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Vampire-Spotting

In which we suspect that some TV cameras might be taking the train


Regular readers over the past couple of years might have noticed that I quite enjoy spotting the filming locations of the paranormal TV drama* Being Human, filmed in a variety of easily-recognisable Bristol locations: Totterdown, Bedminster, Clifton, St George, College Green, and so on. Not for much longer, though, we thought: although the first two series were Bristol-based, the third series is apparently being moved over to Cardiff. Whether it will be the recognisable Cardiff Cardiff of Torchwood, or the generic anycity of Doctor Who, remains to be seen; but this was all clearly set up when, at the end of Series Two, the protagonists were forced to flee the house on the corner of Henry St and Windsor Terrace for an anonymous rural hideout. No more Bristol locations for us to spot, we thought.

Over the past week, we’ve been doing a lot of driving about moving house; we now know every intimate corner of every sensible route from south Bristol to east Bristol, or at least it feels like we do. So we were slightly surprised to see that, about a week ago, some more of these pink signs have popped up. “BH LOC” and “BH BASE”, as before.

We spotted them on Albert Road, near the Black Castle. “BH BASE” points along Bath Road, towards the Paintworks and the ITV studios. “BH LOC”, though, is intriguing. It points down the very last turning off Albert Road before the Black Castle end. That entrance only goes to two places: a KFC branch, and St Philips Marsh railway depot.

If you watched the second series of Being Human, you might remember that there was, indeed, a rather brutal train-based scene in a First Great Western carriage.** So, expect the third series to include, at the very least, an extension of that scene, if not a spin-off plotline. Or, alternatively, those signs aren’t really anything to do with Being Human at all, and it’s just coincidence that they pop up around Bristol a few months before each series appears on the telly.*** My money’s on that train from Series Two being the root of part of the Series Three plot; but, I guess, we’ll just have to wait, watch and see.

* Well, it started off as a comedy, and got more serious as it went along

** I was impressed that the programme’s fidelity-to-location included shooting that scene in a genuine local train, rather than just finding any railway prepared to get a carriage soaked with fake blood. Of course, it was probably a convenient location too.

*** The third possibility, of course, is that someone in Series Three tries to cure vampires and werewolves of their respective curses by getting them to eat large amounts of fried chicken.

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In-Flight Entertainment

In which we have a jaunt off to Birmingham to see Flight of the Concords


Off to Birmingham yesterday, to see Flight of the Conchords at the National Indoor Arena, the great hulking ostrich egg sat in a nest of redeveloped Birmingham canalside next to a clutch of restaurant chains. Despite their radio series and their sitcom, I still think that FotC have the feel of a cult hit to them, one of those acts* who nobody apart from us has heard about. It’s slightly surprising, then, to find that they can head out on an arena tour which – in the UK, at least – seemed to sell out within a morning. I wonder if the other thousands of people in the audience all entered to the same thought: “what, there really are other people who have heard of them?”

There was one big clue as to the type of people who like Flight of the Conchords. The merchandise stall. We arrived at the gig almost as soon as the doors opened, and we queued up for the merchandise stall, at the sight of their rather attractive playing-card-style tea towels. “I know this is sad, but I really want a tea towel” said a woman behind us. But when we reached the desk: nope. No tea towels. All sold out. The people who go to Flight of the Conchords gigs – or, at least, arrive early at them – are the sort of people who like an attractive tea towel in their kitchen.

Disappointment of the night: Flight of the Conchords are touring supported by other comedians who have appeared on their TV series, such as Arj Barker and Kristin Schall. Our tickets told us to expect Schall; but the support who appeared was Eugene Mirman. It’s not that he’s a dull chap, it’s just that we’d already seen most of his material, recently, on TV. We’d have liked it more if we hadn’t heard almost all the jokes before.

You could say I’m being slightly hypocritical there, given that I know Flight of the Conchords’ songs from watching their TV series. Their TV series, though, is distinctly different from their show, and their TV characters are subtlely different to their stage personas. “Where’s Murray?” shouted a heckler at one point. “Murray couldn’t make it tonight,” replied one of the duo, “because … he’s a fictional character.” The songs, though, all worked very well on stage, even ones which previously seemed to be very specific to a TV episode plot.**

In some ways I’m not a great fan of big arena shows, partly because you can end up watching the performers on-screen, because the performers themselves are too hard to see. With Flight of the Conchords, though, there was a sense of warmth between audience and performers that really isn’t something you can experience watching a DVD. We were, apparently, a very polite audience. I wasn’t very surprised that the band thought so, to tell you the truth. After all, what sort of behaviour do you expect, from an audience that likes tea towels so much?

