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Never mind the plot, look how gay we are
Oh dear this gets worse and worse. But what's tragic is that Dr Who, (AKA Chavs in space) seems to be catching it to...
Does no one care about plotting a story? Time and again the Torchwood crowd resolve some crisis by just pulling some previously unseen device into view to make the bad guys go away. And does Captain Jack think rolling up in that RAF greatcoat, (unchanged in design since 1940 apparently) makes him fit in? And isn't he getting a little plump to be pretend to be an intrepid flier anyway? And why bitch some much about leaving that time rift open when if he hadn't spent so long over kissing that guy back in 1940 he might have been back in 2007 before the beast made it thru the rift and so on.....
Its a good thing that Life on Mars is coming back soon, now those guys do know how to plot a story.
Little Britain (2003)
Daily Mail TV
Catchphrase humour, where essentially the same joke is repeated week after week is a staple of British comedy. It's reassuring to the audience if they know where the laughs are expected, nobody likes to appear stupid by laughing in the wrong place, but if the jokes are repeated often enough no one has to.
This makes watching Little Britain a similar experience to reading the Daily Mail: no matter what's in the news we all know in advance what the Mail's take on it will be, so we all get to laugh (or be outraged) together, no one need feel stupid by having the wrong reaction. This is what makes Little Britain just like the Mail. Now if that was how the joke of the title Little Britain was intended that would indeed be clever.
The Prisoner (1967)
McGoohan did it first
No 6 is an individual who's previous employment was highly classified and is now at odds with his conscience. THATS why he resigned.(in one old interview McGoohan describes No. 6 as being a former government scientist) What he knew was too valuable to the state so he couldn't be left to continue has a free man, he had to be kept a prisoner by his former employers in the interests of the state, a less generous nation that Britain might have killed him.. or maybe they just hope to win him back one day. Or at least that's how I think George Markstein thought the show was about, and that was fairly subversive for mid 60's TV.
McGoohan wanted to get more out of it, and he prototyped, as a TV show the kind of stories Philip K Dick was then writing and would eventually be successfully realised in stuff like the Truman Show, but he lost his way before he could write a proper finale. Nowadays on shows like 'Life on Mars' teams of writers and producers plot complex story lines that tease us and ultimately pay off.
The Prisoner is a cult because its great but never quite fulfils its promise. We keep watching just in case it'll work better next time.
On the strength of this I'm almost inclined to think that this format is the one Victoria does best. This format, originally done by her in 'Victoria Wood As seen on TV' allows Vic. to play to almost all of her strengths, (of which she has many)
Television parody, musical parody, movie parody, all this is very very good, and the BBCs Christmas budget made for an all star cast. And thank goodness its on DVD for us to cherish and cherish again. If I was running the BBC I'd have Victoria producing 13 of these every year from now till forever.
The only thing missing, (in my role as BBC boss I'd give Vic a second budget for this) is more in the style of 'Pat and Margaret'
Well who could ask for more?
Victoria Wood and Celia Imrie on a walking holiday in the Yorkshire Dales, it just doesn't get better than this.
Believe me this is superb stuff and Victoria and Celia are having such fun.
It goes without saying that Victoria has provided cracking dialogue for all.
I hardly need mention that Celia is looking gorgeous, and she gets to do her Scotish voice.
Joan Sims is wonderful.
And throughout we have the smell of hormones.
And lets not forget the 'Wild blue Honda'
Screen One: Pat and Margaret (1994)
A little dark for Vic
Unlike some of the other people who have commented I don't find this side-splitingly funny. That's not to put it down, and it is very funny in parts, but Victoria Wood fans all know that Vic can pack in more JPH (jokes per hour) than most comedy writers put in a 13 part series. But to me this has a dark and poignant side that I've not seen in her other stuff.
Of particular note is Thora Hirds' character, with her subtle manipulation and very cruel treatment of her son, (played by Duncan Preston) I found this quite chilling. As always with Victoria the dialogue is spot on but the kind of abuse that this 'its for your own good' mother is indulging in is written so well, and played so well by Thora Hird it leaves a lasting mark.
In some respects this is the best thing Victoria Wood has ever done, she is just so talented in so may different ways: she can parody almost anything and that's wonderful but wait she does drama as well. Lets have more like this please.
