Reviews written by registered user
|38 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've just given a 1 star review to PhoneShop, so I wanted to redress
the balance by giving almost perfect review to both series of
Facejacker. If anyone reading my other review thinks I don't understand
modern comedy then hopefully this will set them straight: it's not me,
it's PhoneShop that is the problem!
Evidently phones are much more fun when they're "jacked" rather than "shopped", as it were, as Kayvan Novak proved so deftly in the original prank phone call show. Terry Tibbs became an immediate sensation, and in Facejacker the strange car-salesman is brought to life.
Taking an overview of both series, Terry Tibbs started off amazingly, then tailed off slightly, then made a great comeback. The first couple of Terry Tibbs appearances, when he hijacked proceedings at Pricedrop TV and then his stunning Come Dine With Me spot, were hilarious! As with Fonejacker, the comedy comes from people's bemused reactions to this obviously full-of-it cockney spiv. Adding to the prank are frequent appearances by Terry's son and daughter, just about the only other people on camera who are in on the joke.
After a few less funny sketches, Terry bounced back in Series 2 with "Talk To Terry", the new Jerry Springer show and one which should be commissioned as a real series. Terry takes to US chat shows like a duck to water, although he will have to perfect the art of running through the audience without falling over! "He's a gay! He's a gay!" he gets the crowd to chant after one poor guy fails a lie-detector test, having denied he is homosexual. Lord alone knows what the audience made of this, but they seemed to have fun on the set, and I certainly had fun watching at home.
The final Terry Tibbs sketch was "The Apprentibbs", which also featured a hilarious new character Patrick: exactly the kind of eccentric person I've met at various workplaces, making you think: "where DO these people come from?". This is the kind of caricature Kayvan is so good at, not just boring clichés but genuine three-dimensional characters with an implicit back story that makes you wonder about the rest of their lives. You can see this with Terry himself - from a voice on a fake phone call, he evolved into a real man with a real family, real kids and many real ex-wives!
You can also see it with Ray Fakadakis, a late addition to the show but a highly welcome one! Ray probably became the star of the second series, and I for one am crying out for more Ray in the future! On one level the shifty ex-con Liverpudlian is a very obvious stereotype, and in lesser hands it would have just raised a yawn. But in Kayvan's genius hands Ray becomes a hero, a pathos-inspiring creature who is desperately, frantically trying to remain positive and happy whilst fighting some very dark demons. It's going to take him a lot of time and a lot of affirming "I'm amazing!" before he finds the contentment that he genuinely wants to impart into the next generation. It's probably going to take an even longer time for his hapless students to fully comprehend the wisdom of Ray's advice, especially his altruistic gift of a Cup-a-soup to a gobsmacked young teenager.
I haven't even got to Brian Badonde yet, another true star. His finest encounter was possibly with the LA rappers, poor guys! This was closely followed by Bick at the Fine College with his nude class (I mean, we've all stood naked in the middle of the room while some nice friends paint us, haven't we?) Everyone in Brian's path ended up obliterated by the bonkers, braying, barking art critic and his Bourette's syndrome. The funny thing is watching people gamely trying to maintain dignity and an academic tone while this charlatan pseudo art expert talks gibberish.
Another treat was the various guises of the talking machine: from Moira's Drive Thru to an automated tourist kart in San Francisco, the machine unfailingly misheard its instructions, broke down with technicalty difficultings, and just plain confused its users.
Augustus Kwembe tried scamming people using hypnosis, he pretended to be a traffic warden and a supermarket cashier, plus many more scams besides.
Dufrais was probably the hardest character to watch, and the most thought-provoking. I would even say on one or two occasions he crossed the line into actually being unfunnily obnoxious, but even in those moments there was clearly a point to Dufrais. How much slack do we cut disabled people for saying or doing things that would otherwise be totally inappropriate? Should we apply exactly the same social rules to them, or should we pussyfoot around and treat them with kid gloves? Almost all Dufrais' victims were incredibly patient, some were patronising and others, most hilariously, didn't give a monkeys about his disability and totally lost their temper regardless. I'm thinking of the bus driver on the baseball tour.
