2015: TV of the Year

I made a concerted effort to watch a lot of TV this year. With so many must-see shows, many fell by the wayside, so if it’s not on the list, I either didn’t watch it or didn’t like it as much as you! But for what it’s worth, here are ten favourite shows of the year, plus the next fifteen in briefer detail, all in no particular order within their separate quality brackets. And it wouldn’t be an end of year list on this blog without an evening’s work of sloppy photoshop work too.

THE TEN TV SHOWS OF 2015

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Fargo
With series one, Noah Hawley defied all logic and sense and turned a critically acclaimed and award-winning movie by a pair of master film-makers into one of the most entertaining shows of 2014 (indeed, my favourite of that year). That series two would end up being just as good, maybe even better, is unbelievable. Wisely going forward by going back (some 30 years before the ‘true story’ first time around), a great cast all bring their A game to a tale of warring gangsters, an oblivious couple caught up in the cross-fire, and a police force trying to make sense of it all, with so much to enjoy amid the ensuing carnage. May ‘The History of True Crime in the Midwest offer more stories to come.

Mad Men
So much has changed in the televisual landscape since Mad Men first debuted (on BBC Two – remember when the BBC showed American drama?), it was no longer the sixties setting that made it feel like a product of another time. The end of Mad Men as such feels like the end of an era. And while this second half of its final series wasn’t quite as strong as the first, it finished off its run in some style. That the last few episodes would feel deliberately aimless was a reminder that dream-like, nomadic journeys of self-discovery was as much a part of its DNA as pitch meetings, office and social politics, and the evolving wardrobe of its characters. Mad Men leaves us in a better place (at least in terms of the variety of TV out there and the ease of accessing it), and it was worth sharing the ride with it.

Better Call Saul
The Breaking Bad spin-off that was much talked about and hugely anticipated quickly established itself as its own thing, exceeding expectations and being perhaps even better than its forebear. I’d go so far as to recommend it to those yet to see Breaking Bad (so long as you skipped the first 5-10 minutes), as it has all the fun and tension of seeing a slippery central character trying to get out of various legal scrapes, but with not quite so much killing and nastiness which might otherwise be off-putting.

The Jinx
True crime documentaries have been as much a staple of television as the detective shows that form the fictitious flipside of the coin. But few have such access to its central suspect, let alone one as high profile (at least in the US at the time – I’d never heard of the case beforehand) as millionaire Robert Durst and his connections to a string of murders and disappearances. Even if you know the much-discussed ending (a deeply chilling final shot that recalled Ghostwatch of all things – while we’re on the subject, I’d also recommend The Enfield Haunting if you have an interest in said show), the whole series was one of the most engrossing watches of the year.

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Fortitude
Despite the publicity onslaught at the time, it seems all the media attention evaporated for Sky’s big original production with its impressive international cast (including Michael Gambon, Sofie Gråbøl, Stanley Tucci, and Christopher Eccleston) soon after, which is a shame, as Fortitude was my favourite new drama series of 2015. What made it especially compelling was how it was never quite clear what kind of show it would become – was it a detective mystery, a serial killer thriller, a supernatural investigation, a sci-fi horror? That it ended up being all those things to an extent, and more, while maintaining a consistent tone is remarkable. If you’re partial to the likes of The Returned and Twin Peaks but with a touch of The Thing thrown in for good measure, then Fortitude’s grim, strange delights may be just the thing for you.

This is England ‘90
Another successful film-to-TV transfer, the four-part mini-series and likely conclusion to the adventures of Shaun, Woody, Lol, et al packed in many laugh-out-loud moments as well as its fair share of heartbreak and trauma too. It could be accused of turning up the misery to the point of incredulity, but having become so invested in the characters over one film and three series (not quite #sixseasonsandamovie), I think it earned its bruising toughness, counterbalanced with a sense of hope and optimism (well, not for all of them). Tears, both happy and sad, were indeed shed.

