More Good Morgan…

Diane Morgan on “Have I Got News for You” (4/15)Last week’s instalment of Two Episodes of Mash was pre-empted by the election coverage (boo!), so this week 4Extra compensated listeners by broadcasting three short chats between Diane Morgan and Ian Hislop, in the wake of their appearance together on Have I Got News for You a couple weeks back.

To be honest, I didn’t mention that show at the time because I was a little disappointed by Morgan’s (seemingly) rather subdued contributions… but in The Comedy Club Interviews she confesses that, as a long-time fan of the satirical news quiz, she was either too terrified to speak up, or too busy watching the other guests to participate herself! Bless. This revelation inspired me to review the episode on the BBC’s iPlayer, and second time around I could see she actually made several very good jokes/observations, and scored some big laughs… so, nuts to me!

Besides that, Morgan has a great rapport with Hislop in these clips, and makes for a very engaged and informed interviewer, as they discuss topics as diverse as Peter Cook, World War I, not-being-Welsh, and Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester! All in all, a very charming and funny conversation to listen-in on.

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Still A Sucker For Socha

Lauren Socha as ‘Amanda’ in “Plebs” (S2)As my tag-cloud will attest, I used to be a big fan of Ch4’s antisocial-superhero series Misfits back in the day, but lost interest once they all started trading in their original powers, and Robert Sheehan jumped ship. Meanwhile, my crush on Bafta-winning actress Lauren Socha took a nose-dive when I read about her conviction for “racially aggravated assault”, after she topped-off a nine-hour drinking session by attacking the Asian taxi driver who was taking her home! Feh.

Nonetheless, I’ve been seeing a lot of Misfits DVDs in charity shop recently, tempting me to revisit the series and consider giving Socha a second chance. To this end, I decided to watch the episode of Plebs she appeared in, last year… one of the first roles she scored after serving her court-mandated (and vaguely ironic) community service. For those who don’t know, this laddish ITV sitcom is set in an anachronistic version of “Ancient Rome”, and follows the misadventures of three gawky young men looking to get rich and/or laid.

Lauren Socha as ‘Amanda’ in “Plebs” (S2)Socha had a supporting role in ep #2.1 (“The Chariot”) as ‘Amanda’, a comely young woman who moves into the same apartment complex as one of the main characters, and unexpectedly agrees to go on a date with him… only to belatedly reveal that she is in fact a prostitute, and expects to be paid for the time they’ve spent together (I would slap a “SPOILER” warning on that plot-twist, but it’s revealed quiet early in the story, and was pretty obvious anyway…). It wasn’t a particularly challenging or distinctive role for Socha, but she has such an irrepressible personality, and such an expressive face, she really brought the character to life, and it wasn’t hard to remember why I was so enamoured with her before her fall from grace. Just seeing her grin at the end of a scene warmed my cockles… and, on a totally superficial level, I’d still say she’s one of the sexiest women on TV… dammit!

Naturally, this crush-resurrection has resulted in some internal conflict… I can’t excuse or defend what she put Mr. Iqbal through that fateful night, and I don’t mean to diminish his pain and suffering… but she did pay her fines, and serve her time, and seems to have kept her nose clean since then… so should I still feel guilty/selfish for wanting to see her career take off again? Because, I honestly think our TV and cinema screens would be (and were) a lot poorer and blander without her unique presence…

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Jessica Hynes @ the Bafta TV Awards (5/15)With various presenters and recipients making bitter jokes (or delivering heartfelt laments) about the recent election results, last night’s Bafta TV Awards occasionally felt more like a wake than a glitzy showbiz back-slap!

Sadly, none of the shows I was rooting for actually won anything… and seeing Game of Thrones trounced by Sherlock for the Radio Times Award was especially dispiriting (though that one was decided by public vote, and I didn’t participate, so I’m partly to blame…).

