Posts Tagged With: alan partridge

Have I Got Whos For You (Boris Bumpus Maximus)

We open in a quarry somewhere in the home counties. Following a disastrous headline-grabbing scandal, the producers of Doctor Who have elected to stage a photoshoot in order to salvage the reputation of the show, featuring current stars Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford. Only the public smell a rat, and of course are having none of it.

Do I think Boris’s private life makes him a poor choice for prime minister? Not necessarily, no. It simply makes him a twat. There is, as Kenneth Clarke pointed out on Radio 4 this week, ample evidence of Johnson’s general cluelessness when it comes to Brexit and pretty much anything of political substance – The Sketch makes that clear, and it should be obvious to all but his most strident followers by now that the clownish exterior is going to wear very thin indeed once we all remember that we’ve just given him the keys to the Big Red Button. Kenny Roger’s Gambler made a career out of reading people’s faces; Boris has made a career out of having other people read his, and generally giggle. He exists in a state of perpetual frivolity, apparently unable to take either himself or anything else seriously; whatever he gets up to in his flat, do we really want a man like this running the country?

Anyway, there was something fishy about that publicity stunt the other day, as this leaked shot from behind the scenes attests.

Yes. Well.

The second half of this week’s instalment incorporates a bumper crop of birthdays – including mine, come to think of it, although I spent the day tidying and then driving to and from Oxford with the boy. For years I’d thought the piece de la resistance of my birthday-sharing duties was Igor Stravinsky (along with Methodism founder John Wesley, who was renowned for taking the gospels to localities other denominations couldn’t reach). But it eventually transpired that I share a birthday with none other than Jodie Whittaker.

Oh, and Arthur Darvill, who is pictured here with another Arthur.

Supposedly it was Paddington’s birthday yesterday – although the duffel-clad bear has two birthdays, rather like the queen..

(Hmm. I’m still not sure I pasted that TARDIS in quite the right place. It looks like it’s floating.)

Also celebrating a birthday this week: Tim Burton’s Batman, the film that arguably saved superhero films (at least for a while), although it opened a floodgate of Interesting Actors Playing Established Characters that, it could be coherently argued, was ultimately damaging to Hollywood’s ability to craft original stories. When was the last time you truly latched on to someone who saw their genesis on the big screen? No, I mean someone who isn’t in Star Wars? And let’s not forget that, for all its brooding brilliance, Batman is guilty of some pretty shocking departures from the source material. Alfred gives away Batman’s secret identity, for pity’s sake. Oh, and at the end of the film an injured, borderline psychotic caped crusader lunges at the Joker in the belfry of Gotham Cathedral, furiously announcing that he’s going to kill him. I mean, it’s good, but…well, had it happened today there would be a hundred and fifty BuzzFeed articles, all of them dreadful, so let’s be grateful it was back in the 80s and the worst you had to contend with was a bit of griping in the fanzines.

Anyway, here’s Batman on downtime in the Batcave.

Episodes used: ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’, ‘State of Decay’, ‘The Mind of Evil’, ‘The Romans’, ‘Caves of Androzani’, ‘Vampires of Venice’, (you will notice a bat theme going on here), ‘Twice Upon A Time’, and a couple I can no longer identify – oh, and ‘The Witchfinders’. Which is mostly there to annoy the Jodie haters. Who will doubtless leave angry emojis, JUST BECAUSE THEY CAN.

“OK, you wanna get nuts? C’mon. Let’s get nuts.”

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The Smallerpictures video dump (2019, part one)

Crumbs, it’s February. What happened? You know, apart from the obvious, clock-ticking, calendar-ripping passing of time? How did we get to the point where I’ve uploaded eight new videos to YouTube and have yet to scribble a single word about a single one for the BoM faithful, or at least for the sake of maintaining a decent archive?

Well, we can’t have that. There’s a lot to get through so here’s the first, and we’ll come back to the others when the dust has settled. In a way, I kind of miss the days when I had the time (read: hours of procrastination in the office) and inclination (read: nothing else to write about) to produce lengthy posts about each individual video I mashed. But that time has gone, and I do think it works better this way. Sometimes less is more. Big Finish might do well to remember that.

 

1. Theresa May Dances (October 2018)

When you’ve got a Prime Minister who’s inherited a dog’s breakfast and who’s been tasked with spinning straw into gold by the end of the tax year, you sometimes have to make the best of things. I offer no apology for the mixed metaphors: there simply isn’t a new way to write about Brexit, at least not one I can think of, and unimaginative literary analogy is about the best we can manage. But I’d like you to cast your minds back to October, when Mrs May visited Africa and was videoed dancing along with some natives, in a moment that made headlines because there wasn’t much else going on that day; before we knew it the whole thing had been remixed with Toto playing in the background and everybody was having a good old giggle at a middle aged woman dancing the way your aunt dances at weddings. God, at least she wasn’t trying to floss. That would have been a sight.

