie Boyle before he went off the deep end and started doing jokes about paedophiles and disabled kids. The problem with Bridges though is that he hasn’t lived a particularly tough life so there’s not much resentment towards his family and a lot of this seemed like filler. If this was on just before Christmas I would swear it was a way to promote Bridges’ DVD but at the end of the day this is simply an insight of how comic’s get their material I just think it would’ve been better done with a stand-up who’s got more interesting tales to tell.
Next Week: Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, Inspector Montalbano and The BAFTAs