There were several other equally funny characters who only made one or two appearances. The comedy often had a real heart and soul to it, as well as making subtle points about human psychology. You could debate whether these points were deliberately pondered by Kayvan, or whether every prank show tells us something about ourselves and how we try to make sense of the most bizarre circumstances. I suspect that, for example, Kayvan has thought deeply about people's slavish obedience to machines, or how easily we place our trust in professional-looking camera crews, even when doing so defies all reason. In other words, there is some real intelligence at work here - it's not just Beadle's About or Trigger Happy TV.
I could go on, but it feels really good to be able to enthuse wholeheartedly about an original, innovative, fresh, good-hearted, varied, high quality British comedy and to demonstrate how good comedy can really inspire us!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What a shame this was the last ever Columbo. If only there had been
"just one more thing": a final send-off episode, featuring the
Lieutenant reluctantly forced to retire but not before solving his most
impressive case! Back in the 70s "The Conspirators" was a perfect way
to end the original series - an epic, "fin-de-siecle" episode that
closed the chapter with its fitting slogan: "this far and no farther".
As it stands "Columbo Likes The Nightlife" doesn't feel like the last ever Columbo ever, it feels like the start of something new. This is why it's a shame: Columbo had turned a corner with this episode, still finding its feet with the new style, and had a few more episodes been created in the same vein we could have had a last hurrah for the Lieutenant (as opposed to a last salute for the commodore!).
If anything, the new direction of "Columbo Likes The Nightlife" is almost like a return to the very first appearance of "Columbo" in "Prescription Murder". It's interesting to compare the first and last episodes, and in fact they have more in common than maybe first apparent. For starters, the character Columbo in each episode is slightly less goofy and pretend-dumb: the murderers know he isn't stupid (unlike your "Death Lends A Hand" and "Columbo Goes To College" type episodes in which he readily plays the fool). He's definitely more serious here and the style of the piece is less wacky and whimsical than usual.
If the humour is downplayed in an episode of Columbo, what replaces it? In this case, as with the original episode, what replaces it is genuine suspense. A male murderer with a female accomplice both have to deny knowing each other (well, in "Prescription Murder" they know each other professionally but have to deny they are having an affair). Matthew Rhys is a new kind of Columbo villain in terms of appearance and fashion, however typically charming and "respectable" when dealing with Columbo (though with a not very secret dark side). Jennifer Sky was absolutely superb in this episode as his accomplice. Not only is she stunning, her acting was really pitch-perfect, getting more and more worried as the net closes in.
Another similarity with the original episode is the modishness of the setting. In fact, the best Columbos (apart from a few of the late 70s ones) tended to revolve around some new fad or new technology, very indicative of their era. Whereas "Prescription Murder" was very late-60s with its cheese and wine parties, "Columbo Likes The Nightlife" was a pretty good snapshot of early 00s rave culture. I was heavily into the culture at the time (we all go through that phase when we are growing up!) so it was frankly amazing to see Columbo enter that world, and what's more do it with style and lightness of touch. The world of rave is not really that different from the world of magic, a la "Now You See Him" and the Great Santini. After all, it's all done with smoke and mirrors. And, as I have said in my other reviews, any Columbo that features an outwardly glamorous backdrop makes a great setting for intrigue and foul play.
Any faults with "Columbo Likes The Nightlife" and this return to the serious, cutting-edge type Columbo? Not his age. Somehow Columbo appeared to be slightly younger here than in the previous few episodes, maybe it was his seriousness and that there was less of his absent-minded rambling and shuffling about here. I think Peter Falk definitely had at least one, if not two or three more episodes left in him after this. He was as sharp as ever.
The ending was ever so slightly disappointing for two reasons: one, if the music was stopped at a rave people wouldn't just stand around in silence, there would be catcalls and "wtf" reactions from the crowd! It would totally confuse the ravers to be honest. And the evidence about the fish kind of came out of leftfield, which to be fair happens in loads of Columbos. Maybe I need to rewatch it to see just how quickly he picked up on the discrepancy in the numbers of fish.
