The Montrachet of Buddy Movies: An Ode to Sideways

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I’m baffled I’ve taken this long to put into words just how much I adore this film. In the talented  hands of screenwriter Alexander Payne, the all-too weary buddy movie formula seems fresh, intelligent and mature, due in no small part to the brilliance of the chalk and cheese performers at the helm. Cinema has thrown up many unforgettable comedy duos; The 1950’s had Curtis and Lemmon, the 40’s had Hope and Crosby and 2004 had Giamatti and Haden Church for a brilliant albeit one-off get-together as old friends Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church). Think Dumb and Dumber with a higher IQ and a shirt from Marks and Spencers…stained in wine. If like me, your knowledge of wine would struggle to cover a small cork, then you’re in luck. Payne’s beautifully wry screenplay concerns itself with Pinot Grigio about as much as Black Swan does with pirouettes.

The premise of Sideways, for those who aren’t familiar, is a wine-tasting road trip to send a soon-to-be married Jack out in style. Much to the chagrin of Miles, Jack’s idea of a send-off into married life is to ensure that Miles and he ‘get their bones smooched’. While Jack spends the trip amassing notches on the bedpost, Miles is left alone to reflect on his divorce and a lack of direction in his life, becoming particularly depressed when he learns of his ex-wife’s hasty remarriage. Depression only engulfs Miles further when Jack’s callous behaviour with the ladies complicates a potential for the first  relationship since his divorce. Jack’s stag week comes at the high price of Miles’ mid-life crisis in which he confronts his failings as a writer and all-round human being, claiming to be ‘too insignificant to kill himself’.


The film’s winning element of many for me has to be Paul Giamatti’s melancholy performance as unpublished author, Miles. Thomas Haden Church provides more than ample support and many belly laughs as the loutish actor best friend, but for me, Giamatti carries the film. He is easily one of the finest character actors out there and is fast becoming my favourite with each new role I come across. There is something about Giamatti’s charisma that disallows my eyes from ever leaving the screen. He plays Miles with a quiet and intelligent restraint that has become something of a trademark and makes his face endlessly watchable to me. Paul Giamatti could probably star in a short film, staring into the camera, standing motionless and speechless on a white back-drop for nine minutes and I would probably walk away feeling I’d engaged my brain a little.

Alexander Payne’s sensitive unravelling of Miles’ character is a poignant thing to observe, and when the brief moments of joy come along throughout the trip, they are all the more rewarding to watch. My absolute favourite scene from the film is a case in point: (Spoilers lie ahead!) Jack returns to their motel stark naked in the early hours of the morning and begins to tell Miles of his painful shortcut through on Ostrich farm. Miles erupts in a fit of hearty laughter. It’s the first time we see him appear to be truly happy during the stag week and you can’t help but laugh with him.

If I hadn’t made it as clear as a 1961 Sauvignon Blanc at this point, I absolutely adore this film and would recommend it to anyone. The acting is superb and the script is both heart-warming and painfully funny. I’m confident that like wine, it will get better with age *Raises mug of tea in a toast to one of cinema’s finest comedies* A mid-life crisis has never been so beautifully re-watchable. *Clink!*

Hello, Frasier, I’m watching…

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#Hey baby I hear the blues a’-callin’ “Tossed salads and scrambled eggs”. And maybe I seem a bit confused, yeah maybe – but I got YOU pegged! But I don’t know what to do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs…they’re callin’ again#

As television theme tunes go, it’s not as obvious an explanation of the show as say, Friends or Dad’s Army. But these eccentric and obscure lyrics do well to encapsulate my never-ending fondness for Frasier. It is a comedy that gives your frontal lobe a workout as well as your chuckle muscles. Watching an episode of Frasier is like reading a good book or brushing up on a lost skill – you feel more intelligent because of it. You may be in the company of snobs but they are helplessly lovable snobs whom the audience learn from and occasionally, they themselves learn from the average joe.

