Why We Love….In The Loop

It’s election season! Which, just like the football season, is something where the losing team get to claim it’s a close result if they lost by 40 points, and the winners get to claim “nobody can question us” when they win by 4. They both run far too long, consist of people straddling the poverty line claiming “they’re just like us” about millionaires who wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire, and are likely to dominate the news for months on end. Unless you’re The Sun of course, who decided, in the middle of election season, that THIS was the most important bit of news in the world:

DAN9qGzUMAAHNUb
Hold the front page: women have bums!

Due to the standard of political reporting by newspapers these days (which basically consists of “insult the party that our owner doesn’t support) is it any surprise that people are disengaged with politics? Almost every election now, no matter who wins the results are the same; the largest section of the results belong to non-voters. This is particularly weird when you look at some of the most dominant TV shows of this millennium; The Thick Of It, Veep, The Daily Show are some of the most well-regarded comedies ever made. It’s the same with drama too, particularly in America where The West Wing and House Of Cards are so well liked that if you say you don’t like them you’re likely to get thrown out of whatever room/building/spaceship you’re in. This shows that it’s not politics that people don’t like, it’s the state of politics. It’s like how if you refuse to eat rancid food, it’s not because you don’t like food, you just hate the option offered.

52749879c604ca0a8508f8ae563fc77f

So, this film in particular. A spin-off from the aforementioned The Thick Of It, featuring just four of the same characters, yet most of the same cast. This film gives a wonderful yet bleak view of what it actually means to be a modern politician; often thrown out of your depth, being put into no-win situations by other people, going from debating going to war whilst in Washington one week, to discussing someone’s garden wall falling down the next. This isn’t glamorous, it’s not sexy, it’s certainly not aspirational.

d48bd8dee0838828982ff2f5094474db

Adapting a TV series to a feature length film is never easy, the path to successes like The Naked Gun and 21 Jump Street is littered with the corpses of Guest House Paradiso, Magic Roundabout, and countless Saturday Night Live films. This film works though, and I think part of that is because it uses different characters but the same actors. So you have actors who know the best way to play their roles, but new viewers don’t have episodes worth of character development and history that they need to know to enjoy the film, everyone starts on equal footing. The returning cast are in an odd position, people like Chris Addison now have to act alongside established acting behemoths like James Gandolfini, and the British cast more than hold their own. It also helps that it’s REALLY well done, the plot of this is extremely intricate and well developed. I spoke a short while ago about how you can have Friends on in the background and still get the gist of what’s going on, you definitely cannot do that with this. In fact, to be honest I’d recommend not even sneezing lest you risk missing someone’s facial reaction which then sets up the next plot development. If you don’t pay attention to this, you will be confused, actually even if you are paying attention it could still confuse you, but in a good way. Not in a “the screenwriters have no idea what they’re doing” way, in a “there is so much subtext in every line that I think I misread someone’s intentions”. It’s also REALLY funny, endlessly quotable, not just the political lines, there’s one line in particular I’ve always loved and will probably adapt to a facebook status at one point:

“Have you ever seen a film where the hero is a builder? No, because they never fucking turn up in the nick of time.”

The political stuff also works really well; where you have American and British politicians deciding whether to go to war based on dubious intelligence (good thing THAT’s not still an issue right? Right?). This film is actually quite rare in that it doesn’t present politicians either as evil, or as crusaders against evil. They’re just people who are put into situations they don’t understand by their bosses, which is something everyone can sympathise with. This somehow does the impossible, it makes politicians human. For that alone it deserves accolades, and for everything else, it deserves adoration.

8pk4kgC

Oh yeah, it’s also kind of sweary, but never in a way that comes off as crass and infantile, which is a really fucking hard thing to pull off.

The Best Post-Show Role From Each Friends Cast Member

This is being written on 19th August 2016, as such it’s the 47th birthday of Matthew Perry. He’s actually a lot more versatile than his reputation would make you think, as his stint in The Ron Clark Story shows. That’s the trouble with being in a long running successful sitcom, you get so heavily associated with the character that it can be hard for people to not see you as that and it can be hard to break out into something new. It took two successful shows (The New Adventures Of Old Christine and Veep) for Julia Louis Dreyfus to no longer be seen as Elaine Benes.

