A Mischief Of Magpies

If the Sun were the size of a beach ball then Jupiter would be the size of a golf ball and a Mischief of Magpies would be as small as a pea.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

New Years for Old

<Preamble> Like my fellow new mischief-maker Paul - see January 9 - I've found myself wondering what my first post should be about, now that I've been invited to join this select band. Much metaphorical clearing of throats has occurred, whilst I try and find a distinctive voice. Then again, I must have been invited for a reason (he says, gliding gracefully over this posting from a while ago...), and why change a winning familiar formula? So my initial post deals with one of my many obsessions.</Preamble>

I'd like to wish you all a Happy New Year. I'm not being wilfully unorthodox; quite the opposite, in fact. The Russian Orthodox Church remains medieval in many respects, just look at its attitude to women, for example. Another way in which this manifests itself is the continued refusal to recognise the Julian calendar. Rumours that this is linked to a grave misogynistic mistrust of Julian's tomboy companion George remain unconfirmed. So modern-day Russians, never at a loss to come up with an excuse for a celebration, get to mark New Year on December 31, and again on January 12. Today is popularly known as Old New Year, and any culture that can come up with a concept like that deserves our appreciation.

Despite the upsurge in religious observance in Russia following the collapse of the USSR, Christmas Day is not widely celebrated there, either on December 25, notwithstanding the arrogant and patronising best efforts of the many Western missionaries to make converts, or on January 7. For the devout Orthodox Christian, Easter is a far more important occasion. So for most Russians, New Year is the time when Ded Moroz brings presents. Ded Moroz - 'Grandfather Frost' - to save you the trouble of using the Babelfish facility in the corner, is of course the analogue of Santa Claus. If I can risk flogging the magpie metaphor that little bit further, one of the shiny things glinting in the interwebs that caught my attention is this ambiguous image:

Ho, Ho, Ho

He first stood out through being one of the very few Santa figures not to be dressed in apparent corporate clothing, which is in itself a great reason to celebrate him. But looking more closely, his weary expression perfectly sums up the exhaustion the festive season can evoke, and it is all too easy to imagine his daunting tramp through the endless snowy woods - taiga, taiga, burning bright - in order just to deliver a couple of gifts that will soon be abandoned. On the other hand, he also simultaneously represents for me the value of making the effort to reinforce the ties between family and friends. The gifts are, of course, merely a token of our esteem for one another; I'll take the Old New Year as my cue to say thank you for the invitation to join, and also to wish you all health, happiness and success in whatever you turn your hand to in 2006.

Don't get yer tits out. For anyone. Ever.

I keep wanting to double up the Titty when I say it.
Maybe that's just me.
Or maybe they weren't allowed for copyright reasons.

Anyway, I caught this on BBC Three and have been mulling it over.

I think it had the POTENTIAL to be good.
But there are a few things which just niggle at it that don't make it quite right for me.

Firstly, it suffers from the 'sketch show bandwagon' which I feel the TV channels are all pressuring through at the moment, thanks to the popularity of Little Britain.
The problem is, once you have one thing which works you shouldn't bring out more of the same all at once.
We've had Spoons, Swinging, Little Britain, Catherine Tate and now this - and although it's got a marketing tweak on it to try and sell it ('all girl sketch show!') it just doesn't quite pull it off. It's not different ENOUGH really.
Especially when we compare it to previous sketch shows which did work - like Smack The Pony (and Big Train) which felt fresh and new in comparison to what was around at the time.
Perhaps it just feels a bit 'been there, done that' at the moment.
I'd have been tempted to avoid the running gags and familiar characters personally, as no one can compete with the 'Little Britain' tag at the moment, and it's not really worth the bother trying, as people will only ever hold the stick of success up in comparison to the really successful 'similar' shows.