All in all though, this is an interesting, original and excellent episode made even better by the wonderful Jennifer Sky and daring use of the rave environment. "Columbo Likes The Nightlife" ended up being an artistic statement that seems to say: just because Columbo is in his mid-70s, this is not an old show or a show aimed at the nostalgia market, this is a serious piece of modern police drama aimed at a younger audience (hopefully without alienating the die-hard fans who remembered the show from decades ago).
On that level, you have to say it works tremendously!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
All the elements are in place here, great acting and an interesting
story. Columbo's trademark mind games about smoking and mice are
especially hilarious. What's great is that he suspects Graham McVeigh
from the very beginning and is deliberately toying with him. It's a
particularly good combination of comedy and suspense in this episode.
The triple-bluff restaurant scene was excellently planned by Columbo, and as in "It's All In The Game", he will gladly go to great lengths in socialising with people (in this case the Mafia) in order to get his conviction. But it's made clear that Columbo is a "cream soda" kind of guy, so it's not out of character at all, just what he has to do to get enough firm evidence of McVeigh's guilt.
I honestly don't think you can say this is in any way inferior to the original 70s episodes. It's perfect, timeless stuff.
One of the best.
When The Whistle Blows was revived for one season (plus Christmas
special) in 2006. The show was relocated to a factory in Wigan,
Northern England and concentrated on the factory floor banter between
Ray Stokes (played by Andy Millman) and his motley collection of
The show's undoubted potential was sadly smothered by incredibly broad, lowbrow production values in a desperate attempt to win viewers. It ended up being the kind of show that 4 year olds would enjoy, due to the overuse of catchphrases and silly wigs etc. There were a couple of inappropriate celebrity appearances as well which seemed forced and contrived, either for camp kitsch value, eg Keith Chegwin's appearance as "Keith"; or else blatant product placement, eg Chris Martin from Coldplay who just happened to turn up in the factory to plug his new album...an absolutely ridiculous, mental scenario.
The Christmas special, which proved to be the last ever episode of When The Whistle Blows, involved flying the regulars out to Spain.
Andy Millman's career never really took off after the dire reviews received for When The Whistle Blows. True, he made a notable appearance as a slug in Doctor Who, and his appearance on Celebrity Big Brother was briefly famous for an emotional outpouring of hatred for the celebrity lifestyle, but sadly for Andy the public still only associate him with When The Whistle Blows.
Shaun Williamson (Barry from EastEnders) was rumoured to have been lined up to replace Andy Millman in the role of Ray Stokes, but due to management/agency issues, the BBC never commissioned another series.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am currently reading "Four Past Midnight", the book of four Stephen
King novellas which opens with "The Langoliers". I have just finished
reading this story and immediately checked out the movie version. I
Something about this story, like many of King's, really touches a nerve. The quality is mainly in the basic concept rather than the sometimes-clunky dialogue. I like the idea of the past still existing physically, until it eventually becomes swallowed up by the Langoliers, the so-called Housekeepers of Eternity who hoover up the past to make way for the present. Incidentally, while reading the book I assumed the emphasis in the word was on the "o" - langOliers, to rhyme with magnolias. But no, the emphasis is on the "i" - langol-Iers, to rhyme with chandeliers. Either way, it's a strange word used to describe a very strange (but somehow not totally unfeasible) type of creature.
Like all good "Twilight Zone" episodes, which this reminds me of, such a great underlying premise leaves a really strong, unnerving impression. As such, it doesn't matter so much that the acting and special effects aren't amazing. The atmosphere and plot are totally faithful to the original book. In a way, the slightly wooden, stilted acting suits the wooden, stilted world in which the characters find themselves. An airless, stuffy, oppressive world where you can barely light a match, where the wind either doesn't blow (according to the book), or else blows on the ground level but doesn't move the clouds (according to the movie, because they couldn't stop the wind blowing on location!). A world lying in the dumpster, slowly atrophying, thrown on the scrapheap by the constant forward motion of time's winged chariot.
