The first episode of series two of Extras aired tonight, and I was most pleased with it. Initially concerned about Keith Chegwin (seemed rather like a contrived attempt at Les Dennis mk. 2, on paper) and Orlando Bloom, they both worked out really well.
Bloom was on fine form as the narcissist obsessed with his imaginary feud with Johnny Depp (‘the prat’) – although I understood his motivation, Bloom’s fixation with Maggie was a bit of a stretch.
Anyway, Cheggers worked out really well. It helped that he was pretty much the polar opposite of Dennis’ character on the show; whereas Les was very wet and pathetic, in an endearing kinda way, Chegwin was a racist homophobe, with a disarmingly chilling delivery. His scene was also the funniest of the episode, where they were trying to get his one line of dialogue down. He failed so miserably that I was laughing so hard, I literally thought my neck was going to explode.
That Mitchell And Webb Look wasn’t as resounding a success. I loved Peep Show. I thought the first series was the best by a mile, but I loved Peep Show. I also don’t like sketch shows. I don’t like Little Britain, Bo Selecta! or The Fast Show. I liked bits of them, but there’s the rub with sketch shows – they tend to be hit and miss.
So with Bo!, you had stuff like Craig David and Michael Jackass, which were pretty damn hilarious (til the kind of idiots who wear short sleeved shirts while drinking outside pubs in the winter ran the catchphrases through the ground, past the Earth’s core and into Australia). Then you had other parts of the show, like Lorraine Kelly or whatever, where he just wanted to say rude words. And the less said about the Avid Merrion bits, the better.
Big Train was a good sketch show, though. Mainly because it didn’t tend to fall into the trap that too many programmes do in terms of catchphrases; the same characters saying the same thing week after week until laughing is less an expression of amusement than it is a Pavlovian reaction… Fast Show especially.
I’m completely nonplussed by the kind of comedy where everyone knows what the punch line is, and we’re all just waiting for it to come. Oh, that bloke on the Fast Show was talking about all this amazing stuff that happened to him, and then he just said ‘…which was nice’! Oh, the bathos!
Anyway, Mitchell And Webb. We know they’re really funny, but (as someone who doesn’t have digital and didn’t see whatever programme it was on BBC3530) how does that translate to sketches?
Well, I didn’t hate any of it, but if the drunken snooker commentators become a weekly thing I’ll be happy to change my mind. The crime fighting team of ‘Angel Summoner’ & BMX Bandit, wherein the latter would hatch a complex plot involving wheelies, and the former would just get a bunch of angels to do everything, was good stuff. Just not every week.
One thing that did completely make me laugh was ‘Numberwang’. A parody of those nonsensical daytime quiz shows that only the participants and presenter seem to understand, it was random and concise enough to have me rolling in the aisles. OK, just sitting down and laughing, but it was still good.
I guess the success of the series will hinge on how many good ideas they have – will it be different every week, or will it slide into Catchphrase Hell? Or will it just meander about, in rather clueless fashion, like Man Stroke Woman? Yeah, you forgot about that already.
And finally, season 5 of Curb Your Enthusiasm came out this week. I’ve wanted to ration myself, so have only seen about half of it thus far. I like it. I like it a lot.
The episode with the racist dog has been the best thus far, partly due to the fact that it is unbelievably awkward (being called a homophobe and a racist? Wait – that rings a bell…), and also because it features what have now become staples of the show.
And by that I mean two things. First off is the look Larry gives anyone he thinks is lying. He’ll go silent and squint into their eyes, moving his head slowly, as though in an attempt to pierce the falsehood and get to the truth within. I think it’s hilarious, especially when it comes to how the different defendants react.
The other is his ‘catchphrase’, which I think only I actually notice. And that is his ‘pretty good. Prettyyyy, prettyyyyy, prettyyyy, pretty good’ line. It always cracks me up. It reached its zenith when he used it (after subtly doing so for four seasons) in a wedding vow renewal (‘the marriage has been pretty good…’ when he has misplaced the vows he had written for the occasion), but it’s always gold.
And what’s the difference between this and the sketch show catchphrases I hate with such passion? Context. The Curb… lines are ensconced within excellent comedy scenarios, as opposed to being the sole reason for the existence of those scenarios. Now, roll on that Arrested Development Season 3 DVD set…
POSTSCRIPT: I finally got to reading some of last week’s Weekend Guardian, and it’s a comedy-focused issue. In it, among other luminaries, are Mitchell and Webb. Funny thing is, I never reconciled the fact that the writing pair and acting pair on Peep Show had different names and, because it was a writing duo, assumed the actors wrote it.
How wrong I was. Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain wrote it. They also wrote the hilarious The Thick Of It. While the pair wrote on That Mitchell And Webb Look, that also had a bunch of other writers working on it. I’ll just assume they wrote Numberwang and Angel Summoner & BMX Bandit, the rest of them wrote the other stuff, and we’ll have a tidy little solution.