Archive for Father Ted

The Glinner

Posted in Interactive, Politics, Television with tags , , , , on June 27, 2020 by dcairns

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Since I simply HATE sport, and Twitter insists on giving me sports headlines, I’ve set my Twitter location to New York, because at least that way I get notifications on sports I know nothing about and which don’t automatically annoy me.

I woke up this afternoon and found Graham Linehan trending, and knew it wasn’t going to be for anything good.

Graham Linehan has been banned from Twitter. He’s the one who actually got me onto WordPress and then Twitter, but we’ve only had one brief exchange in recent years. I was kind of concerned about his mental health, since the once-brilliant comedy writer who used to offer links to amusing things found online, was now obsessively monotopical, only able to talk about trans rights issues from the point of view that trans rights are bad.

I asked him why this subject devoured all of his entire attention and he replied in all caps that it was because nobody else was talking about it. I gently pressed him on this, and he admitted it was a slight exaggeration. I do try to maintain a civil tone online. It occasionally helps.

The Glinner’s pronouncements on trans rights varied from reasonable-sounding to frothingly insane. Reasonable people, I think, could respectfully disagree about whether trans women should compete in female sporting events or whether some kids are being rushed into gender reassignment procedures before they’re ready. I’m not trans, I’m not a parent, I’m not a child, I’m not a woman, I prefer not to force my way into these arguments, but for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Linehan was certain this was his fight, his hill to die on.

He wrote an article about how he couldn’t write comedy in a world where expressions like “female penis” were taken seriously. Which is a weird thing to fixate on. My impression is that some trans people enjoy the apparent incongruity of the phrase, find it sort of humorous as well as useful, and anyway, so what? Words are always changing their roles (like people).

In a much earlier conversation, Linehan had talked about getting into production (I hoped I might get a job out of him one day) because he didn’t expect his creativity to last into late middle age — I’m not sure why he thought this, but it’s at least better than blaming a decline in comedy ideas on trans people. Any conspiracy theory that suggests that The I.T. Crowd is not as brilliant as Father Ted or that Count Arthur Strong, despite its wonderful central character, is not nearly as good as either, because of continuing advances in LGBTQ rights, seems to be operating (poorly) on a false basis, to say the least.

There was also the fact that Linehan’s entry into the debate followed a trans-based subplot on The I.T. Crowd, which seemed like the product of lazy, out-of-date thinking more than a coherent, retrograde or political stance. Linehan was criticised for it, and I believe admitted it was a mistake. (A character embarks on a relationship with a trans woman, having misheard her revelation that she used to be a man. When he finds out, he throws her out a window. It sounds worse on paper, actually, but it’s… not great.)

What made Linehan’s Twitter rants dangerous is that he could seem quite reasonable on the surface, at times, before plunging into transphobic vileness. A sincere, I presume, belief that women were being put in danger, could be used to justify anything — distorting what people said, for instance. When a teacher said that their grad students could bring up subjects in seminars that they couldn’t discuss with their parents, Linehan quote-tweeted this with the single word comment “Grooming.” Does Linehan know that grad students are adults or does this not matter to him? Likewise, how is it grooming if the students are the ones raising the subject? Why was Linehan following this person anyway?

At some point my attempt to believe Linehan was a well-meaning person who had different beliefs from me disintegrated completely. There seemed to be a toxic, Twitter-fuelled admixture of politics, ego, neurosis, anger — did the man’s surviving testicular cancer feed into this in some bizarre way? Or is it just the way the internet can turn everything into a war? The word “transphobia” certainly seems well-designed, because fear lies under the hatred, pretty clearly.

Twitter allows people to communicate together in an apparently consequence-free way, people who would not normally seek out each others’ company. It’s a bit like granting a populace the power of invisibility. Hi-jinks ensue. Then there are pile-ons and public shamings and these don’t typically transform the offenders into better people. Prejudices are fed.

Linehan would slide from sounding concerned about women’s rights being infringed, to making snide and nasty comments about specific trans people, reserving the right to deadname anyone he didn’t like, to sounding like a “harmless” fuddy-duddy who didn’t like the way society was changing… I imagine some were drawn in by the concern or “concern,” and ultimately seduced by the hatred. In a way, perhaps he was too. Twitter was slow to act.

There might be real places where trans rights and women’s rights are partially at odds, where some creative thinking might be required, where the natural tendency of people of all genders and sexes and persuasions to get excited about issues which deeply affect them might be stopping them getting together and building something positive that’s for the common good. I strongly suspect the solutions will not be devised on Twitter.

Linehan was always nice to me. I want to think that he’s redeemable. A man having a very protracted, public nervous breakdown rather than an evil bigot. This might be wishful thinking. But getting off Twitter might be good for him.

Structure

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on October 29, 2016 by dcairns

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Humbug alert!

The two best treatments for unhappiness, media-wise, might be PG Wodehouse and Community. Assuming you’re well enough to enjoy anything, these two fictional universes seem to offer pleasure within tightly-structured packages, full of dazzling invention. Though Community, as the characters admit, sometimes gets a little dark.

“TV is getting scary-good!” exclaims the Dean in one episode, and he’s right. Impressed as hell by the way Dan Harmon’s show interweaves its plotlines, I wondered if the writer had put down any thoughts on plotting. He has.