It's like boybands.
There was New Kids on the Block which then launched the UK and huge Take That and then came 'the flood of other boybands' most of which people can't even remember now - OTT, North and South, Catch, Five, Bad Boys Inc, Boyzone, East 17, Westlife, Code Red, A1, Point Break, N'Tyce, Damage, Ultra, Let Loose and a million others who all died largely on their arses.
And what did it take to have a new wave of passion? An all GIRL band - the Spice Girls. (and then came the flood of bad copycat girlbands... until punk style pop bands who played instruments came along and then we had an influx of them too).
See? It's better not to follow the pack once something has started a 'trend'. It's better to break it at its own game and supply something which seems completely different (even if it isn't really).
THAT, kids, is clever marketing.
Sadly, the BBC are obviously not aware of this.
So we get Tittybangbang.
Which has potential and probably all looks quite funny written down.
Well, if any of you have ever attempted to write comedy you might know that sometimes something makes you laugh - so you write it down and forget about it.
And then, weeks or months (or even years) later you find it again and well, it's just not that funny.
I get the feeling some of these sketches are a bit like that.
Seemed hilarious at the time - really good brainstorming style ideas... but they just don't quite work.

Maybe it's a directing thing too.
There were a couple of sketches where I felt it was too cluttered, too much going on and too fast to keep up.
The one of the foreign cosmetic surgery lady in the restaurant completely went over my head for the first part of the sketch because I was too busy thinking 'Is that Nurse Williams from Holby City as one of the extras in the restaurant behind them?' - and you know it's bad when the extras are holding your attention more than the main characters.
And the other sketch of her in the changing rooms didn't go anywhere.
The IDEA was good - lady caught in a designer top, I liked that. But it just wasn't funny after that initial concept.
Which is what a lot of them suffer from - concepts are great, writing and comedy timing because of the editing or the directing just isn't.
Jokes are rushed through and there's no 'taking their time' over the delivery.

The one of the gardener and the lady buying a water pump - I really liked his constant 'yeah yeah yeah's all the way through what she was saying (worked with one of those myself - but he said 'innit' instead).
But if that was real life she'd have kept pausing - or rushing to get through it and stopping abruptly - and then there was all this 'you have to listen to what's being said' to get the water pump euphemisms, as well as looking at his odd attire (if he worked there, he wouldn't really be wearing that though would he - so did he not work there? or did he?) and how he's behaving and physically what he's doing.
The character was a good idea. His interrupting was a good idea. All together it felt too much for one sketch, though.

I did like the posh lady picking a fight with the gardener - but it's a classic case of something that works once but shouldn't be made into a running joke. Or if it is, make it shorter. More of a Benny Hill 'come on, smack them about with comedy speed timing, run off' style thing rather than all the unneccessary dialogue and build up.
If she'd just rushed in and smacked him one, left her business card and then run off again - as a little old posh lady, that would be funny. And I liked the physical movements in it, she moved well but it went on a bit.

I dunno, maybe I'm more geared towards the light entertainment style of physical slapstick humour. I mean Smack the Pony used to do some absolutely wonderful prat falls and visual humour. Titty tried to combine any physical humour with script - and often that felt too dragged out for what was essentially a split-second gag.

Of course I liked the rabbit on the sunbed - because it was a rabbit - although it took the BBC Picture site to explain that the character is described as having a 'laid back' rabbit - I assumed it was more about a crap magician.
I can't see how that's going to be a running joke but maybe they've got better ideas coming.

But I think they're trying too hard to use 'characters' and 'concepts' as a long-running amusing idea (eg: exhibitionist maid, foreign lady with cosmetic surgery) rather than what they say or do as an amusing idea.
Which is a shame.
That sort of thing might work once but as running gags it falls flat for me without a decent script to hold the idea up.
The pub darts team - I liked that in the pilot, in this one it went on too long though and again went nowhere.
Random is fine as long as it's supposed to be random - when it's set up like a normal sketch it doesn't work, so I didn't get the pogoing to the Kaiser Chiefs bit at all - apart from thinking it was a bunch of 30-something comedians trying to look hip with the kids by squeezing in a mention of a band they think it's trendy to like.
*bemused face*
The twitching is funny. The appearance is funny. The fact that she thinks she's good at stuff and isn't, is funny. But they need a better script with it.

Someone was telling me that there are rumours that Bob Mortimer is one of the writers - but that he's writing under a pseudonym. Which could explain it, as I never found Vic and Bob particularly funny either.
Perhaps I'm too 'light entertainment' and old school in my humour to appreciate such things, I dunno - although if that's the case, I suspect I'm not the only one.