Jerry_Seinfeld
Although this guy constantly has fans of the show calling him by his character’s name

It’s quite sad as these actors often have fantastic roles outside of the sitcom. So for this reason, this week I’ll be discussing the best film from each of the six main cast members from Friends. So, let’s go.

Matthew Perry – The Whole Nine Yards

scr-1
Just looking at this you can tell what decade it was made

Made in a different era, when Bruce Willis was still bankable. It could be argued that Matthew Perry’s performance in this is basically his character from Friends, but the fact  it still worked over a feature is great news. Some characters work best in short easily digestible chunks, over a movie they tend to lose something or become annoying (this is less prevalent now of course as the majority of TV shows have at least one eye on the binge-watchers). Sadly this film was tainted by the release of a sub-par sequel, as is often the case. But for now, we’ll just watch this and laugh. Although I should point out, I consider this Amanda Peet’s film, she was amazing in it and easily overshadowed her more experienced cast.

Jennifer Aniston – Cake

141124_gma_cake_trailer2_mi_16x9_992

No contest, like most things in life, the answer to this is Cake. Even reviews which dislike the film point out how great her performance is. It’s heartbreakingly good, it’s so good you don’t even notice how good it is, because you don’t see it as acting, you see it as watching a real person. There’s no massive “this is the scene for the Oscar so I’m going to dramatically cry, dramatically, whilst acting, dramatically” scene, there’s just a complete performance from beginning to end that means you stop thinking of her as Jennifer Aniston, which for someone as well known as her, takes some doing.

Courteney Cox – Scream

Scream_TV_logo.jpg

This was the easiest choice, not because of how bad her other roles are, but because of how good these are. It’s not hyperbole to say that these films completely changed how people perceived horror films in the 90’s, and a big part of that was obviously because of how many people watched them. I don’t think it’s too far fetched that at least a few people watched it because they were fans of Friends (it was still in it’s infancy but had a reasonably sized fanbase by that point). Cox relishes her role in this, the trouble with being in a sitcom is the characters usually have to be somewhat likeable to make the audience want to sit down and watch them every Friday night (there are some exceptions of course, the main one being It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but that’s more cult than a mainstream success), whereas in a film you can play a terrible character, and she does so in this. Her character’s arc throughout the four films is one of redemption, one of acknowledging your role in disasters and attempting to improve yourself but always falling short. It says more about humanity than Friends ever did.

Lisa Kudrow – Bojack Horseman

owl

The first of two choices here which are basically glorified guest performances. But I had to put it in, her performance in this was heartbreaking. She delivered her lines with pure emotion and helped this show become more than just an animated show, she made it more human. There’s not much else that can be said about this that I didn’t already say in my Bojack blog. The show has actually been killing it with guest stars, it even got Mara “Matilda” Wilson in the third series, and she’s all kinds of awesome.

Matt LeBlanc – Episodes

This was also easy, but unlike the Cox situation, it’s because, truth be told, he hasn’t done that well since the show. He’s picked bad films which didn’t really help him at all, and then there’s Joey.

joey
Fun fact: it took longer for you to read this than it did for this show to get cancelled

Episodes, however, is fantastic. It’s beautifully meta about the entire industry, as such it’s never going to be a huge mainstream success, but people who watch it tend to love it. It has to be said that a lot of people watched this because of LeBlanc, they wanted to see how he was in it. Ok, they had to wait about 4 episodes to see him in a move which was either brilliant (as it allowed viewers to get to know the other characters) or stupid (as it annoyed people and made them leave). It was a huge gamble for the show to do it but it paid off, the show’s still running strong and has been nominated for Golden Globes, Emmy’s and BAFTA’s. LeBlanc is actually fantastic in it, playing himself with knowledge of what the audience thinks he’s actually like. This show is probably one of my favourite new sitcoms of the last 5 years, and unless it all goes Scrubs Season 9 on us, I can’t see that ending.

