Friday, 30 May 2008

Top 5 British Sitcoms (Nineties)

The third week of Sitcom Top fives and we're into the Nineties, a decade that seems so much more recent to me than it actually is. I'm fast running out of ways to say this show is really funny so by next week's Noughties (I hate that if you've got a better way of describing the decade please let me know) it'll probably be just a straight list!

1. Father Ted (1995-1998)
3 Series written by Graham Linehan & Arthur Matthews
Genius from start to finish. Dermot Morgan was outstanding as the scheming Father Ted and perfectly matched with Ardal O'Hanlon as simple-minded Father Dougal. Father Jack became something of a legend and gave me a new way to swear politely. Mrs Doyle was just as important to the humour. Great characters and great writing.

2. Men Behaving Badly (1992-1998)
6 Series written by Simon Nye
Partly responsible for "New Laddism" or just reflecting the times? I think it probably just showed what blokes have always been like. Deep down we all just want to slob out on the sofa, drink beer and talk about Kylie Minogue. Incidentally this was rubbish when Harry Enfield was in the original series which just goes to prove that ITV cannot do comedy. Best leave it to the Beeb chaps.

3. One Foot In The Grave (1990-2000)
6 Series written by David Renwick
Richard Wilson was outstanding as Victor Meldrew and although this did little to break away from the traditional white middle class suburban setting that still dominates mainstream television this was comedy with a dark edge.

4. Red Dwarf (1988-2000)
8 Series written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor
At its peak used all the possibilities of science-fiction to their full comedy potential. Rimmer and Lister were perfect antagonists but for me it was the introduction of Kryten that really made the series take off. Ran out of steam a bit in the last couple of series but I don't think I'd ever tire of hearing "Space Corp Directive" jokes - Rimmer: "May I remind you all of Space Corp Directive 34124". Kryten: "34124? No officer with false teeth should attempt oral sex in zero gravity".

5. The Royle Family (1998-2000)
3 Series written by Caroline Aherne & Craig Cash
There's a subtlety to the humour that works really well, and, although it is very Northern and working class in it's references, I'm sure everyone can recognise some aspects of it that matches their own family upbringing. Jim and Twiggy dancing to the radio, whilst failing to make any discernible progress with the decorating they're supposed to be doing is an image that will live with me for some time.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Top 5 British Sitcoms (Eighties)

The Eighties saw a transition from the long running traditional sitcoms of the previous decade into new and more radical forms. Overall there were less quality shows but the ones I enjoyed were absolute gems that pushed sitcom and television comedy into new territory. Oh, and yes I know I haven't included "Only Fools and Horses" it's not an oversight.

1. Blackadder (1983-1987)
4 Series written by Richard Curtis, Rowan Atkinson & Ben Elton
Tough choice between this and "The Young Ones", but Blackadder just shades it by pushing the boundary of mainstream comedy whilst staying within the basic structure of traditional sitcom. The changes in period kept it fresh through four series and various one-offs. I remember being on a school field trip when the first series was shown and the whole year cramming into the common room to watch that week's episode. At the time I thought it lost something after the first series, being constrained in budget and location for the second series onward, but watching now it's the later shows that have all the jokes in and a more cunning Blackadder is always great to watch.

2. The Young Ones (1982-1984)
2 Series written by Rik Mayall, Lise Mayer & Ben Elton
"The Young Ones" probably had more influence on television comedy than any other show. Originally aired in the four years I was at secondary school it blew my preconceptions about humour out of the window. This was punk rock comedy, anarchic and on the edge. Something I could laugh about with my mates that my parents would never understand.

3. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (1981)
1 Series written by Douglas Adams & John Lloyd
One series, six episodes. Not much to compete with but this was a pivotal show for me. It was my introduction to Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker's series and led on to reading all his books and picking up many more formats (the radio shows, the LP, the books, the book narration, the film - got the lot). Much like the first series of Blackadder the budget for Hitchhiker's probably blew their chances of making any further shows. Whilst it does show it's age watching now, there's still something fantastic about what they achieved. In particular the Peter Jones narrated Guide sequences which were so good they pretty much recreated them for the recent motion picture version.

4. Yes Minister/Yes Prime-Minister (1980-1988)
5 Series written by Antony Jay & Jonathon Lynn
All a bit stuffy and grown up for me on first viewing, I gradually came round to appreciating it as a cutting and accurate portrayal of political life. As the Thatcher era began to show signs of cracking, and I went from school kid to student to employee, political humour became something worth watching. A sign I was growing up maybe ... or just pretending to.

5. Terry and June (1979-1987)
9 Series written by John Kane & others
Odd in some ways that during a period when I was discovering new exciting and rebellious shows like "The Young Ones" and "Blackadder" that I would still retain a fondness for a show many critics decried as the "epitome of the bland middle-class sitcom". Seeing that at the time I was living a very middle-class life in Surrey maybe it's no surprise I still like it. In my head Terry & June is a 70's sitcom but when I came to check my facts I was surprised to find it was mainly shown in the 80's. Not only that it almost outlasted all my other selections and according to Wikipedia "received viewing figures three times those of any of the 'alternative' comedies of the era".