Show Me A Hero
For those intimidated or put-off by all the hype for The Wire and unsure whether to invest the time and energy would do well to check out Show Me A Hero, also from David Simon. At six episodes, it’s a fully contained and manageable story, based on real events, and while it doesn’t sound like an exciting proposition (public housing in Yonkers, New York, in the late 80’s), its cross-section of individuals directly and indirectly affected and involved with the issues has all the drama and social commentary of its bigger brother. Great use of music and attention to sound mixing too (the noise of the public debates was particularly striking).

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Catastrophe
Sharon Horgan teamed up with Rob Delaney to deliver another great comedy that’s as good if not better than Pulling. Frequently hilarious, Catastrophe had the kind of frank, disgusting but authentic dialogue that rarely emerges from behind closed doors, but, you guessed it, a beating heart under the profanity-strewn surface. Apart from some side characters that still feel out of place after two series, it was something really special. A very whistleable main theme too.

Hannibal
So long, for now, Dr Lecter. After three series with ever-shrinking audiences, NBC pulled the plug on one of the most imaginative and beautiful programmes ever made. And how do you make the most beautiful show on television even more beautiful? Take it to Florence, that’s how! It seemed its fate was sealed as soon as it went full Eurotrash and became a ‘funny’ accent extravaganza. And granted, the first few episodes felt even more languid than usual, as it recalibrated itself following the second series finale. But once friends, enemies and frenemies are reunited, it offered much to savour. That it also managed to fit in The Tooth Fairy – now in its third filmed adaptation after Manhunter and Red Dragon – and still managed to surprise and feel fresh is testament to just how good Hannibal was, and hopefully one day may be again. Fingers crossed for a movie, but not just any movie. A full-blown, over-ripe, nightmarish, gorgeous, movie musical is about the only way I can see it going. And yes, Mads Mikkelsen can sing. Kind of.

Hunderby
Despite its BAFTA and British Comedy Awards, I thought we had seen the last of Hunderby given it being tucked away on Sky Atlantic and lack of mainstream attention. But hush-ho! We were blessed with two glorious, disgusting specials in December. The relationships became ever more convoluted, the plot increasingly contrived, all in the grand traditions of the literature of course, and Julia Davis’ vulgar vernacular made my eyes fountain with laughter and locked my face in a grin throughout. Very silly and in exquisitely bad taste and all the better for it.

AND THE NEXT FIFTEEN…

Wolf Hall
Lots of people looking miserable in dark rooms and creaky corridors is how I imagine the Tudor period, so Wolf Hall is probably a rather accurate depiction of historical events.

Inside No. 9
Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s second post-League collaboration after Psychoville mirrors its predecessor by following a good first series with a great second one.

Penny Dreadful
Still not essential viewing, but the second series of John Logan’s gothic mash-up found itself a sense of humour, and with it became far more entertaining.

Broad City
Comedy Central UK finally woke up to the fact that it might actually be a good idea to show some of the much-praised original programmes from the U S of A, so while Key & Peele, Kroll Show, Nathan For You, Review and more remain unshown, at least we finally got to see Inside Amy Schumer and this, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s very funny misadventures as they struggle to deal with the real world in any way, shape or form.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Not read the book and I gather chunks were understandably excised, but it didn’t affect the story-telling or character as I saw it. An enjoyably weird and unpredictable tale that offered some startling stuff.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Given how much I didn’t get on with the film when I watched it for the first time only this year, I’m pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed its prequel some 14 years after the original was made. Great new additions round out an original returning cast that has its fair share of stars already, and its goofiness is infectious.

The Returned
The second (possibly final?) series was as atmospheric as ever, though had a different feel and agenda to what came before. Less focus on character and mood, more on twists and revelations, but managed a tricky balance of being both satisfying and ambiguous.

W/ Bob & David
The team and talent from Mr. Show (which I still have not seen) reunite for a mini sketch series that not only knows how to squeeze the best out of a great set-up, but has the performances to back it up. Digital!

