By Caspar Salmon | TV | November 18, 2010 |
By Caspar Salmon | TV | November 18, 2010 |
I wrote a sitcom, about two years ago - well, three episodes of a sitcom. I had the other three episodes all mapped out, in terms of plot and characters and so on - but I gave it a read-through one day and, in a fit of fury at its inferiority to “Arrested Development,” deleted it from my hard drive. Now, I don’t want to suggest that we’re all a lot poorer for the loss of my TV show, or that it stood any chance of getting on television — but I sometimes think about it when I realise that there must have been a point when Miranda Hart, writer and star of “Miranda,” which has just returned for a second series, read through her script and conspicuously didn’t think to herself, “Dear lord, this is really too appalling, and I’d be embarrassed to show it to anyone.” On the contrary, she must have looked at her script — stuffed to the brim with woeful puns, tragic slapstick and dismayingly off-message observational insights — and thought, “Woo! This is good! I’m a comedy writer, and this thing that I’ve written is funny, and I’m going to submit it to the BBC! As a comedy! For actual people to watch and enjoy!” And then, infuriatingly, someone at the BBC accepted it. And then they made it. And they showed it. And it was dreadful. And then they renewed it for a second series. There are so many moments when the show could have been prevented from infecting our TV screens and our minds; so many sane and sensible objections to it; so many people along the way who could have averted this disaster — and yet “Miranda” carelessly sailed through every single one of these obstacles, and here Miranda Hart is, with her awful face, inept line delivery and furiously phoned-in punchlines, back on our screens for six more episodes of pure, shameless rubbish.
You may have got the impression from that paragraph that I’m not especially keen on “Miranda.” You’d be right. But it’s not just that I don’t like it. When I watch it , I feel almost insulted by how bad it is. I just think it’s so unprofessional, and so second-rate, to unleash this trash on people; so lazy not to try and write something better. I’m not saying that Miranda Hart shouldn’t have written it because she’s not capable of matching “Arrested Development” — but to aim for Benny Hill levels of comedy, and at a time when we’ve been blessed with “Peep Show,” “The Office,” “Arrested Development,” “The Simpsons,” “30 Rock,” “The Thick of It” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” : that is a proper disgrace. ‘Miranda’ isn’t just not as good as those shows; it’s nowhere near as good as, say, “Everybody Loves Raymond.”“‘Miranda” is essentially “When The Whistle Blows” — the painful show within a show in Ricky Gervais’ “Extras.” The one that Gervais and Merchant wrote as badly as they were able to.
So. “Miranda” is about the eponymous character and her tragic love life, and the way she goofily messes up in hilariously embarrassing social situations. Miranda Hart, the actor, is very big and tall and looks like a reindeer, and she has a weird voice, as if her mouth were full of brie - which would be fine if she managed to fashion a sharp comedy of displacement out of it. But she uses her gawkiness as an excuse for indulging in painfully laboured physical comedy: in yesterday’s episode, the first two minutes of the show saw her break her bed because she had been jumping on it, and lose all her clothes when they get caught in the door of a taxi. If you can’t believe that those types of gag are happening in a comedy in 2010: I KNOW!
Oh, and two more things: it’s filmed in a blatant studio in front of a braying audience, and Miranda repeatedly breaks character to talk to the viewer. So the whole thing is not only dumb and not comical, but it feels antiquated and improbable too. When Miranda pauses mid-scene to talk to the camera, her co-stars just freeze, as if this were a brilliant narrative device. It’s not: it’s mortally embarrassing. There was also so much corpsing going on in this episode; I suppose it’s nice for the cast that they, at least, find it funny.
Shall I tell you some more gags from the show? Go on then. Miranda is trying to get her interfering mother to stop staying over with her, so she tells her best friend that her mum is afraid of ghosts. So her friend - get this, right — buys a GOAT and puts in Miranda’s apartment! A goat! She misheard!!!! What else? Miranda farts in front of a man she’s got a crush on. Classic joke, well done. Fart jokes definitely didn’t cease to be funny around the time of the Mystery Plays in the fourteenth century, and are certifiably still hilarious. What else? Miranda gets her necklace caught in a revolving sushi platform at a classy restaurant! It’s not funny. Anyway, I can’t keep thinking about it too much because it’s making me very, very sad. I might update you on Miranda’s lamentable progress as she goes on.