Frasier is a rare piece of television that satisfies the mind and the funny bone in equal measure. The premise is beautifully simple with a cast to die for and some of the best writing I have ever come across. For those unfamiliar with this unmissable television series, Dr. Frasier Crane (played brilliantly by Kelsey Grammer) is a psychiatrist and Seattle’s biggest radio personality who can solve everyone’s problems except his own. Newly divorced, Frasier leaves Boston for a fresh start in Seattle and while his career seems to go from strength to strength, his home life is far from genial. Frasier shares every minute of his single midlife crisis with his father Martin (the wonderful John Mahoney) and this relationship provides the conflict every good sitcom needs. Martin or ‘Marty’ prefers beer to wine, TV to the theater and is more likely to know the score to a football game than that of Beethoven’s pastoral symphony.

He may not share these genes with his father but paired with his younger brother, Niles (played by the hilarious David Hyde Pierce) they are the dictionary definition of peas in a pod. Niles Crane is a little less boisterous, sometimes timid and far more neurotic than Frasier but the snooty genetics are ever-present. His snobbish mannerisms become something of a silent catchphrase throughout the series. Namely carrying a handkerchief wherever he goes to wipe the chair or surface he is about to sit on. God forbid anything tarnishes his $300-dollar suit.

But we forgive Niles of his high-maintenance ways because he is less assertive than Frasier, a nervous wreck at times but ultimately lovable and my favourite character in the series. The series may focus on the exploits of its titular character but one of the elements that kept myself and a devoted audience of millions hooked was a ‘Will they/won’t they? storyline that almost spanned a decade and one to rival Ross and Rachel any day. When Frasier hires a housekeeper and someone to care for his dad, Marty, Niles is shot with cupid’s arrow and we spend seven of eleven series wondering if his love will ever be requited. The woman in question is Manchester-born Daphne Moon (played by the beautiful and charming Jane Leeves) who knows nothing of Niles’ feelings for her until the night of her wedding.

A cliché it may be but it is the happy ending we all hoped for Niles’ character, especially when you consider the turmoil and suffocation suffered at the hands of his harsh and unforgiving ex-wife, Maris years before (and during) his infatuation with Daphne. While Frasier is never short on laughs, a vast chunk of the series is rather poignant, setting Frasier apart from shows such as Friends that, as much as I adore it, purposely avoids confronting the realistic complications and disappointments of adulthood. Frasier has a string of meaningless relationships whilst growing further apart from his son and cold ex-wife, Lilith (played sternly by Bebe Neuwirth); Martin and Frasier row constantly in almost every episode (no matter how jovial the plot) and Niles’ life is ruined in the divorce of his unjust ex-wife. In all 11 series, her character never makes an appearance on-screen. A clever move by the writers when her presence is clear enough in Niles’ unhappiness.

Amidst the often serious, adult tones bubbling beneath the surface, Frasier is a warm and beautifully written comedy of  a close-knit family and their friendships attempting to avoid social faux pas’ on a daily basis. Irony is also served by the lorry-load in Frasier – a typically British feature in comedy and one of many reasons I love and admire this intelligent, American sitcom so much. Prime examples being when Frasier and Niles collaborate on a Sibling relationship book together only to resort to fighting on the floor before the opening line is completed or the fact that Frasier’s first successful blind date in years is with none other than his ex-wife. The characters are brillant, the premise is perfect and the dialogue is incredibly witty. Too frequently so that, rather than quote out of context like I could with Friends, Fawlty Towers or Dad’s Army, I urge you to experience it at first hand for yourself in this rich comedic tapestry of laughter, tears and advice on the best Opera or bottle of wine money can buy, whether you want to hear it or not.

In twenty, thirty or even forty years time, I’ll still be listening to Frasier’s problems in the hope that for a joyous half an hour, I can escape from my own. #And maybe I seem a bit confused, yeah, maybe – but I got YOU pegged#

Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer (A geek’s review)

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Hi, I am 21 years-old and I enjoy playing Spyro. No, I’m not practising my opening sentence for the Nerd’s Anonymous meeting, I say it because I am proud to. I was first introduced to the wonders of Spyro at aged 10 and have recently bought the classic 1999 game (for the second time) to rediscover my childhood. Oddly, the second game in the Spyro series is largely considered the best and I’d have to agree. Gateway to Glimmer is self-contained, fresh and simply the Godfather of games if you will 😉

This classic game is spilt into three home worlds or ‘seasons’ labelled as Summer Forest, Autumn Plains and Winter Tundra . (Spring is missing but you get the picture). Each one is an impossibly pretty, multicoloured haven that I can’t seem to leave in a hurry. Each home world contains roughly 8 or 10 portals in which to kill enemies, collect countless gems and complete tasks that award you with the all-important orbs that will eventually take Spyro home to Dragon Shores.

