I’m Dying Up Here was on my to-watch list for a long time before I took the plunge. I’m sorry I hesitated, because it’s exceptional television. It’s American comedy-drama television series created by David Flebotte and set firmly in 1970s Hollywood. It was made for Showtime in the US and picked up in the UK on Sky Atlantic (exactly where you’d expect quality imports to pitch up). It has comedy pedigree in its backbone as it’s based on a book by William Knoedelseder detailing the excesses of soon-to-be household names such as Jay Leno, Robin Williams and Andy Kaufman on Sunset Strip in the 70s. It’s also executive produced by Jim Carrey, and at the time of writing, the less said about him the better.
While based in reality, this is a fictionalised account of the premier Los Angeles comedy club, and the denizens who inhabit it, honing their craft to make it to the big time. That way real-life anecdotes can be revised, tweaked and magnified, much like the way a stand-up takes real life and makes it funny, constantly revising their act.
The comedy club is Goldie’s, owned and run by businesswoman and matriarch Goldie Herschlag (played by Melissa Leo, and loosely based on Mitzi Shore the founder of The Comedy Store). She has very little tenderness in her heart and is all about business. She cares for her comics in a way, but is very strict with them, and this tactic has proved extremely successful. What she says goes (even insisting one comic change his name after daring to play in another LA club). Goldie’s is only place where the talent scouts come from Johnny Carson’s ‘Tonight Show’, the big coast-to-coast American talk show. That slim chance at stardom is what keeps her comics loyal.
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”.
If you’ve not yet heard anything about the The Handmaid’s Tale, let me give you a hand getting out from under that rock where you’ve been hiding. This is an MGM production being show on Hulu in America. They seem to be a good 7 episodes ahead of us. Sadly, even in 2017, sometimes America is ahead of us in tv land. It’s great to have synchronised start dates, but it’s still not the norm. Avoiding spoilers for this much talked-about show is going to be a killer.
A few weeks after starting in the USA this 10 part drama series has been picked up by Channel 4 in the UK, which, as the young, intelligent, and left-leaning political channel is a really good fit for their brand and a bit of a coup. The series is based on a novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood and despite its startlingly relevant content was actually written in 1985. So this dystopian future Atwood envisaged is 30 years closer than we’d have hoped for, and none of her themes are any less relevant or possibilities presented any less realistic. In interviews Atwood says that none of these war crimes in the fictional Republic of Gilead are entirely made up – all have happened somewhere on the globe. This really is extremely dark stuff. Do we as the audience have the stamina to get through it?
The series opening is distressing, as our heroine Offred is violently parted from her husband and daughter, but it’s not a tense escape. We know she’ll get caught. The rippling tension comes from her social position at her new posting with the Commander (Joseph Feinnes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).
Some seriousness to start your digest this once. Don’t fret – I won’t make a habit of it.
Amy Schumer is in a sort of rolling non-story of the week. She’s on her book launch publicity junket but this has been derailed by controversy surrounding Kurt Metzger, a writer on her Comedy Central show. This guy has a self-admitted history of violence against women and an “alarmingly vicious tendency to defend men accused of rape”. She sort of distanced him with a stock PR phrase, then she says he’s not working on her show Inside Amy Schumer any more, but he’s not fired – this is just because it’s on hiatus. Much confusion…
A few words about The Night Manager, the excellent John Le Carre adaptation that has been wowing drama fans on BBC1- the last episode is this weekend. Like the majority of critics I’ve been hooked on exciting times in exotic locations with handsome actors.
The all-star cast features so many versatile, award-winning actors who have serious comedy chops. It feels like these funny charming characters are having to tone it down a bit, or indeed turn up the angry flashing stares and gritty malevolence – Hugh Laurie and Tom Hollander are amazingly sinister. Olivia Colman and Adeel Akhtar ( who I recognised from the film Four Lions) are shaking up the British Intelligence Services from the inside and old boys club seems to have had something of a makeover.
Well this looks daft. I rolled my eyes at the advert, but then I wondered, is it too silly, or just silly enough?
As long as a show is well-written, the acting isn’t too hammy and there’s some spectacular effects we’ll sit through a lot of stuff that sounds like absolute guff written down. For examples please see fantasy/ fairy tale horror Grimm(now inexplicably in its fifth season), fantasy/ fairy tale mash-up Once Upon a Time (totally ridiculous premise, carried off with some significant flair), ’90s cultural touchstone Buffy (Teenage Mutant Vampire Hunter) etc etc.