Always good to see Dean Stockwell, a man who is no stranger to travelling through time! Not his greatest ever performance here, but he certainly brings enigma to the part of writer Bob Jenkins. Bronson Pinchot brought just the right amount of creepy-but-sympathetic insanity to Craig Toomey, the dictionary definition of a loser in life, and a stark warning to what can happen to children later in life if they are belittled by their over-demanding parents. By comparison, David Morse as Captain Brian Engel was low-key and understated, but that was the exact impression I got of him from the book. If you were flying in an airplane through a rip in the space-time continuum, you would certainly want your pilot to be calm and unflappable!
Unlike some posters here, I actually thought Mark Lindsay Chapman's Anglo-American accent was spot on. And I say this as a Brit who has spent considerable time in America. Out of necessity for being understood clearly and not sounding too "plum in mouth", Brits in the States have to slip in a few American sounding inflections here and there. So kudos to Chapman for a great, convincing performance as Americanised British secret agent Nick Popewell. I'd go so far as to say that his English accent was better than Harry Shearer's immortal Derek Smalls character (Spinal Tap). As for the ladies - well thumbs up for both Patricia Wettig and Kimber Riddle for certainly being very watchable, if not the most three-dimensional performances I have ever seen. And unlike many people here, I had no issues with Kate Maberly as blind Dinah.
Finally, the effects of the Langoliers themselves. No problem! Once again, my image of them from reading the book was as funny sort of bouncing balls with teeth, which is more or less how they turned out on screen. These are not hi-tech computer generated monsters full of whizzbang explosions, they are like parasitic insects that feed off the scraps of the past. I don't see how they could have been better represented to be honest.
So what we have here is a TV movie that transcends the limitations of its slightly second-rate format, by dint of the strength of the basic source material and the fact that they adhered to all the elements of the book. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
I'm sorry that not everyone enjoyed the movie, and I appreciate the negative comments it has received from some. For me it boils down to the concept of the Langoliers being something that really intrigued me, in a scary way, and I can't get enough of reading about them or watching them. For that reason, the movie gave me exactly what I was looking for.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Firstly, I'd like to weigh in with my thoughts on the Mike Yanagita
scene. This is possibly my favourite scene in the whole movie (amongst
several classic unforgettable scenes). It's funny enough when you first
watch it, even though you find yourself feeling guilty about laughing.
What IS funny about someone's wife dying from leukaemia exactly? The
more you try and suppress your laughter, the harder you start to
guffaw. I believe the Coen brothers wanted people to laugh guiltily at
this poor chap breaking down.
It's even funnier when you realise later that Mike never in fact married the woman, she never died from leukaemia and the whole thing was some sort of creepy fantasy of his.
I don't really believe there is a deeper meaning behind this scene in terms of plot development or changing Marge's motivation, though I do accept it gets her scratching her head at how nice people can barefaced lie (or deceive themselves). I just think its a wacky piece of black humour, a set-piece slightly on a tangent but very very funny and therefore worthy of inclusion in the film. Does EVERYTHING in a movie have to be directly part of a linear plot line? Is there no room for random vignettes simply included to add to the atmosphere and entertainment value?
The quirkiness of the Yanagita scene leads me onto my next observation about "Fargo": Marge is the natural successor to my hero Lt Columbo (who I have reviewed several times on IMDb). When she first checks out the car wreck, in between barfing and drinking her coffee, Marge's style of deductive police work is pure Columbo. When she interrogates people, it's with the same "dumb friendly" schtick Columbo uses. Not that she's a one-dimensional copy of the Columbo character, far from it, just cut from the same cloth. Works for me!
