Killing The Monster

I see that singer Michael Bublé has decided to quit singing and the limelight.  I can quite understand why.  At a time when his beloved son was close to death from cancer, Bublé found himself in a blizzard of “well-meaning” Press attention, with articles sensitively entitled “Michael’s Torment“, “Michael Looks Depressed As He Leaves Hospital” and the always-popular “Will Michael Bublé Ever Be Able To Sing Again?”  (“No” being the eventual answer to this question, as it happens.)

Under those circumstances, Bublé discovered that while his fame sold albums and made him rich, the price he had to pay was the complete loss of privacy and even dignity.  For attention-whores like the Kardashians and their ilk, this celebrity and attention might have been accepted, even welcomed;  for him, facing that most awful and personal of tragedies, the scouring of his anguish and its parade in the tabloids must have been torture — and his desire to quit the spotlight both literally and figuratively is both understandable and even laudable.

And good for him, say I.  His wealth is secure, his family likewise;  but should his young son ever get nailed by cancer again — a horrible possibility — I can only hope that he and his wife can deal with whatever happens in solitude and isolation.  I don’t even want to hear about it, for that matter.  Whatever happens, Michael Bublé deserves his privacy, and I can only hope that the Media Vultures leave him alone from now on.

I for one will refuse to read anything about him and his family ever again.  I can’t escape the future headlines, should they occur, but I don’t have to reward the Jackals Of The Press by reading about the details.  He deserves the anonymity he craves, and I’m happy to grant it to him.

Michael, I wish lasting happiness, health and peace to you and your family;  and thank you for sharing your magnificent talent with us while you did.

Best Comedy TV (Part 8)

Absolutely Fabulous (UK)

Absolutely nobody I know likes this ridiculous, over-the-top, outrageous and over-acted series, but I absolutely fucking love it.  The fact that the show is based on an actual PR person (no names, no pack drill) makes it even more delicious.

The point is that from beginning to end, AbFab is not actually a comedy, but satire — and it lampoons everything, from the PR business to fashion to feminism to family relations and oh so much more.  Whether it’s the frantic, hysterical Edina’s latest fad diet, the feline Patsy’s fondness for Bollinger at 8am or insufferable daughter Saffron’s earnest espousal of everything PC, AbFab doesn’t so much skewer it as either a bludgeon it with a club or flay it with a razor.

Saffie:  I’m sorry, mum, but I’ve never seen what it is that you actually do.
Eddie:  PRrr.
Saffie:  Yes, but —
Eddie:  PR.  I PR things.  People.  Places.  Concepts…
Patsy:  Lulu.
Eddie:  Lulu.  I make the fabulous…  I make the crap into credible.  I make the dull into —
Patsy:  Delicious.

No better description of public relations was ever penned.  And as for PR awards:

Eddie:  They don’t matter, do they, darling?… Awards, Pats?
Patsy:  Oh, Eddy. We’ve been here before.
Eddie:  It’s just… you know… I WANT one. I don’t just want one, darling, I NEED one. My career is on a toboggan run of failure at the moment… I just need one. It’s the only thing that seems to mean ANYthing these days… I need one now before the menopause drags me into her gaping jaws. Before my creative hormonal oil-well dribbles to a halt. Before my bottom becomes just a patch-work quilt of monkey glands, darling.
Saffie:  But, Mum, menopause can be a very exhilarating and positive experience for a woman.
Eddie:  Oooh, yes.  And the curse is a blessing and childbirth is painless.  No.  Unless that gaping hole on my mantle piece is filled pretty soon, darling, I might as well… I might as well lick this light-switch and do us all a favour, darling…


[to daughter Saffron, after a heated argument]
Eddie:  With any luck we’d get Roman Polanski interested in you.
Patsy (snarling):  She was never young enough for him.

Not to mention the booze:

Patsy:  What will you drink if you stop drinking?
Eddie:  I shall drink water.
Eddie:  It’s a mixer, Pats.  We have it with whisky… I mean, you‘ve given up drinking before? 
Patsy:  Worst eight hours of my life.