* Do you describe them as a band, or a comedy double-act? I’m not entirely sure.

** “Epileptic Dogs”, for example.

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First Impressions

In which we do some TV immediate-blogging


Having just watched Flight Of The Conchords series two, episode one, I have to say: it didn’t seem as good as the last series. But, then again, maybe sometimes things take a while to get going. There was too much plot to fit in, and not enough relaxed silliness. Fingers crossed, the rest of the series will be better

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A break with tradition

In which we review something *after* watching it, for a change


After posting this and that recently, I thought it might be time for a break with tradition, and actually watch something before getting opinionated about it. So, we sat down last night and watched an episode of the BBC3 series Horne & Corden. Which, admittedly, I’ve already been opinionated about. But it’s a start.

Possibly we were already slightly biased, by our reaction to the Lesbian Vampire Killers publicity, and to the show’s trailers. But, I can honestly say, we didn’t laugh. Not at all. Not once. None of the sketches in the show seemed at all funny. Mathew Horne is a good actor, granted, but good acting isn’t enough.

Many writers have said, over the years, that good short writing is harder than good long writing. Most famously, there is Pascal‘s quote: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” It’s frequently referred to, though; I remember the Anglo-Australian novelist* Nevil Shute saying, in his autobiography, that the reason he was a failed poet was: because of its length, there is no room in a poem for mistake.** And, structurally, a poem is to a novel what a sketch is to a sitcom. In a sitcom, although it’s not ideal, you can cope with a weak scene in each episode, or a weak line in each scene. In a sketch, you don’t have enough room for any weak lines. Like a poem, though, it all has to make sense, despite having very little space for setup and explanation.

Too much of Horne & Corden felt like private jokes; too little of it was funny to an outsider. Sometimes I thought: I can see what they’re trying to do here, but that’s not funny. Sometimes, they had a setup, but nowhere to take it: “wouldn’t it be really funny if we did synchronised swimming! And we weren’t very good!” Sometimes, I couldn’t see where the joke was meant to be at all. We won’t be watching it again. At least now, though, I can criticise them with a clear conscience.

* and aeronautical engineer. I have a vague memory, which may be wrong, that his company designed the first retractable aeroplane undercarriage.

** Of course, he apparently never tried to write an epic poem

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Afterlife

In which we consider how “Being Human” ended.


Given the amount of space I’ve used to talk about Totterdown-set* BBC3 series Being Human on here, it’s about time I mentioned the series finale – it was a fortnight ago now, after all. Before the finale had been shown, we already knew that Series Two had been commissioned, which, I have to say, took away some of the suspense. It was possible that the writer would follow through the compulsary penultimate-episode cliffhanger by “killing off”** the main characters; but it wasn’t likely. It was also very likely that we’d lose some of the other characters; and, indeed, it happened.

The setup for the next series is already well in place, with at least three storylines there to take up, all fairly well-divorced from the series one plot. How much reference will be made to the first series, I don’t know. From a new-viewers point of view, three new-starting plot strands make sense; but from a writing point of view, it seems unrealistic. Given the end of the finale episode, I’d have thought that there shouldn’t be much of a gap in the series timeline between series; so how realistic will it be for the previous events to be barely mentioned?

Overall, the series was pretty damn entertaining, even though the finale itself wasn’t particularly exciting. This is the problem with the “compulsary cliffhanger” structure mentioned above: if the writer isn’t careful, the penultimate episode can end up much more action-filled and suspenseful than the final episode itself. Recent series of Doctor Who have tended to suffer from the same problem: the finale has trouble living up to the build-up in the previous episode. It left me thinking: “but why didn’t they just do that at the start?” To be honest, we were mostly watching it for the locations; and we’ll probably still watch the next series. Marks out of ten: ooh, I don’t know. Maybe a seven.

* for all those people searching: the shared house’s address is 1, Windsor Terrace; the hospital is Bristol General, by Bathurst Basin; and the undertakers are Up North, in Clifton.

** After all, they were all either dead or undead already.

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Misogynistic Stereotype Killers

In which Mario Reading is quiet, so we criticise Horne & Corden instead


Quick update on yesterday’s post: as those of you with your own blogs will know, if you link from one blog to another, your blog will send a thing called a “pingback” or a “trackback” to the other one, and the owner of the other blog can choose to display it as a comment.

