Television Comedy Reviews

Television Comedy Reviews by Joshua Gaskell

Tag: Comedy

The Windsors Christmas Special

By Bert Tyler-Moore and George Jeffrie
Noho Film & Television for Channel 4
Friday, 23rd December 2016

‘[I]t was a referendum and we must respect the public’s decision.’

This isn’t the EU referendum, but the one that closed the first series of The Windsors, when the public voted for Prince William (Hugh Skinner) to replace Charles (Harry Enfield) as first in line to the throne. This is the backdrop to what Harry (Richard Goulding) refers to as Christmas ‘with the rellies’. The setting is the royal family’s preferred Yuletide residence, Sandringham.*

The royals beetle off to Sandringham in twos and threes. None has a line that isn’t intended to exhibit the defining characteristics familiar to viewers of Series One (and, in several cases, earlier depictions): Charles is a pompous bore (‘It was Gordonstoun that fucked him up’), Edward, a.k.a. Rock-steady Eddie, (Matthew Cottle) is a failure (‘I’m Santa at Debenhams, King’s Lynn), Princess Anne (Vicki Pepperdine) is austerity personified, Prince Andrew (Tim Wallers) loves practical jokes at the expense of his dim wife, Fergie (Katy Wix), and their children, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie (Ellie White and Celeste Dring), are Internet-enabled Sloanes.

Over the course of this one-hour special, Fergie moves from the stable block to the house, Harry invites some homeless people around to impress a girl, Catherine (Louise Ford) talks Anne out of lobotomising her and cooks a traditional Christmas dinner of ‘pike schnitzel mit crispy spätzle’, and the Ghost of George III-cum-Christmas Yet to Come (Paul Whitehouse) convinces William to ignore the result of the referendum and make Charles first in line again.

However, as the drama nears its close, Charles uses his newly regained authority to declare war with the EU. A nuclear strike is only averted when Catherine guesses the password of the EU’s automatic defence system – ‘farageisawanker’ – allowing the royals to negotiate with a robot called Gargantuan (which speaks English in a German accent):

WILLIAM: No! Only the prime minister can declare war. It was just Dad!
GARGANTUAN: No, the head of state declares war, and Prince Charles is your acting head of state.
WILLIAM: Look, the title is ‘head of state’, but monarch is just a ceremonial position.
GARGANTUAN: Does not compute. What would be the point?
WILLIAM: I don’t know. We’re just a weird hangover from the past, like the Channel Islands or televised snooker. […]
GARGANTUAN: But the monarch has to ratify all your legislation.
CAMILLA: It’s just a rubber stamp. The royal veto hasn’t been used since the 1700s.
GARGANTUAN: Interesting, but I need to hear this from Prince Charles.
WILLIAM: Father, sit there and tell them we are completely irrelevant. It’s the only way to stop a nuclear war!
CHARLES: But I’m the Evening Standard ‘Londoner of the Decade’.
WILLIAM: Do it! […]
CHARLES: All right. I’m utterly irrelevant. […]
GARGANTUAN: Three… Two… One… Launch protocols… Halted! […]
CHARLES: I did it! I saved the day again!

To my mind, this exchange is more Eurosceptic than Europhile and more monarchist than republican. In any case, The Windsors isn’t satire, because it is devoid of moral outrage. But nor is it trying to be satire – Channel 4’s description of it as a ‘comedy soap opera’ is right. Even an ostensibly satirical line, like the one spoken by a pleb to William at Sandringham’s gate – ‘You’re so normal, despite being inherently better than us’ – is actually quite a good distillation of the sort of paradoxical thinking that keeps the monarchy with us. As with the Royal Family in Spitting Image, these characters are essentially likeable, despite the rude jokes made at their expense. In fact, there’s probably an inverse relationship, in depictions of royalty, between number of rude personal jokes and genuinely subversive intent. In The Windsors, many of the rudest jokes are about the future king. Harry Enfield plays Charles – a part he didn’t get to do in Spitting Image – with relish:

Charles

This Christmas special, which is just as good as the first series, will be most enjoyed by those who quite like the royals but aren’t deferential enough to mind them being compared (clockwise from top left) to Gollum, Nazis, Big Brother housemates, and, er, that one.

* William pronounces it /ˈsɑːndrɪŋəm/, which in reality must join plɑːstic and Glɑːstonbury in the box marked ‘try-hard’.
† Princess Anne was once unkindly described as a ‘A Sloane sans charm’. Here, Pepperdine (apparently wearing her false teeth from Up the Women) plays her as frosty, dour, and repressed.