And Then There Were None
Superior Agatha Christie adaptation with a stellar cast, so you end up feeling extra upset when your favourites from stage and screen start dropping like flies.

Master of None
Aziz Ansari wrote the book on modern romance (literally), so it’s no surprise Master of None (co-written with Parks and Recreation’s Alan Yang, and originally developed with the much-missed Harris Wittels) would be a witty, articulate and accurate depiction of relationships (and much more besides) in this day and age.

Doctor Who
I still think this gets better year on year. Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman settle more comfortably than ever into their roles, and the good-bad story ratio was the highest it has been post-comeback.

The Great British Bake Off
Nadiya – QUEEN. Comfort food telly of the highest order.

Ash vs Evil Dead
I have a feeling I may end up writing a more in-depth review once I finish off the series, but, a few misgivings aside, this is a largely successful (and quite frankly still amazing that it ever happened) resurrection. Lively, boisterous, and very, very bloody.

Rick & Morty
Maybe not as strong as the first series, but still a remarkable, rule-breaking animation that can run rings around supposedly serious sci-fi fare. With extra dick and fart jokes.

Peep Show
As the El Dude Brothers ride off into the sunset, let’s just stop to appreciate just how such a cringe-inducing, uncomfortably accurate comedy of social embarrassment and despair with a bizarre first-person gimmick became one of the longest running sitcoms in British TV history? Just as good as ever.

Broadchurch is back – for better or worse?

Olivia Colman and David Tennant in Broadchurch - the Glum-Off begins!

Olivia Colman and David Tennant in Broadchurch – the Glum-Off begins!

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS

In my review of last year’s overrated The Honourable Woman, I found myself despairing at its embarrassing attempt to play with the big boys of HBO, AMC, and latterly Netflix, and wondered if this was the state of British TV drama. Though Happy Valley still appears to be ‘the one to watch’, I have now managed to catch up with both series of The Fall (Gillian Anderson great, show itself a bit of a slog) and the subject of this piece, Broadchurch, which returned for its second series last night.

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2014: TV of the Year

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1. Fargo

Of all the TV prospects this year, what looked as though it would have the steepest uphill struggle was an adaptation of a much-admired Coen Brothers classic, an untouchable source as you could likely find. So it was an extremely pleasant surprise to find that Fargo was the best new show of the year. Writer Noah Hawley starts off with a familiar set-up and character approximations reminiscent of the film, and references are sprinkled here and there. But the story here goes off in different directions, yet it still manages to encapsulate everything about the tone of the original. This is just another weird, funny, violent tale in the world of Fargo. And what’s better than getting something you didn’t think you wanted but now can’t imagine not ever having?

Some elements and threads don’t quite work, sure. But these can be largely overlooked thanks to some of the best performances of 2014. Billy Bob Thornton, Bob Odenkirk and Colin Hanks were all brilliant, while Martin Freeman surprised as one of the slipperiest customers imaginable, proving even seemingly ordinary people can be capable of doing very bad things. However, it was Allison Tolman who was the breakout star, and as much as you enjoyed watching the bad guys try to get away with their crimes, it was impossible not to root for her. A resounding success.

2. Hannibal

After a frustrating first season, the second time round for Hannibal fulfilled its potential and then some. Dark and disturbing in its beauty, it’s deliciously ripe dialogue and characterisation is executed with such relish, especially whenever Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy lock antlers, that even its often ludicrous plotting is just part of what makes it such a joy to watch. Stripped for the most part of its meandering subplots and ‘killer-of-the-week’ constraints of the first season, season two is a sleeker beast, while the music, sound, and imagery remain as impeccably crafted as Hannibal’s culinary creations. And even for this hardened gorehound, there were at least two scenes that made me yelp and squirm like few before it. As sophomore seasons go, this takes some beating.

