Television: Half-Year Report Card Part 3

The final part of my summary of the things I’ve been watching on television in the first half of 2011. This selection is under the heading of comedy, which covers a broad spectrum.

COMEDY
Twenty Twelve
I wasn’t sure that a documentary-style comedy about The Olympic Deliverance team coping with the pressure of organising the London 2012 Olympics would be funny, even though it has Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Hynes, Olivia Colman and that squirrelly chap from Green Wing (Karl Theobald). But it is. In a ‘this is probably how it is in real life’ kind of way. Written and directed by John Morton (who did People Like Us), the realism means that you can feel their pain as they meet one problem after another. In fact, the show was so prescient, it accurately predicted that the real London Olympics would have problems with the countdown clock; it was rather spooky. Hugh Bonneville is great as Head of Deliverance, Olivia Colman is very quirky as his PA (I love their truncated conversations when relaying messages from his wife), and Jessica Hynes is hilarious as Head of Brand (having worked in an agency, it is uncanny the true shallowness and vacuousness she portrays).

Friday Night Dinner
I was surprised to hear that the ratings and critics were against Channel 4’s Friday Night Dinner. Although there is a vague similarity to BBC2’s Grandma’s House – both set in a Jewish family home over the course of an evening – but that was all about Simon Amstell trying to break out of his presenter mode with some navel-gazing. Friday Night Dinner is a different beast altogether. Friday Night Dinner is written by Robert Popper, more famous for Look Around You with Peter Serafinowicz, although he started out as a commissioning editor for entertainment and comedy at Channel 4 (he commissioned Spaced, so he will always have my gratitude). The premise is that the two sons (Simon Bird from The Inbetweeners and Tom Rosenthal, son of ITV sport presenter Jim) come back to the family home on Friday evening for dinner with mum (Tamsin Grieg, who is far too young to have grown-up sons) and delightfully odd dad (Paul Ritter). With the addition of Mark Heap as the creepy next-door neighbour who has a disturbing crush on the mum, this is a very funny sitcom about families and the way they interact with each other. There are funny lines, over-the-top comedy moments and lovely performances. It’s not ground-breaking or the greatest thing ever, but it’s really good and enjoyable – why would the critics not like that?

How Television Ruined Your Life
This show is the perfect distillation of Charlie Brooker’s progression from his columns for The Guardian through Screenwipe/Newswipe on BBC4 and his work on Channel 4 with You Have Been Watching and 10 O’Clock Live. It brings together his love/hate relationship with television and his bleak world view based on watching lots of television in the first place. It is both incredibly funny and incredibly depressing the points he makes about the affect of television and the nature of modern programme making. The episodes about love and ‘aspiration’ were so perfect and true and harrowing, you didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It perfectly matches his onscreen persona and his dislike for practically everything, but in a scabrous and amusing way. This was six episodes of visual manifestation of one man’s mind, with additional sketches with the likes of Kevin Eldon. Excellent stuff

Sirens
A very good comedy drama on Channel 4, based on the book (Blood, Sweat & Tea) of the blog (Random Acts of Reality) by Brian Kellett, a nurse and former emergency medical technician (his beat was London, but the series is set in Leeds). It follows the exploits of a three-member ambulance team and the female police sergeant university friend of the main character (who occasionally narrates thoughts). It’s funny, intelligent, warm, and real, with a look at days in the life of people who respond to the normal ’emergencies’ of life. I liked the camaraderie between the members of the ambulance crew (one is smart but overthinks everything; one is gay and avoids thinking; the trainee is a typical young lad but who learns a few things) and the fact that it wasn’t afraid to throw in science in a casual manner. It also balanced the humour and the serious stuff, which is always a difficult act in comedy dramas. I hope this gets another season.

I was going to talk about Lead Balloon, the ‘sitcom’ co-written by and starring Jack Dee that is supposedly a very close relative to Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm (I wouldn’t know; I’ve never seen it), but it wasn’t as funny as the previous seasons and dwelled more on the character anguish. The fifth episode with Robbie Coltrane was interesting and different, but I was watching it without any sense of wanting to – when the PVR abruptly cut off at the end of the final episode, I think it was trying to tell me something.

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