Sunday, December 06, 2009


Armstrong and Millais

How do you cheer up when immensely grumpy? Usually I stuff my face and watch Doctor Who, but – astoundingly – there’s been lots of new comedy on that’s actually funny. Though not on ITV, obviously. My many tediously grumpilating health problems include a dodgy right arm (neck, shoulder, wrist, hand, thumb…), which has been much worse than usual for a month and more, making typing painful and texting practically non-existent. So my blogging’s collapsed and I’ve been more socially rubbish than ever. Thanks in particular to the cheerifying if ironically named Armstrong and Miller Show and to Beautiful People, then, the second series of each of which made a fabulous Friday night double bill (though the former finished last week, so assume I’m writing about the repeats or the DVD).

And to my beloved Richard, of course, poor thing, who’s been ever so lovely and looking nervously as if it’s his fault as I glower in all directions and have given up in pain each time I’ve tried to do the usual and express my anger in blogging form (well, mostly). And him with a sprained ankle that’s getting no better, too.

The Smith and Lester Show The Armstrong and Miller Show

You can still see Alexander Armstrong on a Friday afternoon in The Sarah Jane Adventures, though, as even though that series has finished too (sorry), they’re repeating earlier episodes in the same Thursday and Friday slots. Yay! And by “see” I mean “hear”. I hope that’s clear. Anyway, that’s why The Armstrong and Miller Show is known in our flat as The Smith and Lester Show. If you manage to catch their second BBC series, whatever you choose to call it, try to start with the first episode: although many running gags are great fun, the Blue Peter completely unidentifiable children’s show apologies and what teachers get up to while invigilating only appeared in the opening edition, and they were a scream. Other sketches to look out for include the “Sportsfest 2010” logos (episode 2), the increasingly desperate vicar with his glowering silent deacon (episode 5 – ‘she’ may perhaps be related to the League of Gentlemen’s Bernice) and the final episode’s stunning extended fugue on what happens if you listen to bank tellers.

If you’ve seen any of their shows, you’ll probably be familiar with recurring sketches like the posh RAF fliers with the unexpectedly street vocabulary, the ’70s-style public safety films, but my pratfalling favourites this year were the editions of “Enlightenment” with Dennis Lincoln-Park – a disaster-prone art historian where half the fun comes in working out just what sort of hideous destruction will befall the priceless treasure he’s viewing. It’s like Casualty, but with the added bonus that you can play ‘spot the horrible accident’ and get the pay-off within two minutes rather than have to watch it for an hour.

Beautiful People

Meanwhile, Beautiful People is the campest thing on TV, and utterly brilliant – mainly set in Reading in the ’90s, with a fabulous family including the growing-up-gay Simon (nasty hair this season), the dishy dad, the blind Asian “auntie” and the, er, forthright mum, it’s all held together by the grown up Simon, both framing the stories and brilliantly narrating it all. He’s played by Samuel Barnett, who you may have seen in Desperate Romantics earlier this year. His John Everett Millais was, I thought, the least shaggable interesting of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in that, but he steals Beautiful People from under even such a superb cast (Doctor Who listeners may remember him from The Beast of Orlok). Last week’s (part three) has probably been the best of this series so far, though nothing’s given me so much guilty laughter as the opening episode’s “Orinoco Ho”…

Incidentally, embarrassment based on telling all your friends you’re going somewhere glamorous abroad but actually staying home in secret (‘with hilarious results’), which you may remember from many ’70s sitcoms, is clearly everyone’s favourite comedy device this week. It was the downfall of Malcolm Tucker in last night’s The Thick of It – yes, that’s quite funny too, but every political blogger’s writing about that so I won’t – as well as Friday’s Beautiful People, and last Monday’s Miranda, too.

You Should Watch Miranda As Well, But My Arm’s Getting More Painful Despite the Ibuprofen, So This’ll Have To Be A Headline Without A Proper Review-ette

Miranda Hart’s brilliant, Patricia Hodge is very funny too, Tom Ellis is funny and cute, Peter Davison was funny and naughty in the second episode, but you can’t beat the escalating wedding fear from the first… Look, just watch it, OK? Richard spotted straight away that – aside from us identifying with Miranda because she’s a large, dorky fantasist in her thirties, no relation – its genius is that she plays a sit-com like stand-up. Like Beautiful People, you can still catch all the episodes on BBC iPlayer.

Sorry, I’ve Got No Head (I Thought It Was My Arm?)

Combining Fridays’ much-better-than-‘adult’-TV-for-kids and surprisingly funny comedy, incidentally, you should try and catch sketch show Sorry, I’ve Got No Head, too. Like Miranda, we caught up with it on iPlayer – our PS3 has recently had an exciting upgrade which lets it play iPlayer full-screen onto our humungous telly, which looks fab and which Richard’s been playing with even more than I have. Ironically, given that it’s only from the CBBC channel (we discovered it thanks to adverts either side of The Sarah Jane Adventures, harrumble), Sorry, I’ve Got No Head has an incredibly good streaming picture even on a great big screen, while Miranda is distinctly made of blurry Lego at times. And to think BBC2 was once the cutting-edge colour channel. I suspect the higher online quality is because kids are more demanding…

Anyway, what’s in it? Some brilliant running gags: the towering Jasmine and Prudith, who thinking everything costs “a thousand pounds”; the proud parents who reward their son’s every achievement with a night out – for them, bastardishly leaving him at home; the snowman demanding his rights, a guilty pleasure for me; the narrator always getting Tammy into trouble, a bizarrely postmodern concept that cracks me up; Marcus Brigstocke’s overgrown French exchange student (not only featuring a Dalek, but sending up his own Excuse My French); the Witchfinder General who has anyone who winds him up even slightly, usually in a queue, carried off as a witch (a curious mixture of evil witch-hunt and, er, consumer champion)… Obviously, one of the few recurring sketches that doesn’t do much for me – the ‘Backstage Access’ to what computer game characters do when they’re not playing for you – is the one to be picked up as a forthcoming sitcom, Game Over. Oh well.

