Always Be Killing Hitler

Natasa Ristic as ‘Ilsa’ in “Danger 5” (S1)While researching my previous posts about NTSF:SD:SUV:: and Eagleheart, the internet suggested that I might also enjoy an Australian action comedy series called Danger 5 (2012)… and, as it turns out, the internet was absolutely right… though I’m going to have trouble describing the show here in a way that does it justice, because the premise is so off-the-wall: Basically, it’s kinda like a live-action Team America set during World War II, but painstakingly styled to resemble a “Swinging Sixties”-style spy caper, with deliberately shoddy dubbing, cheesy miniature model shots, cheap costumes, offensive “ethnic” make-up, and a little Nazi/nun/sexploitation thrown in for good/bad measure… while the enemies encountered over the course of the series include rampaging stop-motion dinosaurs*, talking puppety dogs, giant rubber-suited robots, and bullet-proofed warrior-women! There weren’t many straight-up jokes in any of the episodes, just oodles of straight-faced absurdity and crazy incongruity… so it’s often more chuckle-worthy than laugh-out-loud funny… but a real trip to watch, all the same.

For some reason they valiantly chose to have most of the foreign characters speak to each other in their native languages, while one of the heroines (who I’ll have a lot more to say about in a second) speaks to her English/American team-mates in untranslated Russian… which must be quite off-putting for those lazy types who hate having to read subtitles while watching TV. In fact several episodes feature a large number of German-language-only scenes… which may explain why Deutschland is the only country outside of Oz where the DVDs have been released, despite the potentially controversial, Swastika-strewn irreverance.

Natasa Ristic as ‘Ilsa’ in “Danger 5” (S1)The “Danger 5” squad comprises three men and two women, hailing from various Allied nations… but regular readers may not be too surprised to learn that my favourite-by-far was ‘Ilsa’, the vodka-swilling, chain-smoking, Soviet bad-girl played by Natasa Ristic. She maintains a sort of scoffing, insouciant swagger throughout her adventures, and is rarely seen without a strong drink in her hand… but she’s also a skilled hand-to-hand fighter, deadly with a machine gun, and sexy-as-hell. Hotcha! On the downside, she can also be a tad temperamental, and isn’t above leaving her sister-in-arms ‘Claire’ (Amanda Simons) chained-up in a dungeon, simply because their captors paid the good-girl blonde more ogling attention, and she’s feeling jealous! Tch! Besides her general bad-assery, Ilsa has numerous standout moments over the course of the first season, such as: charming a cell full of aggressive ape-men into taking a nap instead of attacking the squad… casually giving Goebbels an implied off-screen blow-job to distract/delay him during a sabotage mission… blasting alcohol-fuelled flame-breath at a gladiatorial lizard-man… removing her underwear during a staring contest between two male team-mates, then intermittently flashing them, just for giggles… and casually revealing that she used to be married to Rommel, after easily wrapping “The Desert Fox” around her finger by being all flirty and adorable with him. Bless.

Natasa Ristic as ‘Ilsa’ in “Danger 5” (S1)Although all of the characters’ voices were dubbed, often by other actors, and occasionally in a different language to the one that was spoken on set, I get the sense from other fans’ comments that Ristic actually speaks Russian, and recorded all of her own dialogue for the dub… though there isn’t any official confirmation/proof of that, as far as I’m aware. On the other hand, she was nominated for a “Most Outstanding New Talent” Logie Award in 2013, which suggests she was doing more than just mindlessly flapping her mouth under another actress’s voice… right…? Incidentally, I recently started reading a collection of Modesty Blaise comic-strips (The Hell-Makers, in case you’re curious), and couldn’t help seeing a remarkable resemblance between Ristic and the iconic anti-heroine… though I’m not sure if that was intentional, or simply a side-effect of the retro styling…? Meanwhile, there weren’t any recognisable supporting actresses with speaking roles here, but I reckon Susanna Dekker deserves a shout-out for appearing in numerous episodes as a wide variety of totally unrelated characters (even if she wasn’t necessarily responsible for voicing them).

