Tag Archives: comedy

TV Reviews: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

You have the right to remain silent. But you won't.
You have the right to remain silent. But you won’t.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is Universal Television’s (By way of FOX) effort to fill the hole in the sitcom landscape where a cop show parody should be. It’s also the latest vehicle for Saturday Night Live‘s biggest recent success story, Andy Samberg – following the decidedly uneven Cuckoo. Alongside Samberg are Terry Crews (Apparently Will McAvoy’s bodyguard Lonny went off to become a cop, explaining his absence from The Newsroom Season 2) and relative newcomer Stephanie Beatriz.

Samberg plays an immature but gifted detective whose “dammit I get results” stylings come into conflict with the “by da book” new Captain’s way of doing things. Despite that seemingly clichéd premise, the show isn’t going for a straight parody of cop show tropes, and instead opts for a more subtle (Yes, subtlety in an Andy Samberg vehicle – if only Cuckoo knew such luxuries) deconstruction, more along the lines of Scrubs.

It’s unclear from the pilot if the show will be able to develop the same dramatic chops as Scrubs did with its cast of beloved characters over the years, but there are early signs of deeper thought at least, with Captain Holt given a decent backstory which earns him the sympathy (and, more importantly, the respect) of Samberg’s Jake Peralta.

But while the dramatic underpinnings of a sitcom can give it the prestige and enduring appeal to make it a long runner (The SimpsonsFriendsScrubshow i met your mother…), any sitcom which isn’t funny will sink like a rock (I’m looking at you, majority of the pilots from Amazon Studios’s first Pilot season). So is Brooklyn Nine-Nine a comedic dud destined to end its run in a graveyard slot and be forgotten about by next Christmas?

No.

No, it’s actually pretty funny. Samberg’s smug performance actually manages to be charming because the show makes the wise choice to show us immediately that he’s actually good at what he does, and he is nevertheless more of a smartass than actually condescending. Meanwhile, the absurdity has been kept just about in check. There’s no lengthy fantasy sequences, and all of the hijinks the cast engage in are relatively grounded.

It’s all just stupid. And I don’t mean that as a knock. It’s the best kind of stupid. It’s the kind of dumb joking around you get into when you’re hanging around with friends or killing time in an office. Too often, this kind of dumb comedy doesn’t work out so well.  Microsoft published a video game example recently in LocoCycle, which just feels like you’re watching someone else’s inside joke. And it’s never explained to you. So it never becomes funny.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine invites you to laugh at its characters with the rest of the cast by constantly ensuring there’s someone to laugh with. The cast takes turns playing straight man for each other as the situation demands; mocking or being mocked, laughing along or hiding their shame. It’s relatable because that’s how people are in real life.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is part of a movement in sitcom writing to reflect the kind of humour people experience day-to-day. Rather than placing absurd caricatures in front of you and inviting you to laugh mercilessly at their failures (Two And a Half Men), Brooklyn Nine-Nine follows the formula successfully deployed by how i met your mother of allowing its characters to know exactly how funny the things that are happening are. And it mines that area mercilessly for extra yucks as Samberg or another cast member manages to deliver that extra quip at the end of the scene that perfectly encapsulates the audience’s feelings.

Oh and by the way, I think you’re overdoing it on the man-scaping.

Rating: Watch

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TV Reviews: BBC One’s That Puppet Game Show

PuppetGameShowThat Puppet Game Show is BBC One’s new Saturday Night Entertainment Show from Muppet-creators The Jim Henson Company; featuring the imaginatively named unlicensed Muppet-esque puppet cast, “The Puppets”, and celebrity contestants vying to win £10,000 for charities of their choosing. So is it worth watching or is it ‘Honey I Couldn’t Afford the Muppets Tonight License’?

It would be incredibly easy to hate That Puppet Game Show. It’s hard to look past the fact it’s clearly a Muppet franchise show without The Muppets license, even knowing it comes from the company who originally created and owned the characters (Who are now owned by The Walt Disney Company). It’s also a celebrity game show in an era where you can’t turn a corner without tripping over a competitive TV show featuring celebrities.

It does itself no favours in its introduction either, where it looks like it’s about to be exactly as cloying, try hard and false as you’d expect it to be – face it, the Americans are just better at being earnest about this kind of nonsense than the Brits. And this is a very British effort. Especially its host, Dougie Colon (It’s pronounced Cologne).