I’ve been particularly enjoying Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s weary doctor diagnosing extravagant complaints – an arch-enemy a couple of weeks ago, and on Friday, the highly contagious “Clumsy Virus”. This was underlined by the way that, as the sketch finished, the alarm went off to say that Richard’s shaver should have charged. I picked it up to unplug it, and – fumbling – accidentally switched it on. Then, trying to find the button to switch it off again, I managed to hit the wrong one, flicked the blades open and showered myself with a cloud of tiny little bristles. Seriously. I laugh at the “trained bees,” too, though looking at last week’s, where all the sit-coms are doing ‘holiday at home’, every sketch show is now doing Spooks. There have been other Spooks-inspired running gags in the latest series of The Armstrong and Miller Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look, and funnily enough, you’ll have seen some of the most talented of the Sorry, I’ve Got No Head team in those, too – look out for the brilliant David Armand and James Bachman. James was, of course, also a mainstay of Mark Evans’ fantastic Bleak Expectations, the third volume of which has just finished on Radio 4, but, ow, my shoulder, so I won’t write about that just now…

Other Channels Are Also Available (But Don’t Bother If It’s Not On the BBC Unless It’s Misfits)

All that top new comedy has, of course, been on the BBC, but ITV isn’t entirely devoid of laughs – they’ve just appointed a former Tory MP as their new chairman in a desperate attempt to butter up what they think will be the new government even though the Conservatives have already become a wholly owned subsidiary of their competitor Mr Murdoch, for a start. And they did schedule Don’t Look Now opposite Children In Need a couple of weeks ago, which was very funny, with Channel 4 getting in on the joke by putting up The Children’s Hour.

While the last new comedy pilot I saw on Channel 4 was total rubbish, though, I will say in their favour that their comedy-drama mash-up of Skins and Heroes, Misfits, is shaping up very well. It’s clever, it overturns expectations – I love that, having been set up as a traditional Fantastic Four-style origin story with a tight-knit team caught in an incredibly localised event, it’s becoming clear that almost everyone we meet has also developed often useless superpowers – and while I wasn’t remotely impressed by the week before last playing down the rapist (all rather Barbara Ellen), last Thursday’s was a moving, exciting and hugely intelligent time travel story with an astounding lead performance by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett. Lauren Socha as the young woman who’s grown telepathy and decks anyone who thinks she’s a chav is going to be a star, too.

Aaaaanyway, nearly finally, my neck and shoulder are giving me enormous pain, my wrist needs constant massaging, my hand is seizing up and my thumb hurts, so despite spending several days writing bits of this, it’s not worked. At least after four or five trips up north to the dentist in the last three months I’ve now got my hopefully permanent shiny new Cyber-tooth, so the bruised mouth will fade soon. Though, as you’ll have gathered, it’s not been a good month or two: in fact, the whole of 2009’s just been one damned thing after another, but the arm’s more difficult to put up with than any of the other health problems. Time for a chocolate bath to relax it, though as you’ll see in a moment, even soap is driving me up the wall today.

Sorry, then, for the dozens of articles I’ve thought of but not written on here, the many comments I’ve ignored and, especially, my apologies to anyone reading who’s been e-mailing or otherwise getting in touch with me, for the hundreds of messages I’ve not replied to. Maybe a few more by Christmas.

Now back to being grumpy, particularly as Richard’s just watched this morning’s Mr Marrmite, despite my telling him it’s got that totally, totally useless tosser on it (Richard guessed his identity just from that. Can you, boys and girls?), then shouted a lot at The Politics Show. This week, the Tories were definitely far more punchable than Labour, who were merely rubbish.

What Have They Done To Pears Soap?!

I’ve just opened a new Pears soap, and they’ve slightly changed the shape after thirty-odd years of using it. Bah, humbug, it’s an outrage, etc. Then I washed my hands with it – and the smell’s suddenly become much stronger, sharper and rather medicinal.

Right, so you’ve got a 200-year-old brand that only appeals to people who’ve been using it for ever like me – yes, I am a bizarre mix of extremely traditional and conservative and extremely the other way, never somewhere in between; don’t act like you’re surprised – and you decide to change it completely? There’d be riots in the streets if the sort of fogeys who use Pears weren’t the sort who sit at home and grumble into their cardigans instead (OK, so I’m a naturist rather than a cardiganite, but my point still stands). Millais painted the “Bubbles” Pears have often used over the years, incidentally, just to provide a daytime TV link to the earlier part of this piece (you know: the one the rest of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood fell about with anachronistic laughter over because it was “shit”).

It’s like New Coke all over again. I assume. I don’t like either Coke, anyway. And I’ve got this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left-hand side…

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More on Bubbles here.
Hmm, have you considered getting something like Dragon NaturallySpeaking so you can talk to your computer instead of typing.

You'd only need to touch the keyboard to edit. And you'd be able to share your moans with Prof. Steed who uses it too.
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