Murder and Matchmaking

Murder and Matchmaking
A novel mashup of Sherlock Holmes and Pride & Prejudice

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Some Reviews

A few days ago I blogged a long ramble about how I feel unable to write reviews, I naturally assumed that an obvious follow-up would be to write some reviews. I am, after all, a mass of uncomfortable contradictions, except on the days when I’m really more of a neatly-stacked pile of tedious consistency.

However, in the interest of ensuring suitably low expectations of any readers, I feel it’s only fair to warn everyone that these reviews shall not be particularly current or insightful. I’m afraid I never seem to actually see any movie until it has made it into the three days or, more often, weekly hire section of the DVD rental shop. No matter I eager I am to read the latest work of a beloved author, I still wait until the book is not only released in the cheaper paperback version, but also, whenever possible, for it to end up on sale or even better in a second-hand bookshop. So I imagine that my stinginess generally renders me as out-of-date and obsolete as a ZX81 Spectrum when it comes to providing useful recommendations about books and films. It is highly unlikely that I should ever see or read anything before anyone else and I’m not convinced that I would build a steady readership of people who are riveted to learn about my thoughts on something they watched or read several years ago.

So what, you may well wonder, am I going to review then? Well, I thought I might have a go at mentioning a few of the radio shows I have enjoyed over the last few months. Fear not, gentle reader. You have not wandered into some bizarre alternate universe where I’m up-to-date. These are not recent shows or anything crazy like that. No mostly I listen to shows that I have only recently discovered, but were produced at least a year or two ago.

Bleak Expectations by Mark Evans (Series 1, Series 2)
I can barely suppress my swooning glee at having discovered this series. It’s a hilarious Dickensian pastiche, as though the universe peered into the very depths of my soul and decided to make a radio series so exquisitely witty and gloriously performed that it can only be likened to warm, gooey chocolate being poured into my ears*.

UNIVERSE: You like Dickens, right?
ME: Oh yeah, you know I do.
UNIVERSE: Well, would you like a riotous comedy series based on Dickensian plotlines?
ME: (Nodding with extreme eagerness) Yeah, yeah, yeah.
UNIVERSE: It’ll be pretty heavily-packed with charming performances, jokes and puns.
ME: You’re starting to explode my mind with awesomeness…
UNIVERSE: There’ll also be allusions to other 19th century novels you love…
ME: GIVE IT TO ME NOW!
UNIVERSE: Did I mention that Antony Head will be playing the dastardly Mr Gently Benevolent and he will be the most amazingly fantastic thing you will ever hear in your entire life?
ME: (Collapses on the ground and starts to choke in a fit of ecstatic drooling). Aaaaaaaahhhh…

After I was brought round from my fan-girl induced swoon by having chocolate bars wafted under my nose, I started listening to Bleak Expectations. It was good. Very, very good.

Seriously, the presence Antony (OMG, it’s Giles!) Head alone should be enough to justify a stampede of downloading, although admittedly Sarah Michelle Gellar has now made enough bad films that I’ve had to reconsider my previous stance that anything with any Buffy cast member must be immediately flocked to, but he really is astoundingly good.

I cannot recommend this show in vigorous enough terms. You should go and get it. Your ears will thank you for the listening experience, or at least they’ll infinitely prefer it to having chocolate smeared into them.

Absolute Power by Mark Taverner
Stephen Fry is in this. Really, that statement alone should be enough to get right-minded people enthused about anything. The series though does have numerous other merits. The shows centres around a pair of down-and-out BBC has-beens who set up their own ‘government-media-relations consultancy’, Prentiss-MacCabe. It’s clever satire as they navigate the dodgy waters of public relations both their ongoing Downing Street retainer as well as a series of clients ranging from the Church of England, the Sun, the Conservative Party and they even help get a Socialist Mayor of London elected.

I think there was also an Absolute Power TV series made that I remember watching and not be overly impressed with. The internet informs me that it was written by different people so I guess that might so some way as to explaining why it had a completely different tone. I think they lost a lot of the charm by not having the central relationship between Charles and Martin at the forefront, and also having the company appear too successful. In the radio show, they are frequently struggling against the threat of bankruptcy and ruin. Prentiss’s dodgy, cynical and cunning ‘wheezes’ are brilliantly entertaining, and play well against MacCabe’s apathetic laziness which reaches truly inspiring levels. PR consultants are not particularly likeable creatures, but having them lazy, greedy, cynical, devious and totally corrupt seems to make them quite charming and sympathetic to me. That probably says more about me than anything.

Cabin Pressure by John Finnemore (Series 1, Series 2)
I have only listened to the first series so far but I’m loving this show and I’m about to start on the second series now. This does seem a little strange as apparently the second series was only made last year which seems far too recent for my usual tendencies. Still, the fact I am so uncharacteristically not lagging quite as far behind as I would like should probably be taken as a sign of how well-written the show is.

Cabin Pressure follows the team at MJN air, ‘an air-dot rather than an air-line’ as they have only one plane. The four central characters are all sort of messed-up failures in one way or another which is part of their charm. It has an excellent density of jokes and rollicks along at enjoyable pace. I was quite surprised to find that by the end of the series I had developed a real affection for all the characters without really noticing how or when it happened along the way. There isn’t really a point where you feel as though you’re being urged to start caring about them. It feels more like a genuine friendship where your regard builds gradually over time and there's never an obvious moment where you become suddenly aware that this is the exact point that you’re starting to like someone.

Tonally, it straddles the line of not being too bitter or jaded, whilst still having humour deriving from fairly cynical observations, and being endearing without ever creeping towards the syrupy saccharine moments of some sitcoms. It reminds me of the clever, yet charming British comedies that were around when I was a child. It’s the kind of show you not only find funny, but could also play to your grandparents without feeling nervously uncomfortable or awkward**.

* Obviously, I am speaking in purely figurative terms. I don’t really think having molten chocolate poured into my ears would be entirely enjoyable. Delicious, melted chocolate should be poured into your mouth, thus leaving your ears free from uncomfortable stickiness to listen to music, delightful conversations and quality radio shows or podcasts.

** I don’t mean this as a discriminatory statement towards the elderly. There might be loads of grannies and grand-dads who like nothing better than a good chuckle at a tremendously filthy and vile joke. I merely mean that my own preconceived notions, however wrong they might be, lead me into feeling like I shouldn’t laugh at things that might be thought of as ‘offensive’ in front of people who are considerably younger or older than me, even if I do find them funny. This probably makes me a massive humour-based hypocrite.

1 comment:

Matt said...

We have hit upon a run of excellent radio comedy recently - helped by your cunning strategy of checking out the writers of Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look and seeing what else they've been involved with.

Bleak Expectations is incredibly densely packed with very, very silly jokes. To paraphrase the narrator Sir Pip Bin, "I love it more than I love brandy or beef or punching a Frenchman!"

The invasion of the martians, the sinister Sir Gently Benevolent rising from the grave (twice), and James Bachman as Harry Biscuit were highlights for me.

I think one of the things that impressed me most about Cabin Pressure was the episode near the end of the series that was 90% set in the plane on the tarmac, with just the 4 main characters chatting while they wait for a possible call. For the bulk of the episode it's sustained chat, without 'plot' stimulus, and it feels pacey and fun. I think it was that episode that made me reflect on how much I'd come to like the characters :-)