3. Mad Men

It’s easy to take Mad Men for granted these days. In a certain regard, it feels like a product of a bygone era, not just in terms of its setting, but a lot has changed in the television landscape since it made its debut. Yet, with its first half of its final season, it delivered as strong a string of episodes as it ever has. Devoted fans will have found much to unpack with some pivotal moments in history providing the backdrop for characters we have grown to love/appreciate/admire/despise (delete where applicable) as they ready themselves for a final hurrah. And for all the slow burn and subtlety of Mad Men’s opening seasons, so much is being paid off with this current run of highly entertaining episodes, that even in the unlikely event that it goes downhill from here, the journey has already been its own reward.

4. 24

Against all odds, and probably against all good advice, 24 returned for a special mini-season four years after Jack Bauer last winced and grimaced his way through a terrorist threat. After three seasons that ranged from mediocre to rotten, the world had moved on. And so had I. Or at least that’s what I thought, as 24: Live Another Day (a nonsense Bond-style subtitle that never seemed to be used outside of TV listings) was a complete return to form. Moreover, it directly benefited from a halved run of episodes (no stalling for time or launching new lengthy arcs). As silly as ever (drone strikes and Wikileaks the hot potatoes of the day) but also self-aware, the staff this time knew exactly what the audience wants from the show and didn’t disappoint. 24 was always designed to deliver blockbuster thrills on a TV budget, but few seasons have ever offered quite so many fun and exciting action sequences as this one. And the added bonus of a London setting meant we get the thrill of hearing Jack Bauer say ‘West Ealing’ and ride the Underground and get to play the “he’d never drive across town in that time” game LA residents have previously enjoyed. If it wasn’t British enough, Stephen Fry played the Prime Minister for god’s sake. I must have laughed out loud three or four times each episode.

5. The Knick

As Boardwalk Empire reached its final season (still not seen any – one day though!), the hunt is on for the next vaguely old-timey period drama with sex and violence to take its place. Peaky Blinders was an early contender, its second season more focused than its first, now with added Tom Hardy – though it still feels like its overcompensating when trying to play with the ‘big boys’ and ending up just sounding a bit silly as a result. Penny Dreadful had an impressive cast and creative team for its gothic horror mish-mash, but never quite lived up to its premise. Rather it was The Knick that emerged the most impressive candidate. True, the whole season felt more like it was setting the scene for future episodes than offering plots to really sink your teeth into (he’s the troubled but brilliant doctor with a drug habit at the forefront of new advances in medicine at the turn of the 20th Century, but here comes a new African-American surgeon!). But there was still enough intrigue, energy (with director Steven Soderbergh’s cool clinical direction and Cliff Martinez’s pulsing electronic score) and entertaining period detail (look at them marvel at X-rays!) to keep me engrossed. And perhaps in season two they’ll finally reveal what the hell Clive Owen’s accent is supposed to be.

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6. Black Mirror: White Christmas

A late entry (and a one-off at that), but not only was it good to have Black Mirror back, this might have been the best episode yet. While its twists and turns ranged from the fairly obvious to the slightly ridiculous, that didn’t stop it from being as amusing/upsetting as ever. Charlie Brooker’s writing, with its matryoshka doll-like structure and smart integration of future-tech without weighing the dialogue down with unnecessary exposition, remains the main draw, but excellent performances from its cast, especially Rafe Spall, Rasmus Hardiker and Jon Hamm in supreme charismatic slimeball mode, made the wait for a new Black Mirror instalment well worth it.

7. Utopia

Beginning with a corking opening episode set decades earlier (that worked brilliantly as backstory, recap and a standalone thriller in its own right), Utopia 2 retained its dark oddball charm for another bout of grim comic book conspiracy. Though the second series was perhaps more epic in scope, it felt tighter and more ‘close quarters’, realising that a story need not be overly convoluted to be exciting. Either way you look at it, its cancellation was too late (it should have ended after series one) or too soon (it should not have ended with a cliffhanger). With David Fincher currently working on an HBO remake, let’s hope it matches the tone, look and sound of the original that made it so unique. But my advice would be to not wait around and get on the ground floor now.