The Conservative Party Conference followed not long after, and the Prime Minister took to the stage to the strains of ‘Dancing Queen’, in a moment that was both wonderfully cheery and cynically opportunistic. Was the PM graciously sending herself up? Or burying bad news? Why not both? Can’t she have just a little fun in between trying to keep the party from splintering and fending off Boris’s gaffes? But there was something off about her choice of song, so I muted ABBA and replaced it with the theme from The Pink Panther, which I think is a marked improvement.

 

2. Doctor Who vs Baby Shark (October 2018)

Baby Shark is one of those videos that languished in comparative obscurity until the right person shared it on social media. Sometimes that’s all it takes: a single Tweet, a nod from a heavily-subscribed Facebook page and then bang! You’re viral. I’ve had it happen to me, on a very small scale, but the Baby Shark craze was a phenomenon you are probably quite sick of and one you don’t need me to recount for you now. Suffice it to say it was everywhere last year, from the toy shops to the clubs to that appalling James Corden version (I’m not linking. Look it up if you must, but don’t say I didn’t warn you). I encountered it for the first time at a Shropshire children’s holiday club where a mutual friend played it for the kids one afternoon, and…well, let’s just say it’s been an earworm, and not necessarily in a good way.

To assemble this, I took footage from ‘A Christmas Carol’ (of course) and ‘Gridlock’ (sharks, crabs, basically the same thing) and then – once we hit the halfway point – all hell breaks loose. That’s largely because you eventually run out of sharks, and it rather forced me into a corner, but that sort of problem has created some of the finest episodes of Doctor Who, and a similar creative principle applies here, to a far lesser extent. Still, it’s a shame the Doctor hasn’t yet encountered the Selachians, at least on screen, because that would have given me far more to work with. Anyone got Chibnall’s phone number?

 

3. The John Lewis Christmas Ad – Doctor Who Edition (November 2018)

Christmas seems ages ago now, but some things can be watched any time of the year. The John Lewis Christmas Ad is arguably not one of them, but it does rather depend on the content: the sight of a small child waiting anxiously for December 25th so he can hand over the gifts he got for his parents doesn’t work; nor for that matter does a snowman struggling through the frozen wilderness to buy a scarf and gloves to the strains of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, but that one was a load of shite anyway, so it’s horses for courses. Nevertheless there was something timeless about this year’s offering – in which Elton John retraces his past to that very first piano – although whether it would have been quite so effective in the middle of June, instead of the warmly nostalgic glow offered by a cold autumn, is something we could arguably debate. Myself, I watched it with cynical eyes (they’ve never topped that moon one, and they’re becoming increasingly formulaic) until the very end, when the piano was unwrapped and I instantly thought of my five-year-old son, who tinkles with the house piano daily and who incidentally had ‘Your Song’ playing on his bedroom CD player almost nightly for about three months, and my eyes instantly brimmed with tears. Damn you, John Lewis. You did it to me again.

It’s a story about time travel, of a sort, and so it fits perfectly. And what better way to tell the Doctor’s story than by examining the history of his most constant companion? And so we start with Whittaker and move backwards through to Hartnell, with stories that (by and large) showcase the TARDIS. And, of course, I got into trouble with the purists because there’s no Troughton (although he’s there, lingering just out of shot) and because there’s barely any Pertwee and because the Hartnell is from ‘The Name of the Doctor’ because THAT WAS THE BEST BLOODY FIT AND I DON’T CARE THAT YOU WOULD RATHER I’D USED ‘AN UNEARTHLY CHILD’. Honestly. Still, if nothing else it served as a timely reminder as to why I unsubbed from most of the group feeds last year. Doctor Who fans. What a bunch of dickheads.

 

4. The Stalking of Dan (November 2018)

I loved ‘Kerblam’. ‘Kerblam’ was marvellous. The only complaint is that there really wasn’t enough of Lee Mack, who has one good scene with Yas before getting abruptly killed off so we can think the narrative is moving in one direction when in fact it’s dropping a colossal red herring (an episode of Doctor Who that surprised me; who’d have thought it still possible?). And there’s poor old Dan, lying dead in a warehouse like an Amazon headline waiting to happen. But you’ll remember, just before we discover his lifeless corpse, that Yas is walking through the darkness calling out his name, which immediately gave me flashbacks to the autumn of 2002. I did, in the process of putting this together, try and fuse Alan’s shouts with those of Yas, but it didn’t really work, so to the cutting room floor it went.

