Even before it started Channel 4’s new comedy Back has a whole list of things going for it. It’s exciting to see David Mitchell and Robert Webb back together again working with writer Simon Blackwell who penned Veep, The Thick Of It and, most importantly, a few episodes of the iconic Peep Show. Back is a six part sitcom that gets the Peep Show boys together again and is directed by Ben Palmer, the man behind The Inbetweeners. So far so brilliant; what an excellent comedy pedigree!
And yet, a pause. Let’s not get carried away people, because real comedy fans know sitcoms need time and patience to develop and grow. This is even more important in this hyper-connected, hyper-critical era where everyone has an opinion and expresses it loudly on social media. Not all great comedy is instantly great straight out of the blocks. Those of us of a certain age whisper “Remember Blackadder!” Series 1 of Blackadder is no one’s favourite and the one no one talks about. Given time, fresh focus and another chance it became a comedy classic. It’s so sad that those days are over, and it’s sink or swim based solely on the first episode.
This formulaic drama would have passed me by, but some interesting casting turned my head and I decided to check out episode one. Female copper Helen Weeks (MyAnna Buring) is haunted by childhood tragedy so returns to the sleepy Derbyshire town of Polesford which must be twinned with Happy Valley – the odd array of accents certainly place it much further into the vague north than Derbyshire. She’s back just in time to help support her childhood friend (wife of the lead suspect in the disappearance of two girls) and rub up the local police force the wrong way as they hunt for a murderer.
First, the plus points. There’s an excellent supporting cast. I love to watch comedy actors stretch themselves in drama. Helen’s friend Linda Bates is played by Emma Fryer who is so perfectly funny in Channel 4’s Phoneshop and BBC’s Ideal. Her character is proud, angry and defiant. Her man Stephen could never be the murderer – by sheer force of will she’d keep him on the straight and narrow. It’s a great performance but I’m expecting her to roll her eyes or stick her tongue out at any second. And another great spot from Ideal was Sinead Matthews seemingly playing another nice but dim character.
Good tv title sequences must grab your attention and sum up a show’s theme, and GLOW is a perfect example. The shiny disco Day-Glo neon titles scream “80s nostalgia here we come!” It’s all there, running throughout the series – the music, the outfits, the big hair. And a central scene in episode 1 takes place in an aerobics class which makes me, and everyone else of a certain age, think of Flashdance. We’ll be seeing a lot more women in leotards before this series is done. GLOW is the new Netflix comedy-drama from Orange Is The New Black executive producer Jenji Kohan, and the theme of strong unconventional women and their struggles is familiar to both.
We start out with aspiring actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) and her fight against sexism in Hollywood. She’s delivering the audition of her life when her misunderstanding is revealed – “You’re reading the man’s part”. The women’s part is a secretary and she gets one line. Ruth is very determined, badgering the casting director (also a tough woman) who eventually offers her a crumb of sympathy – an open casting call for “unconventional women”.
Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit is a happy little comedy panel show/ game show hybrid which was originally created by comedians Steve McNeil and Sam Pamphilon during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013, and then transferred to television on Dave at the end of last year. The genial and very recognisable Dara Ó Briain is in the host’s chair, with Steve as Sam acting as team captains, and video game journalist Ellie Gibson as the resident expert. The show invites celebs to join the teams each week to play a series of video games against each other. These days I think the kids just call them ‘games’.
I warmed up to this little Bejeweled Blitz gem last year and was happy to see it’s been recommissioned for a second and third series. More proof that with the internet fuelling the mobile revolution and people in all age brackets spending more time in front of screens that gaming is no longer niche. However Go 8 Bit knows its audience and is fondly retro and a warm nostalgic hug. The panelists are asked to come on and nominate their favourite games to play. They range from the ancient arcade classics to the modern commute time-killers, and from the massive studio franchise to the tiny indie developers. The games are adapted cleverly to make them tv friendly. Studio audience participation is encouraged where the audience bet on which team will win each game and that affects the overall points total.
Harry Hill is back! And this time it’s worth watching.
The be-spectacled comedic ex-doctor has arrived just in time to save the human race from alien invasion! He’s showing our new alien overlords that we are useful to have around, if only to laugh at. I’m not even kidding. This is the basic premise for a strange and excitable comedy panel show, interweaved with funny clips of old tv shows, very much in the style of the awesome TV Burp, which, shockingly, finished five years ago.
Last year’s Harry Hill’s Tea Time on Sky 1 was way off point, managing to parcel up the Harry Hill brand without ever once stumbling towards what we enjoyed about him. All specs and grins and huge white collars and no fun. It was too gimmicky and far too dependent on one celebrity providing the fun and games in a very awkward, embarrassing situation. (If you want to see how that’s done with style and aplomb see BBC’s Murder in Successville.)
I think we can all agree that 2016 was rubbish, punctuated by the occasional depressing shitstorm. So far, 2017 is just bleak, barely registering on the Shrug Scale of shit-we’ve-all-just-got-to-get-used-to a.k.a. the new normal. So it’s the perfect time to turn your brain off, get grizzly and relish some zombie face-munching fun.
Welcome to Santa Clarita, a deeply boring middle-class suburbia somewhere in dull dry Southern California. Sheila and Joel are good-looking super-normal upwardly mobile estate agents (or realtors as they say over there) quickly sliding down the slippery slope into a totally ridiculous situation. Poor Sheila dies, only she doesn’t. Life goes on as normal, as best they can, while she, Joel and their teenage daughter Abby deal with the fact she is now a zombie.
To be quite honest with you, the bumper Christmas Radio Times(opened gleefully way ahead of time in our house) did not fill me with joy this year. The week in which about 90% of Britain downs tools, puts on their pyjamas and watch tv all-day every-day while eating Quality Streets and drinking prosecco (a healthy balanced breakfast) usually has an abundance of great telly. Was it just me thinking it was all a bit harder to find this year? Anyway, this is my little list of tv that caught my attention over the Christmas holidays.
Click through below for seven telly offerings, some which were more coal in the stocking than a sable under the tree…