As a card-carrying leftie I don’t want to like anything connected to Rupert Murdoch, but sometimesI can’t help it. Obviously there is the Times crossword, but that was around long before he bought it up, and the Bugle podcast which News International kept funding for ages, but somethign has been happening with Sky over the last few years.
When it started Sky just muscled its way into the market by outbidding everybody for sports and movies. The general entertainment channels were almost entirely populated by stuff bought in from America. When Sky did start making its own programmes they seemed to nearly all feature Ross Kemp or be quite trashy like Ibiza Uncovered or be re-vamps of other channels’ discarded programmes (Sale of the Century, The Price is Right, Gladiators)
There were a few signs of better things though – like the Hogfather, which I still haven’t got round to watching. There was also An Idiot Abroad which I still have a soft spot for.
In the last few years Sky One have really started to make an effort at creating comedies with some degree of success. I haven’t seen all of them but some of the ones I haven’t seen have had a decent critical reception and attracted some big names to their casts – Mad Dogs had Philip Glenister, John Simm, Marc Warren and Ben Chaplin in it.
The shows I have seen are Parents, Trollied, Spy, Moone Boy and of course A Touch of Cloth. I’m not sure any of them will become classics that will be quoted in years to come like Father Ted, Fawlty Towers or Porridge but they are all well-written, well cast and entertaining. I think they are all better than a lot of the BBC and ITV comedies of recent years. And they have all been recommissioned for extra episodes after their first series.
The most impressive thing about this is the set, and that is not a slight on the writers or actors. The producers basically built an entire supermarket in a warehouse andthe attention to detail is superb, with product packaging, point of sale displays, uniforms and even trolley handles designed for the branding of their fictional supermarket. The cast is strong with Jason Watkins, Mark Addy and Jane Horrocks the big names in series one, joined by Stephanie Beecham in series two.
The first series was only 8 episodes, but the second stretches to 14 including a Christmas special. While the first series was enjoyable I think some of the characters were a little one-dimensional, but they are filling out more in the second series and the show might well have legs. Or wheels.
This features the excellent Darren Boyd (he played John Cleese in Holy Flying Circus and is Dirk Gently’s sidekick) in the lead and Robert Lindsay as his more-than-slightly deranged boss. The situation is that an ordinary bloke goes into the wrong interview and accidentally finds himself employed as a spy. It has plenty of surreal and absurd touches to it, mostly relating to his unhinged boss, over-achieving son, and psychotic socail worker. The first series was a mere six episodes and really left me wanting more.
This is probably my favourite at the moment even if it the one I had the lowest expectations for. It is a vehicle for Chris O’Dowd, who wrote it, but he is totally upstaged by the boy playing the 12-year-old lead. O’Dowd plays the imaginary friend of Martin Moone, a fictionalised version of himself as he grew up in Ireland in the 80s. It would have worked without the imaginary friend actually, but that does give it an extra dimension of silliness.
There are some very strong performances from child actors in this. Not just the boy playing Martin, but also his best friend and the school bully. There are also some guest appearances from Steve Coogan (as disreputable local fish magnate Francie “Touchie” Feeley) and Johnny Vegas (as Martin’s friend’s imaginary friend: a wrestler).
Last week’s episode was sort of pastiche of the Godfather, with the local altar boys running rackets. Some fine lines, like when the priest tells Martin that church is no place for an imaginary friend or when Martin’s friend says he could never be a ‘made boy’ because of a distant relative who is protestant.
Probably the most conventional situation of the bunch. Sally Phillips plays a woman who was a something fairly high up in marketing but lost her job due to being a bit psychotic and attacking a colleague. Twice. As a result she ends up unable to pay the mortgage and moves the whole family up to her parents’ home in Kettering, so its a variation on the sitcom staple of a family all living together.
What makes it stand out a bit is the conflict between her aspirations for professional London life and the reality of provincial life. It makes her out to be a bit of a snob, looking down on the life her parents lead, but with the prospect of redemption as she realises what is really important.
Tom Conti plays her father, who is a salt-of-the-Earth eccentric supplying a bizarre aspect to it all. Her husband is, frankly, annoying but gets away with it because of his child-like attitude. He is a dreamer with big plans and zero acheivements, a wannabe entrepreneur with a big idea but nothing to back it up. Some of the best moments are in his interactions with Tom Conti.
I would recommend any of those, as well as the hilarious Touch of Cloth to anybody, even if they detest Rupert Murdoch.