Note: If you’re watching the first season on Netflix (or similar streaming services), then I’d suggest scrolling down to episode #1.7 (aka “The Diamond Girls”), and watching that one first, because it’s actually the pilot episode (which was originally released as a series of YouTube webisodes), and explains how the squad came together.


* Although the rest of the FX were pretty rinky-dink by design, I thought the stop-motion dinosaurs were beautifully animated. Kudos!

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Affirmatively Funny

Jennifer Saunders circa 2013I recently finished reading Jennifer Saunders‘ slightly scatty (but very enjoyable) showbiz memoir Bonkers: My Life in Laughs (2013), and I was intrigued to discover that she and Dawn French were the beneficiaries of “positive discrimination”, back in the day. To cut a long story short, the two first met at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, where they formed an amateur double-act to perform at school talent shows and the like… they were generally quite well-received, but it had always been French’s intention/ambition to become a teacher, which is precisely what she did once she graduated, leaving a directionless Saunders to idle away in squalid indolence (she claims she was too lazy to even claim unemployment benefits, and mostly lived off of handouts from her working house-mates). So lawd-only-knows what would have become of her if she hadn’t spotted a classified ad in The Stage (an entertainment industry newspaper) specifically requesting female comedy acts for a new club named “The Comic Strip”, prompting her to phone up her old chum, and ask if she fancied reuniting for a couple of after-hours gigs.

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders circa 1979The club’s founder, Peter Richardson, already had a solid stable of male performers, including Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Alexei Sayle, and Nigel Planer, but (to quote from the text): “Pete knew, or I suspect had been told, that he needed some females on the bill. Women. Hence the ad…” According to Saunders, the audition process wasn’t particularly rigorous: “We arrived, did our sketch and were hired. I have to admit, there didn’t seem to be a great deal of competition. The other acts auditioning were fire eaters and jugglers. There weren’t many female acts around; most comedy clubs were bear pits. I think we got the gig by virtue of the fact that we were the first living, breathing people with bosoms to walk through the door.” (p. 51). So, without positive discrimination there’d be no Comic Strip Presents, Girls On Top, French & Saunders, Absolutely Fabulous, or Jam & Jerusalem… or any of the other female comedy actors and comediennes that F&S have inspired/aided during their multi-award-winning careers. Therefore “affirmative action” is awesome, QED.

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“The Hot Shoulder”

[Contains surprise kittens and SPOILERS!!!]

Beth Dover as 'Lexie', Janet Varney as 'Carly', and Carly Craig as 'Felicia' in "Burning Love" (S3)Before diving back into Burning Love and bingeing down on the third season (2013), I decided to check out one of the shows that inspired its witer/creator, Erica Oyama, so I could better appreciate the parodic elements. Up until that point I’d assumed that cast members from previous seasons had been carried over purely for reasons of off-camera economy and loyalty/sociability… but the exact same thing happened in an episode of The Bachelorette that I skim-watched, with an introductory preamble explaining that the eponymous singleton* was a previous quarter-finalist from The Bachelor, who’d decided to excuse herself from the competition in order to focus on her career, before having second thoughts and deciding to prioritise her love life instead, via a starring role in her own romance-themed reality show! There were many other familiar elements, in terms of the setting and presentation… but the one difference I’m most grateful for is that Burning Love clips along at a much brisker pace, while the real Bachelorette‘s “arrivals and introductions” episode seemed to go on forever! I’d also argue that the characters in this cartoonish comedy are far more relatable and realistic than the ones in the “serious” shows its spoofing… but that might just be personal bias…?

