TV, Writing

Don’t Mention the Comedy: FAWLTY TOWERS and Reactionary Cultural Politics

Whether ten years old or close to a hundred, we have all seen Fawlty Towers at some point in our lives. We have either binge watched the series, casually caught it on a satellite channel or streaming service, or even seen clips on one of the many comedy panel or discussion shows over the years with talking heads discussing the brilliance of John Cleese’s monstrous creation Basil Fawlty.

What, though, is Fawlty Towers really *about*? What are all our comedies *about*, whether in the UK with a long-standing tradition of legendary comedic creations or the US with their penchant for long-running, familiar series? Every drama is about something and comedy is no different. The jokes are born from an idea or theme or societal construct the writer is looking to explore. One Foot in the Grave, which I’m currently examining episode by episode, sees David Renwick unpicking the listlessness of the working man at the tail end of Thatcherite neoliberalism after Victor Meldrew is displaced by a heartless corporate system. Only Fools and Horses was a fantasy of working class meritocracy, of Derek, and in a different way Rodney, Trotter overcoming their background of poverty and struggle to try and prove their worth within an elitist class system where the deck is stacked against them.

Following the surge of protests across the world after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, there has been a swift trickle-down effect in terms of racial politics which has proven, this week, to be on some level ‘knee-jerk’. Britbox and BBC iPlayer started by removing the 2000’s Matt Lucas & David Walliams’ series Little Britain, which was always festooned with sketches that were politically incorrect even back then, citing that “times have changed”, while Netflix subsequently pulled The League of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh as both display characters who engage in what would be termed ‘blackface’. Catch up service UKTV subsequently removed the well-known Fawlty Towers episode The Germans, featuring Basil’s infamous line “Don’t mention the war!”, due to the overt racism displayed by the character, and the use of racial slurs by an ageing colonial character. This has been questioned by some who feel the reactionary cultural politics of the moment has gone too far.

I’m wondering the same. I understand some of these examples. The Germans, however, is an example in which context is missing, and with comedy, context is king.
Continue reading “Don’t Mention the Comedy: FAWLTY TOWERS and Reactionary Cultural Politics”

TV, Writing

TV Review: ALIAS – ‘Countdown’ (2×20)

Countdown is quite a strange episode of Alias, especially considering the placement of it toward the end of Season Two.

A season ago, The Solution began establishing the key narrative pieces that would build up into the finale, that played out over the next two episodes, but Countdown doesn’t quite operate in that way. Jeff Pinkner’s screenplay—from R. P. Gaborno’s story—certainly contains ongoing pieces of the narrative in play, but it chooses to specifically focus on two characters who are going through the same trauma in very different ways: Dixon and Sloane, both of whom killed each other’s wives. In that sense, it almost hits the pause button on the thrust of the Rambaldi narrative and the majority of the other storylines, to facilitate these two key character arcs.

At the same time, Countdown chooses to hone in on an aspect of the Rambaldi mythology which has never been expressly explored, outside vaguely of the nebulous quatrains in The Prophecy: the idea that Rambaldi is not just analogous to Leonardo da Vinci but also Michel de Nostradame, the 16th century prophet who predicted, with varying degrees of accuracy that have been questioned by historians for centuries, a wide range of future apocalyptic events and key points in ‘future history’. The very conception of Rambaldi was as ‘Nostravinci’, a fusion of these two legendary figures of the Renaissance, but while Alias has given us plenty of examples of Rambaldi as Da Vinci, there have been few points to date where he could be compared to Nostradamus. Countdown changes that. Countdown suggests Rambaldi could see the future as well as create technology that was centuries ahead of his time, and in many ways beyond our own.

Indeed, for all Rambaldi’s prophecies and mythology influences Alias in the next three seasons, we never quite get an episode like Countdown again, where the prophet’s hand reaches out from the 15th century and directly threats to destroy the world of the 21st. Continue reading “TV Review: ALIAS – ‘Countdown’ (2×20)”

Alias, TV, Writing

ALIAS – ‘Countdown’ (2×20 – Review)

In 2018, I began my first deep-dive TV review series looking at JJ Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. This year, I’ll be looking at Season Two’s 22-episode run in detail…

Countdown is quite a strange episode of Alias, especially considering the placement of it toward the end of Season Two.

A season ago, The Solution began establishing the key narrative pieces that would build up into the finale, that played out over the next two episodes, but Countdown doesn’t quite operate in that way. Jeff Pinkner’s screenplay—from R. P. Gaborno’s story—certainly contains ongoing pieces of the narrative in play, but it chooses to specifically focus on two characters who are going through the same trauma in very different ways: Dixon and Sloane, both of whom killed each other’s wives. In that sense, it almost hits the pause button on the thrust of the Rambaldi narrative and the majority of the other storylines, to facilitate these two key character arcs.