Finally, there’s Eddie’s mother, played by the amazing June Whitfield:

Eddy:  Mother, are you still on the computer?
Gran:  Yes, dear.  Sometimes you get into a porn loop and just can’t get out.

And then of course there’s Patsy:

“The last mosquito that bit me had to check into the Betty Ford Clinic.”

Fabulous.  Absolutely fabulous.

Best Comedy TV (Part 7)

The Young Ones (UK)

Not many people in the U.S. saw this anarchic comedy, I suspect, and theirs is the loss.  Headed by the incomparable Rik Mayall, the ensemble cast of misfits and social failures living in a boarding house somewhere in one of the seedier parts of London managed to savage not only the house itself, but just about every social institution as well.  (The house, despite being partially — and once, completely — destroyed each week, somehow managed to rejuvenate itself by the following episode, much as South Park‘s Kenny was killed each episode and came back to life ditto.)

Trying to explain the plot of The Young Ones in a few lines is akin to doing the same for James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake :  quite impossible, and something I’m sure the late Rik Mayall, one of the principal writers, would have enjoyed to see me try.  But the way the all-male cast played off each other was incredible — the loutish thug Vyvyan, the dreamy hippie Neil, the suave gangster Mike and the hapless homosexual Rick took turns in sabotaging each other’s plans, insulting and /or assaulting each other and doing much worse to the outside world.  Whatever they did, I would cry with astonished laughter pretty much all the way through each episode, before rewinding the VHS tape (yes, that again) to re-watch the show in amazement.

To give you the smallest hint of the insanity, let me just list a few of the bit-part actors who appeared in The Young Ones — and the actors of the time would fight each other to be invited onto the show, such was its cachet.  And the names of some of the guest characters will only hint at the barely-concealed insanity:

Alexei Sayle (the Balowski Family)
Jim Barclay (Policeman in Comic Strip)
Robbie Coltrane (Bouncer)
Ruth Burnett (Goldilocks)
Gareth Hale (Gravedigger)
Dawn French (Easter Bunny)
David Rappaport (Ftumch)
Jennifer Saunders (Helen Mucus)
Alan Freeman (God)
Jonathan Caplan (Knight of the Square Table)
Stephen Fry (Lord Snot)
Hugh Laurie (Lord Monty)
Tony Robinson (Dr. Not the Nine O’Clock News)
Emma Thompson (Miss Money-Sterling)
Damaris Hayman (Woman Pushing Corpse)
…and so on.

There were only twelve episodes of The Young Ones.

There was no regular female part on the show (which kind of added to the fun), so I’m going to feature the ever-silly Dawn French, who appeared in three episodes:

Best Comedy TV (Part 6)

The Drew Carey Show

I was always amused by Drew Carey’s stand-up act, so I looked forward to seeing what he’d do on his own TV show.

Good grief.

With all good comedy shows, the supporting cast is critical, and success was pretty much guaranteed by Carey’s addition of his Whose Line buddy Ryan Stiles (Lewis), the hilarious Diedrich Bader (was there ever a better comedy screen name than Oswald Lee Harvey?) and the wonderful Kathy Kinney (as Mimi):

…as well as the brilliant Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson as his alcoholic boss, Nigel Wick — there was no way this show wasn’t going to be funny.

What made it all the better — and Hollywood used to know this formula, but had forgotten it somehow — was that the show took place not in New York or Los Angeles, but in Flyover Country’s capital, Cleveland OH.  Cleveland?  And it worked, brilliantly.  Carey’s “ordinary-guy” schtick was perfectly cast against the insanity of his surrounding characters and the plotlines, and it too was one of the few TV shows I’d stay home to watch, or at least set up for recording on the VCR (younger Readers can ask their dads to explain this reference).

But nothing — repeat nothing — in TV history could have prepared us for when Drew decided to have an affair with an older woman — but not just any older woman:

Okay, I came late to the Shirley Jones Adoration Society, but if ever there’s a woman who has been gorgeous at whatever age, it’s her:

Was there a man of my generation who did not feel stirrings in his loins when Shirley sashayed down Carey’s stairs for breakfast, wearing nothing but a long nightie?

Comedy gold, as was the entire Drew Carey Show.

