Some TV recommendations and that Star Wars teaser (R-078)

It’s not all Love Death + Robots on my telly box. For instance, Siggy and I have been regularly popping second-hand DVDs in my temperamental BluRay player and chuckling away to the always irreverent, sometimes too close to the knuckle to actually be funny but funny because of it, Family Guy.

The seasons listed on IMDB don’t tally with how they are offered up in the UK as boxed sets and so it makes it hard to keep track of our progress but we’re definitely seeing a convergence with what we regard as recent current events and also the much talked about toning down of some of the gay jokes. There’s enough other targets for their gags without being accused of being homophobic and for me it’s actually the jokes about Jews that sometimes seem to go too far. However, I’d be lying if I said that I don’t find it mostly hilarious.

Equally risque is Frankie Boyle’s New World Order (BBC iPlayer) in which the notoriously opinionated and all together Marmite stand-up comedian attempts to make sense of our bizarre times. From behind what looks suspiciously like Charlie Brooker’s desk from Screen Wipe, Boyle eviscerates the current news and discusses big issues with a panel of other comedians or guests – in much the same way as the lamentable Ultimate Worrier hosted by the otherwise funny Jon Richardson. It’s an engaging mixture of great comedy and well-informed opinion.

Also on iPlayer is This Time with Alan Partridge. I thought it was by far the best helping of Steve Coogan’s character in years, but the subtlety of some of the comedy seems to have been lost on some reviewers, perhaps because it is balanced with some rather unsubtle gags along the way. It’s a difficult balancing act but Coogan and Susannah Fielding do a great job at expressing the difficult chemistry that must exist sometimes between on-screen presenting duos – especially when there’s such an age gap and difference of attitudes. Partridge tries desperately to be hip to modern times but usually comes across as a man out of his depth and trying too hard to be PC. Hilarious.

There is a similar presenting duo in Great News (Netflix) which has the excellent Tina Fey’s name attached to it, although she is not a main character and doesn’t appear in many episodes. The duo in question, played by the hilarious John Michael Higgins and Nicole Richie, are presenters for cable news with a similar dynamic to the characters in This Time with Alan Partridge.

The main character of Great News is played by Briga Heelan who has to find her way in the news company where her mother (Andrea Martin) gets a job as an intern and she has a brewing romantic connection with the boss played by foppish haired blonde limey Adam Campbell. Heelan is one of the best comedy actors I have seen in a long time and seems to be in a different league in comparison to say Ellie Kemper in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Also on Netflix is GLOW. GLOW which stands for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is a slightly comedic drama based in 1980s LA. It shows us the personal and professional lives of a group of women who wrestle on a TV show. The whole cast are great and the characters well-written. As well as the trials and tribulations involved in getting a show onto television GLOW also lays bare some of the out-dated attitudes prevalent in the 1980s and shows how women in what is to all intents and purposes a rather exploitative enterprise can become empowered. It’s interesting that the most ‘broken’ characters in the show are actually the men.

Talking of broken men, in After Life (Netflix) Ricky Gervais plays Tony, a journalist who works for a local newspaper, whose wife dies of cancer. He is left heart-broken and on the edge of suicide if it wasn’t for the dog he has to feed and take for walks. As the series progresses through a series of conversations with his work colleagues, his senile father who lives in a nursing home, a widow he meets in the graveyard, a local sex worker and a heroine addict, Tony finds a kind of peace in his life.

As usual with Gervias, who is probably just as disliked by some people as Frankie Boyle, the story is a mixture of comedy and pathos, and there’s a fair few of his friends from previous shows such a Derek and Extras making appearances. Comprised of six half-hour episodes After Life is an easy binge watch, but you might regret not savouring it slowly in the long run.

