Sunday, December 09, 2007

Little Britain: The Complete Series

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Little Britain is an incredible collection of characters covering all levels of British society from the Prime Minister's office to the small village of Llandewi Breffi. All these characters are created and played by Matt Lucas and David Walliams. The show consists of 20-30 short sketches per 30-minute show featuring recurring characters, most with a collection of catchphrases. The sketches are linked by the inventive narration of Tom Baker (the 4th Doctor from Doctor Who). His narration has little to nothing to do with the scenes and is usually nonsensical statements about Britain - "British justice is the best in the world. Anyone who disagrees is either gay, a woman or a mental." Little Britain falls squarely in the tradition of great sketch shows somewhere just south of Monty Python and right around the level of Kids In The Hall.

Why does this work? The answer is simple: volume, volume, volume. At around a minute per sketch and with over 20 established characters, each with a couple catchphrases, there's almost always going to be something for everyone. There's going to be a character or two that everyone knows in their real life. If you don't like a character or sketch, there's another one coming in one minute. For the characters that you know and love, like Carol Beer the travel agent, you know immediately how the sketch is going to play out, with her saying "Computer says no . . . (cough)" as the customer gets more and more frustrated. The anticipation is itself the pleasure.

The characters are the stars. Once each character's particulars have been established, there's less need for set-up for each joke. This is the brilliance of the recurring character in a sketch show that Saturday Night Live perfected years ago. Once we know the character, like Emily Howard (a rubbish transvestite) ("Well, being a lady, I do ladies' things"), we only have to put her in the scene like at the community pool and we can immediately play out the jokes before they happen. We immediately fast-forward to her having to decide which locker room to change into her bathing suit even before she's standing at the two doors at the end of the sketch.

My favorite characters are Andy and Lou. Lou takes care of his wheelchair-bound friend Andy oblivious to the fact that Andy does not need the wheelchair. The Andy/Lou sketches are built upon two possible combinations. One is Andy picking out something we know he won't like (e.g. a plain cone without any ice cream in it or a pet snake) and Lou asking "Are you sure you want this one?" before giving in. And then Andy saying "Don't like it" once he gets what he picked out. The other joke is Andy getting up out of his wheelchair with Lou isn't looking (e.g. to do toilet or even jump off a diving board) and sitting back down just before Lou catches him. It's a simple set-up but just those two possibilities lend themselves to view anticipation at the start of each sketch and delicious payoff.

In addition to a steady diet of established characters and a humorous narrator, Little Britain builds its universe with recurring locations like the pool, the courtroom, and the Chinese restaurant. Although the different characters don't interact, there's the feeling that they do exist in this world of Little Britain. Ending each episode of Season One with a set of characters (Ian and Ian) making a failed attempt at a Guinness World Record (my favorite being the "Most Beans In A Bathtub") puts a nice consistent bow on each episode.

The DVD release of the Little Britain: The Complete Collection is a comprehensive marker for the careers of Matt Lucas and David Walliams. With the duo working on an American version of the show to air on HBO in 2008, this is the perfect time to see where the journey started, catch our breath, and prepare for the rest of the strange trip that Little Britain provides. The DVD release does not cheat you on extras.

The Complete First Series includes funny commentary on all eight episodes and the pilot episode and four live sketches. The Complete Second Series includes commentary on all six episodes, an LB documentary, and some hilarious sketches from the 2005 Comic Relief with Elton John and George Michael (being asked by Lou to come to Andy's birthday party). The Complete Third Series includes commentary on all six episodes and a South Bank Show Little Britain Special. Also included is Little Britain Abroad which is essentially a Christmas special that takes the characters to other countries (including Marjorie Dawes taking her Fat Fighters to the U.S. and Andy and Lou being trapped on a deserted island). This disc includes commentary and a "Little Britain Down Under" documentary. The last disc is Little Britain Live which is recorded from a Blackpool Opera House performance and still includes Tom Baker narration, although it is prerecorded. The Live disc includes commentary and deleted scenes.

There's so much material to get through here that it can overwhelm the actual brilliance of the show. It's simple. Character, setting, catchphrase, end. The biggest complaint of the recurring Saturday Night Live characters was that a "Wayne’s World" or "Church Lady" sketch could go on too long and just peter out of jokes. That isn't allowed to happen here. Daffyd is going to say "I'm the only gay in the village" and within 30 seconds we're moving on to another character. The characters aren't overexposed. Like Marjorie says, "by eating half the calories, you can have twice as much." Less is more here. I hope the future is bright here in America for this show. If it isn't we'll always have this box set to remind us of the good days.

Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.: The Third Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

Take a boy from Mayberry and put him in the Marines and you have the incredibly simple plot that is Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Luckily this was not a simple show. The easy road could have been taken here and a show could have been built that relied solely on the talents that Jim Nabors displayed as the lovable Gomer on The Andy Griffith Show for a little more than one season. Nabors could have carried a show for a season or two, but then we would not have Season Three, new on DVD. Instead of taking the easy road, Nabors was surrounded with a solid ensemble including Frank Sutton as Sgt. Vince Carter, Ronnie Schell as Pvt. Gilbert “Duke” Slater, William Christopher as Pvt. Lester Hummel, Roy Stuart as Cpl. Chuck Boyle, Barbara Stuart as Bunny, and Elizabeth MacCrae as Lou Ann.

The fine group of character actors really hit their stride this season, as Nabors began to settle into his role, and Pyle settled into the Marines. The stories are well rounded, and display a continuity that was ahead of its time.

