Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Britcoms and sitcoms

Pete was watching "Red Dwarf" some time back, a British “sci-fi” sitcom which I watch only once in a while. It’s one of his firm favourites, though – if he could, he would watch it every time an episode of "Red Dwarf" was telecast… pretty much the same as me when it comes to “F.r.i.e.n.d.s”, I suppose. I find "Red Dwarf" reasonably entertaining, although what I like best is probably the facial make-up for Kryten, the robot-with-a-conscience. It’s absolutely brilliant for not being computer-generated/enhanced. The special effects for the series in general are pretty damn good, too.

In the years I’ve been in the UK, I’ve watched quite a few TV sitcoms, classic ones that Pete’s grown up with and others of more recent vintage. What I’ve discovered is that although I now like quite a few, some of them had to “grow” on me - they simply didn’t “click” instantly. And then again, there are some which I simply cannot get – they just don’t seem funny. A classic example of the latter is “Absolutely Fabulous” – where I sit stone-faced and puzzled but Pete’s chuckling away. Part of my problem could well be Jennifer Saunders, whose acting, especially in that sitcom, grates on every nerve I possess. Actually I think her brand of thespianism creates new nerve endings in my body purely so that they can jangle irritably. (It’s not a pleasant sensation.)

Another of those I don’t really get is “The Young Ones” – although I have come to like Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall separately in their gross-out live stage shows of “Bottom”, playing Eddie Hitler and Richie Richard, respectively. I can take slapstick and scatological comedy in small doses, but the bloopers have always been what I like best. I love the way they cover-up their mistakes by ad-libbing them into their dialogue. It took me quite a while to see that Rik Mayall was really quite good looking, because of the huge variety of dreadful faces he pulls.

Of those that I disliked right from the start, probably “George and Mildred” tops the list. Actually, it’s on a list all by itself. “Porridge”, with Ronnie Barker playing Fletcher, the smooth-talking small-time criminal, is one I’m still ambivalent about. Underneath the bonhomie and good humour that Fletcher displays, you can sense that he is actually quite amoral and a really rather nasty piece of work. It’s a brilliant bit of character acting, so good that I can’t watch “Porridge” without disliking Fletcher intensely. That Ronnie Barker was a very, very good actor.

Which is why I love him in the gentle sitcom “Open All Hours”, where he plays a tight-fisted, sarcastic, amusing old shop-keeper, Arkwright, whose nephew works for him. (A small digression: The stutter that Ronnie Barker affects is, again, brilliantly done and raises a laugh every time. But a book I read recently, "Black Swan Green" by David Mitchell, kind of makes me feel a bit guilty now when I giggle at Barker's perfectly timed stutter - because the teenage protagonist of the book has a stammer (or a stutter - there's a difference, I know, but I'm not sure which one is right in this instance), and in a passing mention he says that every time "Open All Hours" came on TV, it made him cringe, because he was so very conscious of his own problem for which he was bullied at school.) Arkwright is one of my favourite characters - he displays quite a few characteristics of Indian shopkeepers in trying to sell "off" goods and make as much money from his customers as possible while still being obsequious!

I could go on about more of the sitcoms I like, but what I was getting at was that the American ones seemed to catch my fancy quicker than the British ones (perhaps because they were not so reliant on physical humour?), even though the latter was what I got to watch as a kid before we had all the satellite/cable TV channels. Pre-Star TV folks might remember serials like "Some Mothers Do 'ave 'em" (intensely annoying, but all praise for the guy who, as Frank, plays such a convincing numpty), "Are You Being Served" (not terribly funny, and the camp guy overdid it by the bucketful!), "Sorry!" (a one word review - yurck!), "Mind Your Language" (got boring really quick because of the stereotyped characters) and "The Brittas Empire". My dad and grandfather were avid watchers of "Yes Minister", a series which I came to adore only when I got a bit older and could appreciate the wit and sarcasm - oh, and also understand the accent!

1 comment:

Teesu (very very Indian, very very good) said...

Love the British 'accent'.