Friday, 22 January 2010
And then there's stuff like this gingerbread AT-AT, which perhaps doesn't have quite the same appeal, at least not as Actual Food. Making Star Wars vehicles out of gingerbread takes a particular type of genius, doesn't it? Imagine you call up your friend - "Aright mate, what you up to...uh-huh...you're making what?" I think you'd be impressed, to an extent. Impressed slash bemused. Elsewhere on the internet there are pictures of gingerbread Tie-Fighters, and a gingerbread Landspeeder. I guess if you wanted you could call it Folk Art, or Outsider Art...but the reality is people just dig making Star Wars stuff out of gingerbread.
Monday, 18 January 2010
So this was pretty much the most pointless three hours of television ever conceived, a show whose singularly limited appeal can be summed up in one sentence:
"Oh yeah, I remember when that used to be funny."
Comedy catchphrases have an intensely short shelf life, and operate on two, and only two, settings: 'tolerably zeitgiesty' and 'hopelessly lame.' There's no middle groud, no grey area. One day they're harmlessly amusing, the next day they're obnoxious and outrageously uncool, and remain in that state for eternity. Nothing is more un-hip than the out-dated catchphrase. A drunk dad at a wedding party yelling "Yeah, baby!". A gaggle of science students guffawing at Monty Python lines. Your idiot mate who still answers the phone with a gargled "WHASSSSUP!" These are some of society's greatest ills. Ricky Gervais made two whole sit-coms about it.
The whole point of comedy catchphrases is that they're so fundementally Not Funny that once the novelty has worn off, you cannot fathom why you ever thought of them as being anything other than monumentally irritating. The only thing comedy catchphrases have going for them in the first place is their newness - consequently a three-hour TV show listing 50 old ones just made no sense at all. The regular cast of assembled talking heads had precisely nothing of value to say about any catchphrase, because there is precisely nothing to say about them. At most (Ali G's "Is it 'cos I is black?") they distill the essence of the character to whom they belong, and in most cases ("Watchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?") they're just some random phrase that for some reason struck a popular chord at a particular time.
The Fast Show's shock & awe approach to catchphrase comedy rendered the exercise utterly obsolete anyway - you could do a Top 50 of catchphrases from Fast Show alone, and you could fill another Top 50 again with sketches from post-Fast Show efforts like Little Britain, Bo Selecta and Catherine Tate. To top it all off, the Number One Comedy Catchphrase was..."Nice to see you, to see you - nice..." which isn't even a comedy catchphrase, any more than "I've started so I'll finish" or "I have a dream" are comedy catchphrases. It's a catchphrase, sure. But it isn't funny. It isn't the punchline to a joke, or part of a comic routine. This is the second time a Channel 4 Top 50 has ended with a dull, off-beat thud - the winner of the Top 50 Kids TV Shows was revealed to be The Simpsons, which, similarly, isn't a kids TV show.
In conclusion: "D'oh."
Saturday, 16 January 2010
The Office: An American Workplace (Mondays, 8pm, ITV4)
"All my favorite comedies are coming out of America. Always have been, really." - Ricky Gervais
Rick Gervais & Stephen Merchant's 'The Office' remains a holy grail for fans of smart situation comedy, a watershed for British television, and a benchmark for all that came after it. Initial scepticism about how the show would translate across the Atlantic was an understandable, if depressingly predictable, response from the sort of Union Jack waving Brit-comedy fan boys whose knee-jerk to the mooted 'American Office' was generally "oh, but The Office is so dark and awkward and quintessentially British, it's exactly the sort of thing Americans could never make."
And, in the first instance, they were right. The early episodes of An American Workplace leaned way to heavily on the UK original, and they suffer in comparison to it. But as the US show has developed and moved further and further from the tone (if not the spirit) of the UK version, An American Workplace has turned into the one thing those nay-sayers could never have predicted it would do - a fundamentally better show than the BBC original. Four seasons in, An American Workplace has matured into The Office' warmer, livelier, better scripted, more consistently funny and emotionally complex cousin.
This should come as no surprise. Many Brit-comedy fans chose to understand The Office as a triumph of 'quintessentially' UK humour, a black-hearted antidote to bland, self-satisfied, formulaic US sit-comedy, and they hailed Gervais as their hero on this basis - but this reading of the situation was always fundamentally flawed. The Office is not 'quintessentially British' at all; its enormous - and thoroughly deserved - impact was due precisely to the lack of a precedent for it on British TV (except perhaps The Royle Family - discuss). If The Office was an attack on anything, it was on bad UK sit-coms (something Gervais took to nauseating, bewilderingly self-indulgent lengths with Extras). Gervais & Merchant's key influences for The Office - Seinfeld, The Larry Sanders Show, The Simpsons, and especially This Is Spinal Tap - were all American. Series-long story arches, the documentary style, the focus on social faux-pas and taboos, naturalistic & improvised performances - The Office was built on an American model, not a British one. This being the case, it makes perfect sense that the Americans should do The Office better than we did. They haven't just changed the British version (Americanised, godforbid) - they've taken it as a starting point and, with the resources, acting talent and writers available to them, improved on it. If anybody could have predicted this turnaround, it would be those all-time US comedy fan boys, Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant.
Saturday, 9 January 2010
I guess my favourite NYC purchase would be a lovely vinyl copy of Steve Martin's height-of-his-powers stand up LP, 1978's 'A Wild & Crazy Guy'. A well over-used superlative applies here: the sleeve is iconic. The bleached white silhouette of Martin vamping in his bunny ears, he appears to be alive with light, the enormous speaker stacks to the left of the image hinting at the size of the arena...this beautiful B&W photograph sums up everything one needs to know about Martin's act, the juxtaposition of goofball stupidity and genuine ART. The picture is so serious, the subject so wonderfully, knowingly daft. It's perfect. Popular culture has produced a huge back catalogue of images I marvel at; this photograph I love so much that if I had a copy small enough I'd keep it in my wallet.