I might as well let you know that this is a dry run for something quite special I’m planning for a few weeks’ time, when I eventually get round to finishing it. But in order to actually do that I’m going to have to watch an awful lot of I’m Alan Partridge. Which is no bad thing.

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Penny. Bernard. Dan.

OK, something a little silly.

I suspect there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to sitcom writing. There are so many different ways of doing it. The establishment of conflict is perhaps the most important thing, provided that the laughs come first. There are, instead, a huge number of Things That Work: the recurring gag, the catchphrase, or the unusually named pitbull cameo (the establishment of a particularly funny, frequently gimmick-laden character who appears for only a short space of time in each episode, steals whatever scene they’re in, and promptly disappears – cf. Inspector Crabtree in ‘Allo ‘Allo). Indeed, unusual names for such idioms is the order of the day, frequently deriving their origin from the shows that were known to pioneer them. The Very Special Episode is one such example. Hey, even the terminology for a show that’s gone down the pan is named after a specific incident in one specific instalment of an otherwise much-loved institution.

I dearly, dearly wanted to come up with something special for the trope I demonstrate in this video, but I couldn’t come up with one. Instead, you will have to cope with the utter banality that is ‘the joy of repetition’. I make no apologies. It was getting late and I wanted to get the thing finished; it had taken far too long as it is.

When I was in my late teens / early twenties everyone was crazy for a man named Alan Partridge. He’s still very popular. Partridge’s appeal lies in his incredible lack of tact and generally disgraceful conduct with people he knows intimately and the complete strangers with whom he interacts. He is sneaky and uncannily self-aware, but is very good at getting himself off the hook, or so he thinks. He is the master of the awkward moment (he interrupts a grieving widow at a funeral so he can take a call from an electrical store) and the politically incorrect retort (when talking about the Irish potato famine, he reflects that “at the end of the day, you will pay the price for being a fussy eater”).

But one of the most famous scenes in the history of the show comes when Partridge greets a new-found friend (who turns out to be a lecherous swinger) by shouting his name across a car park. For thirty seconds. It’s not clever, or well-written, but by God is it funny, for no reason other than that it is utterly absurd.

A few years after Partridge swept across our screens for the first time, comedian Dylan Moran teamed with Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig (with the writing skills of Father Ted creator Graham Lineham) to bring us Black Books, the tale of a sociopathic alcoholic bookshop owner, his hippyish assistant and the dysfunctional girl next door. Black Books started well and then swiftly jumped the shark once Lineham departed, but the early episodes are awash with absurd dialogue and ludicrous situations – Manny hides inside a piano, playing it with spoons so that the tone-deaf Bernard can impress his girlfriend; Fran masturbates to The Shipping Forecast only to have it interrupted by a book reading from Joe Pasquale; Bernard turns the bookshop into a restaurant, drinks as much red wine as he can so that they can use the empty bottles as candle holders, and shoves pieces of the oven into a pie that poisons his guests. And that’s before we get to the tower of soup.

But one of the funniest – and most memorable – scenes in the show was in an early episode that features Manny wearing a head massager and shouting ‘Bernard!’. For thirty-four seconds. It’s not clever, or well-written, but again it’s funny, even without the punch line.

And then there’s The Big Bang Theory.

I blogged about this just the other day – chiefly concerning Thomas’s uncanny resemblance to Sheldon – but certainly TBBT is built on recurring gags. If you produce twenty-four episodes a year, you have to repeat yourself a little, so Raj’s inability to talk in a room while Penny is around (at least for the first two and a half series, which is how far we’ve got) is almost as common a theme as Sheldon and Leonard’s verbal tennis over the contents of the evening’s takeaway, or Sheldon’s bewildered astonishment whenever anyone takes ‘his’ seat.

But the most common recurring gag in TBBT is the door-knocking: it’s always three groups of three, and it’s always funny – particularly so when they subvert it, as you can see in a couple of the examples here. It encapsulates Sheldon and his relationship with the characters around him – and, in turn, their own relationship with him. It has its own poster. It’s something I do whenever I want to lightly annoy Emily without making her cross. She even laughed the first time.

But let me confess something. If I’m honest, I put this together for my brother, who loves all three shows. I’ve gone on about characterisation and pacing and repeated gags, but that’s just commentary. I have no real point to make – the ‘sitcom tropes’ I spoke of are really just an afterthought. In my head, the segue from Bill Bailey into Jim Parsons into Steve Coogan worked rather nicely – and it even worked on screen, once I’d tightened up the editing. So this is a moment of unabashed silliness from yours truly; a deeply personal dip into nostalgia and shared nights over a couple of beers with my younger sibling. Still, I may do a part two.

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