8. Game of Thrones

Along with The Walking Dead (which enjoyed a very good run of episodes in 2014 with the last half of season four and the opening few of season five, but fell apart to an extent before the mid-season finale), Game of Thrones has solidified its position as one of the most popular shows in the world right now (if torrenting stats are accurate). However, with its key characters far too scattered round, even to someone unfamiliar with the source material it felt for the first time that the writers were trying to stretch storylines and fill up the time with detours and cul-de-sacs. A shame after a propulsive and exciting third season. Yet, if Game of Thrones became more about individual moments, it made sure those moments would be hard to forget, devoting great chunks of running time, even whole episodes, to single pivotal sequences. One of the few dramas that can pass as event television nowadays.

9. True Detective

Though never quite as good as the hype suggested – and these were my thoughts pre-backlash – its vision, inventive structure and performances made True Detective truly compelling. Eventually, for all its symbolism and pretentious monologues, it all boils down to a fairly conventional serial killer thriller. And yet few shows even across multiple seasons have managed to get quite so deep into its leads nor deliver quite so many memorable scenes as True Detective managed in eight episodes.

10. Doctor Who

With the goodwill generated by the series’ 50th anniversary and the highly entertaining Day of the Doctor special, Peter Capaldi’s installation as the new Doctor had a lot riding on it. But while the opening episode (directed by the usually capable Ben Wheatley) was something of a mess, it seemed to right and correct itself remarkably well. Much of this is down less to the storytelling per se as the perfectly pitched but always shifting relationship between the Doctor and Clara (Jenna Coleman, now freed from a gimmicky arc). If Doctor Who had fallen out of your favour in recent years (though it has easily been more consistent now than it ever was after its reboot) or if you’ve even never experienced its charms and peculiarities, this series was a good starting point as you’re likely to get.

And something about comedy…

Being sorely behind on current running American comedy series and somewhat cruelly denied by Comedy Central UK failing to show many of its US counterpart’s key offerings (Review, Broad City, Kroll Show, Nathan For You, Key & Peele), only a few Stateside shows got my attention. Enlightened’s second series finally got shown and was a fine send off for a show that burned brightly in its short lifespan. Of the new shows I did see, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver proved to be essential viewing, while Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley also impressed. And the third series of the increasingly disturbing Check It Out! With Dr Steve Brule might just be the best thing Tim and Eric have ever done, John C. Reilly’s Brule now easily established as a great comedy character.

Meanwhile, Vic and Bob’s House of Fools and Matt Berry’s and Arthur Mathews’ Toast of London proved the art of very silly comedy is not dead. Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle returned for a third time for its strongest series so far, now with added Chris Morris. Cuckoo lost Andy Samberg, but gained Taylor Lautner who became an unexpected highlight. And The Trip to Italy, while admittedly and openly a retread of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s previous culinary expedition, still had me crying with laughter. Nick Helm’s sitcom Uncle surprised with its poignancy amongst the ‘bad role model learns to be good through child forced upon them’ tropes. And once you got past the generic title and set-up, The Walshes from Graham Linehan and Diet of Worms, had a very high gag hit rate.

TV REVIEW: The Honourable Woman

The Honourable Woman

There Will Be Spoilers

With Netflix, NowTV and Amazon Prime Instant Video all vying for my attention (not to mention unfinished DVD boxsets haunting my shelves), it’s not too often I’ll take a chance on a new British drama mini-series, having given so many recent critically-acclaimed and award-winning offerings a miss in favour of catching up on Stateside big-hitters. But with the likeable Maggie Gyllenhaal as its lead and an accidentally topical premise, I felt like Hugo Blick’s The Honourable Woman would be worth my while. Sadly, having tortuously sat through the entire series, I am left baffled by its positive write-ups.

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In The Flesh: Series Two – Sloppy Seconds

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There Will Be Spoilers

Series two of BBC Three’s undead drama series In The Flesh has drawn to a close. With twice as many episodes on offer, writer Dominic Mitchell had more of a chance to explore the world he created and give the audience a deeper insight into its characters. Unfortunately, by expanding its vision, In The Flesh has diluted what made it quite so engaging first time round.