But this week David Bordwell linked to a far more inspirational piece, an edition of Archie comics from 1965 which sets out the principles of storytelling in a way that illuminates Community better than its creator. Note the way the collision of plotlines (last page) is always surprising and delightful.

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Where’s Britta?

I first became aware of subplots watching the TV show M*A*S*H as a kid. There, the device seemed formulaic and didn’t provide anything other than variety within an episode, something to cut to. Shows like Fawlty Towers and Father Ted would set up several strands of action and entwine them together to produce surprising developments within a tightly wrought farce structure. Father Ted even makes a great joke out of how contrived and implausible this process is, making set-ups (a perfectly square piece of dirt on a window) into obvious, ludicrous, sign-posted things that are obviously going to pay off later — but how?

But Community amuses partly by (most weeks) setting in motion two unrelated stories (most weeks) involving different subsets of its main cast and then having them intersect (most weeks) towards the climax (most weeks). It’s given me an idea for something I’m working on.

Things that aren’t films: year’s end summary

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2015 by dcairns

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Finished season 2 of The Knick, the historical medical drama. Looks like that one’s finished. Some incredibly strong moments, particularly the death of a major character in the finale, but also a slight sense of a shark being jumped. It was soapier than season 1 — in one episode, a character who was definitely dead showed up again, and a character had a sudden foreign wife appear whom he definitely didn’t have before. The writers also amused themselves with in-jokes: the Laurel & Hardy line “I brought you some hard-boiled eggs and nuts,” and a product called Rough on Rats, which is an really obscure reference to the Winsor McCay cartoon THE PET.

We got hooked on Toast of London, the sitcom starring Matt Berry, written by Berry and Arthur Mathews of Father Ted fame. I’d been missing out on this comedy gold for several seasons, for no good reason. The first episode I watched seemed a bit too harsh for my tastes. It is a big negative at times, but also brilliant, in terms of visual gags, plotting, ideas, performances, and the bizarre story world, a non-period-specific vision of actors’ Soho, theatres, pubs and voice-over recording studios.

It’s interesting to me that while Mathews has gone darker, raunchier and swearier, his Father Ted co-author Graham Linehan has co-authored the BBC1-friendly Count Arthur Strong. which takes a fairly abrasive radio and stand-up character, senile music-hall comedian Count Arthur, and folds him into a gentle, at times sentimental series set in a recognizable real contemporary world (Count Arthur, like Steven Toast, formerly inhabited a timeless universe where he could theoretically have been around since the thirties). Linehan’s genius for farce plotting is still apparent — see an episode where two untrained pilots go up in a two-seater plane, each convinced the other is the pilot, and Count Arthur’s malapropisms are funnier than they have any right to be (“I have written a racist book.” “Racist? What do you mean?” “You know: Ooh, Madam!” He means ‘racy.’) While Linehan’s move is a more radical departure, Matthews’ seems to us the more successful show, tonally solid in its determination not to touch us, not to be endearing, not to mean anything at all.

original

Doctor Who gave us two really strong episodes — amazingly strong! — at the end of the series, but seems unable to sustain a quality run longer than that — the Christmas special was an extraordinary misfire, festive only in the sense of including snow, strained laughter, and a lot of frenzied, pointless activity. It was also weirdly mean, which is fine for Toast of London but problematic for a show starring a noble, pacifist hero. But series head Stephen Moffat seems compelled to push at the limits of how dark he can make his lead character, a strategy that seems better suited to practically any other fictional hero in existence. This episode also showed why doing a comedy episode is unlikely to work on Doctor Who: because composer Murray Gold will crap all over it.

My reading seems to have ground to a halt, owing to being in prep for a film, and owing to my having started Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock, a slow-going but fascinating fantasy novel. It’s quite dense — it takes the world of myth and fairy tale seriously, and tries to invent the forgotten mythology of the Ice Age. Into this are plunged characters from our world. A long way from Tolkein, and more serious and interesting than I can make it sound, just a little hard to wade through when you’re distracted by other stuff.

But I did read The Writer’s Tale, while in early prep. It’s basically Russell T. Davies’ email correspondence with Benjamin Cook, editor of Doctor Who Magazine. It had the effect of making me like Davies more — some of his Who scripts would make me so annoyed, it’s easy to forget there’s an essentially well-meaning person behind it all, trying to entertain us. Davies is so funny and self-excoriating here, you feel he did his best writing in his emails instead of on the show — his best work in TV prior to Who had one foot and a few toes in reality, something the time-traveling adventurer was never going to make easy. It even made me feel sorry for Murray Gold, who was apparently reduced to tears by unsympathetic fan reviews of his music. “I don’t know how to score this show any better!” he declared, helplessly. It could stand being scored LESS, I’d have thought. Less of everything is good advice for this time of year.

At this time of year I like to watch this, obsessively —

I like looking at snow without having to touch it. And I like how the director, after choosing to shoot at dusk in Scandinavia, has made all his other decisions based on that fact — i.e. it’s fucking freezing, how can I shoot all of this with the zoom from a single stationary position so we can get indoors before bits start dropping off?

Also, do they really sing, at about 2.00, “You’ll be dancing once again / Like an angry hen / You will have no time for breathing”?