But enough of that! There’s exploring to be done in your home world. Having mild gaming tourettes, I must collect every last item, paddle in every stream and treat each home world as a level in itself before bothering with the actual factual ones. So much so that I will happily lose lives by gliding off a platform or mountain into thin air for the hell of it. The glide lasts a good while before the graphics remind you this is a no-no and sure enough, Spyro plummets to his death.

But I am no reckless moron (at least not when it comes to Spyro).  I only pull this stunt when I have at least 5 lives or more and with plenty of sheep around, my life count rarely drops below 3. (I’ll get to the sheep in a minute. Teehee….sheep). Anyway, Spyro’s health/life count exists in the form of Sparx, his trusted friend and dragonfly who will turn three different colours to let you know how safe or potentially fucked you are. Sparx will glow gold at the height of Spyro’s health and descend into green and blue until he leaves Spyro’s side altogether. This is when Spyro is rather fucked and the next run in with an enemy will result in a return to your last save point.

Fortunately, each world contains little creatures Spyro can kill for Sparx to eat up and restore your health. Unfortunately for me, these creatures are often incredibly cute (with the exception of sheep); such as little worms, baby caterpillars and small birds (in underwater levels, these creatures are made to wear mini helmets to allow them to breathe. How nice!). Sometimes I like to push my luck and survive as long as I can without killing one. But “Get a grip, Rebecca!”, I say. This is a dragon-eat-dragon world and it is what must be done.

Once you are geared up, it is onto the various portals with you which have more themes to them than Windows 7. There are levels underwater, in a desert setting, on a Robot farm and in a futuristic metropolis but to name a few. The list is endless and so is the fun to be had. Each level contains genuinely catchy music and enemies of all shapes, colours, sizes and species (albeit mostly made up). And each task is as individual as the enemies you come across with an endearing humour to them. My highlights include:

– Hopping on a rollercoaster to collect gears and avoid explosives.

– Rescuing satyr’s that play the bagpipes to collectively break open a tower. All while sweet little pigs get up and dance to the tune.

– Reuniting Romeo (A fat git called Colonel Blub) with his Juliet (A tall bird. No, really.)

– Catching orb thieves that torment you with an actual “Na-na, ne-na-na!” (Ah, the mild hand cramp still remains…)

– And shooting down sheep saucers – yes, flying saucers that are controlled by sheep. (I LOVE this game!)

Kudos to the designers behind Spyro who clearly worked tirelessly to create a thoroughly enjoyable and addictive gaming experience filled to the brim with unique tasks and hidden worlds  that make this game so satisfying and challenging to play. Whether you’re 8 or 28.

Dyeing to be ginger!

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Had I loudly proclaimed the above title in my school playground circa 2002 I might not have been here to write this blog post. OK, Chantry Middle School never had bullies of that calibre, but being in the possession of red hair is historically a highly unfortunate look. In God’s name, why?! In a sea of black, blonde and brunette, red is an exotic shade synonymous with fire, passion and romance! (I realise these buzzwords would be of little help to a ginger male in his early teens but I doubt I have that kind of readership). I am suddenly declaring my love for red hair because I was born ginger and after 21 years of none-colour (see below image), I am ready to return to my roots (titter).

So why, I painfully don’t hear you ask, has it taken me until now to embark on my beloved hair colour? Mostly I put it down to laziness and a bad experience after using an over-the-counter blonde dye that turned my hair unintentionally lime green days before a school disco. A far weaker reason but a reason nonetheless is the persistent and un-called for praise placed upon my non-hair colour from my mum, gran and every single hairdresser, labelling it ‘different’ and ‘tawny’. Tawny belongs on owls and they’re far too wise to be giving a shit about their appearance. I sincerely hope I come back as one.