Beth Dover as 'Lexie' in "Burning Love" (S3)Anyhoo, the show’s premise got a little shake-up for its third outing, with various boy-girl couples competing against each other (and sometimes themselves) in a variety of inane tasks, in the hopes of winning a grand prize of $900! Yes, that’s right… three digits… nine-zero-zero… but hilariously they all acted as if it was the sort of life-changing, dream-come-true-making jackpot that would drive enemies to forge uneasy alliances and set bosom-buddies a-backstabbing, while scoffing at the human emotion we call “Love”. The high-point of this gamesmanship-madness came courtesy of the adorably intense ‘Lexie’ (Beth Dover), who inadvertently poisoned a male contestant while attempting to eliminate a female rival, and then became incensed when her supposed “friends” failed to rally around her, angrily insisting that she totally had their backs… aside from that little slip with the deadly daiquiri, of course! In fact, I’d say Dover was easily this season’s MVP, as previous stars stepped aside to make way for her knee-jerk rage, crazy-eyed ranting, and dry-humping power-plays. Hotcha! Although her “attempted murder” faux pas saw her being disqualified (and arrested) a couple episodes shy of the finale, she still managed to lure one of the men (played by Dover’s real-life husband Joe Lo Truglio) into her spiral of insanity… and it was actually kinda sweet to see them being hustled away in handcuffs together, proudly professing their “fatal attraction”… aw!

June Diane Raphael as 'Julie', Janet Varney as 'Carly', Helen Slayton-Hughes as 'Virginia', Beth Dover as 'Lexie', and Carly Craig as 'Felicia' in "Burning Love" (S3)Of course, there were plenty other very welcome and familiar faces rounding out the cast, with June Diane Raphael, Natasha Leggero, Abigail Spencer, Morgan Walsh, Christine Taylor, Janet Varney, Helen Slayton-Hughes, and Carla Gallo all returning for another ride on the merry-go-round… along with newcomers Leslie Bibb and Carly Craig, playing former contestants from a previous (fictional) season of the show.

Verdict: Although there were a lot of great new gags this time around (I especially enjoyed the incongruous outfits that the host (Michael Ian Black) wore to introduce an upcoming challenge, while using equally misleading wordplay to confound the contestants), I couldn’t help thinking that some of the characters were wearing a little thin by this point, and that the series as a whole was running out of steam. That said, I’d still rank it as a top-class (and highly addictive) comedy, which I’m definitely going to have to pick up on DVD someday, to enjoy all over again and again and again…


* Alexandra “Ali” Fedotowsky of The Bachelor: On the Wings of Love, and the sixth season of The Bachelorette (2010), in case you’re curious.

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Like A Kid In A Cadaver Shop

Lucy Worsley ala "A Very British Murder" (2013)As part of my ongoing research for a satirical-period-procedural comic-book I’m writing, I decided to check out a BBC4 series called The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain (2014), and quickly developed a giddy crush on the show’s sprightly presenter, Dr. Lucy Worsley. As a graduate of Oxford University, with a first-class honours degree in Ancient and Modern History, and a day-job as Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, she clearly knows her onions academically-speaking, but she wears her mortar-board lightly, and brings the past to life with a girlish (sometimes unseemly) glee, and an adorable enthusiasm for all things old-timey (even the gruesome bits), combined with a sincere appreciation and support for enlightened social progress. She’s also an incredibly expressive presenter… I particularly love the way she shakes her fist at the camera every time she mentions a violent conflict/uprising, or puts her hands on her hips when referencing a defiant subject/stand-off… and her (so-called) speech impediment just makes her all the more endearing, imho.*

Lucy Worsley ala "A Very British Murder" (2013)She’s such a playful and entertaining personality, that she made learning more about the 18th century an absolute pleasure… and I immediately started searching out all of the other shows that she’s made, including the excellent A Very British Murder (2013), which is being repeated on BBC2, starting tonight. In this three-part series, Worsley explores the origins of the public’s unsatable appetite for salacious news stories about grisly crimes, as well as the ways in which fictional depictions of murderers/detectives have changed over time, alongside advances in real-life policing (the scene where she gets her inky finger-prints taken by an uncompromising old-school ex-copper is particularly painfully to watch, but a testament to her exemplary poise under duress!). Apparently she wrote a tie-in book to go along with the series, which I really must pick-up at some point… as well as a copy of her shiny new children’s novel, Eliza Rose, which tells the story of a young noble girl caught up in the skullduggerous court politics of the Tudor era. Eep!


