Archive for the Television Category

The Lawyers and the Pigs

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , on June 15, 2019 by dcairns

I picked up Levinson on Levinson secondhand because I was sure there’d be some good stuff in it. And sure enough, as soon as he starts talking about his days in live sketch TV comedy alongside Craig T. Nelson ~

“There was a sketch called ‘The Doctors and the Vikings,’ and it became like a running soap opera from week to week. Quite simply, we would do a lot of doctor talk, all very dramatic and serious, and then periodically a Viking would come through the operating room, blowing his horn, look at the situation, shake his head and then leave. That was the gag, and it became very popular. Popular, that is, for a local station, with maybe the fifty people who watched it.

“Then one week we decided to do an encore, called ‘The Lawyers and the Pigs’, with lawyers in suits speaking a lot of legalese as normal, but carrying a lot of little piglets under their arms. We’d make no reference to the piglets, and that would be the joke. When we rehearsed on the Sunday, we didn’t bother to get the piglets, as we thought that was just the gag, no need to bother. When we went into the show, and it’s live, we ran to find our piglets. Only these were not little piglets, but huge, 70-lb pigs! I could just about carry mine to the defence table — he was so heavy — but Craig’s started to crawl over his back. The judge had more sense, he actually got a piece of rope for his pig, but they started squealing and then peeing all over the stage. The audience began to laugh so loud they couldn’t hear us and we couldn’t hear each other. This was meant to be a quickie sketch, run two minutes and then boom and out, but it went on for thirteen minutes, with the pigs trying to break free and us trying to grab hold of them, but never talking about the problem. It was absolute anarchy, with the audience screaming with laughter. People tuning into the show were going, ‘My God, they’ve really gone off the deep end with this piece. This is the sickest thing on television!'”

Notes: The Lohman & Barkley Show ran on KNBC. This sketch, tragically, has not made its way to YouTube. But it makes me think of this famous bit of British children’s telly.

The Viking thing seems very Pythonesque, and indeed Levinson would soon be writing for Marty Feldman.

This is the only representative bit of Lohman & Barkley I could find. Quite dark.

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The Strange Affair of Uncle Joe

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2019 by dcairns

I should have gone to see THE DEATH OF STALIN when it came out, as I really admire Armando Iannucci’s work — maybe I didn’t because I don’t think he’s entirely cinematic. Maybe he’ll get there. This one only becomes really satisfying visually during the end credits, which repurpose the USSR’s revisionist airbrushing to witty effect, in a way that’s funny and uncomfortable, as is the film.

I remember getting into a weird discussion on Twitter with a Russian who was offended by the film, hampered by the fact that I hadn’t seen it and he had. He was disgusted that the film gets laughs out of Stalin having pissed himself. While I suppose laughing at a sick man isn’t nice, it’s still Stalin, and if that’s the thing you single out in this movie as being unsuitable for comic treatment, as opposed to Beria’s mass murders and vicious sexual opportunism, you have a problem with your priorities and are fonder of the late dictator than you are to admit.

Beale was ROBBED of the role of Dick Cheney. Or else Beria ought to have played it.

This is certainly very black comedy indeed — the characters are all totally lost to any sense of decency or compassion or compassion. The various political animals in Iannucci’s The Thick of It and IN THE LOOP were similarly bereft, and one interesting comparison between his various works (I haven’t seen enough of Veep but it looked good, but maybe lighter?) would be that the politburo bastards here aren’t necessarily worse, at a fundamental human level, that the New Labour and Tory scum of his previous outings — it’s merely that the structures of a dictatorship deform them differently than those of a democracy. Malcolm Tucker probably can’t have you killed, directly. But if he was working for Stalin he would surely have to, and might find he got a kick out of it.

A great many striking performances to enjoy here. The mingling of British and American actors and comics doesn’t always work — maybe in the past it’s been evidence of productions too eager to turn a profit, losing track of how to achieve a unified style. IN THE LOOP of course, by its very story, had to mix the two, and did so very sensibly and effectively. Here, it’s simply a question of ignoring the accents — which you can’t totally do with Stalin being played as a bluff northerner by Adrian McLoughlin (actually a southerner). But the Americans and Brits are equally strong. Fiona observed that casting Michael Palin as a ruthless state official works just as well here as it did in BRAZIL, casting “the nicest man in the world” (as Gilliam called him) as far against type as possible. Palin and Paul Whitehouse have to grab a few moments here and there, as does Paul Chahidi, who’s REALLY good at that, but Steve Buscemi and the amazing Simon Russell Beale and Jeffrey Tambor have centre stage. Then Jason Isaacs walks in (in slow motion, as do some of the others, but he really owns it) and practically blasts all opposition aside. Remarkable — the performances and dynamics just keep getting better as the thing goes on.

Nicky Smith, who features so prominently and entertainingly in our latest podcast, was telling me about Iannucci’s forthcoming THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD, which has innovative racially-blind casting, with Dev Patel in the lead and a white actor as his mother, and appearances by greats like Benedict Wong. Of course, Victorian London was full of people of different races, but Dickens largely neglected to write about them. This is something different — casting people because they’re good, not because they’re racially “appropriate.” It’ll be amusing to see conservative critics tiptoeing around this. Anyway, I wonder if Iannucci noticed how white the cast of TDOS was, and asked why, if we can sit Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin round the same table, both playing Russians, then why not Delroy Lindo or Thandie Newton?

Nothing Is Beyond Our Ken

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , on April 30, 2019 by dcairns

Ken Russell, muffintop messiah.

Working on a big Ken Russell gallery for you all. But meanwhile, here’s a big Ken Russell article, for The Chiseler. Ken’s career arc, from home movies to TV to British movies Hollywood back to British movies back to TV back to home movies has such an elegant shape to it that it’s a wonder no major critical study exists, that I’m aware of, tackling the whole thing.

So here it is in miniature.