TV Review: Fawlty Towers (1975-1979)

Original Run: September 19th, 1975 – October 25th, 1979
Created by: John Cleese, Connie Booth
Directed by: John Howard Davies, Bob Spiers
Written by: John Cleese, Connie Booth
Music by: Dennis Wilson
Cast: John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs, Connie Booth, Ballard Berkeley, Brian Hall, Renee Roberts, Gilly Flower

BBC, 12 Episodes, 30-35 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Fawlty Towers really is one of the all-time greatest British sitcoms. So much so, I’d hear people talk about it in the States for years until I finally saw it around the year 2000 or so, in my early twenties.

Being that I was already a big John Cleese fan, I wanted to give it a watch because of him and because his only other early work that I’d seen had been the Monty Python stuff. And while I’m not into that stuff like a lot of people slightly older than me, I always had a love for Cleese along with Eric Idle.

In my opinion, this is the best John Cleese has ever been in a main role. Being that he wrote the show alongside his then wife, Connie Booth, it was very obviously tailor made for him, accenting his strengths while allowing no faults to show. Granted, I can’t think of a time where Cleese ever showed his faults but maybe I’m a bit biased.

The rest of the cast is enjoyable, as well, though. Even the regular secondary characters in this are pretty perfect and prove with every episode that they can hang with the guy that would become a comedy legend.

Sadly, Cleese and Booth were divorced before the second season was filmed but whatever issues may have arisen in their personal lives, it didn’t effect the quality of the show.

However, it’s also probably why there weren’t more than two seasons, which is still immensely disappointing, as twelve half hour episodes just aren’t enough. But I guess quitting while you’re ahead doesn’t allow for a drop off in quality.

Rating: 9/10

TV Review: The New Statesman (1987-1994)

Original Run: September 13th, 1987 – December 30th, 1994
Created by: Laurence Marks, Maurice Gran
Directed by: Geoffrey Sax, Graeme Harper
Written by: Laurence Marks, Maurice Gran
Music by: Modest Mussorgsky, Alan Hawkshaw
Cast: Rik Mayall, Marsha Fitzalan, Michael Troughton

Yorkshire Television, Alomo Productions, ITV Studios, Fremantle, 26 Episodes + 3 Specials, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Out of the three shows that Rik Mayall starred in, The New Statesman seems to be the least known, at least from an American standpoint. While I have friends that love The Young Ones, Bottom and Mayall as a comedic actor, none of them knew about this show until I introduced them to it. 

It’s been a favorite of mine for years and I actually discovered it on a tape sent to me from a friend in the UK, who I used to tape trade with in the ’90s.

The show is a satire of British politics in the opulent ’80s. It features Mayall as Alan B’Stard, a Conservative Party backbencher in Parliament that schemes his way to more power, as the show progresses.

B’Stard commits terrible crimes and has no morals whatsoever and while that may sound like the recipe for a completely unlikable character, with Mayall playing him, he brings to life the show’s despicable main character with his charisma, charm and stupendous ability to make it all work.

Alan B’Stard is an iconic character even if modern audiences aren’t aware of him, especially in the States. While it’s easy to see how UK conservatives of the ’80s would’ve been offended by the show’s over-the-top critique of them, I think it’d be really hard for any fan of comedy and political satire not to laugh. Mayall is simply perfect.

Each episode over the four series is pretty good and has a purpose behind it. The writers hit a lot of topical issues from ’87 through ’94 and even if this feels like it’s only showing things from one side of the political spectrum, it’s still entertaining.

Also, my view could be skewed because I’m American and I’m not really a fan of any political party or mainstream political ideals. They’re all authoritarian fascists in my book.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other British sitcoms starring Rik Myall.

TV Review: Spaced (1999-2001)

Original Run: September 24th, 1999 – April 13th, 2001
Created by: Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson
Music by: various
Cast: Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Nick Frost, Mark Heap, Julia Deakin, Katy Carmichael, Lucy Akhurst, Anna Wilson-Jones, Bill Bailey, James Lance, Peter Serafinowicz, Michael Smiley

Big Talk, London Weekend Television, Channel 4, 14 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Marsha, they say that the family of the twenty-first century is made up of friends, and not relatives, and if that’s true, then you’re the best aunty I’ve ever had!” – Tim

I’m not from the UK so I didn’t know about this show until about a year after it aired. I discovered it when a friend from the UK sent me the first season to check out because he thought I’d like it. I did and it actually became one of my favorite shows of all-time and still is. But since I haven’t watched it in nearly a decade, I wanted to dust it off and revisit it. Especially, after I just revisited and reviewed the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.