“Misfits” also had the first episode of its second series air this week, and I’m going to give it a pretty hearty thumbs-up — although that might be because I’m still reeling from being waterboarded by “Miranda.” I felt a bit cross towards “Misfits” when it reappeared on the scene this week, chiefly because I’d somehow managed to be completely unaware that there had even been a first series, even though I like to tell myself I have my finger on the pulse. So when it made its much-awaited return I had to look sharp and pretend I’d seen and loved it right from the start.
Anyway, my favourite programme of 2009, “Misfits,” seems to be a series about young offenders — three boys and two girls — who are doing community service, and who like to do the usual young adult things: make fun of each other, talk about sex, have sex. The twist is that they’re magical — which is what I call characters who have supernatural powers when I want to express the fact that I find superheroes a little bit silly. Their magic is the habitual sort: hearing people’s inner voices, being immortal, being invisible, etc - but they use it refreshingly little, and always in service of the plot, and the whole thing capers along at a delightful rate, equal parts witty, scabrous, moving and grim. It’s filmed as if it were a classy social drama, with some really beautiful photography starting the whole thing off, as white light floods a bleak cityscape and our protagonists all start their day. The colour palette has been scrubbed down to pale tones, and you really get a sense of textures in the buildings and faces. This is pretty much the only sort of setting in which I can tolerate magic happening.
The first series sees the misfits — who are almost all preposterously sexy-looking for young crims — trying to sort out the problem of one of them having accidentally killed his probation officer, and a mentally unhinged patient, who is also a shape-shifter, setting them against each other by taking on their various forms. It’s all very rollicking, with a shape-shifty blowjob scene; attempts to kill a shape-shifty mouse with a spade; and the one who is immortal jerking off six feet underground in his coffin while he waits for his friends to come and rescue him. It just feels very playful and irreverent, and the actors share a good chemistry; Robert Sheehan is especially charming and dynamic as the cocky, preening Nathan. If ‘Misfits’ can keep balancing realistic drama with exciting genre action like this, it’s going to be a winner.
I feel like I’ve wittered on quite a lot today, so I’ll try to be brief about “Accused,” which is a new series that started this week. Each episode is about inter-linked characters who for one reason or another are facing sentencing in court at the start of the programme; it then goes back in time to show the reasons for their being brought to justice. Christopher Eccleston and his moody face played the first character in the series, Willie Houlihan, who is in financial difficulties and balancing a wife and a mistress until he chances upon a bag o’ money in the back of a taxi. We all know what happens to people who take money that’s just lying around, and indeed Eccleston himself should have remembered what a sticky mess he came to in Shallow Grave when he and Kerry Fox and Ewan McGregor kept that suitcase of moolah. So, yeah — it doesn’t end (SPOILER ALERT!) well. But in the meantime, this was a pretty decent single episode from Jimmy McGovern, the much-venerated British TV writer who writes about real people and their problems and stuff.
McGovern’s especial concern seems to be with hard-working, headstrong men who suddenly find themselves at odds with life - this is what his work on the also-quite-good ‘The Street’ was all about - and Eccleston was good value here as Houlihan, a fierce, generous, contrary plumber whom everything starts going wrong for. Even as his Greek tragedy unfolds, he can’t assimilate his culpability and keeps saying, “I’ve done nothing wrong.” It’s a jarring, tragic recurring line, cluing us in to McGovern’s theme about the responsibility of individuals in society, and their accountability in constructing a world for themselves and others. I found the photography a little flat - probably to emphasise McGovern’s strong dialogue and his kinship with old BBC social drama - and there was a slightly heavy-handed tone throughout, with a sanctimonious omniscient priest popping up to lecture the hero every now and then. I think a lighter touch might have given it a lift, but overall it was good stuff and I might keep watching.
Two more reasons to enjoy it: Eccleston has an amazing pasta-eating scene, at a moment when his character is intensely stressed out, which is properly freaky; and it stars occasional TV actor Pooky Quesnel, who is only so-so at acting but whose name I love to say over and over. Pooky Quesnel. Try it. Pooky Quesnel. See?
Caspar lives in London and bravely considers himself to be in his late twenties. He enjoys many things, the listing of which would make him sound like an unbearably pretentious douche.