As for the women who did win: After accepting her award for Best Female Performance in a Comedy (W1A), Jessica Hynes made a rather emotional political speech, informing the audience: “I’m from a single-parent family, and my Mum was a full-time worker to support me and my sister… I’m really worried about the cuts that are coming to state education for people in low-income families. Because I don’t think low-income means low talent or low education or low intelligence.” Amen, sister.

Georgina Campbell @ the Bafta TV Awards (5/15)Still, my fave acceptance speech was probably the one Georgina Campbell gave, after recovering from the shock of hearing her name announced as Best Leading Actress (Murdered By My Boyfriend). Although she seemed rather like a rabbit-in-the-headlights behind the podium, she graciously praised her fellow nominees, thanked all her colleagues, and paid tribute to the real-life victims of domestic abuse whose stories inspired and informed the script, and her performance.

I also have to give a shout-out to Maisie Williams, who didn’t get to carry an award home herself, but did get to present one (for Best Scripted Comedy), and score a laugh during her introduction. Hurrah! I also think she deserves a hat-tip for making it safely across the stage in those insanely high heels she was wearing…

On the male side of things, it was nice to see Clive James receiving a Special Award (presented by Charlie Brooker!) for his contributions to television comedy and criticism over the years. The archive clips reminded me how hilarious his late-night shows used to be, and how they always sent me off to bed with a smiley face and aching ribs… so, hearty thanks and best wishes to him.

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Monkey Wipers

Esther Smith as ‘Charlotte Guthrie’ in “Ballot Monkeys” (S1)I can’t say I’m happy with the election results (and I did vote, so I can complain!), but I take some comfort in the fact that all the campaign hoopla provided plenty material for two topical satirical shows:

Ballot Monkeys went out in a blaze of glory, with various bus-based breakdowns and face-offs… the funniest of which was probably ‘Martin’ (Hugh Dennis) hate-humping/fighting an inflatable effigy of Boris Johnson… but I also enjoyed seeing ‘Christine’ (Daisy Haggard) unleashing her pent-up frustration at ‘Melanie’ (Kathleen Rose Perkins), and gleefully revealing the sad fate of the perky consultant’s stuffed-toy sidekick, Gonk. Meanwhile, ‘Charlotte’ (Esther Smith) grew more adorable with every episode, as she valiantly struggled to talk the slowly-unravelling ‘Kevin’ (Ben Miller) down from a metaphorical ledge, and then off the literal bus. Bless her. Major kudos to the entire cast and crew for pulling the whole thing off with such aplomb… shame there won’t be a second series anytime soon!

Diane Morgan as ‘Philomena Cunk’ in “Charlie Brooker’s Election Wipe” (2015)Not to be outdone, BBC2 treated us to an hour-long Election Wipe special, courtesy of Charlie Brooker and his cohorts/colleagues. Morgana Robinson returned as “truevolutionist” Russell Brand, in a terrifying Twilight Zone-style vision of his first 100 days in office (in the unlikely event that everyone followed his advice not to vote, and he somehow became Prime Minister by default!)… Catriona Knox cannily deconstructed typical election coverage as “generic reporter” ‘Emily Surname’… and Diane Morgan/‘Philomena Cunk’ retained her crown as the show’s reigning MVP, gesticulating her way through a green-screened wonderland of confusing computer graphics, and befuddling viewers with a dubious lesson on the history of Democracy. Example: “According to Google Translate, ‘Magma Carta’ is Latin for ‘cardboard volcano’.” Riiight…

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Wireless Laughs

Sarah Millican circa 2011A new comment on an old post about Mel Hudson reminded me that a lot of great radio comedies are being repeated throughout the year, and posted for “off-air” listening via the BBC iPlayer. Besides revisiting The Hudson and Pepperdine Show, I’ve also been working my way through the second series of Sarah Millican’s Support Group (2011)… and thoroughly enjoying it, even if the concept was a little confusing at first.