The show is directed by Edgar Wright and stars two of his long-time collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It also stars Jessica Stevenson, who co-wrote the show with Pegg. The two of them had previously worked together in a short-lived show called Asylum, which Wright also created and directed.

Seeing this now, it’s very ’90s but at the same time, it’s absolutely timeless. This isn’t something I would’ve picked up on in the past but the struggles of these twentysomethings is pretty damn real and I think it’s still relatable. In fact, I guess I didn’t realize how much I related to it in my mid-to-late 20s.

While I’m younger than the cast and the age they represented when I first watched this, it was only a few years later before my experiences lined up with theirs. Also, being someone in a creative field that is both an artist and a writer, I think I relate to both of them even more, looking back at where I started and where my career and hobbies led me over the last two decades.

All that being said, I almost love this show even more now, as I realize how much heart and soul went into it and how genuine and authentic it truly is. And I think it comes from the fact that these people are also creatives and were probably going through similar struggles as the characters they wrote and played.

Beyond that, this was a unique show in how Wright didn’t shoot it like a standard sitcom but he used techniques typical to horror and sci-fi films. He went for extreme angles and quick motion, as opposed to fixed, static cameras focused on a set. Quite a bit of the show was also shot outside and Wright employed the same techniques outdoors, giving the Spaced world more energy than that of a typical show. 

Also, everyone in this is perfect. It’s just really well cast and that’s not just the six core characters but also the reoccurring ones that pop in and out.

The show also goes for pretty surreal situations and humor but it works well, fits the style and isn’t overdone to where this becomes a bizarre “brainy” show that dolts pretend they like because they don’t want to appear as if they don’t “get it”.

Unfortunately, the show ended at least a season too early, as you kind of pick up on the fact that the two leads are going to fall in love, as the story rolls on. By season two, it’s regularly hinted at and even though the ending to that season was satisfying to that season’s arc, I feel like the show and its fans deserved at least one more seven episode helping before everyone moved on to things like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

Man, I knew I loved this show but I guess I forgot how much. And now, that love has grown even more, as I appreciate Spaced on new and deeper levels thanks to how well it has held up and how technically savvy it is. Plus, the experiences and issues these characters face are timeless and they’re presented in a way that’s kind of pure, which transcends generations and cultural changes.

Spaced, to me, is a near perfect show. I can’t call every episode a classic but they all have something really worthwhile and they all do a superb job of building up these characters, their lives together and the audience’s love for each of them.

In the end, even after two decades and a dozen watch throughs, it’s hard to say goodbye to them in that final episode.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, as well as Pegg’s other comedy series before he became a film star.

TV Review: Red Dwarf – The Promised Land (2020)

Original Airdate: April 9th, 2020
Created by: Doug Naylor
Directed by: Doug Naylor
Written by: Doug Naylor
Based on: Red Dwarf by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Music by: Paul Farrer, Howard Goodall
Cast: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Norman Lovett, Ray Fearon, Tom Bennett, Mandeep Dhillon, Lucy Pearman, Al Roberts

Baby Cow Productions, Grant Naylor Productions, UKTV, Dave, 1 Episode (Movie), 87 Minutes

Review:

I’m probably as big of a Red Dwarf fan as any American born person can possibly be. 2020 and this damn pandemic really screwed up my entire year, however, and I didn’t even know that this had came out or even existed until very recently. So I re-upped my old subscription to BritBox so that I could watch it through Prime Video.

Needless to say, I’m glad that this was made because it helped lift me up on a day where I was feeling like shit.

The main reason for that is because these guys still care about these characters 32 years into their existence. They play these roles with the same passion and vigor they always have despite their age and all the other opportunities their careers have offered them. Longevity like this is really unheard of, especially in regards to a sitcom.

The Promised Land is kind of similar to what they did in 2009 with Back to Earth, which was a three episode miniseries that equated to about 90 minutes and played more like a movie when watched in one sitting. The only real difference is that they didn’t break this up into three episodes and instead just aired it as a TV movie.

I can’t say that the story is as great as the greatest episodes but it was still fun and a callback to a lot of awesome things from the long history of the show. Most importantly, this involved Cat’s people and you meet his brother, who is a spacefaring warlord that denies the long held religious beliefs of his people. These “feral” space cats are kind of played like the Klingons from Star Trek.