On the subject of divisive TV personalities Jeremy Clarkson and chums have done another season of The Grand Tour and the Mongolia Special was a particular televisual treat (especially in 4K). Ostensibly a car show there is a good mix of comedy and travel-show in The Grand Tour and I have found that as time goes on I’m getting more and more into cars while I pretend I just watch it for the shit and giggles. I rarely agree with Clarkson’s views on modern life, but I guess that part of the charm.

Also on Amazon, American Gods is back for a second season. It’s similar in some ways to stablemate Preacher, but comes from better stock in the form of Neil Gaiman’s writing. Ex-convict Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) meets Wednesday (Ian McShane) who mentors him in the way of a secret world of gods living just under the surface of modern day America. I think that Gaiman may have been influenced by Terry Pratchett’s book Small Gods in which minor gods fear extinction if they can’t attract enough followers, but in American Gods the world isn’t disc-shaped and the gods in question are big names like Odin, Anubis and Anansi (a spider god and subject of another book by Gaiman).

These gods are being crowded out of people’s lives by the likes of media, Mr World and technology in the form of Technical Boy. The visuals are a heady blend of fantasy, gritty reality and eye-hurting computer graphics, and great in 4K. The cast is really strong and its nice to see Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) as Moon’s wife, even though in latter episodes she looks more like Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) as Mad Sweeney the lofty leprechaun. Browning and Schreiber have some great scenes together and in some ways are more entertaining than Whittle’s character.

Also based on the writing of another one of my favourite authors (Douglas Adams) Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is over on Netflix. As far as I can recall it is very far removed from the original books and the short-lived 2012 BBC show Dirk Gently starring Stephen Mangan. Lead actor Samuel Barnett might have his roots in British comedy but his portrayal of Gently is far removed from Mangan’s interpretation and his whack-job performance takes some getting used to. Luckily his main foil comes in the form of the splendid Elijah Wood and supporting actors Jade Eshete and Hannah Marks complete the main quartet. There are a bunch of other zany characters and a storyline which is as bonkers as the original books albeit based in modern day America rather than the UK.

If we’re talking about book-to-TV adaptations then I feel as though I should rave on about the final season of Game of Thrones that has just started on Sky, but I’ll let others get on with that. Suffice to say that even after the first episode I feel like it is shaping up to be an absolute corker of a final season much like the new Star Wars teaser trailer that dropped during Star Wars Celebration in Chicago a few days ago promises a film to end the 9-film saga in glorious style.

Which leads me nicely to the Emmy-nominated The Star Wars Show – which you can watch on YouTube. Consisting of bite-sized episodes, it serves to provide the army of die-hard fans of the franchise with all the nerd-news they could possibly want straight from the source. Hosts Andi Gutierrez and Anthony Carboni are just as geeky as we are about the films, characters and props, and do a great job in making us feel like we’re getting scoop after scoop of good stuff. I spent a lot of last weekend watching the show’s livestreams from the Celebration and got goosebumps like everyone else when Ian McDiarmid (who plays Emperor Palpatine in the films) appeared after the first play of the teaser telling the organisers to play the trailer again in his character’s distinctive spine-chilling voice.

Given the anticipation for the film, it’s hardly surprising that the trailer has already clocked up over 4-million views in just 4 days. It is a very well-constructed teaser. The music is tremendous, the last line of voice-over from Mark Hamill (who plays Luke Skywalker who supposedly died in the last film) ‘No-one’s ever really gone…‘ coupled with the wreckage of what looks like the Death Star from return of the Jedi followed by the distinctive laugh of Palpatine (who supposedly died in that film) is just thrilling. Never mind the return of Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, Carrie Fisher as Leia (who sadly really did die),  and the cryptic film title which hints that maybe Rey is a Skywalker or that maybe Luke Skywalker isn’t dead after all. Or, Or, or, and, and, and…. I feel so eh, teased…

If there were awards for teasers, then this would get my vote. If you haven’t seen it already, then here it is. I just hope all of what we see here makes it into the final edit of the movie:

Talk about fuelling the anticipation. I can’t wait until Christmas!

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