From carrot top to cynical bastard

I’m also a big believer in leaving things as they are (fair play to tattoo lovers who are happy to live with them, but the prospect of peering upon the image of a wrinkled Mighty Boosh logo in my late eighties would depress me greatly. Why ‘Mighty Boosh’? Because it’s ALL I could think of. Therein is the reason I wasn’t meant to have tattoos). Thankfully, we all go grey so my red hair will not dye with me (titter #2). There are many aspects of childhood I would like to restore, but the most feasible of these would appear to be bringing my red hair #back to life, back to re-ali-ty# (I should explain I live and breathe 80’s music …).

I thought this pathetic ramble worthy of a blog post because if I decide it looks halfway decent and suits my odd little face, I may make it permanent. If this is the case, it would sadly be the most exciting thing going on in my life, in between graduating and moving out. But being a girl, making a drastic change to your appearance qualifies as a ‘big thing’, dammit! Especially as I am more vanilla than a Walls ice cream factory.

Rebecca O’kane

Too much time on my hands Part 2

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After a 3 or 4 year gap, I’m finally getting back into my old hobby of making youtube videos. Ones of better quality to come but for now, a celebration of Disney romance…

 

Make ’em laugh: My all-time favourite comedians

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The following men have the best job you could ever dream of. I hate them. I don’t really, I love and admire them immensely. To make people laugh in my own life would be a lifetime dream fulfilled. To get paid for the privilege should be illegal. But as this will never, ever, ever happen, I’m content in letting these amazing people bring laughter into my shy, stage-phobic little life. On a random side-waffle, I have fancied a few of these men at some point over the course of my life. Why? Because I’m weird. Honestly and truly, why? Because a sense of humour is attractive and in my opinion, these men have the best on the planet. Send in the inexplicably cute clowns…


PAUL MERTON

First of all, he’s hugging a dolphin up there. What’s not to like? Second of all, Paul Merton may be the most quick-witted man on the planet. While he had a stand-up career, sketch show and Improv show (still touring today) long before a certain news quiz, he is still at his razor-sharp best sitting on the ‘Have I Got News For You’ panel. Paul is living proof that you needn’t be rude or shocking to be funny…just surreal and off your absolute trolley. If there were a comedic G-spot, he hits it every time without fail. He’s absolutely brilliant and inspired me to want a career in comedy, in whatever form. I WILL meet you one day to thank you (and most certainly make an arse of myself in the process).


BILL BAILEY

I purposefully didn’t make this list chronological, as I love each comedian for their own unique style. However, for argument’s sake, Billus Baileus (real name Mark Bailey) is Numero Uno. The man is a Philosopher, a story-teller, a skilled musician, a carefree Hippy who openly discusses his substance abuse for comic effect and an intelligent bloke with a surreal yet brilliantly accurate take on the world. Move over, Orson fucking Welles! Have you set Daytime soundbites to a post-modern drum beat? Nope, didn’t think so. Skidaddle!

SEAN LOCK

Sean Lock is what I like to call ‘Bill Bailey after-dark’. They’re best friends, they even have similar voices. But whereas Bailey is a ‘hopeful optimist’ in his own words, Sean Lock spins his philosophical yarn in the manner of a world-weary, cynical bastard. And don’t I just love him for it. Without warning, he can go from complaining about the smoking ban to ineffectively killing a Budgie with a teaspoon; From why football fans eat meals in the stadium to why you probably shouldn’t punch a midget. I have cried many laughter tears watching this dude.

LEE EVANS

The UK’s very own Jim Carrey, Lee Evans is not so much stand-up as run up and down the stage until sweat is pouring from you. (He needs to change suits in the middle of every show) Whether warning us about the nutters that roam Tesco’s in the early hours of the morning or impersonating his wife’s beauty habits, Lee’s facial expressions and mannerisms have me laughing until my cheeks do that weird sharp ache disallowing me to smile/breathe for several minutes.

VIC & BOB
I’m appalled and deeply insulted that some people don’t ‘get’ the humour of Vic (Jim Noir) Reeves and Bob Mortimer. (What’s to get?) Along with Paul Merton, these lovely northern lads are the closest thing to my sense of humour: mental, surreal and innocently bonkers. Their sketch show The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer is one of the most consistently funny comedy series I’ve ever witnessed and Shooting Stars is a close second. One particular sequence briefly turned me into an asthmatic. You can’t help but love them. For anyone who bad-mouths the North, I say to them only this: It is home to Vic and Bob (and Rowan Atkinson. And Wallace and Gromit). Here endeth the North/South debate!


