Television Comedy Reviews

Television Comedy Reviews by Joshua Gaskell

Tag: Seinfeld

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.

Louie, S04E01

By Louis C.K.
3 Arts Entertainment, Pig Newton, Inc., and FX Productions for FX
Monday, 5th May 2014

Louis C.K. is a superb vignettist. Louie is a sitcom, not a sketch-show, yet many of its best scenes work precisely because they are not lashing the hide of a careering plot, urging it on to the ad-break cliff-hanger; rather, they are discreet, full of character, and exist for the acute observations they contain. The first such scene in the new season shows Louie being woken by noisy binmen outside his window. They get gradually louder and more raucous, tossing bins around for the sake of it, until eventually – introducing a non-naturalistic turn, at least in this episode – they burst into Louie’s bedroom and smash it to bits.* One of the appealing things about Louis/Louie is that he has very little political self-consciousness: here he has a gripe, and the fact that it’s with working-class men isn’t going to stop him voicing it.

There is, of course, a plot of sorts. (Even Seinfeld was never really a show about nothing, just nothing much.) Louie is playing cards with his friends, and the conversation resolves upon the subject of masturbation. In an exchange as plain-spoken as Larry David’s ‘Contest’ is dextrously euphemistic, Louie’s friend Jim Norton explains, ‘I hold the vibrator against the shaft and then I slowly rotate it against the balls’. This sends a curious Louie to a sex-shop, where he puts his back out pointing at a vibrator, and a pained Louie thence to a doctor (Charles Grodin). Continuing the non-naturalistic turn, the doctor does his own plain-speaking, a darkly funny diagnosis of back pain:

The back isn’t done evolving yet. You see, the spine is a row of vertebrae that was designed to be horizontal, and people came along and used it vertical. It wasn’t meant for that, so the discs get all floppy, swollen, pop out left, pop out right. It could take another twenty thousand years to get straight. Until then it’s gonna keep hurting. […] It’s an engineering design problem; it’s a misallocation. We were given a clothes-line and we’re using it as a flagpole. […] Use your back as it was intended: walk around on your hands and feet. Or accept the fact that your back is going to hurt sometimes. Be very grateful for the moments that it doesn’t. Every second spent without back pain is a lucky second. String enough of those lucky seconds together and you have a lucky minute.

Lucky Louis, huh? But on his way out the receptionist (Susan Blommaert) suggests a device that might help: ‘rub it all over your upper-back, lower-… wherever you can reach’. (Yes, it’s a humble vibrator.)

The back pain plot is a reflection on ageing, a theme Louie also addresses in the stand-up sections. At the beginning of the episode he describes how for a whole year he thought he was forty-four when in fact he was forty-five. But by the end he’s tacking away from the oh-fuck-I’m-forty stuff and instead focusing on how slowly time seems to pass:

Life is short. A lotta people are fond of saying that. […] And it is: life is short if, er, you’re a child who died. […] At forty-six it’s not short any more. It’s long, man.

I think this is a typical Louis C.K. joke: on the surface it’s mildly shocking and a little cruel, but beneath that there’s honesty and, dare I say, wisdom.The full proverb is art is long and life is short, which, in English, goes back to Chaucer: ‘The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne’. Perhaps Louie’s life feels long because he’s spent so much of it learning his craft. In any case, he has, and from this side of the TV it seems to have been worth it. He’s appealing because his observations about his own psyche are subtle, and at their best they outdo straight satire by being honester and putting more on the line. Jonathan Swift wrote that ‘Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own’; but Louie’s whole shtik is to detail exactly how and why it’s his face in the glass.

* On non-naturalism, see also the texting drone who bumps into Louie at the café and who Louie steers away without comment.
† Cf. Henry Miller’s letter to Lawrence Durrell, 1959: ‘Ah, Larry, it isn’t that life is so short, it’s that it’s everlasting!’
‡ Watching his stand-up specials it sometimes feels like the audience is just laughing at the shock-value, but here there’s no such distraction.

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