Everyone in this film, every piece of dialogue, every snowy scene, every "ya" just works somehow. It would be much easier to analyse what's wrong with a movie than what's right, but in this case I find very little to criticise. The acting all round is stupendous. I actually rewatched "Reservoir Dogs" after this, so impressed with Steve Buscemi's acting that I wanted to see more of him. For the first time ever, I felt disappointed with "Reservoir Dogs", a film I normally love. Watching it back to back with "Fargo" revealed the superiority of the Coen brothers' movie to Tarantino's (still a great film don't get me wrong).
There are so many little touches that make this movie entertaining: the appalling muzak at the cafeteria; Carl's hilariously ill-at-ease facial expressions under the glare of the traffic cop's torchlight; Jerry "co-operating" with Marge, before getting carted out of his own house in his underwear, screaming like a baby; and all the peripheral but memorable, eccentric characters like the waitress at the diner, the escort girl at the Feliciano show with Carl and the "pathetic piece of (whatever)" parking attendant etc. Shep also plays his part excellently.
Just absolutely chock-full of great scenes, I actually watched Fargo three times yesterday and didn't get sick of it once. I feel like watching it again! And this is not because of hype or a feeling that I'm "supposed" to like this movie. I just do! I really feel it is something unique, not the most upfront, dramatic movie of all time, not a movie with a great profound message, just a lovable slice-of-Minnesotan life and some very entertaining winners and losers going about their business.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I love The Professionals. Great acting all round from the excellent
trio of Lewis Collins, Martin Shaw and Gordon Jackson. Gripping,
complicated story lines and great action sequences...never a dull
moment! Surprisingly undated (aside from the cars and clothes,
obviously). Bodie and Doyle's gallows humour and irreverent banter is
so true to life.
I did have issues with Bodie's racist attitude in the "Klansmen" episode. Not because I shy away from dealing with serious issues in drama (and in all other respects "Klansmen" tackles racism very directly and bravely). My main issue was just that I didn't feel it suited his character to start making pig-ignorant racist comments, it seemed thrown in by the scriptwriters simply to make a point. (SPOILER: Point being that, by the end of the episode, having been treated by a black doctor and nurse, Bodie is miraculously no longer racist). I didn't want to hear that kind of talk from Bodie because, with all his life experiences he just wouldn't think like that. By all means have other characters in the storyline use those terms in context, but not a "professional" like Bodie!
As for sexism. Na! Just harmless blokey banter. Nothing's changed over the last thirty years apart from the feminisation of the TV industry. Ask Andy Gray or Richard Keys...
Out of all the episodes I've seen, "Klansmen" (well Bodie's dialogue in "Klansmen") hit the only wrong note. As for my favourite episodes: Hunter/Hunted", "The Madness Of Mickey Hamilton", "In The Public Interest", "The Rack" and "Heroes" all stand out. But all the episodes are watchable thanks to Collins, Shaw and Jackson.
Now I wanna get a Capri!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I received a box set of Series 2 DVD's for Christmas and rapidly
devoured every episode, even though I have seen nearly all of them
before. Yesterday I finally plucked up the courage to watch "Dagger Of
The Mind" again, this time with my reviewer hat on.
The result was that I saw more good in this episode than I had noticed before, having been comprehensively turned off last time by the appallingly bizarre parallel-universe version of London on show here. It can't be London, England. Maybe there's another city called London somewhere in California where people speak with these peculiar accents, but it sure as heck isn't the London I know and love. (And it's not an era thing, as one poster pointed out, look at The Sweeney or The Professionals for a much more realistic glimpse of 70s London, not REALLY that different to today).
But yesterday when sitting down to watch "Dagger Of The Mind", I was prepared. I KNEW that what I was about to view bore no resemblance to any real location, so I deducted points for the misrepresentation of London at the start of the episode, and from then on simply allowed myself to watch the detective story, which isn't that bad.
It's not that great either, but there's so much going on that despite its flaws, this episode is never boring! Richard Baseheart and Honor Blackman actually made pretty good Columbo villains, and it was a good touch having two villains instead of the usual lone operator. Columbo's UK host Durk is played rather more subduedly, one of the less cartoony characters here.