But if you stick with it past the painfully obligatory explanation of the show’s format and let yourself be drawn in…There’s a charm. Especially once some of the puppets with more creative voices and backstories start appearing. It also helped in this first episode that Jonathan Ross was making a triumphant (ish) return to BBC airtime after being made to jump ship to ITV a couple of years ago. While we’re on the subject, if you hadn’t heard, The Jonathan Ross Show got a Super Renewal late last month despite rumours 2013 would be its final year, so two new series will air in 2014, as well as ten more episodes starting this Autumn.

Back on That Puppet Game Show, Jonathan’s easy charm and spontaneous humour help the show through its first shaky minutes and into the meat of the show proper. Like Muppets Tonight and The Muppet Show before it, That Puppet Game Show divides its time between the show itself, and the antics of the puppets backstage. In this case, it is skewed slightly more heavily towards the show itself, with the scenes backstage serving as a series of brief, interconnected sketches (whose plot occasionally receives reference onstage too).

The celebrity guests do occasionally feature briefly in the backstage segments, but not to the extent they would have in the show’s Muppet-branded predecessors. But then, they also factor more heavily into the onstage sequences as well, so the distribution of Puppets to Celebrities screen time is fairly similar – there is possibly slightly more celebrity than previously as it happens, but it’s not at the expense of the puppets.

It’s not nearly as good as a Muppet franchise entry of course. More often the jokes here are a bit on the cringe-worthy side than they would be in a Muppets vehicle, and there’s probably a touch more humour relying on sheer shock value alone than you would see with the Muppet name attached. I was surprised to find though that “not as good” is the worst I could say about it. It’s a bit twee, and a couple of the games are rather stupid, but most of the backstage jokes land very well. Dougie’s banter with the Crab who calls the scores is generally good for a chuckle and the game based on giving humorous acceptance speech for a fictitious award (Life’s a Speech) is actually both funny and engaging in the same way as a more conventional game show, such as BBC One’s Pointless.

The quality of the guests is probably going to have a lot to do with how well the show does from here. The Puppets are doing a reasonable job eliciting laughs, but with the competitive part of the show dominating the runtime, it’s going to be important that the guests are as charming and game for the show’s brand of nonsense as Jonathan Ross and Katherine Jenkins were in this first effort.

I suppose the biggest thing I can say about this show so far is that I actually enjoyed the first episode enough to decide I definitely want to see the second, and that surprised me. I was as skeptical as possible about this show from the moment it was announced. The name, the concept, the Dougie Colon mini-hype from BBC Entertainment’s PR team…I was finding it hard to imagine this would be anything less than an outright cringe-fest, on the same level as BBC One’s 2011 flameout of a trainwreck of a game show Don’t Scare The Hare. I’m still not convinced That Puppet Game Show will entice enough of an audience to avoid deathwatch status, but I am newly convinced that I’d like it to manage to escape such a fate. If you missed Episode 1, check it out on BBC iPlayer and let me know if you agree, or if you think it’s just as bad as it sounds.

Rating: Watch

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(The name is still really bad though)

Movie Reviews: The Hangover Part II

the-hangover-part-2-banner-imageThe Hangover Part II was the highly-anticipated followup to 2009’s sleeper smash hit The Hangover, and the middle part in the inevitable Hangover Trilogy franchise. You probably know that. It was released back in 2011 (Which you probably also know), but I kept missing out on seeing it until now – after the third part has already left theatres. So now I’ve seen it, what did I think? Well…

The Hangover is a great movie. It’s shocking, funny and (despite its absurdity), it’s still relatively believable. And as a result, it’s also relatively relatable. Sure, not everyone has gotten into quite such dramatic all-night benders, but many of us have had nights where we’ve done crazy things while under the influence and most of those us who have also have nights with huge gaps in our memories. It’s got a generally brilliant cast, fantastic and actually surprising cameos, and it was an even better movie when you saw it in a packed theatre.