At the same time, Countdown chooses to hone in on an aspect of the Rambaldi mythology which has never been expressly explored, outside vaguely of the nebulous quatrains in The Prophecy: the idea that Rambaldi is not just analogous to Leonardo da Vinci but also Michel de Nostradame, the 16th century prophet who predicted, with varying degrees of accuracy that have been questioned by historians for centuries, a wide range of future apocalyptic events and key points in ‘future history’. The very conception of Rambaldi was as ‘Nostravinci’, a fusion of these two legendary figures of the Renaissance, but while Alias has given us plenty of examples of Rambaldi as Da Vinci, there have been few points to date where he could be compared to Nostradamus. Countdown changes that. Countdown suggests Rambaldi could see the future as well as create technology that was centuries ahead of his time, and in many ways beyond our own.

Indeed, for all Rambaldi’s prophecies and mythology influences Alias in the next three seasons, we never quite get an episode like Countdown again, where the prophet’s hand reaches out from the 15th century and directly threats to destroy the world of the 21st. Continue reading “ALIAS – ‘Countdown’ (2×20 – Review)”

One Foot in the Grave, TV, Writing

TV Review: ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE – ‘I’ll Retire to Bedlam’ (1×04)

The first season of One Foot in the Grave has been marked, thus far, on particular existential anxieties about British life for the aged and retired, and I’ll Retire to Bedlam continues Victor Meldrew’s slide into reactive frustration.

In another historical allusion to 19th century literature, David Renwick titles this episode after Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and the belief from perhaps the most iconic curmudgeon of them all, Ebernezer Scrooge, that the inmates at St Mary’s of Bethlehem hospital (known colloquially as ‘Bedlam’) were more sane compatriots than everyone else in London merrily celebrating Christmas. It would be easy to liken Victor to a Scrooge figure but it’s inaccurate, aside from their grumpy disposition. Scrooge actively hated the people around him until the ghosts of multiple eras showed him the error of his ways. Victor’s ire is for the continued degradation and decay of society, and that becomes more apparent as Renwick here commits him to hospital for stress.

There is, in Mr Brocklebank, the escaped mental patient who, believing he’s a nurse preparing him for surgery, Victor allows to shave his entire private parts (in what is arguably the funniest sequence in the episode, and perhaps the funniest in One Foot so far), an allusion to the idea of ‘Bedlam’, of the lunatics running the asylum; and indeed in the inclusion of the Monster Raving Loony Party as part of the story, Renwick provides an additional layer of fringe thinking, of society’s rejects or eccentrics intruding into the Meldrew’s life, but the chief anxiety of I’ll Retire to Bedlam is more generalised than fears of death or youth culture or corporate hegemony. Everything is getting to Victor in this episode. The less he has anything to focus on, the more he sees everything.

That’s quite a profound realisation One Foot is getting to during Series 1. I’ll Retire to Bedlam may be a little unfocused and unformed, structurally, but it gets to the nub of Victor Meldrew’s existential malady very well.

Continue reading “TV Review: ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE – ‘I’ll Retire to Bedlam’ (1×04)”

One Foot in the Grave, TV, Writing

ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE – ‘I’ll Retire to Bedlam’ (1×04 – Series Retrospective #4)

30 years old in 2020, I’m going to look at David Renwick’s unique British sitcom One Foot in the Grave to celebrate the anniversary of one of the UK’s most innovative comedy series of all time…

We continue by looking at the fourth episode of the first series, I’ll Retire to Bedlam, which first aired on January 25, 1990…

The first season of One Foot in the Grave has been marked, thus far, on particular existential anxieties about British life for the aged and retired, and I’ll Retire to Bedlam continues Victor Meldrew’s slide into reactive frustration.

In another historical allusion to 19th century literature, David Renwick titles this episode after Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and the belief from perhaps the most iconic curmudgeon of them all, Ebernezer Scrooge, that the inmates at St Mary’s of Bethlehem hospital (known colloquially as ‘Bedlam’) were more sane compatriots than everyone else in London merrily celebrating Christmas. It would be easy to liken Victor to a Scrooge figure but it’s inaccurate, aside from their grumpy disposition. Scrooge actively hated the people around him until the ghosts of multiple eras showed him the error of his ways. Victor’s ire is for the continued degradation and decay of society, and that becomes more apparent as Renwick here commits him to hospital for stress.