Needless to say Columbo himself was played perfectly by Falk. It never ceases to amaze me that even in the worst Columbo episodes, whenever Falk comes on screen he elevates the quality of the viewing experience. I would like to see more of Columbo in London, because the idea of the LA cop checking out an important London murderer has real potential IMO, once over the novelty of Tower Bridge and Big Ben (which according to my DVD copy has the most bizarre chimes ever - did the sound guys drop a cassette of the chimes in a cup of hot coffee or something? The chimes play ridiculously slowly, and start speeding up halfway through, even though Columbo and Durk are having a normally pitched conversation over the top of this strange noise). One thing's for sure...I'd like to see Columbo detour into Harlesden or Peckham!
If the nature of my review is slightly scattergun and disorganised, that's a reflection of this real mixed bag of an episode. It has great actors mixed in with awful ones. It has a good murder mixed in with a bunch of unbelievable clues and coincidences. It is a silly episode, but yet it's actually quite watchable.
I'll give it a 6 out of 10, because of the watchability factor.
Finally...do actors really ponce around quoting Shakespeare in real life? As Lily says to Nicholas: "stop acting!" This could have been a lesson for the makers of this episode. Real acting doesn't mean affecting a hammy voice that nobody ever speaks like in real conversation, it means bringing a character to life and making him or her believable. Less is more, as Falk proves. If only a few of the extras hadn't "acted" so much, instead just played their parts in a more low-key, well-observed way then the show may have been more realistic.
The only reason I bring it up is that in almost every Columbo episode (possibly not the Sky High IQ one), the beautifully subtle, understated bit-parts add to the realism and atmosphere of the show. Whereas with "Dagger Of The Mind", it's this out-of-place "acting" that causes all the problems with this episode. A bit less acting and the whole thing wouldn't seem so ludicrous!
My personal favourite piece of self-help/New Age literature is that
trusty old warhorse from the late 60s/early 70s called "Zen & The Art
Of Motorcycle Maintenance". The main theme that I found so
inspirational in "Zen..." is the idea that goodness derives from the
equal combination of romantic, surface quality and classical,
underlying quality. In other words, the best things in life are those
that are nice on the surface but also have real depth and substance.
It strikes me that "The Secret" scores adequately (if you like that sort of syrupy aesthetic) on the romantic, surface side of things...but falls to pieces totally if you scratch beneath the surface and analyse its underlying substance, or lack of.
I first heard of "The Secret" while having a chat with someone who said I was the most positive person they had ever met, and I MUST have studied "The Secret" to make my attitude so positive. I sheepishly told them I hadn't, in fact I had never heard of "The Secret". So, with my ego suitably inflated, I thought I'd check out this inspirational movie to see whether its philosophy indeed matched my own.
No, it doesn't. Yes, positive visualisation is a good way of starting a venture. In fact, it's a fundamental of all business strategies - ask yourself what your aims are, imagine your desired outcomes and then find a means of achieving them. But it's the finding a means of achieving them that is the stumbling block, missed out entirely by "The Secret", and the cause of the eventual fallout between me and my former admirer! You see, the person who told me how positive I was totally missed the point that real positivity comes from balancing "the secret" of visualising good things with a much more pragmatic approach to analysing the underlying nature of things. You need faith in order to be able to believe you can solve a problem, agreed. But you also need knowledge and logic. The road to hell is paved with good intentions...
"The Secret" is tailor-made for those type of people who don't like to analyse or think logically about solving problems. It encourages people to believe that success is entirely down to thinking good thoughts (does this remind anyone else of "The Twilight Zone" episode "It's A Good Life"?).
The point was brought home to me when my former admirer told me how "The Secret" gave her the idea that one can drive all the way across America in the fog with no headlights, just by the power of positive thought. That may, feasibly, be true, assuming you don't drive off a cliff or headlong into an oncoming truck. But why would you want to? And surely, even though you MIGHT be able to drive around in the dark, surely it'd be a quicker, more enjoyable and safer journey if you spent some time fixing your headlights first! That in a nutshell is the problem with "The Secret". It encourages people not to bother with science, critical thinking, rationality, understanding underlying substance, or the real nature of logical reality. To be fair, any video which was overly atheistic and cynical would be equally narrow-minded in my opinion eg some of the Richard Dawkins stuff.