The Hangover Part II is probably also better when seen in a packed theatre. Unlike its predecessor though, that’s probably the only time it’s any good at all. What might surprise you is that I don’t dislike it for being a rehash of the original. In fact, that’s kind of what I wanted. Another spin on the “crazy night we can’t remember” wheel is what I was looking for with this movie. No, what I dislike about the sequel is what they changed. Reusing the same bones, that’s fine. The problems with the sequel relate to turning some of the weaker elements up to eleven and contriving to reuse utterly inconsequential elements (like plot coupons) of the original for no good reason.

I still get plenty of laughs out of re-watching The Hangover. But the sequel left me cold even on this first viewing. There are some decent laughs in it, but almost all of them (with precisely two – it’s so few I can count them) come from characters the movie seems convinced are less funny than “the funniest character of all time”, played by “the funniest comedic actor of all time”: Alan Garner, played by Zach Galifianakis.

As you’ve no doubt guessed, those assessments are not my own, but those (apparently) of the writers, director and producers.

I say that because Alan gets a whole lot of focus in this movie at the expense, once again, of Doug – played by Justin Bartha – who is written out of the majority of the action in a way so contrived it’s brushed over as quickly as possible. It’s also at the expense of the far more interesting character of Mason Lee’s Teddy (Stu’s soon-to-be Brother-in-Law). Alan is a classic example of a character from an ensemble piece who was well-received enough to be forced to the fore of a later entry in the franchise.

In the original movie, Alan is an equally divisive figure. Some people, I know, love his schtick and enjoy Galifianakis’s style of “weird for the sake of it” humour. I’m not among them. But the first time around, I was okay with it. Alan was funny in the original because he was used (relatively) sparingly alongside the other members of the franchise’s core trio – as well as the rest of the ensemble – and he acts as a plot coupon. He’s the wild card which sets off the chain of events the movie revolves around, and his presence is justified well in the plot.

That is…Not the case here. Alan is forced into the movie with the flimsiest possible justification: Doug’s wife twists his arm about letting Alan attend Stu’s wedding, so he twists Stu’s. Stu, justifiably, wants nothing more to do with Alan who is clearly a deranged individual, who drugged Stu and his friends te first time he spent any time with them. Stu has every reason not to want him there. But Doug convinces him (it’s not particularly well justified), so they go and get him.

What’s worse is, before they even get to Thailand for the wedding, Alan furnishes them with (at least) four perfectly good new reasons not to want him around. By the end of the movie, there are at least five occasions where he should have been punched in the face, and arguably even more where he should just have been left to rot. These characters have absolutely no reason to like Alan and no earthly reason for putting up with his nonsense, which includes the revelation that he drugged them again, information which should in fact have led to Stu and Phil beating the living snot out of him on a public street. Instead he is quickly forgiven, for reasons which never become apparent.

See, the thing is, Alan is not their friend and never was. He insists on the idea that he is, but the only possible reason for them going along with this fantasy is pity. And that just doesn’t cut it when you’re talking about a guy who’s now twice drugged them, causing them no end of problems. Especially since – in this case – Phil winds up getting shot, Stu’s fiancé’s brother (who is a cellistloses a finger and Stu himself unwittingly cheats on his future-wife with a prostitute and gets a crazy Mike Tyson Face Tattoo days before his wedding.

But instead of getting the asshole incarcerated, or beating him within an inch of his life, they forgive him as if all he did was lose their crate of beer. In fact, eventually they go ahead and treat him as if he’s a hero and they’re best buds. It all plays out as if the movie is begging us to love Alan, whilst also expecting that we already do. But I just can’t. He’s the least funny thing in a comedy in which he is a starring player, and he’s an asshole. No justification the movies offer excuses how much of a colossal jackass he is. He’s not even a loveable jackass. He ploughs clean across the edge of unsympathetic comedy protagonist territory and winds up a straight up villain protagonist.

What’s worse is, the only character who could conceivably be justified in pretending to like Alan is Doug, and he is once again sidelined! I’d have loved to have seen a The Hangover story where Doug makes it through the night with the others, and then joins them in their efforts to suss out what happened, because he’s a likeable character. My ideal rewrite of this script would have been to change it so that Alan’s presence was a surprise (like Mr Chow’s) and Doug joined them on the night out instead of heading off to bed early. Teddy could still have served as the lost member of the group, but the first act could then have been spent letting us get to know him better rather than wasting our time reminding us that Alan is a creep who nobody in their right mind would befriend.