There is, in Mr Brocklebank, the escaped mental patient who, believing he’s a nurse preparing him for surgery, Victor allows to shave his entire private parts (in what is arguably the funniest sequence in the episode, and perhaps the funniest in One Foot so far), an allusion to the idea of ‘Bedlam’, of the lunatics running the asylum; and indeed in the inclusion of the Monster Raving Loony Party as part of the story, Renwick provides an additional layer of fringe thinking, of society’s rejects or eccentrics intruding into the Meldrew’s life, but the chief anxiety of I’ll Retire to Bedlam is more generalised than fears of death or youth culture or corporate hegemony. Everything is getting to Victor in this episode. The less he has anything to focus on, the more he sees everything.

That’s quite a profound realisation One Foot is getting to during Series 1. I’ll Retire to Bedlam may be a little unfocused and unformed, structurally, but it gets to the nub of Victor Meldrew’s existential malady very well.

Continue reading “ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE – ‘I’ll Retire to Bedlam’ (1×04 – Series Retrospective #4)”

2000 in Film, Film, Writing

TITAN A.E: a disappointingly vanilla science-fiction adventure (2000 in Film #23)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of June 16th, Don Bluth & Gary Goldman’s Titan A.E.

Look, I know I keep cheating with my own rules when it comes to talking about the king of the box office, but the thought of writing lots of words about Gone in 60 Seconds, even watching it again, filled me with dread.

Dominic Sena’s film ruled the roost in the first weekend of June 2000, while Titan A.E. debuted the following weekend, and the Nicolas Cage/Angelina Jolie-starrer went on to a decent global box office take. It no doubt helped get The Fast and the Furious reboot on the road, which arrived in 2001, and given that has emerged to be the unlikeliest of most successful cinematic franchises ever, Gone in 60 Seconds has a lot to answer for with its high-octane nonsense. The F&F films are at least, for the most part, fun to watch. Gone in 60 Seconds presents itself as a fuelled up riot but ends up a hammy, badly projected slog that seeing once, quite some years ago, was more than enough. I am many things but a glutton for punishment? Not so much.

Titan A.E. fell short of John Singleton’s remake of Shaft next week, which this blog will cover, but this felt an interesting picture to cover simply for the fact animation hasn’t exactly been at a premium this year so far, and Don Bluth & Gary Goldman’s film honestly *should* have been quite something. All we’ve really had in 2000 is Dinosaur, an interminably dull picture with a far more intriguing backstory than eventual film, do some box office damage, so Titan A.E. had the space, as an independent animated picture backed by 20th Century Fox, to enrapture children and captive adults. Yet it did neither, collapsing at the box office in the wake of hundreds of animators on the film being fired as Fox Animation Studios collapsed, and the CEO who commissioned it, Bill Mechanic—who just a year or so earlier had Fight Club made—was shown the door.

It could be why you may not even remember Titan A.E., despite a strong cast, enjoyable science-fiction premise, and a wealth of promise. Twenty years on, it’s hard to even argue for it as a lost animated great.

Continue reading “TITAN A.E: a disappointingly vanilla science-fiction adventure (2000 in Film #23)”

2000 in Film

SHANGHAI NOON: anachronistic escapism that has worn well (2000 in Film #22)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of May 26th, Tom Dey’s Shanghai Noon

Again, this week I’m cheating, because I just cannot bring myself to devote time, energy and words to the box office winner of the June 2nd weekend: Big Momma’s House.

This is partly because in a few weeks, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps is incoming and touching on similar ground, but also because there doesn’t seem to be any cultural relevance or reward in discussing Martin Lawrence gurning as a woman while dressed in a fat suit. The thought of devoting time to that is depressing, even while the proliferation of such base, lowest common denominator comedy is arguably an extension of content we saw in the 90’s such as the Farrelly Brothers successes such as Dumb & Dumber or There’s Something About Mary, simply taken to a different level, and partly designed to appeal to an African-American audience. It is, put simply, not my thing.

Shanghai Noon, however, perhaps does warrant a look. Tom Dey’s comedic action adventure was released the same weekend as Mission Impossible II and, as you can imagine, struggled to hold its own under the weight of the Tom Cruise sequel and Disney’s Dinosaur, but it nevertheless slightly out performed its modest budget and struck something of a chord, with not just the star wattage of Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson but the mash-up of multiple genres that came together for quite an old-fashioned bit of fun; the kind of film you could imagine having been made in the lighter, brighter 1980’s, and almost at odds with the darker, serious, dour blockbusters that would come to define an edgier, even more earnest decade before the Age of Marvel.

To discuss this one in more detail, however, I’m handing back over to 2013-era Tony, who reviewed the film back then, and who you may remember discussing Road Trip recently, before returning with a postscript. Take it away, younger self…

Continue reading “SHANGHAI NOON: anachronistic escapism that has worn well (2000 in Film #22)”