A Studio Ghibli tv series on Amazon?! Yes please, says I! Most people who love the silver screen are familiar with the masterful Japanese animation house, behind such beloved international classics as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.
Film School Rejects say “The studio is respected the world over for its lush animation, attention to detail, and the way its movies can soak its audiences in a mood without any effort at all”. So it’s easy to see that expectations were set high for their first ever tv series, which debuted in Japan in 2014. I won’t drag out the suspense – Ronja the Robber’s Daughter is a huge disappointment.
Ronja is a cute little girl, born to a robber king and his wife. They lead a band of ne’er-do-wells who patrol the forest paths robbing from the rich who travel through in their horse-drawn carriages. The merry band live in a secluded castle surrounded by a forest full of enormous creepy birds with women’s faces.
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.
Even in a market saturated with cop shows, it’s a most welcome return for DI Viv Deering and the Friday Street team, here to make your viewing schedule that bit grittier and more northern, with so many zingers it’s a struggle to keep up. Paul Abbot’s sharp script throws down the gauntlet to lesser tv writers everywhere.
Our hero is back to work after the horrific death of her husband at the end of Series 1. Viv, played by supremely talented Joanna Scanlan is glorious, and totally unfazed. She’s at a funeral when what could have been a lethal a bomb goes off but takes it all in her stride, as you’d expect. She jumps in the shower back at the police station and stand there in front of her colleagues proudly naked with big thighs and cellulite. This makes me want to whip off my dressing gown and cheer. Viv is sexy and powerful and totally unashamed.It’s Botticelli’s Birth of Venus only with a bright yellow towel instead of long ginger locks.
The body packed with explosives fortunately wasn’t in the coffin, so the funeral goers survived. The big bang reveals a dodgy crematorium, burying the bodies instead of popping them in the oven. Someone’s not been paying the gas bill. Miller (Paul Ritter) who sweetly describes himself as a bi-polar bear, ends up dealing with the “Hieronymus Bosch job” (say it out loud) ; elbows deep in the grizzly body parts violently displaced by the bomb. He’s in his element.
As part of BBC sitcom season, last weekend the BBC’s flagship science show Horizon covered the topic of laughter and comedy with familiar telly star and hard-working stand-up comic Jimmy Carr in the host’s chair.
It began as an awkward panel show with documentary sections and a little stand-up twirl on a tiny mini-stage that Jimmy seems to favour on tv. It was a consciously crappy set littered with generic science props, like they’d rifled through the dumpster from 1990’s-era Room 101. Jimmy should have been good at working in a strange hybrid situation (8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown is usually spot on) but this wasn’t good, despite his best attempts… so more like 10 o’Clock Live then.The studio audience were nervous, and nervously laughed at how nervous they were.
Once the science started it was pretty interesting, if no less awkward. Sticking three Professors on a little sofa is not going to make the evening any less ungainly. Fortunately Jimmy asked incisive questions of the academics and showed his own comedy intelligence. No surprise here as he has co-written quite a scholarly work on the subject of comedy with Lucy Greeves called The Naked Jape – I got a second-hand copy off the internet last year and was thoroughly entertained and learned a lot. If you can get hold of a copy I heartily recommend it, whether you’re a stand-up comedian or just a lover of comedy.
In the gloomy lab of a crazed scientist’s lair the spooky organ music rises to a crescendo. The thunder cracks and the lightening flashes. The hand-stitched body-parts on the gurney start to twitch and there’s no longer any doubt. “It’s alive” yells Dr Frankenstein, “it’s alive!”.
This is exactly what happened in the mind of head comedy commissioner Shane Allen when he decided to launch the BBC Sitcom Season, reviving comedy classics from the last 60 years, to mark the anniversary of the first broadcast of Hancock’s Half Hour arguably the originator of all tv sitcoms. It’s up to us to decide if these unnatural creations are monstrous, or if like the good Doctor’s best known creation, they’ll have us in stitches.
Good news and bad news this week in telly land. We’ll get straight to it and to soften the blow we have cake!
To save us from feeling too miserable now the stunningly successful Rio Olympics has finished I’m happy to report that The Great British Bake Off is back this Wednesday 24 August at 8pm on BBC1. Love it or loath it.. no hang on, I know it’s formulaic game show tv produced by the same company who made the Daily Mail clickbait Benefits Street, but it’s the only one in that whole vast landscape of competitive human misery (ours) and self-delusion (the contestants) that actually works. No one is mean or manipulative, the judge’s criticisms are genuinely constructive and it is positively joyful.If you loath it, then you need to check yourself. I’m sorry for you.
I am worryingly out of fashion on the internet. As we all know by now it’s a place for spitting bile, name calling and generally being a dick. All happy, positive and sincere thoughts are banned. Despite fears that I might end up sounding like Professor Brian Cox or the fabulous theme from The Lego Movie (everything is either amazing! or awesome!) it turns out it’s easier for me to review things I like. If I enjoy something I watch I want to tell you about it. Simples.
And even though I promised myself a full year ago to get out of my tv comfort zone and try new things I still fail. If you can only stand to watch 10 minutes of a programme, it can’t be worth discussing can it? And is it fair to judge a show on such a short viewing? Probably not. But dear sweet baby cheesus, sometimes 10 minutes is more than enough.