Television Comedy Reviews

Television Comedy Reviews by Joshua Gaskell

Tag: Baby Cow Productions

Moone Boy, S02E02

By Chris O’Dowd and Nick Vincent Murphy
Sprout Pictures, Hot Cod Productions, Grand Pictures, and Baby Cow Productions for Sky 1
Monday, 24th February 2014

This second episode of the new series of Moone Boy begins with the boy in question, Martin (David Rawle), having his photo taken by his mother, Debra (Deirdre O’Kane). In Martin’s mind’s eye he is joined by his imaginary friend, Sean (co-writer Chris O’Dowd), but in the ‘real world’ of the resulting photos Sean is unpersoned, like a sillier Trotsky. In other words, Sean is for us and for Martin. As he often does, here he expresses his creator’s charmingly upbeat, unadolescent point of view: ‘the boring old summer holidays were finally over and the dull, damp autumn had arrived at last’.

With September’s slanty rain comes Martin’s first day at big school, St Brendan’s. As Sean tells him, ‘you’re one of the big green people now’, which as well as denoting Martin’s jolliness and Irishness, acknowledges the paradox of starting secondary school: all grown up, yet comparatively greener than ever; ‘immature, raw, untrained, inexperienced’ (OED). He’s certainly a green hand when it comes to swearing: having accidentally walked to his old school on the first day of term his innocent exclamation is, ‘flip it!’

So Martin ends up late for his first day and his mam has to take him in. Talking to the headmaster (Gary Murphy) Debra finds out that he’s cancelled the Back to School dance because ‘no one wanted to organise it’. (This head, Eamonn – who says the ‘three best things about teaching […] [are] June, July, and August’ and that ‘kids basically school themselves these days’ – seems to be a near relative of those other crumpled bags of apathy, Big School’s Ms Baron and The Inbetweeners’ Mr Gilbert.) Debra sees the bonding value of the disco, particularly for Martin, so takes it upon herself to make sure it goes ahead.

Meanwhile, Martin has found someone he’d like to ask to the dance. In spite of advice from his friend Padraic (Ian O’Reilly) on how to get the girls – ‘you have to exude confidence’ – Martin sets his sights higher, quite literally, upon his new art teacher. Miss Tivnan (Amy Huberman) is crackers – ‘art should startle! […] open your little arty minds!’ she shouts – and part of the joke is to have her art-school waffle punctured by the supposedly innocent, uncorrupted minds of her pupils: at one point she says of their model, ‘you must look for the essence of her character, and capture it’, leaving Padraic to confirm, ‘But… in a drawing?’

In any case, the reaction Miss Tivnan elicits from Martin is, ‘my puberty just started’, and Sean feels the same way, though he has a head-start in that department. So they begin rival campaigns to woo her, each fatally constrained by reality. She would no doubt appreciate the meta sensibility of an imaginary friend attempting to address other characters, but this is no help to Sean: as Martin says, ‘she can’t even see you’.* For him though, invisibility would be a blessing at the moment when, just as he’s asking Miss Tivnan to the dance, his mam rocks up and says, ‘you left your spare underpants at home, love. […] [to Miss T.] He just can’t deal with the milk’.

As everyone arrives at the disco Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ is playing, courtesy of the ‘music hound’ that Debra has got to DJ, Dessie (Ronan Raftery): in the words of her husband Liam (Peter McDonald), a ‘clappy, sappy little wimp’. Dessie has got Martin’s older sister, Fidelma (Clare Monnelly) pregnant, which is why Liam doesn’t like him. (And he doesn’t especially want to be there anyway: ‘the house is empty […] do you know how long it is since we’ve had non-silent sex?’ he whispers to Debra.) But Dessie brings Liam round in melodramatic style when he proposes to Fidelma in front of everyone, and she says yes.

Meanwhile, ‘Moondance’ turns out to be an order directed at Martin for the purposes of bringing this episode, entitled ‘Moone Dance’, to a close. Despite the successful marriage proposal, things are getting off to a slow start, so Debra – with the help of Miss Tivnan – convinces Martin to start the dancing off himself. He dances like a little eejit to ‘(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life’, and Sean, taking pity on him, joins in. He’s forgotten their rivalry in the light of Miss Tivnan’s choice of date: a boorish PE teacher (Niall Breslin) who told the pregnant Fidelma, ‘seriously, you’ve kinda gotten fat’. While Martin holds Sean aloft, Miss T and her ‘big stupid sexy bastard’ nip off to an empty classroom to prove, contra Woody Allen, that it’s possible both to teach gym, and also ‘do’.

* But we can, and O’Dowd and Murphy have some fun with the meta stuff. For example, Sean gets excited when Miss Tivnan admires one of Martin’s drawings of him. In response Martin adds unflattering glasses and a moustache, and when we pan back to Sean they have accordingly appeared on his face.
† Cf. Harry Enfield in Bad Education, S02E04: ‘Smoocher! You forgot your lunchbox! I popped an extra Yakult in there to help settle your tummy. He’s got the squits.’
‡ At this moment the decks are taken over by Martin’s decidedly adolescent alt-sis Trisha (Aoife Duffin), the real music hound. She slaps on the finest song in the world, ‘I Know It’s Over’ by The Smiths, which contains such pro-marriage bons mots as, ‘Sad veiled bride please be happy, | Handsome groom give her room’. As Debra says, ‘people can’t dance to that’. Incidentally, the record Trisha puts on is a 7″ which, given that ‘I Know It’s Over’ is an album track, must be extremely rare…


Uncle, S01E01

By Oliver Refson
Baby Cow Productions for BBC Three
Monday, 13th January 2014*

Uncle is like Moone Boy… on acid!