Veep, S03E07

By Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche
Dundee Productions for HBO
Sunday, 18th May 2014

The American sitcom-writer is regularly tempted to write a Londinensian episode of his or her programme: a familiar-unfamiliar sit to revitalise (it is hoped) the com. The results are often strained (as in a recent episode of Parks and Recreation, for example). But, although they’re making an American sitcom, perhaps because Blackwell, Roche (and Armando Iannucci) are themselves British, this episode of Veep is no insult to the ‘Special Relationship’ after which it’s named.

Vice President Selina Meyer – the VP, or Veep (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) – is visiting her counterpart in London, Deputy Prime Minster Peter Mitchell (Darren Boyd). (The DP, or Deep?) The first shot is of Tower Bridge, which as we all know is what a dumb Missourian thought he was getting when he bought the less impressive London Bridge in 1968. The story is pertinent to the special relationship not because it’s true but because it’s told: the British and the Americans both want some of what the other culture has, whilst at the same time needing to assert their differences by taking the piss. This is repeatedly figured here in comments about Britain and America that are satirical whilst at the same time indulgent: complimentary criticisms, critical compliments, which will make viewers in both countries laugh. Amy, chief of staff (Anna Chlumsky) says of Dan, deputy director of communications (Reid Scott), ‘I would like to shoot him, but there are no guns in this country’: Brits feel good about their gun laws and Americans (the ones that are watching Veep) feel good about agreeing with the Brits. Dan refers to Prince Charles as ‘that sixty-five-year-old fucking intern’: Americans feel good about their democracy and Brits (the ones that are watching Veep) feel good about agreeing with the Americans.* But as we would expect from Veep, the mutuality of the special relationship doesn’t last through to the credits.

At their first meeting, Peter challenges Selina about a security conference:

PETER: The transatlantic security organisation, that’s going to Frankfurt and not here because…
SELINA: No, honestly, we haven’t made a decision about that yet.
PETER: I hope that honestly isn’t one of those words that’s lost its meaning whilst travelling the Atlantic.

The following day, in an attempt to ingratiate Selina to the British press, the team have arranged for her to be photographed in a pub. As Dan puts it, they’re trying ‘some reverse My Fair Lady shit […] showing she’s a regular gal’. Things seem to be going well as she chats to the landlord. He jovially tells her, ‘[I’ve] lived round ’ere me ’ole life. Born and bred West Ham fan […] West Ham United, they’re my local team’. But then, as she’s drinking her pint, Selina mistakes his cockneyish encouragement to get it ‘down in one’ for a Japanesey interjection with which she’s unfamiliar. Gamely she joins in: ‘Daniwah! […] Daniwah!’

Meanwhile, Jonah (Timothy Simons), who works for Selina’s rival for the presidency, is in town hoping to dig up some dirt. This comes in the form of a leak from Amy. Amy thinks Selina needs to ditch Ray (Christopher Meloni) – personal-trainer-cum-fuck-buddy – so tells Jonah about an inflammatory essay that Ray posted online. This finds its way to the journalists covering a joint press conference given by Selina and Peter:

Madam Vice President, can you comment on the breaking story about your personal trainer Ray Whelans? […] He wrote an essay saying ‘Obese children are possessed by the devil as a punishment for past sins.’

Selina does her best to wriggle out of it, but because Peter knows that she lied to him about the security meeting he decides to turn the screw: ‘I think we’re in it now. I think we probably should maybe see this through to the end.’

So Ray is fired. The visit is in (Deep) shit. Dan – ‘Dani-Blah’ as the press are calling him – has a panic attack and ends up in the hospital, where he too is fired for having hired Ray. In the end Selina calls time on the ‘special’ relationship: ‘let’s get the merry old fuck out of merry old England.’

* Another compliment-criticism: Mike, Selina’s director of communications (Matt Walsh), says that when the Brits find out the security meeting is to be held in Frankfurt instead of London, they’re ‘gonna be unhappy…er’: Americans laugh at miserable Brits and Brits feel good about their reserve.
† Mitchell also asks Selina about US spying. She tells him, ‘the US doesn’t spy on its allies […] we collect data’, to which he replies, ‘same thing’.
‡ The scene is filmed in the King’s Arms, Waterloo, which would actually make his local team Millwall. Upton Park is about six miles east. I guess, as the proverb goes, kings have long arms.

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