Cartoon – Vivian Stanshall

VivStanshall

Cartoon – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

FellowshipOfTheRing2

Cartoon – The Rolling Stones

RollingStones

TV Review – Heading Out, Parks and Recreation, Girls, The Big Bang Theory, Only Connect

Heading Out

Quirksome

Despite the many obvious problems, I love Sue Perkins. She was the host of one my favourite ever radio shows, The 99p Challenge. She effortlessly held her own, anchoring a quite complicated panel game populated by some heavyweight comedy names. Sadly, the writers wanted to move onto bigger things. This turned out to be the sitcom Hyperdrive on BBC2. No, of course you don’t remember it; it wasn’t any good.

In truth, The 99p Challenge  probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway, since it was centred around two comedians who very quickly went on to much bigger things. One of them was Armando Iannucci, who immediately went on to create The Thick Of It, the first step towards movies starring James Gandolfini and HBO series starring Julia-Louis Dreyfus.

The second comedian was Simon Pegg, who was just making Shaun of the Dead and well on the path towards being Tom Cruise’s sidekick. It’s hard to imagine these names making regular appearances on Radio 4 these days, although Benedict Cumberbatch still racks up for radio sitcom Cabin Pressure despite being Pegg’s arch-enemy in the next Star Trek film.

Anyway, back to Sue Perkins. Despite the not-too-distant-future comedy powerhouses surrounding her (which also included Miranda Hart) Sue Perkins was constantly quick and funny throughout; a new star. 10 years later, during which time she mostly ate cake on The Great British Bake Off, she’s finally got her own show.

Heading Out (BBC2) is the show in question, off-puttingly described as “her quirky new comedy” by the continuity announcer. It’s very much a quirksome show tailored to Perkins’s personality, being as it is written by her and features her playing a slightly fictionalized of herself. If you don’t like Sue Perkins, you won’t like Heading Out. Theoretically.

She plays a vet and in the first episode she has to deal with a dead cat. Perkins is at least professional (“Your cat is essentially a windsock”), although, because she’s in a sitcom, she has to carry the thing around in a plastic bag all day. The second episode featured an even hoarier old trope, the paintball weekend. Ever since Spaced (Simon Pegg again) all sitcom characters have to run around a forest in army fatigues and goggles.

Perkins has wacky friends, including Dominic Coleman as the requisite gay one and Nicola Walker as the requisite stupid one. There are even wackier guest stars, this week headed up by impressively mustachioed comedian Tony Law. As a co-worker tries to explain to a clueless Perkins, Law is a “Dutch Kung Fu champion. You know. He was in Raw Meat? Purge? The Assassinator?”

Thicko Walker naturally knows who he is, further filling out his filmography: “Tank Baby? Dark Crevice? Blow Off? Massive Metal Trousers? Infinite Overkill? Fizzy Fist?” What’s notable is that it isn’t Perkins saying these titles: she’s the straight (oh the irony) woman around which funny things happens. She’s the buzzkill at the centre of her own show.

Her old panel game pal Miranda Hart never made that mistake, and if the BBC is hoping to get another Miranda then Perkins needs to give herself more pratfalls. Or just give herself anything remotely funny to do. As those who’ve heard her on Radio 4 can attest, Sue Perkins can usually gather laughs easily. On Heading Out, you wonder why she’s there.

Equally mistaken once, but for going too far in the opposite direction, was Amy Poehler, the American Sue Perkins. She was a big star on soul-suckingly temporary gig Saturday Night Live. Parks and Recreation (BBC4) was her first American TV solo effort. Now being shown on terrestrial TV for the first time, and having watched some later episodes, I know that Poehler later toned it down a bit.

She had to. In the first episode she arbitrarily falls into a pit – take that Miranda. In the second episode she desperately fancies a sleazy co-worker called Mark (“Mark and I made love once. And it was intense”). Poehler evangelically wants to build a new park over the afore-mentioned pit, but her attempts to publicise her scheme backfire in an incompetent interview with a young female journalist.