David Schwimmer – American Crime Story

571667491900002e0056b999

I was going to put his stint in Curb Your Enthusiasm in here, but realised then I’d have two sitcom appearances, and two of them playing themselves. The truth is, Schwimmer has moved more into directing since the show ended, and has done a good job, not quite Afleck levels, but he has an eye for what’s important. As such I was going to have to settle for sitcom guest appearances, but then American Crime Story happened. Holy hell is he good in this, who’d have thought Ross from Friends would put in one of the television performances of the year? As one review said:

“Schwimmer stole every reaction shot, no more so than in the finale.”

His casting was a masterstroke that paid off, not quite in “casting Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad” levels, but certainly high up there. His performance was rewarded with an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Limited Series Or Movie, an award so prestigious that Ed Harris, Patrick Stewart and Michael Gambon have all been nominated, and lost! His next step is the crime drama, Feed The Beast, and no doubt his performance in American Crime Story has made it a lot more eagerly anticipated.

So, that’s our choices, where did we go surprisingly right? Where did we go horrifically wrong?

The 5 Best HBO Shows

The American television industry had shockwaves running through it this week as president Michael Lombardo left after 33 years at the network, 9 of them as network head. Lombardo has spearheaded some of the networks most loved programming, notably he was responsible for guiding Game Of Thrones into development. The future for the network is now somewhat uncertain, not in a “they’re going out of business” way, but in a “wonder what’s happening next” way. Longtime collaborator Terence Winter quit halfway through development of the second series of Vinyl, Westworld had production halted when it was decided it needed retooling, and Game Of Thrones is suffering from rumours that it will end after another two seasons (or in other words; the time it takes George R.R. Martin to decide on a verb). So let’s celebrate the network with this, a look at the best work they’ve produced. This isn’t ranked by order of popularity, or critical success, just personal preference, so statistically nobody will agree with this, if that’s the case, comment and tell us where I went wrong.

5. Sopranos

sopranos

One of THE shows of the 2000’s. It was almost like they saw Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and said “Awww, Britain thinks they can make gangster related media, how adorable” and reclaimed America as the centrepiece for gangster films and television shows. I said “almost like”, the pilot was actually ordered in 1997, so it’s just a coincidence. But meh, still an awesome show. The effect it had on television cannot be understated, it could easily be argued that it was this, not Breaking Bad that legitimised television as an artform, not as a stepping stone on the way to film. If it wasn’t for this there wouldn’t be Six Feet Under, there wouldn’t be The Shield. It was this, more than anything, that legitimised HBO as a network that provides high concept dramas, a network that will produce content you wouldn’t get anywhere else. This was a show that could only really be done on this network, it was too brutal, too uncommercial to be made by anyone else.

4. Game Of Thrones

c9lzmv4d3mgzpnyntz7s

A show so good it deserves its place here despite me having never seen an episode. A show once described (not by a critic, or anybody important, but by a woman behind me on the bus) as like “Merlin with muff”. Everyone knows roughly when Harry Potter was published, and it’s the same with a lot of book adaptations, but I think a lot of people would be surprised to discover the first book was published in 1996, yet most people weren’t aware of it until the TV series (the series didn’t really pick up until A Feast Of Crows in 2005). Without the show the book series would be highly regarded, but with it? It’s become a cultural phenomenon, and shown that you can do not just high concept, but high budget adaptations too. If the show was made sooner then the chances of Harry Potter being a TV series instead of film would be much higher, and we might have got Rik Mayall as Peeves, AS WE DESERVE!