Acorn Antiques: The Musical (2006)
Not about an antique shop
Acorn Antiques is not about the goings on in a fictitious midlands antique shop but about a bunch of actors playing in low budget soap. When the sketch started, as part of Victoria Woods "As Seen on TV" all we knew about the characters was what we could glean from their on screen antics. But what we did learn was how much they disliked each other, how unprepared they were, how low rent this particular soap was. At the end of the run came the "making of" episode and here we got a bit more back story on these characters. This like much else Victoria Wood did on this show was way ahead of its time but no less than we have come to expect from her, after all "As Seen on TV" gave us Hetty, the prototype of the Hyacinthis Bucket character and pretty much created the format that French and Saunders did to death several years later, main difference being Victoria's version was way funnier and she wrote everything herself. And of course there are always all those superb musical parodies. Well OK I'm a Victoria Wood fan, no question.
Now I have to say I don't consider Acorn Antiques the musical 100% successful but I'm still not sure why. Having seen the show during its run last year and watched the DVD of that run at several times now I have to say parts of it are excellent. The DVD is great value with a full show with Julie Walters as Mrs O and several songs with Victoria Woods's version of Mrs O, we also get a Karaoke version of all the songs and subtitles throughout. And this is excellent, there's always so much going on in Victoria's stuff that you need to see it again and again to get everything out of it.
The big question is why do it like this? Don't get me wrong its great to see Julie Walters 'aged hoofer' and I love seeing Celia Imrie vamping it up, (how does she manage to bend back so far? strapping girl like that) But as one of the cast says, (of Chorus Line) it's a musical, it doesn't have to have a point. So just an excuse to string a few songs together? To really parody something you have to love it too and many of these numbers are outstanding, "Tip Top Tap" is super and I'd love to see them go at it flat out right the way through. Celia's "Come on Boys" song is superb and Sally Ann Triplet's love song to Mr Clifford is just lovely and has got my eyes wet a couple of times. But all together the show does go on a bit. The first part with Neil Morrisey has the director is maybe a little too much of a good thing. The second half, which for balance parodies the other half of middle England's catalogue of gripes seems to be a bit more pertinent, we are not as far as I'm aware too heavily plagued with left wing theatre directors but we are bombarded with people bitching about the loss of all our traditional high streets.
I suppose what I would love to see is the right vehicle for Victoria Woods' writing. Her Christmas show of a couple of years ago was pretty hot stuff and I'm sure the BBC or any other TV company would snap up 13 more just like it but I fear she's done that format, done the sketch show, done the sitcom format. Maybe a musical film is what would suit her best and then those lovely songs and exquisite performances would be preserved for ever. Maybe an appropriately radical approach would be to ditch parody and play it straight, why not? Oh and give Celia a love song to sing this time!
The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
The Nature of Machines
Phoenix is one of the whole time greats. I saw it when it was new in the cinema and I must have seen it fifty times on TV since then, usually turning on half way in and then getting hooked again. I decided to get the DVD so I could watch it from the start.
This movie has a great cast and a great story. James Stewart plays the pilot who feels he is responsible for the deaths of several of his passengers following a forced landing in the desert. Eventually, he and the rest of the survivors are persuaded by Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger) to attempt to build an aircraft from the remains of the old one. The survivors are a very mixed bag; Ian Bannen does a wonderful job as Crow the obnoxious one. Ronald Frazer has Sgt Watson is another beautifully played sad case but by the end of the movie they've done enough to make us care about them.
Aircraft bits dominate almost every shot and the movie illustrates beautifully the nature of machines; normally we see aircraft only has complete things, continuous and perfect. We could miss the fact that they are made of parts, each one crafted to a determined shape. Parts which if put together in a certain way can subjugate the laws of nature.
Dorfmann has to figure out how to make a plane from what's left intact of the old. He must come up with a design that's viable. He has to work everything out, how the old plane must be torn apart, how the parts of it will be moved around, and how they will be reassembled, how the controls must be rigged. In reality this would be an almost superhuman feat. Could a real life aircraft designer do such a thing? And Dorfmann is very young, what young engineer would have been involved in the entire lifecycle of aircraft production? But of course Dorfmann's company makes model planes, and Dorfmann has always had to design everything on his projects!
The pilot Towns (James Stewart) has to surrender his authority to Dorfmann so that the new plane can be built. Towns doesn't believe the plane is feasible but he is persuaded that the project is better than letting them sit around waiting to die. Towns doesn't want to be responsible for more deaths should the plane get finished. Towns rails against Dorfmann long and often but always Dorfmann is right and Towns wrong. But Dorfmann knows he needs Towns' skills to fly the plane.