If they could update "Zen & The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance" for the new millennium - in my line of work it is Zen & The Art of Desktop I.T. Support, lol - then that would be a far superior movie and message to "The Secret". Yes it's good to have faith and positivity, but without underlying logic and reason, then it is worthless.
A couple of final notes...in the I.T. industry, disaster recovery and business continuity are essential, ie visualising worst case scenarios and finding preventative solutions. Likewise for the police, the medical profession, firemen and anyone else who has to be prepared for bad things happening in order to act rapidly and minimise harm during a crisis. Visualising the worst thing you can imagine happening is often an effective way of putting a system in place to ensure it never does happen for real. This is the exact opposite to "The Secret"!
But the worst thing of all about "The Secret" is that, of all the philosophies and religions of the world, the one it seems to have most in common with is Satanism.
I don't quite know how I stumbled across Ever Decreasing Circles again,
over twenty years since it was made. But having rediscovered this
sitcom, I have watched several episodes and frequently find myself
rolling around in laughter at Richard Briers' character Martin Bryce.
"Ever Decreasing Circles" deals with the relationships between Martin, an an obsessive, neurotic control freak, his lovely wife Ann (Penelope Wilton) and neighbour Paul (Peter Egan). The humour mainly derives from Martin's laboured, heavy-handed attempts to organise everything from bingo games for old ladies through to football matches for 11-year olds. Up in the box-room of his house Brooksmead, Martin has reams and reams of paperwork detailing all the numerous committees and teams that he manages, plus his beloved duplicating machine.
In contrast, neighbour Paul has effortless charm, he has friends left, right and centre that he can call on to do favours for him, and he is better at everything than Martin. This leads to a brilliant comedy of frustration, jealousy and bitterness as Martin finds himself thwarted and humiliated by Paul at every turn. Paul never really intends to demean Martin, the frustration normally stems from Martin's own ridiculous attempts to try and get the upper hand.
One example, from many: Martin is organising a dance. His most loyal friend Howard comes up with the bright idea of a Vicars & Tarts theme, Martin is impressed and enthusiastic until he finds out the idea actually came from Paul. At every step of the way in the planning, from the catering to the band, something goes wrong with Martin's attempts to organise it, with Paul eventually having to phone up his mates to help resolve each problem.
But Martin thinks he has the last laugh. His wife Ann realises he is up to something because he is unnaturally gracious to Paul after the dance. Martin boasts to her that the editor of the local newspaper will mention Martin's name 18 times in the write-up of the dance, whereas Paul's name will only be mentioned once, and misspelt at that. Ann asks why a reporter would agree to do something like that, to which Martin replies with glee: "I blackmailed him!" The reporter's son plays for the football team Martin coaches, and if he doesn't write up the story to Martin's satisfaction then he will drop his son from the team.
I didn't really do the above plot justice, you have to see the episode "Vicars & Tarts" to really appreciate how funny it is! There are also some utterly hilarious scenes where Martin kicks his bed in an angry fit of class-envy about how easy it is for some people in life (ie Paul).
Despite the middle-of-the-road suburban setting, there are very subtle hints of a more subversive, satirical nature to "Ever Decreasing Circles". Martin is hellbent on keeping "his" Close a pleasant place to live, but the bureaucratic way he tries to enforce his rules, plus his self-proclaimed role as leader of the Close, does seem like a gentle prod at a certain kind of authoritarian attitude. In one episode Martin even wonders aloud if maybe a benign dictatorship is the best way to achieve things. By contrast, Paul represents an upper class, slightly untrustworthy, playboy type.
In fact, dour Martin Bryce could almost be Gordon Brown, whereas Tony Blair is more like slippery charmer Paul. One imagines similar bad-neighbourly exchanges occurred in Downing Street several times throughout the 90s!
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