Basically, Sarah Millican presents as herself, while Ruth Bratt and Simon Day play fictional (and totally unqualified) counsellors, who advise a succession of fictional guests on how to overcome their various problems… which are then used as a jumping-off point, to encourage (real) audience members to share their own tangentially-related anecdotes. Millican makes for a very warm and witty hostess, with Bratt and Day contributing some great gags (both scripted and unscripted) along the way, and a wealth of talented ladies popping by to portray the weekly guests… including Bridget Christie, Isabel Fay, Annie Aldington, Anna Crilly, Isy Suttie and Diane Morgan!

Speaking of whom, Radio4 are currently re-running the second series of Two Episodes of Mash (2012), a sketch show she wrote and performed with Joe Wilkinson. Besides being very funny, it also demonstrates the major benefit of being on the radio… a medium that allows Morgan and Wilkinson to portray a variety of talking animals (such as spiders complaining about their webs being hoovered away, or fish discussing the dubious appeal of a worm-baited hook), as well as talking humans!

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Obviously Awesome

Jenny Slate and Ari Graynor circa 5/15I try not to get too excited about forthcoming shows and films when they’re first mooted, because “Que Sera, Sera”… but when I read that actress Jenny Slate and writer/director Gillian Robespierre (of Obvious Child fame) were reuniting to produce a pilot for FX, and that Ari Graynor had been cast as Slate’s co-star, I couldn’t help feeling a little tingle.

According to Variety, the as-yet-untitled series “will explore the adult female relationship dynamic when two born-and-raised New Yorkers embark on a cross-country road trip”. Fun! Apparently production has already begun in NYC… so I hope we don’t have to wait too long to see the finished product!

[Photo nabbed from Slate’s very amusing/adorable Instagram gallery]

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Have You Met Miss Jones?

Renée Zellweger as ‘Bridget Jones' in “Bridget Jones's Diary”To celebrate Renée Zellweger’s birthday last week, I decided to give Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) a celebratory spin… and was pleasantly surprised by how fresh and funny it still is, after all these years (and several previous viewings).

It’s no secret that the plot was lifted from Pride and Prejudice… and this film even shares a screenwriter (Andrew Davies) and cast member (Colin Firth) with the BBC adaption of Jane Austen‘s classic that inspired/influenced author Helen Fielding while she was writing the newspaper column on which this film was based! One of the film’s major strengths is how compelling its central love-triangle is, with the relative appeal of the two rival suitors (Firth and Hugh Grant) fluctuating throughout the story… and that’s largely thanks to the sturdiness of Austen’s original structure, and timeless quality of the characters she created. Thankfully there are enough new jokes and details here to make this loose reworking sufficiently different, and enjoyable on its own merits… in fact, I’d probably rank it as one of the greatest rom-coms of all time… and rate Bridget herself as the most adorable, relatable, and fanciable film heroine in recent memory! That’s partly down to the writing, of course, but a lot of the credit also has to go to Zellweger, who gamely gained 20 pounds and took a temporary job at an English publishing company, in preparation for the role. Hiring an American to play the eponymous Brit proved rather controversial at the time, but the supporting cast is stuffed with so much local talent, I don’t have any cause for complaint!

Shirley Henderson as ‘Jude’ in “Bridget Jones's Diary”Gemma Jones plays Bridget’s restless (and vaguely racist) mother ‘Pamela’, with Celia Imrie as her cheery accomplice ‘Una’, and Honor Blackman as a party-going acquaintance named ‘Penny’… Shirley Henderson and Sally Phillips play Bridget’s sweary singleton gal-pals ‘Jude’ and ‘Shazza’ (the latter supposedly based on the film’s director, Sharon Maguire, a long-term friend of Fielding’s), while Claire Skinner plays her “smug married” friend ‘Magda’, and Felicity Montagu plays her slightly-senior work-colleague ‘Perpetua’… Embeth Davidtz and Lisa Barbuscia appear as antagonistic nemeses for our heroine… and Sarah Alexander makes a cameo appearance in a deleted scene, as one of Daniel’s many random hook-ups!

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