3. Veep

2638fb30-0e70-0132-0821-0eae5eefacd9

A show so good that it’s replaced The Office as evidence that American adaptations of British sitcoms can occasionally work out. Is this better than The Thick Of It? Not quite, but is it worthy enough to be discussed on its own? Definitely. It wasn’t really the easiest show to adapt, ABC attempted it in 2007 with Michael McKean (of Spinal Tap and Better Call Saul fame) and Oliver Platt in the leads. They made the pilot, and by all accounts it was pretty awful, they turned it into a conventionally shot sitcom, removed all improvisation and swearing, and then were surprised when it didn’t work. It would be like if you remade Transformers and took out all references to any robots, removed baking from Great British Bake Off, or added jokes to Joey. So when a second adaptation was announced, people were kind of worried. Then it was announced that Armando Iannucci would be directly involved and people were excited again. Then it was announced that Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the lead and I became very excited as I was a massive Seinfeld fan. I was slightly concerned how an American version of this would be, but it’s just as sweary and brilliant as the original. The original was good, but it didn’t have the line “That’s like trying to use a croissant as a fucking dildo, it doesn’t do the job, and it makes a fucking mess”. It’s probably helped not just by Iannucci as showrunner (at least until the 5th season when David Mandel took over almost seamlessly), there’s other talent behind the camera too. The list of director’s is like a who’s who of British television comedy: Chris Morris, Chris Addison, Tristam Shapeero etc. This show is a mesh of British and American talent, and is all the better for it. Long may it continue (still needs Peter Capaldi though)

2. Curb Your Enthusiasm

27a928150d637de403e90762c2f93a5c

Seinfeld is undoubtedly one of the biggest American sitcoms of all time (sadly, one which has never really got the love it deserves over here) so it was always going to difficult for the creator, Larry David to pull off that greatness again. Yet he managed it, this show not just matches his previous show, at many times it beats it. Seinfeld had a weak period, the last two seasons in particular are nowhere near as good as the earlier seasons, but Curb hasn’t suffered that problem. The first season is a little off as the show is still finding its feet, but the second one is just all kinds of brilliant and details the character attempting to make a show after the success of Seinfeld, so lots of meta-comments and the media, lots of in-jokes, and a season long story arc. Basically, all the pretentious stuff that film students love. Oh yeah, the cameos. Because Larry David plays himself, and he konws famous people, there’s a lot of celebrity cameos; Ricky Gervais, John McEnroe, Mel Brooks all send themselves up beautifully. The Ricky Gervais one is important because he also made a cameo-heavy sitcom: Extras. There’s one major difference between the way the cameos are handled thought: Extras is defined by the cameos, episodes can almost be titled after them. People think “oh, that’s the Samuel L Jackson episode”, or “that’s the Orlando Bloom episode” and that’s how they’re defined, in Curb, the story comes first, and it’s all the better for it. The best one is probably Michael J. Fox, where he uses his Parkinsons as an excuse to be a bit of a dick in one of the best “I shouldn’t be laughing at this” moments, of which the show has plenty (a highlight is the episode where a holocaust survivor has dinner with someone from the TV series Survivor, and they argue over which one is the true survivor).

1. Last Week Tonight

10294513_696103753784418_2682234352397692104_n

An odd choice for number one, I know. Not the funniest, not the best made, but definitely the most important. Like a surprisingly high amount of American political comedy, this owes its existence to The Daily Show. When Jon Stewart took a break from the show in 2013 to make Rosewater, he handed the show over to John Oliver, who filled the role admirably. That’s not an easy role to fill, as anybody who has been on the comments section of the facebook page of the show since Trevor Noah took over can attest (for the record, I think he’s doing an excellent job). John Oliver’s stint was so successful HBO offered him a series. Unlike the Daily Show this only has one episode a week, so isn’t really suited for extremely topical stuff. But what this does mean is the areas they do focus on, they REALLY focus on, aiming for them like US Military planes aim for terrorist training camps, only unlike the military, this show usually hits what it’s aiming for. Whether he’s creating Jeff The Diseased Lung in a segment on tobacco companies, or starting Our Lady Of Perpetual Exemption to show how televangelists should by all rights be told to go f*ck themselves with that knife-penis from Seven, this show constantly creates amazing segments which are perfect for sharing on social media. His reaction to the terrorist attacks in Paris last year was particularly fantastic, basically telling ISIS “if you gigantic arseholes are hoping to win a war of culture with France, good fucking luck”. To me, a personal highlight will alway be his war of words with former FIFA vice president Jack Warner, which led to the corrupt former executive to respond, calling him a “comedian fool” in a really badly made video. It’s weird, you’d think a guy who (allegedly) diverted relief funds from a Haiti earthquake appeal, and illegally sold black market tickets (not allegedly, this definitely happened, and he was punished for this million dollar making fraud by being made to pay back $250,000) would have enough money to make sure his videos were of a better production quality.