* In some of her recent tweets she’s tried to sell the idea that she’s secretly evil, and cackles maniacally every time she “tricks” someone into thinking she’s lovely… but I’m just not buying it!

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Find The Lady

Sara Pascoe (and some blokes) ala "Taskmaster" (S3)Taskmaster, the comedy gameshow in which celebrities compete against each other to complete bizarre and confounding blind-challenges, returns for a third outing next week… and while I’m a fan of this very funny series overall, I can’t help raging against the decision to raise the number of contestants from four (in the first season) to five (in the second and third). Since the show airs on a channel called “Dave”, which is aimed squarely at unreconstructed blokes, there’s no point taking the “affirmative action” angle here… gender equality was never going to be on the agenda, even if a decrease from 1/4 to 1/5 seems unnecessarily regressive to me (especially considering the show also has two male co-hosts!)… but even the most belligerent chauvinist should be able to acknowledge that five is an odd number of people, indivisible by two. So last season, when they wanted to split the contestants into teams for certain tasks, they either had to draft in a (male) guest to help one team out, or they had to field uneven teams against each other… which is objectively unfair and illogical, isn’t it?

Of course, I’m not such a grump that I’d actively boycott the show, because it really is very entertaining… and at least the showrunners have the good taste/sense to choose high-calibre comedians like Roisin Conaty, Katherine Ryan (who won the second season, fyi), and now Sara Pascoe to fill the “token woman” seat!

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Goodbye Susannah

Maria Thayer as 'Susie Wagner' in "Eagleheart"[Contains slutty trees and SPOILERS!!!]

After finishing NTSF:SD:SUV::, I was left jonesing for more “short form” crime comedy, and started working my way through its close-cousin Eagleheart (2011 to 2014). At first I was concerned that the two shows might be too similar, since they were both riff on roughly the same genre (i.e., the crime-fighting team procedural), but Eagleheart is a much stranger, darker, and bloodier beast than NTSF ever was, skewing closer to the trippy horror of The Heart, She Holler… especially in its epic third (and final?) season. One of the main strengths/joys of watching this show is the dumbfounding ways in which seemingly routine and familiar case-related plotlines can take weird little detours on their way to the “solve”, or just spiral off into full-tilt insanity.

Beyond the plentiful yuks/yucks, my main point of interest here was the representation of the team’s token female member, “Junior Lady-Marshal” ‘Susie Wagner’, played by Maria Thayer… in-keeping with the “toxic masculinity” and casual sexism of the shows that inspired this parody, she’s depicted as the nagging “work wife” that her male colleagues constantly dismiss and belittle, even (or especially?) when she’s doing all the actual detective work! Although Susie is often side-lined and overlooked in her own workplace, thankfully Thayer is given a number of juicy sub-plots and bizarre character transformations to sink her teeth into, and show her considerable comedy-acting chops… the most memorable/grotesque coming in ep #2.5, when Susie overdoses on testosterone in a desperate bid to fit in with the guys, and devolves (Jekyll-and-Hyde-style) into a feral wolf-boy nicknamed “Little Dude”, who’s celebrated for his hard-drinkin’, sex-talkin’, suspect-cannibalisin’ manliness.

Maria Thayer as 'Susie Wagner' in "Eagleheart"Other highlights include ep #1.8, in which Susie unexpectedly falls prey to “regicidophilia” (which is defined as an overwhelming attraction to men who assassinate powerful public figures), and goes on the lamb with a besotted bad-boy who struggles to satisfy her rising blue-bloodthirst… ep #2.6 in which she gets spotted by a drug-store talent-scout, and becomes a celebrated pharmaceutical starlet, before inevitably being superceded and reduced to selling pills from the back of a car in seedy neighbourhoods… ep #2.7, in which her apartment is being used by the Marshals as a “Beat Shack” (illegal interrogation cell), and she inadvertently discovers that a tight-lipped hold-out is a masochist who loves to be smacked around, but considers kindness and compassion to be unbearable torture (they fall in love, and the episode ends with her gleefully beating the guy with a hammer as giddy foreplay!)… ep #2.11, in which she manages to uncover the terrible secret behind a seemingly innocuous (but insanely aggravating) board-game, despite having been locked in a car-trunk and forgotten by her careless colleagues(!)… and, of course, her continuing attempts to sell a crappy/creepy children’s show featuring bickering puppets with rotten apples for heads, which she uses to work through the derision she suffers on a daily basis (eps #3.2-3).