Friday, 16 May 2008

Top 5 British Sitcoms (Seventies)

I've been planning to do a Top 5 70's sitcoms for a while, but in compiling it I realised one of my choices (Terry & June) was really an 80's series. It's kind of snowballed from there, so I now have Top fives for the 80's, 90's and 00's as well. If this isn't you're bag you might want to come back in 5 weeks or so when it's all over! Might even manage a Top 5 US Sitcoms if you're lucky. The seventies seems a great place to start though. For me (at an impressionable age) it was prime time for British situation comedy.

1. Dad's Army (1968-1977)
9 Series written by Jimmy Perry & David Croft
Probably my all time favourite sitcom. So many fantastic characters and some great lines throughout it's long life. The "Don't tell him Pike!" sequence still makes me laugh today.

2. Porridge (1973-1977)
3 Series written by Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais
Consistently brilliant from start to finish. Ronnie Barker is superb and his on screen chemistry with Richard Beckinsale is wonderful to see.

3. Are You Being Served? (1972-1985)
10 Series written by Jeremy Lloyd & David Croft
Classic stuff during the 70's period. Probably ran for 5 years to long and the quality tailed off dramatically as the writers increased its "sauciness" at the expense of actual humour. It also lost a lot when Trevor Bannister (Mr Eve) left in 1979 and the original Mr Grace (Harold Bennett) died in 1981.

4. Citizen Smith (1977-1980)
4 Series written by John Sullivan
Possibly my memories of this are swayed by Wolfie being a Fulham supporter, but this was revolutionary stuff at the tail end of the 70's.

5. Fawlty Towers (1975-1979)
2 Series written by John Cleese & Connie Booth
Not sure I like this as much now as I did back then. Farce is never the most subtle vehicle for comedy but the cast play it well and with only 12 episodes ever made it disappeared before it had a chance to really grate.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Top 5 Books I've Struggled to Read

Friday comes around so quick and yet again I've not managed to get something written ahead of time. I have done a lot of thinking, usually in the shower (though that might be too much information for you) and I've realised that so far, some 46 Top Fives into this project, that I've not done a single book related topic. I read quite a bit, I really enjoy books, and I definitely expected to talk about books when I started this up. However, having decided it was time for me to attempt a book Top 5, I really struggled to come up with a subject I felt I could do justice. Too many authors I've enjoyed but not read enough of, too many books I've read but since forgotten all the details. As book titles flowed through my brain this topic came to the fore. Books I've struggled to finish. These aren't necessarily bad books, some of them I very much enjoyed, they're just stories I found really hard to read.

1. "Desolation Angels" Jack Kerouac - Possibly not the best Kerouac novel to start with I was in my mid-teens when I first attempted to read it. The book is in two quite distinct sections. The first part is based on diaries Kerouac kept as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak in Washington State. It's a discourse on his state of mind at the time but has very little action to grab hold of and keep your attention. Kerouac's stream of consciousness style takes some getting used to and, unlike "On The Road" where there is movement and characters to help you along, the first part of "Desolation Angels" just has Jack and the Mountain. This was the first book I had ever completely given up on. I made it about 50 pages in before having to admit defeat. I came back to it a few years ago and, although it still took me a good month to complete, I was determined to finish it. The second section "Passing Through" is more standard Kerouac fare and left me ready for more. A tough book to complete but worth the effort.

2. "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" Thomas Hardy - I can't think of a book that I have enjoyed less than this. Effectively it ended my chances of successfully passing (or even completing) my English A-Level. It was a story that said nothing to me and completely failed to fire my imagination in any direction. As I stumbled my way through the first few months of my course I got away with reading a chapter ahead of our class wherever I could, eventually, having been caught out by my teacher, I did sit down and read the whole book. It didn't help, I didn't understand it at all and was never going to be able to put enough effort into analysing a text I had no interest in. It's put me off Hardy for life though maybe at some point I should go back and try another book. For now that's still very unlikely.

3. "The Silmarillion" J.R.R. Tolkein - Without going into too much detail regarding my prog-loving past it's fairly obvious which band made me want to read this book. I'd read "The Lord of The Rings", which is a good story though one that could definitely benefit from a little editing, and was keen to read more of the same. "The Silmarillion" is a different kettle of Orcs however. A collection of Tolkein's draft narratives, compiled and completed by his son, explaining the pre-history of Middle-Earth building up to the time just before LOTR. I enjoyed it in the main but it's a complex book consisting of many characters with long names, many passages that list or explain family trees and other sections in elvish or rhyme.

4. "Scenes of Clerical Life" George Eliot - I picked this up in an attempt to expand my knowledge of classic literature. It was a random choice, Eliot was an author I'd not read before and this was her first published work. Maybe not the best reason to choose a book. With a little bit of thought I might have gone for "Middlemarch" or "Silas Marner" instead. With a bit more thought I might have skipped Elliot altogether and gone for an author I actually liked. I ploughed on regardless, it wasn't a difficult book to read per-say, just very very dull. I think I actually took longer to read this than I did to read "Lord of the Rings", which must make this the slowest book I've ever read.

5. "Catch 22" Joseph Heller - This is one of those books I feel I might not be clever enough to really appreciate. Having taped the film off the telly I decided I'd read the book first but found it hard going. It's not a book you can easily dip in and out of, with many narratives retold from different points of view, but I did eventually get into the flow. Having finished the novel I hoped the film might help pull together my understanding of the deeper themes. It turned out to be messier and more confusing than the book.