Every character in this was pretty well-balanced and we also got to see Norman Lovett come back as the ship’s computer, Holly. It was cool seeing him in this, as it wasn’t just a simple cameo.

The spirit of the show was still very much alive. If you like the modern era seasons from the 2010s, this is pretty much on the same level.

But if I’m being honest, I almost don’t even care what the adventure is, as long as I get to spend more time with these characters who have been a big part of my life over the course of most of it.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Anything Red Dwarf.

TV Review: WandaVision (2021)

Original Run: January 15th, 2021 – March 5th, 2021
Created by: Jac Schaeffer
Directed by: Matt Shakman
Written by: various
Based on: Scarlet Witch by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby; The Vision by Roy Thomas, John Buscema
Music by: Kristen Anderson-Lopez
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris, Randall Park, Kat Dennings, Evan Peters, Debra Jo Rupp, Fred Melamed

Disney Platform Distribution, Marvel Studios, Disney+, 9 Episodes, 29-47 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

There’s been some criticism over the last few years that movies set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe have become too formulaic and predictable. Well, with the announcement that there would now be MCU television series streamed exclusively on Disney+, the possibility of breaking the mold and doing something very different had apparently arrived.

WandaVision is pretty ambitious and it doesn’t fit into any mold that came before it, MCU or otherwise. Because of its originality, I at least found it refreshing, interesting and intriguing, as it was initially hard to figure out where it could go.

However, its attempts at being so different also kind of bogged it down in the first half of the season.

The show recreates the world of sitcom television through multiple eras. As each episode progresses, we see WandaVision through a new decade’s lens. It starts with two episodes that take place in what appears to be late ’50s/early ’60s sitcoms then moves on to the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. It was a cool concept but it started to get tiresome by episode three. Thankfully, the show evolved beyond just the sitcom format at the end of episode three and started to allow the regular Marvel Cinematic Universe to creep in, as it began to show the real world outside of the sitcom setting.

By episode four, we’re introduced to new characters for the show, many of which we’ve seen before in the films. This is where things started to be revealed and the mystery behind what was going on got really interesting. While there were some Easter eggs and clues in the first three episodes, the fourth one is where everything took shape and got the viewer grounded in the concept.

For the most part, I really liked this show. It has its hiccups and faults but the chemistry between Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany was so damn good that it kind of overshadows everything else that one might find faulty or annoying.

I also really liked Kathryn Hahn in this but then I like her in everything. It was really cool seeing her get to do something so large beyond just comedy, though. She obviously does the comedy parts well but when she has to get serious and more dramatic, she proves she can hang with actors on the same level as Olsen and Bettany.

Additionally, I really liked Teyonah Parris, as the adult version of Monica Rambeau, who becomes another version of Captain Marvel in the comics. She’s pretty solid in this show and really carries the production on her back in the real world scenes. Also, this show serves as her superhero origin story, as we see how she gets her powers towards the end of the series.

WandaVision was a pretty cool concept and it was mostly executed well. While I’m familiar with the comics well enough to kind of know what was happening from the get go, the show still had some good surprises that kept my interest till the end.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other films and television series that take place in the MCU.

TV Review: Truth Seekers (2020- )

Original Run: October 30th, 2020 – current
Created by: Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, James Serafinowicz, Nat Saunders
Directed by: Jim Field Smith
Written by: Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, James Serafinowicz, Nat Saunders
Music by: Robin Foster
Cast: Nick Frost, Emma D’Arcy, Samson Kayo, Malcolm McDowell, Simon Pegg, Susie Wokoma, Julian Barratt, Rosalie Craig

Sony Pictures Television, Stolen Pictures, Amazon Studios, 8 Episodes (so far), 24-32 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

When I saw the trailer for this television show, I was immediately stoked. However, once I started watching it, I was severely underwhelmed by it and then, by the end, I was just disappointed and sad.

I love Nick Frost and Simon Pegg and that goes all the way back to their TV show Spaced, which I saw via VHS tape from a friend in the UK, who I used to trade tapes with.

I think what makes this show weak is actually the fault of several things working against it.

To start, the concept is okay but the execution was weird and nonsensical. Basically, the writing isn’t good and most of the characters within the show are pretty unlikable. In fact, the only one I really liked was Malcolm McDowell, who at least got to ham it up and look like he was enjoying the material he was given.