And so now you’re saying “but then how would they have gotten into the mess without Alan drugging them?”

Answer: Who the hell cares? Any number of things could have happened. Why did it have to be the exact same thing as in the first movie? Maybe the bartender offers them the “house special” shot free of charge since they’re with a wedding party, and it turns out to have some crazy local ingredient in it which is a powerful hallucinogenic. Contrived? Maybe a little, but as contrived as Alan being there just to do the exact same thing again? No way.

What really bugs me is, when the focus is on the others, it’s actually pretty enjoyable. Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper are both very entertaining in their roles, as is Justin Bartha (when he’s given a chance). Mr Chow’s nonsense and the the zany denizens of Bangkok also make for an enjoyable ensemble. It’s a crying shame that filmmakers’ sad devotion to one character from a movie built on the back of at least a dozen fantastic performances ruined its chances of a worthy sequel.

Dismayingly, I hear the third one is even worse.

Review: The Revolution Will Be Televised

A few years ago, I happened upon a little show on the BBC iPlayer when I was bored. That show was called “The Chaser’s War on Everything”. If you’ve never seen it, The Chaser’s War is a stunt and sketch comedy series by an Australian comedy toupee. They skewer the modern world – entertainment, politics and so on. It’s a great show and Australia’s National Broadcaster (The OTHER ABC) is rightly proud of The Chaser’s work. The BBC showed it here in the UK and I can only imagine they did so with envious eyes, because BBC Three’s latest comedy show “The Revolution Will Be Televised” is a fairly direct clone.

BBC Three, which bills itself as “Never Afraid to Try New Things” has a recent history of trotting out all-new comedy series. Some of these are frankly brilliant, like the puppet-based adult sitcom “Mongrels”. Unfortunately, they cancelled that show. Others among these BBC Three Comedy experiments are less funny. Like everything they have done involving Russell Kane – a man whose comedy I have yet to find a single person admitting to enjoying.

Unfortunately, “The Revolution Will Be Televised” appears to have come from the same BBC Three programmers who cancelled “Mongrels” and have been pushing Russell Kane harder than a Sixth Form Tutor pushes University applications and not from the people responsible for putting shows like “Mongrels”, “Bad Education” and “Wilfred” on BBC Three’s airtime. Because it’s painfully flawed.

PAINFULLY flawed.

Of course it’s entirely possible that all these shows were picked up by the same programmers. In which case I would definitely have to characterise their efforts as “hit or miss”. Speaking of which…

That’s basically the biggest problem with “The Revolution Will Be Televised”, at least as far as the first episode indicates. Too many of the stunts fall flat in their efforts to be funny. Actually, that’s not entirely it…

More accurately, almost all the stunts have some good ideas and funny bits in them (The exceptions from Episode 1 wold be the MI6 stunt – which was just utterly moronic from the moment it started to the moment it mercifully ended – and the Occupy Protests stunt – which took a good idea for a stunt and wasted it by having an unfunny halfwit try and do what “The Daily Show” correspondents have been doing successfully for years and failing miserably). The problem is…These guys just don’t seem to know when they’ve got the laugh.

The Daily Show Team
Jon Stewart with some of The Daily Show’s Correspondents

Once you’ve got the laugh, you stop. And you move on. To keep things fresh. Here, our would-be revolutionaries continue labouring the point well past the time the shock value wears off. The Chaser never did that. If the laugh came earlier than they were expecting, they simply escalated. That kept things fresh and replaced the shock value with refuge in audacity.

The Chaser
The Chaser

What’s worse though, is that most of these bits were repeated. Oh yes, not content to outstay their welcome alone, several of the episode’s stunts were broken up into chunks. Meaning that we were treated to a re-tread of the same joke later in the episode – a joke which had already been overused before the re-tread even started. Frustrating to say the least.

There’s something funny to be done with the ideas behind “The Revolution Will Be Televised”, but I’m not entirely confident that Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubinstein are the right people to execute on it- at least, not on their own. I feel like with more than just the two creators putting stunts together and carrying them out, the’d be able to cover more ground. That’d really help a lot.

Still, maybe things will pick up with the later episodes. It happened for Ten O’Clock Live Season 2 after all.