At the core of this show is the relationship between Pyle and Carter, and how said relationship was allowed to evolve over the course of the five-season run. By the third season Pyle had begun to become less of a constant thorn in the side of Carter, and a father-son relationship began to develop, and signs of friendship began to appear.

As in the previously mentioned Andy Griffith Show, this is simple comedy. Not outrageous or hysterically funny, just simple, subtle, and completely enjoyable. Gomer gets into fun adventures whether he is sightseeing in Hollywood and meeting Deborah Wally as a Hollywood Starlet, or dealing with a young Rob Reiner in two of the season’s episodes.

There are thirty digitally re-mastered episodes in this set, and though not all gems, the color is sharp, and they have a good look to them.

Recommendation: Of the rural comedies on CBS in the sixties, Gomer Pyle was consistently one of the funniest. Though there are no extras in this set, it is still worth owning. Whereas most shows of this era get tiring when attempting to watch more than one episode in a session, each episode of this classic leaves you wanting to see what is coming next. The writing is fresh and contains little re-hash. Should make a good Christmas gift.

Beverly Hills 90210: The Third Season

Written by Senora Bicho

In the third season of Beverly Hills 90210 the whole gang are now seniors at West Beverly Hills High School and there is a lot of fun and drama to experience throughout the year.

The series was created by Darren Star, produced by Aaron Spelling, and originally aired from 1990 to 2000. It started out as the story of Brandon (Jason Priestley) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty), twins who moved from Minnesota to Beverly Hills. They experienced quite a culture shock as they tried to adjust to the California high school scene. The show quickly gained popularity and soon became more of a soap opera that dealt with many serious teenage issues.

I was a junior in high school when the show started. I had just moved to another state and could relate to the Walsh twins. As the show continued this group of friends became my friends; I cared about them and tuned in every week to see what would happen next. Even though it is overly dramatic, there is a down-to-earth quality about the show and its characters.

The third season was one of my favorite seasons. Best friends Brenda and Kelly (Jennie Garth) have their friendship tested when Kelly and Dylan (Luke Perry) have an affair. The relationship between Donna (Tori Spelling) and David (Brian Austin Green) continues to flourish while Donna tries to hold on to her virginity. Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris) is still the straight-A student who dreams of a romance with Brandon. Steve (Ian Ziering) continues to be the troublemaker and even gets suspended for hacking into the school’s computer system. Brandon gets a gambling addiction, Kelly gets an eating disorder, and Dylan gets closer to his dad but it is too little too late. That night sound like enough drama, but there was plenty more where that came from.

Along with the 29 episodes there are some special features included. “7 Minutes in Heaven” is a montage of clips from the entire season. Funny enough the Melrose Place: The Third Season offers up “7 Minutes in Hell,” which illustrates perfectly the contrast between these two shows. “The World According to Nat” provides insights from Joe E. Tata who plays Nat, the owner of the Peach Pit, the main hangout of the group. “Everything You Need to Know About Beverly Hills 90210 Season 3” is another carbon copy of a feature on the Melrose Place DVD. Comedians Michael Colton and John Aboud, who star in several shows on VH1, put a playful spin on the storylines from the season. There is also a commentary track on the season finale by executive producer/writer Charles Rosin and writer Karen Rosin.

Beverly Hills 90210: The Third Season
offers a great cast of young stars, well-written storylines with relevant issues, and entertaining drama. If you were an avid fan of the show then, you will still enjoy it now. It is being released just in time for the holidays and is a great gift for those who you know that loved it as much as you did.


Written by Fumo Verde

Ever wonder what happens outside of the walls of your own room? What others do when you or anyone else for that matter isn’t around? Take the view of the surveillance camera, what does it see? Four billion hours of tape are recorded by over thirty million cameras in the United States capturing the average American around two-hundred times a day. From that vantage point, writer/director Adam Rifkin gives us a perspective only seen in the control rooms or on videotape.

The cameras follow the lives of some very different people: a young female student trying to have sex with her married teacher, a lawyer leading two lives, a department store manager who uses his stockroom for more than just stock, two guys living the lives of convenient store clerks, the office nerd and the people pulling the pranks on him, and two psychopaths’ who go on a streak of robbing and killing. What the cameras see in a week’s time in this small town will leave you wondering what really goes on when you aren’t around. It also makes you wonder who the frack is watching you too.

I enjoyed this movie though it disturbed me a little which is a good thing because any movie that moves you emotionally I consider to be a good film. For example, a woman gets held up at gunpoint as she was just getting money out of the ATM. The bandits lock her in a trunk of some stolen car and leave it at the far end of a mall parking lot. As night turns to day and day back to night, you know the woman is dead. Like life itself, happy endings are few and far between. I don’t think it was a scene like these that disturbed me; it’s just the thought of knowing that people like that are out there. As a surfer I know sharks sit 300 yards away from what I consider the line-up, but I don’t talk about them or even think about them when I’m in the water. After viewing this film, every time I see a surveillance camera I think about what I don’t see.

This just reminds me that we live in a harsh world, and Rifkin has done a superb job by merging the lives of his characters as they appear in different locales while the “watching eyes” keep tabs on what they are doing. The stories feel real and are played well by all of the actors. One of my favorite scenes happens in the police department when the young teen who had sex with her teacher gives a gory, sobbing detail of how her teacher rapped her. To her surprise and the surprise of her parents who believe her, the police inform them the school has an extensive surveillance system. Once her parents see what really happened, her crocodile tears turn to true tears of sorrow.

Oh, the camera sees all, twenty-four seven, so just remember, you are being watched. If you don’t think so, each time you go to some store or are at some intersection just move your eyes about and you will see the camera watching you, take your time and just LOOK.