Best Comedy TV (Part 5)

Arrested Development

I first became aware of this show through Son&Heir and #2 Son’s howls of laughter as they watched it in the kids’ upstairs living room.  “What the hell were you two laughing at?” was my question when they eventually came downstairs for breakfast the next morning.  Well, they told me, and intrigued, I had to watch Arrested Development — whereupon a second outburst of helpless laughter filled the house.

Good grief.  This was a Married… With Children-style dysfunctional family, only with blacker humor and razor-sharp cruelty.

Michael: [after George Sr. has been handed a jail sentence] They’re going to keep Dad in jail until this whole thing gets sorted out.
[silence amongst the family]
Michael:  Also, I’ve been told that the company’s expense accounts have been frozen…
[everyone gasps]
Michael:  …Interesting. I would have expected that after “They’re keeping Dad in jail.”

#2 Son bought me the series on DVD for Christmas several years ago, and I re-watch it about every eighteen months.

This was the show, I think, where Jason Bateman finally (!) shed his child-movie-star persona and became a serious grownup comedy star — his lines delivered with a deadpan monotone which would have had Buster Keaton delivering a standing ovation.

Lucille:  You tricked me.
Michael:  I deceived you. “Tricked” makes it sound like we have a playful relationship.


Buster:  Mom is becoming a little controlling.
Michael:  What tipped you off? When she locked you out on the balcony again?
Buster:  That was half my fault. I thought I saw a Graham Cracker out there.
Michael:  [to his mother]  You baited the balcony?
Lucille Bluth:  Prove it.

And speaking of Lucille Bluth, don’t even get me started on the exquisite Jessica Walter (on whom I’ve had a crush ever since the 1960s).

And from the show:

Best Comedy TV (Part 4)

The Bob Newhart Show

Back when I were a lad in South Africa, there was no TV (it was only “allowed” by the government in 1975).  So I used to listen to LPs.  (Younger Readers can have their grandparents explain this term to them.)

And if I wasn’t listening to rock ‘n roll, I was listening to comedy records — and more often than not, to Bob Newhart, again and again and again, simply because his deadpan delivery always had me in stitches.

[Walter Raleigh phoning England to let King Bob know what was happening in the Virginia Colony, and listening to the King’s response to the explanation of tobacco]:

“So Walt, what do you do with the dried leaves?  Uh huh… uh huh… you roll them up in paper, and then… you stick it in your mouth?  Of course you do, Walt.  And then what?  No wait, don’t tell me… really?  You set it on fire!  And it makes you cough… of course it does.  Walt, I hate to break it to you, but come the fall here in England, we get quite a few dried leaves ourselves…”  and so on.

So when I emigrated to the U.S. (a.k.a. The Great Wetback Episode of ’86) and discovered The Bob Newhart Show in reruns (on Nickelodeon, I think), bang went that part of my day.

“CBS decided it wanted to concentrate more of the show on my job as a psychologist.  I think one of the reasons for the change is that some CBS officials heard the word “condominium” and thought the show was about sex.”

Only Newhart as “Bob Hartley” could make psychology funny — as opposed to simply pathetic — and often was the time I woke the neighbors with my roars of helpless laughter.  And like so many of the good comedy shows I’ve been talking about, the supporting cast members of Newhart were wonderful, my favorite being long-time patient, the hapless Mr. Carlin.

But nothing repeat nothing compared to Emily.  I’d had a serious boyhood crush on Suzanne Pleshette (OMG that voice), and seeing her as Mrs. Hartley each episode made things a lot worse.  She’s still one of my all-time favorites.

Newhart on Hartley:

“Well, if you’re a native Chicagoan, you know how dumb he [Dr. Robert Hartley] is. He gets on the Ravenswood El, he goes past his stop on Sheridan Road, he gets off in Evanston, where the El is on the ground, and then he walks back 55 blocks to his apartment. Now, would you want to have that man as a psychologist? A man who misses his stop every day?”

(By the way, an honorable mention goes to the follow-on Newhart series, thanks to the brothers Larry, Darryl and the other brother, Darryl;  as deadpan as Newhart, and absurd withal.  And the final reveal in the last episode of Newhart was one of the greatest ever filmed.)