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Hannibal – Digesting Season One

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There Will Be Spoilers

It just so happens that I finished catching up on the first season of Hannibal last week, the same week the air date for season two was announced (28th February, if you want to know, but final spoiler warning, don’t look at any promotional material for it if you’ve not caught up with season one). It was a somewhat protracted process on my part (more on that in a moment), but I’m ultimately glad I got through it. In charting the initial relationship between FBI Agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), Hannibal is an odd mix of by-the-numbers criminal investigation drama and twisted fever dream /waking nightmare.  It excites and infuriates in equal measure, sometimes at the same time, but it is a distinctive and interesting take on a character we all probably thought we’d had enough of by 2013.

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Comedy Showcase/Lab: The Results Part II

Almost a year has passed since the first half of Channel 4’s Comedy Showcase and E4’s Comedy Lab completed their concurrent runs. And a lot has changed since then. Inexplicably, the only one 4 picked up out of the original six thus far was Anna & Katy, far and away the worst offering of the initial half-dozen. Chickens though will go to series, albeit for Sky instead. For the others, everything’s either gone quiet or has been confirmed dead (e.g. The Fun Police).

But back to the final six. Once the announcement came through that Comedy Lab was to be cancelled after 13 years (roughly round the same time that they launched the online-only Comedy Blaps, perhaps as an indication of where the training ground for new comedy talent will lie in future), the scheduling went a bit haywire. The final three Comedy Lab instalments were practically sneaked in under the radar later than they were originally due to be broadcast, and the last of the Comedy Showcase episodes has only just found its way to our screens as part of 4’s current Funny Fortnight. Were they worth the wait?

COMEDY LAB

The Mr and Mrs Hotty Hott Hot Show

This is not comedy trio Pappy’s first foray into the Comedy Lab, having created a more conventional sketch offering in the previous series, but in the wake of Shooting Stars’ cancellation, it seems if Vic and Bob aren’t able to keep their surreal over-the-top games show on air (though they are back this week, again for Funny Fortnight, in a one-off special Lucky Sexy Winners), this rag-tag absurdist beauty pageant pastiche doesn’t stand much of a chance either. Through a series of rather pathetic fairground-style challenges, audience members are whittled down to see who will be crowned Mr or Mrs Hotty Hott Hot. There’s very little else to it, but the energy (and peculiar karaoke renditions of popular hits) from the Pappy’s gang just about keeps it going, but only just, with the live studio fun only vaguely translating through the TV screen. Popstar Jamelia once again proves to be an unsung comedy genius, but for all its naughtiness and tomfoolery, it’s decidedly ho-hum. 2/5

The Warm-Up Guy

Initially, alarm bells rang that this would be a rip-off of Ray Peacock’s wonderful short, a behind-the-scenes peek at the life of the warm-up act who gets the studio audience going before filming a TV recording. The Warm-Up Guy takes a different approach, following in the fine British comedy tradition of deluded failures. However, it’s always a tricky thing to focus on a deliberately unfunny comedian funny and an unlikeable character sympathetic, but Tom Davis as Ian Bodkin largely fails to achieve either. There’s a desperation to it all that rings true (his vlog attempts in particular), and his job search meetings have an unexpected heightened tension being that his coordinator is played by Kill List star Neil Mallarkey. But Bodkin is so annoying, you barely care where he ends up at all. 2/5

