‘The City and the City’

“Nowhere else works like the cities”. This is the first line of BBC1’s new drama based on the 2009 ‘weird fiction’ novel by British author China Miéville, an exotically named man actually born in Norwich. His book has been adapted for TV by screen writer Tony Grisoni.

The cities in the title are Besźel, which looks like the Eastern Bloc of 30 plus years ago mixed with cafes and people from 1970s Istanbul and Ul Qoma which is glimpsed only briefly in the first episode. These streets look brighter, cleaner, and more advanced. The colour pallets are quite different in each city; dingy yellows for Besźel and clean blues for Ul Qoma. Like the inhabitants, the viewer always knows where they’re looking.

The two cities actually occupy much of the same geographical space, but the inhabitants wilfully ‘unsee’ the areas they’re not allowed to view. Early on Commissar Gadlem (Ron Cook) gets out his overhead projector, and lays two acetate maps on top of each other. That’s a good way to get your head around it.

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‘Chinese Burn’ – BBC3

A quick word about Chinese Burn, a new BBC3 comedy from the Comedy Slices series; what, back in the day, we’d call a pilot. This is a flatshare comedy about three Asian girls trying to navigate London life. This mainly consists of getting drunk, getting fired, getting into fights and keeping their slightly dodgy activities quiet from their parents back home. All the while they’re raging against stereotypes – “sweet, innocent, submissive Chinese girls. Conservative and virginal – good at maths, ping pong and looking after men. Screw that!” As a white girl from the ‘burbs I have much to learn about the Asian cultural stereotypes, but I can tell you straight-off if it’s funny.

It’s really short, clocking in at just over 20 minutes, but a lot is packed into this episode. Elizabeth (played by co-writer Shin-Fei Chen) is the failed Chinese daughter, filled with guilt for telling her family she’s a sommelier in a Michelin starred restaurant when she really spends her days in a degrading mascot suit hawking bubble tea, and trying to keep away from her grubby little boss who has a (tiny) boner for her. She’s delightfully self-destructive, a lot like Abbi in Broad City, frustrated and embarrassed at every turnThose girls would get on so well – Elizabeth would bring the wine and Abbi and Ilana the weed. What a party!

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‘Back’

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.

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