Yesterday I linked to the blog of Nostradamus-interpreter Mario Reading, when writing about his prediction that George W Bush would be assassinated in 2006, and his later claim that this prediction was right all along. Mario* saw the pingback, followed it back here, and (presumably) read my post about him. Unfortunately, he decided not to display the pingback on his blog, and so far hasn’t responded to what I pointed out: that his claim of correctness fundamentally contradicts the prediction he’s claiming is correct. I’m disappointed. Mario, if you’re reading,** if you want to respond to what I’ve said, then whatever you want to say, I promise I’ll publish it here. I won’t just delete it, like some people would. That’s a fair offer.

Moving on, comedy of a more intentional kind.*** We couldn’t avoid noticing posters around the place for the new British comedy film**** Lesbian Vampire Killers, starring Mathew Horne and James Corden; and, thinking: oh my holy pantheon. Someone would really produce a film with a premise like that? I mean, I’m not surprised someone – probably a 14-year-old boy – would write a film with a title like that, but, produce it? Agree to appear in it?

Well, fortunately, you don’t have to listen to me ramble on about how awful, ugly, and misogynistic we thought it sounded when we haven’t even seen it,***** because the excellent not-quite-worksafe blogger Bitchy Jones has written a similarly-kneejerk castigation of its low concepts. You only need to look at the URL of that to realise that she’s not-quite-worksafe; and she has done a far better critique of it than I’d manage. There are comments, too, from people who have actually seen it. If you also thought: “what, that’s a real film?” go and read.

Talking of Horne and Corden, I feel like I can’t get away from the buggers at the moment, because every time I switch the telly to the BBC, there’s a trail for their new sketch show; well, unless it’s BBC4. Being a sketch-show trail, it shows sketches. Sketches without jokes in. Their writing strategy seems to go something like this:

1: comedy set-up, relying on recognisable situation (eg. the movie “Ghost”
2: err …
3: … that’s it

No joke. No punchline. What’s the point of that, then? Is this some new zen-comedy, are there catchphrases that I haven’t noticed yet, were the trailers wrecked in the editing, or is it just lazy writing? Answers on a postcard, I guess. The trailers certainly don’t inspire me to watch it.

* or, whoever moderates his blog for him, if he doesn’t do it himself

** fighting my pun-instinct is really really hard here, you know

*** The blog title is about this bit, by the way, and completely unrelated to Mr. R.

**** words which, already, are not a promising start

***** See, at least Mario Reading gets criticised on the grounds that I’ve read his books and his blog and can spot the flaws in them, and not just on me thinking it sounds like it might be wrong.

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Voiceover

In which we make better documentaries


We sat down last night to watch one of the Christmas present DVDs: Arrested Development Season 3. It got me thinking, after yesterday’s post, about pseudo-archaeological documentaries.

I don’t mean Professor Parfitt’s documentary described yesterday, so much as the far wilder theories produced by, say, Graham Hancock, or the many who have followed on from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. You know the sort: the sort who will tell you, straight-faced, that the Bavarian Illuminati knew the secrets of the Knights Templar, who had found ancient Jewish documents containing the mystical secrets of Egypt and the bloodline of Jesus, whose descendants formed the Priory of Sion, founded the Freemasons, who preserve the secret that Atlantis was in Antartica, and who hope to return to the French throne as predicted by Nostradamus. And that you would already know all this, if it wasn’t being kept secret by a global conspiracy involving the Pope, the British royal family, and the Bilderberg group. That sort of documentary. The sort which is bound, somewhere, to contain the line: “if the documents we had found in the obscure archive were true, it would mean rewriting the history books.”

Anyway, if you didn’t watch Arrested Development – and not many people did – one of its constant features was a narrator’s voiceover, performed by Ron Howard.* A rather sarcastic narrator’s voiceover, pointing out every moment where the characters lie or make a mistake.** And that’s exactly what all those documentaries need.

Presenter: If the documents we had found in the obscure archive were true, it would mean rewriting the history books.

Ron Howard: But they’re not.

A thousandfold improvement, I think you have to agree.

* who has lately been directing a movie based on a Dan Brown book, so will know exactly what I’m talking about.

** which is rather frequently.

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Haunting

In which we ponder some Being Human world-building issues


Some more notes on Being Human, which continues on the telly for the next few weeks.

There’s something about the show’s universe which has been bothering me slightly. That is: what happens when a ghost, who is invisible to the vanilla world, picks something up? Does it hover in midair? Does it vanish until the ghost drops it? Neither answer seems satisfactory, particularly when a ghost is moving things just out of a human character’s peripheral vision. It seems implausible* for people to see, for example, a casserole dish floating down the street; but what happens when Annie The Ghost then goes and opens the oven door?