Maria Thayer as 'Susie Wagner' in "Eagleheart"Side-bar: I love the fact that she seemed waaay more upset about ‘Chris’ (Chris Elliott) inadvertently sabotaging her opportunity to pitch the “Ap’p’pals” show to a TV station, than she was about him accidentally killing their long-time friend/partner ‘Brett’ (Brett Gelman) in the opening episode of the season… and it was incredibly gratifying to see her finally achieve a little validation in the finale (ep #3.11), using her puppetry/ventriloquism “skills” to magickally save the entire planet from descending into violent anarchy. Hurrah!

Back on-topic, the show’s most pointed comment on sexual discrimination, both on and off the television screen, came in episode #2.8, which took the form of a recruitment video for the U.S. Marshals service, and found Susie cheerfully informing viewers that it’s “a great place for women!”, before hyping a recent increase in the number of words a female marshal is allowed to say per month (up from 200 to 445!). Unfortunately she exhausts this closely monitored quota before finishing her spiel, and is left to stare mutely at a ringing telephone on her desk in forlorn frustration. Bless.

Unlike its loosely-related brethren, Eagleheart wasn’t awash with comedic ringers in cameo roles, though there were a few familiar faces filling out the supporting cast: Kate Luyben as ‘Trish’, the Susie-substitute eye-candy in a fake show-within-a-show (#2.8)… Dana DeLorenzo as a fickle “Arty Woman” who admires and then derides Chris’s blood-splatter “paintings” (#2.9)… Paz de la Huerta as ‘Tess’, Brett’s super-trashy sister who Chris (kinda) gets it on with (eps #3.3-4)… Mary Grill as ‘Trish’, a disinterested prostitute Chris falls in love with while on the run (eps #3.5-7)… and Jill Talley as ‘Doreen’, a crazy lady Chris picks up in the ruins of a town destroyed by overzealous shoeshine boys (eps #3.8-9). M’kay.

Maria Thayer as 'Susie Wagner' in "Eagleheart"Verdict: On reflection, I’d have to say the second season was probably my favourite, although the mind-bending finale of season three has left me itching to re-watch it from the beginning, to better appreciate the serialised story arc and clever callbacks… but even in its first (warm-up?) season, the show was never less than laugh-out-loud funny, and splutter-out-loud absurd, and for that it should be greatly celebrated… preferably with international DVD releases, poseable action figures, trading cards, and branded clothing… though I’d settle for some decent-sized promo pictures, dammit!

P.S. The title of this post is also the title of the show’s occasional closing theme song, as performed by Raun Burnham.

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“The Meaninglessness Is Very Nice”

Rebecca Reid as 'Audrey Mouse' (circa 2015)When not stealing scenes/hearts as ‘Nadia’ in New Girl, the English-born model-turned-actress Rebecca Reid also moonlights as a stand-up comedian in various clubs around L.A…. where, as far as I can tell from the scant clips I’ve seen, she traffics in absurdist “conceptual comedy”, rather than the more traditional patter about everyday life. For example, in one routine she compares showbusiness to a goat that eats everything you own… a goat that you’ll eventually get to eat in turn, if you’re successful enough. Now, I don’t have the faintest clue what that means, but it still resonated strongly with me, as if it was actually quite profound… and the image was unusual enough to elicit a laugh, regardless of my confusion. By design, the characters Reid plays on-stage (including Minnie Mouse’s disapproving younger sister “Audrey”) are unrelatable and rather detached from reality… while her intentionally listless delivery, tuneless singing, spasmodic dancing, bizarre obliqueness, and stunning beauty, all combine to create a simultaneously disconcerting and mesmerising experience. She’s like the Inland Empire of stand-up comedy (but with mice instead of bunnies)!

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