Television Comedy Reviews

Television Comedy Reviews by Joshua Gaskell

Curb Your Enthusiasm, S09E01

By Larry David
HBO
Sunday, 1st October 2017

Larry David is in the shower, singing ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ from Mary Poppins. Has he changed? No. His supercalifragilistic mood lasts all of half a minute; until, that is, he tries to get some shower gel out of a container with one of those pump-action nozzles. At this point the more familiar sound of a Micalizzi refrain begins, Larry shouts ‘Fuck!’, and the scene comes to resemble the one in Season Seven when he couldn’t get into the vacuum-packed plastic packaging. LD is back!

In the first few scenes some of the things that happen to Larry seem like they could be there simply to set up jokes; but we know from experience that most will turn out to be strands of a tightly plaited plot: on the way in to see his agent, Jeff (Jeff Garlin), he doesn’t hold the door open for a mannish-looking woman (‘I was just trying not to offend you and yet I wound up offending you, which is quite ironic’); he presents Jeff with the final script of his new Broadway show (Fatwa! The Musical), about which Jeff’s wife Susie (Susie Essman) is very negative; and his personal assistant has missed two days of work due to constipation, so he wants to fire her. The semi-improvised performances are a little stilted, but it has been six years since Season Eight.

 
‘Type + distance = no door-hold’

The plait tightens. The mannish-looking woman (Julie Goldman), who it transpires is Jeff’s hairdresser, is getting married to the feminine-looking Numa (Nasim Pedrad), but insisting on being the ‘bride’ – Larry sticks his oar in (‘You’re a groom’), eliciting from Numa a neat summary of the governing Identitätsphilosophie: ‘How is it appropriate for you to have an opinion about this?’ Jeff tells Larry that he must go on Jimmy Kimmel to promote Fatwa! And Larry decides to foist his useless assistant on to Susie.

This was all trundling along well enough, but I was wondering whether my tastes had moved on or whether a new season after all this time could ever be quite as good. Oh me of little faith. I’d forgotten just how satisfying the Curb plait-plot is when it interweaves into sight. I won’t try to do it all justice – and most people will see it coming before I did – but, in brief, Larry goes on Kimmel, mocks the ayatollah…

Now there’s only one ayatollah, and they all seem to have the same name. And they all seem to spell it the same way. And you never know, if you look at the history of ayatollahs… it all seems like one person. They all look exactly the same, and their names are Khomeini, Khomeeni, Khomani…

…and then, the following day, he sees the ayatollah on the TV news, issuing a fatwa against him.

Very bad man!

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This Country, S01E03

By Daisy May Cooper and Charlie Cooper
BBC Studios for BBC Three
Wednesday, 22nd February 2017

Each episode of This Country begins with the follow message:

In rural Britain today, studies show that young people feel more marginalised than ever. To explore this problem, the BBC spent six months filming with some young people in a typical Cotswold village.

The young people are cousins Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe (siblings Daisy May Cooper and Charlie Cooper, also the writers).* In Episode 1 Kurtan entered a scarecrow competition; in Episode 2 Kerry got a tattoo of a wolf howling at the moon. At the beginning of this third episode, Kerry restates the explanation for the cameras to an off-screen woldsman: ‘Bumworth! They’re filming us, look. Oi! Yeah, we’re on TV, look. BBC, yeah.’

So the Coopers are mockumentarians in the tradition of The Office – indeed, by their own admission, Kurtan has something of a young Gareth Keenan (or Mackenzie Crook) about him. The bucolic setting also reminds me of Crook’s Detectorists; and I wonder whether Kerry has ever been to Cribbs Causeway and sat at the feet of Vicky Pollard. None of this is to suggest that This Country is derivative in the negative sense – it isn’t.

Episode 3 isn’t quite as funny as 1 and 2, but it’s interesting in being structured a bit like ‘The Chinese Restaurant’ episode of Seinfeld – that is, around the real-time preparation of a meal. Kerry and Kurtan are waiting for their uncle, Steve ‘Nugget’ Nuggins, to get home from prison; and in the meantime, Kurtan is cooking a pizza, and Kerry some turkey dinosaurs.

this-country-2A photograph of Steve ‘Nugget’ Nuggins

Nugget was imprisoned for hijacking a bus in Swindon and going round a roundabout for four hours. Kerry explains: ‘It was a miscarriage of justice, though, ’cause what people forget is twelve outta them twenty hostages actually found it funny.’ To right this wrong, Kerry and Kurtan launched the ‘He Was Only Having a Laugh’ campaign.

this-country-1‘He was only having a laugh’

However, some of the things Kurtan says when he’s on his own suggest there is a darker side to Nugget. And the campaign has not convinced either Auntie Pat – who, according to Kurtan, ‘says she can’t trust him with a bargepole’ – or Kerry’s mum, Sue (Ivy Woodcock). Sue is in the house while the pizza and dinosaurs cook, but, like Margaret in the Little Britain ‘pirate memory game’ sketches, only shouts down the stairs from off-camera.

The Cousins Mucklowe kill the time before Nugget’s much-anticipated arrival by exchanging items of monkey news. But the episode ends with an anticlimax – Steve Nuggins, Gloucestershire’s answer to Francis Begbie, never arrives! An intertitle explains:

Steve ‘Uncle Nugget’ Nuggins never arrived at Kerry’s house.
That night, he was arrested after wielding a samurai sword in a local Tesco Metro.

The Tesco Metro in Ciren? Tewksbury? Kidlington? We may never know.

This Country is the best new comedy I’ve seen for a while – maybe since Fleabag. Online-only BBC Three continues to exceed expectations, and the Coopers should be congratulated for creating a sitcom that’s fresh, loveable, and funny.

* And the village is Northleach, half an hours’ drive from Gloucester.
† When Kerry shows the campaign’s website to the camera, it’s possible to see that Kurtz has been searching for ‘Robert Robinson’, the long-lost school friend he obsesses about finding in Episode 2.
‡ She calls Kurtan a ‘nasty piece of work’, which is also Charlie Cooper’s description of himself on Twitter.

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