Kabadasses

The final Comedy Lab episode (in history), and probably the most obvious pilot (being that it is largely character introduction and plot establishment), also just so happens to be one of the weakest. It’s another east meets west culture-clash comedy (i.e. a Goodness Gracious Me cast member has to appear, in this case Kulvinder Ghir), this time focusing on slacker Bobby’s attempt to put together an all-white team to play the traditional Indian wrestling sport of Kabaddi. Shazad Latif is an affable lead, and Tony Jayawardena as a legendary Kabaddi player hired to train them is entertaining, but there’s very little else to recommend about it. The superhero-style character profiles are naff, and the assembled oddballs and no-hopers (including a seemingly lost Josie Long) are as cookie-cutter as can be (Fatso, Hippy, Geek). The worst of the worst though is Vin (The Fun Police’s Jack Doolan), Bobby’s supposed best mate but for how and for why is baffling considering he is a horribly sweary oaf who uses his working class background and lack of education as an excuse for his hugely misguided racial slurs. Kabadasses tries to have it both ways to some extent, but why it’s okay to resurrect the spirit of Bernard Manning with “Ramadama-ding-dong” jokes here is beyond comprehension. Or perhaps its just “ironic” stereotyping a la Come Fly With Me. Kabadasses wants to be a British Dodgeball: An Underdog Story. In the end, it’s just balls. And ass. 1/5

 

COMEDY SHOWCASE

The Angelos Neil Epithemiou Show

It’s interesting that the only Comedy Showcase or Comedy Lab pilot in the 2011-12 offerings to go to series before even being screened is a vehicle for a character first introduced to the masses through the aforementioned recently cancelled Shooting Stars. But in gifting Angelos Epithemou his own show (which has already completed its first run!), at least something survives. Naturally the show lives or dies on whether you find the character amusing or not, and I do, but whether he can hold a half-hour variety mix of chat, quiz, interviews, audience participation, sketches, and song-and-dance numbers is another issue. As a means of comparison, you could look at Da Ali G Show, and likewise with Borat and Bruno, so too does Dan Skinner play other characters, but whereas Ali G was already established as a ‘yoof’ reporter on The 11 O’Clock Show and therefore presenting in a studio was not such a stretch, Epithemiou is perhaps not quite as well-placed in a format such as this. Yet, the deliberately shambolic anything-goes nature of the show, and the addition of the wonderful Adeel Akhtar (from Four Lions) as his even more inept sidekick, it gets away with it. Though it says something that I actually didn’t bother with the series itself. 3/5

Milton Jones’s House of Rooms

Though Milton Jones is by no means a newcomer, this was my first introduction to his work, and a very fine one it was too. A pretty conventional setting and situation (a ‘house’, owned by his mother who lets out ‘rooms’ to tenants) is merely the framework for an introductory episode filled with some very funny jokes and a wonderful set of performances, particularly Jones and Colin Hoult as charismatic Australian charmer, new tenant and love rival Paul. What’s more, House of Rooms is really impressively shot, in a highly stylised, near-cinematic fashion not really seen in either director Ben Palmer or director of photography Ben Wheeler’s previous work (having last collaborated on The Inebetweeners). Sometimes the comedy feels more like stand-up one liners and plays on words forced into a sitcom framework, but they are often so good, it doesn’t matter. And there are enough reveals, sight gags, surreal asides, and slapstick for it to be the most enjoyable episode of the second six. Yet, the cruelty of tellyland strikes again as a series is not in the offing. 4/5

The Function Room

It’s taken many many months, but finally Daniel Maier’s pilot and the last of the Comedy Showcase run has aired. Boasting a cast featuring more familiar faces than any of the others (including Kevin Eldon, Reece Shearsmith, Daniel Rigby, Simon Day, James Fleet, Marek Larwood, Blake Harrison…), The Function Room will surely serve as an excellent step for any future British comedy Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon-style pub conversation starter. But as a piece of comedy, it’s somewhat wanting. The characters are flat and the situation (locals attending a police meet-and-greet in the titular Function Room) uninspiring, which would be fine if it were all just a cipher for decent jokes, but these are few in number. Instead, we have running gags that go nowhere, puerile double entendre, and faecal matter. It manages to tie itself together a little better in the second half, but it feels more like an overlong skit that’d fill some time on Comic Relief night than a prospective opener for a full-blown series. 2/5