The uncle of the title is Andy (Nick Helm), a musician-manchild, whom we meet at his lowest ebb: writing a suicide note to a woman called Gwen. Once he’s signed off – ‘I’ve decided to kill myself. Love Andy’ – we follow him to the bathroom for the promised self-destruction, which turns out to be overly stage-managed (by Andy I mean). He gets into a full bath over which he’s suspended a radio on a piece of string; he then texts Gwen, ‘If you still love me call me now. Xxx’ (a less depressed man would surely have normalised the capitalisation of those kisses); and then he turns the radio on. What comes out are the the bathetic strains of ‘Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)’, alias ‘We Are the Cheeky Girls’, so he retunes to the more appropriately monumental sound of ‘O Soave Fanciulla’ from La Bohème. He then reaches up, scissors in hand, but just before he can snip his life away his phone goes. It’s not Gwen, but the plot, in the guise of Andy’s sister, Sam (Daisy Haggard).

At first he ignores the call and we hear his answer-phone message: ‘Leave a message after the [belch sound],’ which is about on a par with David Brent’s ‘Please leave a massage.’ But Sam persists and Andy eventually answers, excusing the wait with ‘[I was] just watching porn.’ (It’s a sign of his malaise that what most people would need an excuse for, is his actual excuse.) ‘Can you pick up Roly from school for me?’ asks Sam. ‘Who?’ counters Andy. ‘Errol. Your nephew.’ If Andy doesn’t pick him up then Errol will miss football practice. Andy’s first reaction is, ‘So he misses football. Big deal!’ But Sam explains: ‘Yes, it’s a huge deal actually. If he misses football and his dickhead dad finds out, it could ruin the custody case.’ (This exposition is forgivable in a first episode.)

So the programme is playing with and ironising the sense of the word uncle which gives us avuncular, and which a draft addition to the OED currently defines as, ‘One regarded as having the kindly, protective qualities traditionally associated with an uncle; a benevolent adviser, protector, or patron.’ Andy, who greets twelve-year-old Errol (Elliot Speller-Gillott) with the words ‘Oi! Little fucker,’ is decidedly unavuncular. And Errol himself (who is nobody’s fool) recognises this and takes part in the irony. On the way to football, when Andy refers to himself as ‘your uncle,’ Errol smiles. ‘What’s so funny about that?’ asks Andy. Errol decides to test him: ‘What’s my middle name?’ he asks, thereby implicitly setting Andy a challenge of unclehood: to be more kindly, protective etc., and thereby de-ironise the programme’s title. And in case we’re in any doubt about how far Andy has to go in six episodes, he guesses that Errol’s middle name is also Errol, and tells him to boot, ‘I find you incredibly tedious and dull.’

Errol is the kind of kid who subscribes to the ‘Don’t Step on the Cracks’ school of OCD thought, and is therefore not especially bothered when Andy pulls him out of football practice to pursue a missed call from none other than Gwen. (A clash between Andy and Errol’s football-enforcing dad may materialise in a future episode.) The two of them meet Gwen (Sydney Rae White) in a gay strip-club (C-O-X) owned by her cross-dressing father, Val (Con O’Neill). Gwen, we learn, left Andy because he posted a sex-tape of the two of them online for a dare, so he tries to win her back by opportunistically pretending that Errol is his son. ‘I always thought there was something weird,’ says hoodwinked Gwen, ‘like you had half a personality. […] Does he make you want to be a better man?’ So having said that Andy has a full series to learn to avunculise, we do in fact see, in these scenes, a proleptic facsimile (a draft addition, as it were) of his character development, responsibility being the key word. But though the act does earn Andy a quickie, Errol soon spills the beans and Val ejects Andy from the club. At this point we cut (à la Matt Berry) to a brilliant ninety-second music video of a song called ‘Gwen’ (written by Helm and Andy Jones).

Helm has said in an interview that ‘[Andy and Errol] learn from each other – it’s all very moral,’ and that ‘[Uncle] feels slightly more like a comedy drama.’ Whilst that makes it sound less enjoyable than it actually is (the episodes, after all, are half an hour long and funny), the final scenes in this first one illustrate what I think Helm meant, which is that though this is a programme about an initially cynical man, it’s not a cynical programme. When Andy finally gets Errol home, Sam tells her brother, ‘You really saved my life today,’ a statement which the viewer knows is true vice versa. And before Andy leaves, Errol goes to him to reveal his middle name. It’s Andrew: ‘I was named after my uncle.’

With the rapport between the two leads working well and one of Helm’s songs due every week, Uncle promises much.

* A pilot, also produced by Baby Cow and with much of its script reworked here, went out as part of Channel 4’s 4Funnies series (Friday 14th December 2012). In it Errol is eleven rather than twelve, and Andy’s flat looks more convincingly depressy.
† ‘Lazy Journalist Scum’ (© Lee & Herring).
‡ Alias ‘O Soave Gwen’. …Is this thing on?

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