Nick Frost was just Nick Frost and he felt a lot like his character Ed from Spaced but swap out his crazy love of guns for his crazy love of paranormal investigation tech.

The two younger co-stars were both pretty shit and I couldn’t relate to them and just didn’t care about their supernatural stories.

The sidekick’s sister was an absolute abomination of a character and she came across as some generic person-of-color that the BBC would’ve clunkily implanted into a show just so she could lecture all the characters. She’s a bossy, awful bitch and writing her character to have mental health issues isn’t a valid enough excuse to wedge her in and kill every scene.

Now I did like Simon Pegg’s character but at the same time, he wasn’t anything special. He was quirky and weird but a good leader and respectable boss. Still, he was used sparingly and didn’t get to properly develop. The big mistake with that is he’s a highpoint that wasn’t utilized anywhere near as well as he could’ve been.

I also enjoyed Julian Barratt in this but like Pegg, he’s not used enough and you never really get to know his character enough to really care.

Overall, this sucked. I really hoped it’d be a nice shining light in a year where entertainment has been pretty much absent. But it’s 2020, so I guess even two of my favorite comedic actors were simply destined to give us their worst work at the end of this terrible year.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other things with both Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in it.

TV Review: Boston Common (1996-1997)

Original Run: March 21st, 1996 – April 27th, 1997
Created by: Max Mutchnick, David Kohan
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Cast: Anthony Clark, Traylor Howard, Hedy Burress, Steve Paymer, Roger Rees, Tasha Smith, Vincent Ventresca, Sam Anderson, Margot Kidder, Zach Galifianakis

KoMut Entertainment, Castle Rock Entertainment, Columbia TriStar Television, Sony Pictures Television, NBC, 32 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Recently, while on YouTube, I went down the sitcom rabbit hole and started to rewatch a lot of the stuff I used to like, back in the day. I was curious to see how these shows held up and if I would still enjoy them. This one, particularly, was one I would watch in the late ’90s when the USA Network would do that morning block of shows called USAM.

Boston Common was unfortunately short-lived, as it was a mid-season replacement in its first season and then only got a full second season later that same year.

I remember thinking that Anthony Clark was hilarious and I was crushing hard on Traylor Howard, who played the apple of his eye on the show.

In 2020, I still enjoyed this quite a bit. It’s hokey in the way that traditional multi-cam, studio audience sitcoms were back then but it has character and depth beyond what’s on the surface. The characters develop well over the short time they had to exist and it’s hard not to find something to like in all of them. Even Jack, the pompous professor.

Shows like this don’t seem to really work nowadays but its a shame. They were a good, light-hearted way to escape from reality. And even if they did touch on some tougher or topical subjects, they always did it in a way that was more palatable and fair than the heavy-handed, overly biased shows of today.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other late ’90s sitcoms.

TV Review: What We Do In the Shadows (2019- )

Original Run: March 27th, 2019 – current
Created by: Jemaine Clement
Directed by: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, various
Written by: Jemaine Clement, various
Based on: What We Do In the Shadows by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh, Norma Tanega (opening theme)
Cast: Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou, Harvey Guillen, Mark Proksch, Doug Jones

FX Productions, Two Canoes Pictures, 343 Incorporated, 10 Episodes (so far), 24-30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

What We Do In the Shadows was one of my favorite comedy movies of the last few years. Maybe, my favorite, in fact. But I wasn’t too keen on any of the ideas they threw around for spinoffs, whether it be the werewolf movie they mentioned or this television show. When you’ve got something great, you shouldn’t diminish it by milking the cow for more.

However, having now seen it, I do mostly like the show. Granted, it isn’t a straight remake of the movie. It’s very similar with the same general premise but it follows new characters in a new city. This also explores other types of vampires, which opens the door for more possibilities.

The humor is good and pretty consistent with the film. I don’t know most of the actors but I do know Matt Berry, who I became a fan of due to his work on The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh.

Still, it feels lacking after experiencing the greatness of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi in the film version. Both men have directed episodes of the show and I think that’s helped it, along with Clement providing some of the writing. And maybe they’ll make cameos at some point.

The show, overall, is off to a pretty good start and it’ll be interesting seeing how it evolves over time. But I fear that the formula could get tiresome fairly quickly. Only time will tell but for now, it’s definitely worth checking out for fans of the movie and Clement and Waititi’s brand of humor.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the film it’s based on, as well as other works by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.