After many problems the plane is finished and Towns must start it up and fly it. The point where Towns climbs aboard and pulls the ladder up behind him is very sweet. This is where the Towns takes the plane back from Dorfmann. He must use all his skill and experience to get the engine started.
The engine can only be started with a Coffman starter, a cartridge system. If the engine does not start all their efforts have been wasted, but at least Towns won't have killed more in another crash. But Towns will have failed as a pilot if he does not get the engine started.
In the event, of course Towns chooses to start the engine and is shown to have skill and knowledge that Dorfmann does not have. In one sense getting the engine going is the end of the story, Towns has finally made his choice and committed wholeheartedly to the project and in doing so got his self respect back.
And now with the motor going the Phoenix has ceased to be a collection of useless parts, it's become the difference between life and death and every last one of them has made it happen.
Paul Mantz a veteran pilot of movies from Howard Hughes's day was killed flying for this movie. Perhaps that is why the actual flying shots look a bit truncated; we don't actually see the Phoenix land and the scene where the survivors appear over the horizon looks rather naff and smacks of cheap TV movie. Well nothings perfect but Phoenix comes pretty close.
BTW in the original story Krugers character is called Stringer, (model aeroplane fans will get it)
What do the residents of Coronation St. watch for light entertainment?
It's no secret that Victoria Wood is a fan of soaps and it's clear that as a child she spent a lot of time watching popular TV, as did most of us. dinnerladies, which at the time of broadcast was presented as a revival of the sit-com has plenty of soap-opera aspects as well, and is all the better for them.
For best results the episodes should be viewed in order, a mobile phone mentioned in the very last episode makes an appearance in the first one. We get to see character development and physical changes, not all of these parts of the story. Over time characters are filled out and we get more idea of what makes them tick. In fact this is done more carefully in dinnerladies than in some drama. In the world of TV, even in the Flintstones it grates when something you think you know about a character is arbitrarily changed, either because that week's writer doesn't know as much about the show as you do or they haven't worked the plot out thoroughly. In dinnerladies tremendous attention to detail is paid.
This is an ensemble piece, like Dad's Army and the other Perry/Croft classics and we can recognise the naïve and gormless youth (Anita) and the daft ineffective officer type, Philippa /Celia Imrie. Some characters have catch phrases and these are worked into dialogue which is more like real speech, the way some people like to dwell on their medical problems.
In films such as Full Monty, Billy Elliot and Brassed Off we get a side order of rather heavy handed politics, the noble worker verses the dead hand of political cost/benefit analysis etc. In dinnerladies the factory and the canteen have an uncertain future; this is a canteen in a manufacturing company for a start. Come to that a canteen is something of an anachronism, the business world is just so vulnerable to re-evaluating what matters, one day providing an in-house catering facility might be the height of corporate fashion, next week they want to use the floor space to provide space for focus groups. But the canteen staff don't see their work as a vocation, this is slinging pies not M*A*S*H. But for some the work is very important, when Stan gets the toaster going in time for the morning rush its Apollo 13 and the joy of being part a team, even if it is a team of women with a non-stop parade of embarrassing women's problems.
But the women have other issues, husbands and parents to worry about and be tormented by. In a favourite episode Thora Hird, Dora Bryan and Eric Sykes make appearances in a "Take your Mother to work day". We get more background story on everyone and when it transpires that Philippa too has a dreadful mother for the first time she becomes a character we have some sympathy for. Perry and Croft didn't do this and the authentic soaps don't always it properly, they often just introduce horrible people who mellow, for no particular reason, over time.
The cast is superb, Anne Reid (Jean) and Thelma Barlow (Dolly) deliver comic lines superbly and, authentically the workplace banter is very funny. If someone smiles at a line it's because that character got the joke, after Acorn Antiques there's no room unscripted behaviour. Julie Walters plays Bren's mum the hideous Petunia. Her main role is to continue to mess up Bren's life. No one pays much heed to her worsening kidney problems, somehow we manage to laugh these off.
Comedy is a funny thing though; we want to have a laugh. And that's why the soaps work best with comedy. The catch phrases, the references to other shows, the horrible people, when we want to have a laugh these are all the cues we need.