Secondly: I’m presuming that we’re going to find out, later in the series, that there is another way to “kill” a ghost. Because, otherwise, everything would be rather unbalanced, and the vampires wouldn’t be quite so cocky. If a ghost can pick up a casserole, it can pick up a stake or a chainsaw. And I’m wondering if Pizza Guy from episode one is going to eventually be a major plot point, given that presumably he’s not human.

Location notes: the hotel in episode three was the Redcliff Hill branch of Hotel Mercure,** and the interiors looked to have been shot on location too. The “crime scene” in episode two, found by Annie chasing an ambulance, was in Warden Road, Bedminster, just off East St.

* Yes, using the word “implausible” when writing about something involving vampires and werewolves does seem slightly silly

** I know there probably isn’t a reason for this, but never mind. Why why why: Redcliff Hill and Redcliff St, but Redcliffe Way and Redcliffe Parade?

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Being Humane

In which we watched Being Human


After the post last week, I felt we really should watch Being Human, the new BBC3 series set largely in Totterdown. We were, I have to say, pleasantly surprised.

I’m not going to summarise the plot here, other than: it’s a fantasy version of the classic sitcom plot. Three oddball characters who are stuck with each other – a vampire and a werewolf who are trying to appear human, who have managed to rent a haunted house.* If it is a sitcom, though, it’s the sort I’d like to write myself: the sort without very many jokes in.**

Some things were a little overused – the heavy heartbeat when Mitchell The Vampire’s blood-lust attacks came on; and the post-production effect used to make skies look darker and more interesting. Some of the mechanics of the worldbuilding don’t quite make sense, either.*** But, overall, the series was remarkably subtle and realistic. For something involving almost-immortal beasts, of course. Moreover, unlike the trailer, the characters, not the backdrop, were its main focus. It might have obviously-recognisable locations – the Totterdown house, the General Hospital, St Nick’s Market**** – and it might have bit-part actors with local accents; but so far, it could have been set anywhere. It didn’t rely on the location for anything.

I can guess how the series is going to go from here. The real test, I suppose, comes with: just how well the minor characters are treated. Will Herrick, or Lauren, become just as full a character as Mitchell? What about Annie’s fiance?***** We’ll watch it, because we’ll be intrigued to find out. And, of course, just in case, we spot anyone we know lurking in the background of a shot.

* A former grocery store on the corner of Windsor Terrace. It has pub-type glass in the front window, but as far as I can find out it was never actually a pub.

** This is a good thing; and we’re lucky that Being Human was made by the BBC’s Cardiff drama section, and not by the people responsible for the awful laugh-tracked sitcoms that pass for entertainment on BBC3.

*** Actually, Vampire Civil Wars are an interesting argument to overcome the usual objection to vampires: if they’re immortal, and all their victims became vampires, then why didn’t we get to an I Am Legend-type situation about three weeks after they first evolved? Not being up on vampire-based literature, I don’t know if anyone else has ever covered it. They must have, at some point.

**** We did both shout out “Pie shop!” when George The Werewolf ran through the market and past the Pieminister stall

***** It confirms something I’ve thought for a long time, incidentally: ghost stories really can be the saddest stories in the world.

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Another musical thought

In which I bemoan the work of Peter Kay


I know, before Christmas, I grumbled about how disinterested I am, this year, in the annual Christmas Number One single news. So disinterested, in fact, that I wrote two whole paragraphs in it. But, having had to listen to that annoying Peter Kay Christmas song too many times over Christmas,* I decided to write another.

There’s no copyright on ideas, as you probably know. Nor on concepts, however many people try to make money selling gameshow concepts to TV production houses. It’s hard, after all, to prove that you came up with an idea independently of someone else.** I wondered, myself, what the comedian and writer Tony Hawks thought when he first heard Peter Kay’s song. Twenty years ago, Hawks recorded the song “This Is The Chorus”, about ear-worms. This year, Kay gets to the top of the charts with, ooh, a song about ear-worms. Kay’s business sense, though – I hesitate to use “genius” – is to write a song about Christmas ear-worms. Who has a reason to listen to “This Is The Chorus” now, when it’s twenty years old? Nobody. Who has a reason to revive Peter Kay’s song?*** Any DJ whose Christmas tape is a bit short. Maybe it will make it into the canon, and keep coming back onto the air over and over again every year. I hope not.

* twice

** as Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibnitz famously found out the hard way.

*** I’ve (thankfully) forgotten its name.

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