TV Review: Peep Show (2003-2015)

Original Run: September 19th, 2003 – December 16th, 2015
Created by: Andrew O’Connor, Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain
Directed by: Jeremy Wooding, Tristram Shapeero, Becky Martin
Written by: Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, David Mitchell, Robert Webb
Music by: Daniel Pemberton
Cast: David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Olivia Colman, Matt King

Objective Productions, All3Media, Channel 4, 54 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Few shows are perfect at what they do. Peep Show is one of them, however, and what’s most impressive is that it did it for eight season, over twelve years.

There isn’t a bad episode out of the 54 we were given, which is pretty unheard of. Sure, I have my favorites but overall, this show maintained great consistency from episode to episode and season to season.

Now if I’m being honest, the first few episodes didn’t immediately grab me. The show had a style that my brain had to adjust to with the entirety of the show being filmed in a first person perspective with narration being the characters’ thoughts. But by episode three or so, I was on board and from that point forward, became a loyal fan to the series, anticipating every new season as they dropped.

What makes this show work so well is its stars: primarily the comedic duo of David Mitchell and Robert Webb. I’m also a fan of their sketch comedy stuff and really anything either of them do. These two have perfect chemistry, timing and the ability to work as a tandem better than any marriage I’ve ever seen.

Joining them are the always superb Olivia Colman, who has gone on to win an Academy Award, as well as Matt King, who actually plays my favorite character on the show, Super Hans.

The plot follows two roommates who pretty much hate each other but seem eternally bound to one another as each continually fails through life and by the end of twelve years, are exactly in the same place where they started. The show does try to mix it up a bit every few seasons but Mark and Jez always come back together like magnets.

The casting on this show was also perfection. Between the leads, the fantastic supporting cast and the other regulars that continue to come back to the show over it’s long existence. It’s actually cool seeing some of the regulars return, even after they take lengthy breaks. Olivia Colman coming back in the final season, especially after she has had immense success since leaving, was pretty stupendous.

Peep Show is perfection. But I know that it isn’t for everyone. There are people I tried to turn on to it that couldn’t get into it. But that just made me reassess my life, my social circle and I’m proud to say that I have less social baggage now.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other ’00s British comedies like Black BooksSpaced, Green Wing, Whites and the Mitchell & Webb sketch comedy shows.

TV Review: Brockmire (2017- )

Original Run: April 5th, 2017 – current
Created by: Joel Church-Cooper, Hank Azaria
Directed by: Tim Kirkby
Written by: various
Based on: character created by Hank Azaria
Music by: Adam Blau
Cast: Hank Azaria, Amanda Peet, Tyrel Jackson Williams, Toby Huss, Carrie Preston, Martha Plimpton

Funny Or Die, How 2 Pictures, IFC, 16 Episodes (so far), 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is one of those shows I wanted to watch from the get go but I rarely use cable anymore and kept forgetting about it. But I saw that it was on Hulu, at least the first two seasons, so I finally gave it a watch.

For starters, I’ve always enjoyed Hank Azaria in just about everything and his pairing with Amanda Peet, here, is really enjoyable. They have good chemistry and I was kind of caught off guard by how well they work together.

Additionally, I have been a big baseball fan my entire life and there just aren’t enough baseball television shows. This really fills that void and while it has a similar comedic and dramatic style as another IFC show, Maron, it also calls back to the film Bull Durham a bit. Also, a lot of the baseball team shenanigans reminds me a lot of Eastbound & Down, the Major League movies and the hockey comedy Goon.

Brockmire goes deeper than the laughs on its surface. It is a real character study of the title character and how complicated his life is and how he is trying to overcome the pain of his past. Azaria really hits the ball out of the park with his performance. There are times where the character can be a real dick but there is a very damaged man beneath the surface that is easy to relate to in just how human Azaria makes him.

Peet is both fiery and adorable and her character is just as strong as Azaria’s and she is a good balance to him. Man, I really love her in this and while I’ve liked a lot of her roles in the past, this may be the best she’s been. She owns it, completely.

In the end, this is a show about a wrecked human being trying to pick up the pieces. It’s certainly not a new concept and it’s a narrative style that comes with its own tropes but Azaria keeps things fresh and even at Brockmire’s worst, it’s hard not to root for him.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: MaronEastbound & Down, GLOW, the Major League films, Bull Durham and Goon.