Unwisely (a word that could be used often throughout Parks and Recreation), Poehler asks Mark to smooth things over with the journalist. She’s the last to twig exactly how he smoothed things over with the attractive journo. “I think Shauna is being a little unprofessional. She got here 15 minutes late, she’s wearing the same dress as yesterday and she had to get a ride from…” It goes unsaid but the word she’s reaching for is ‘Mark’.

He doesn’t help either by telling the journalist that the park that Poehler desperately wants to build over the pit is “never, ever getting built.” Turns out Mark just wanted to keep the journalist in bed but Poehler doesn’t see it like that, for some reason. In the end, he apologises to Poehler and is welcomed back to the planning sub-committee, which doesn’t seem to thrill him as much as it does her.

After seeing later episodes, it’s important to watch out for the supporting characters, particularly Nick Offerman’s moustachioed boss, a hardcore conservative who represents that peculiar Republican mentality of hating government so much he got elected to it. In the first few episodes of Parks and Recreation, Amy Poehler is unaccountably thick for someone in such a job, like Sue Perkins being unaccountably straight.

Let’s hope Perkins follows Poehler’s example and gets a second series to learn from her mistakes. If the BBC will let her; Heading Out looks expensive so she probably hasn’t got a chance. I still like Sue Perkins. Just not her show, which she probably spent years working on. Sorry Sue.

Perhaps another model Perkins should have used is that of Girls (Sky Atlantic), but she would need a dark, dark soul that I don’t think she possesses. Girls takes the basic model of Sex and the City, removes the money, the clothes and any human decency and dares you to watch it. One of the four twenty-something girls of the title isn’t even in it anymore.

This has left its writer, director and star Lena Dunham on her own, as she doesn’t see much of her other two friends anymore either. Instead, she’s facing the prospect of writing a long article for an editor who is frustratingly vague in what he wants. When he finally comes up with an airy subject of ‘sexual failure’, Dunham leaps into action. “I did have sex with a teenager last month and I’m willing to talk about it.”

But as an OCD victim of procrastination, Dunham ends up plucking splinters out of her ass and sticking cotton buds in her ears until they get stuck. On a trip to the emergency room, she bumps into her moronic ex-boyfriend. Dunham’s story having ended, we follow this ex-boyfriend and this is where things get really dark. Seeing Dunham inspires him to get plastered and all but rape his new girlfriend.

Director Dunham spares nobody in what is a pretty hardcore (in every way) scene. Girls often gets called controversial, but the outrage was  more to do with the un-model-like Dunham’s constant nudity. In recent episodes, she seems to have said, ‘You don’t know controversial. I’ll give you controversial.’ Please don’t go to this place, Sue.

Any other American ‘comedy’ would be decidedly fluffy by comparison, and The Big Bang Theory (E4) is no stranger to the paintball weekend. But we need a palate cleanser after Girls and at least we get one of the best sitcom characters to emerge in recent years. Not OCD nerd (OCD is a big thing on American comedy shows) Sheldon but his ‘girlfriend’ Amy, played by Mayim Bialik. Her disconnect from real life matches Sheldon’s so they’re a perfect couple, even if they don’t have sex.

This week Amy is still trying to adapt to remotely normal society and attempting to persuade Sheldon to go to a Halloween party as a matching couple. “There are certain things that say to the world, ‘I have a boyfriend.’ Matching costumes, hickeys and sex tapes.” Since there’s no chance of the latter two Sheldon finally agrees although she balks at his suggestion of going as C-3P0 and R2-D2. Eventually they compromise and go as Raggedy Ann and Raggedy C-3P0.

“Oh brilliant,” wailed David Mitchell on hearing a discreet chime on a special Comic Relief edition of Only Connect (BBC4). His teammates looked baffled. “It means it’s the MUSIC round,” the tin-eared Mitchell bemoans, thereby proving he regularly watches his wife’s show. Being married to Victoria Coren didn’t help: he still lost by eight points.

(Edit: this article was amended to remove a bit of poorly researched writing on my part. I won’t do it again.)

Poster – Central Nervous System (Raw)

AlienBallroomII72

Coloured in later on computer.

Poster – Mixed Bag at the Bumper

MBBumper172

Film Poster – Fight Club

FightClub

%d bloggers like this: