DVD review: Upstart Crow Series 2

Upstart Crow s2Familiarity, as someone once said, can breed contempt.

Happily, this is certainly isn’t the case with the second outing for Ben Elton’s Tudor sitcom, which aims to tell the story behind the creation of Shakespeare’s plays.

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It’s not a dramatically original idea (the films Shakespeare In Love and Bill have all had a pop at it) but aided by a strong cast, this generally works well. As the Bard himself, David Mitchell does an excellent job of humanising a figure who can sometimes seem like some sort of 16th century superhero. Mitchell essentially portrays him as a likeable clever dick torn between the demands of his work, the acting ambitions of his friend Kate (Gemma Whelan), the roguish charms of contemporary Kit Marlow (Tim Downie), the rivalry of his nemesis Robert Greene who coined the term “upstart crow” to describe Shakespeare in the first place (Mark Heap) and the attentions of his more common but loving Stratford family (Liza Tarbuck, Helen Monks, Harry Enfield, Paula Wilcox). Noel Fielding also crops up in one episode of this series as another real life figure, composer Thomas Morley.

The 2017 Christmas special is not included here although if you’ve seen it, you will probably agree this is no bad thing.

The Green-Eyed Monster

A modern comedy classic then? Perhaps not quite, at least, not yet. But this is certainly enjoyable, clever fun with a top notch cast and a welcome return to form for the generally unfairly reviled talent that is Ben Elton.

And, no. The “familiarity breeds contempt” quote is not by Shakespeare. Although on this evidence, the man himself might have claimed it was.

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Bad Education Series 2 DVD review

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School-based comedy series have a somewhat hit and miss reputation as anyone who has seen Teachers or the more recent David Walliams/Catherine Tate sitcom Big School will agree. But while not exactly disproving this rule, BBC Three’s relentlessly hip sitcom Bad Education is well worth skipping homework for.
Jack Whitehall returns as Alfie Wickers, the incompetent History teacher at Abbey Grove Comprehensive. Constantly undermined by his desperate attempts to pursue a romantic liaison with fellow teacher Rosie Gulliver (played by the excellent Solemani, star of Him & Her and The Wrong Mans) as well as by the simple fact that he is only slightly older than the pupils he is supposed to be teaching, Alfie faces challenges old and new in this second series (which includes a Christmas Special) first screened last year.
Matthew Horne’s desperately trendy Head is still a fun and the supporting cast who include the brilliant Michelle Gomez as icy deputy Izzy Pickwell remain strong. New developments in this series include a disastrous school charity swimming gala, an unwanted teen pregnancy, the arrival of a popular new American teacher and the incredibly embarrassing prospect for Alfie of a middle aged romance developing between Alfie’s father (Harry Enfield) and new staff member (Samantha Spiro of Grandma’s House).
Released just in time for the current BBC Three run of the show’s third series, this will leave some of us pining of the return of Jack Whitehall’s other (better) sitcom Fresh Meat, currently in limbo since the end of its own third series. But in the meantime, Bad Education is still a welcome distraction.

Bad Education Series 2 DVD review
BBC Worldwide
Starring: Jack Whitehall, Matthew Horne, Sarah Solemani, Harry Enfield, Michelle Gomez, Samantha Spiro

Eight UK TV comedies than either soared or flopped on the big screen

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A decade after The Office finished, Ricky Gervais’s most famous creation, the excruciatingly awkward “chilled out entertainer” David Brent is to return, this time on the big screen. Gervais is adamant that Life On The Road which focuses on Brent’s post-Wernham-Hogg existence as a salesman cum wannabe musician is NOT a full blown Office sequel. But which other small screen British comedy characters have attempted to break out into the world of cinema? And which have triumphed and which have failed?

1. Kevin & Perry Go Large (2000)
Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke’s sex-starved teenage creations followed the “going on holiday” formula favoured by many British sitcom movie adaptations ranging from On The Buses to The Inbetweeners, this time going to the party island of Ibiza where they run into a malevolent club DJ played by Rhys Ifans.
VERDICT: Neutral

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2. The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse (2005)
With a tricky postmodern plot in which the creators of the TV series decided to destroy their own creations, the Royston Vasey cast made an awkward transition to celluloid, the cast later moving onto work on dark TV successes Sherlock, Psychoville and Doctor Who.
VERDICT: Failure

3. Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie (1997)
Loved by some, hated by others, Rowan Atkinson’s hapless hero performed well in his feature debut directed by the late Mel Smith. A sequel, the self explanatory Mr. Bean Goes On Holiday appeared a full decade later.
VERDICT: Success

4. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)
A-ha! Norwich’s favourite son played by Steve Coogan was transposed to a siege setting in this enjoyable film version of a dramatic event in the egocentric local radio DJ’s life. Partridge seems cooler and even slightly younger than in recent TV outings although never loses his essential naffness. Long suffering PA Lynn (Felicity Montagu) and Sidekick Simon (Tim Key) return although Mike the Geordie (Simon Greenall) appears to be killed off. A sequel is expected.
VERDICT: Success. “Lovely stuff” (not my words. The words of Shakin Stevens).

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5. Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie (2014)
Despite receiving appalling reviews, the movie version of the gender-bending Mrs. Brown’s Boys proved a modest hit with fans of the controversial and (let’s face it) truly awful BBC sitcom.
VERDICT: Failure

6. In The Loop (2009)
This well received version of the excellent BBC political sitcom kept its most memorable character, foul mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) but other regulars from the series such as Chris Addison appeared under new names to accommodate the “Special Relationship” themed storyline. Tom Hollander crops up as an inept minister while American actress Anna Chlumsky made an appearance paving the way for her role in the US sitcom Veep (also largely penned by Armando Iannucci).
VERDICT: Success

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7. Guest House Paradiso (1999)
Certainly very very very close to being the film version of slapstick sitcom Bottom starring Ade Edmonson and the late Rik Mayall (and yes, it still hurts to write that). But technically the names were changed. And this wasn’t very good.
VERDICT: Failure

8. The Inbetweeners Movie (2011)
Proof that British sitcoms really can work on the big screen, the tale of four sex-obsessed lads going mad in Crete was a big hit, despite resorting to the overused “holiday” formula (see also: Holiday On The Buses, Kevin and Perry Go Large, Mr. Bean Goes On Holiday). It also doesn’t end properly. It enjoyed the biggest box office opening weekend for a British comedy film ever, however, and the sequel (out now) seems to be doing even better
VERDICT: Success

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