Rebecca O’Kane


‘Dead Man’s Shoes’: Review

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“God will forgive them. He’ll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can’t live with that” – Richard (Paddy Considine)


The critically acclaimed 2004 film by Shane Meadows opens with this powerful monologue, spoken by Richard, an ex-soldier returning to his hometown after eight years to seek revenge on a particular gang. His promise doesn’t disappoint as he routinely goes about killing one gang member at a time, ensuring each act is more brutal and harrowing than the last to show the men he means business. The ‘gang’ in question are a group of thugs who tormented Richard’s mentally challenged brother, Anthony (played brilliantly by Toby Kebbell) years before.

Meadows was clearly working with a fairly low-budget but this is needed to evoke the realism of the situation and leaves the audience alone with  Considine’s ruthless determination and utter hatred for the petty thugs as we are often watching him plan the next kill, much to his brother Anthony’s child-like distress (“I don’t want to go into town, Richard” / “We’re gonna have to”). The film is split into the present and black and white flashbacks of the gang torturing an oblivious Anthony in dangerous and sexually-abusive scenarios. Most of them are horrifically painful to watch, purely because Anthony is unaware of his actions and all of the flashbacks have us wanting Richard to show the men as little mercy as possible.

Like any British film worth it’s salt, Dead Man’s Shoes has it’s funny moments to lighten the carnage. One involving the running joke of an elephant man when a gang member believes he saw the Elephant Man stood eerily outside their council flat (Considine wearing a gas mask). Another moment of light relief occurs in the early stages of Richard’s revenge when he sends the gang harmless messages in their flat and on their belongings, notably on a Gang member’s expensive jacket which is de-faced with the word ‘Knob’ and a colourful target-practice ring.

Personally, the highlight of the film (and the purpose for Richard’s merciless mission) is Anthony, and more specifically, Toby Kebbell’s sensitive and brilliant portrayal of a mentally challenged young man. Considering Dead Man’s Shoes was Kebbell’s debut role, his performance is mesmerizing and his forced death by hanging makes the film all the more poignant when considering the bloodshed undertaken by Considine’s Richard.

Cleverly, the film’s opening line comes back to haunt Richard in the film’s final scenes as he realises he can no longer live with himself or what he has done. In the final scene of Meadow’s small but faultless film,  Considine calls upon the last of his late brother’s tormenters, Mark, to stab him. Unlike the dead gang members, family man Mark was merely an accessory to Anthony’s death with the only crime being that he failed to ‘stop it’ from happening. Mark is overwhelmed with guilt but Considine can’t bring himself to kill him. Instead, Richard asks to be stabbed. Thinking of his wife and kids, Mark  reluctantly obeys Richard’s wish. In the last shot, we see Mark staggering out of the crime scene with blood on his hands.  He walks slowly across the churchyard utterly stunned by what he has done and the way in which the camera zooms out from the incident almost foretells the continuation of an endless cycle of bloodshed, when the guilt finally consumes Mark with the lives he has and will cost.

RATING: 9/10

 

Rebecca O’Kane

Peep Show – A Critical Analysis

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They say analyse something and you’ve ruined it. Normally I’d agree. But in this case I was asked to. And I wanted to. I’ll shut up now.

The cult comedy series Peep Show follows the lives of twenty-something flatmates Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy/’Jez’ (Robert Webb) in their awkward social graces and misfortune with women. The writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong express this in split dialogue consisting of external speech and the characters ‘internal’ thoughts, with the latter containing most of the shows satire. From the very first episode, these elements are introduced to us in the form of Jez’s bold internal dialogue (“This is fucking wicked! I’m almost definitely a musical genius”). As the more reckless character of the two, it was perhaps a conscious decision of the writer’s to open the series with Jeremy’s witless inner thoughts in contrast with the bookish ‘sensible’ nature of Mark’s dialogue. (“The longbow beats the crossbow my idiotic friend”). In addition to establishing personality, the outspoken manner of the words “wicked” and “almost definitely” reflect ‘teen speak’ and may be an attempt to create instant empathy with the viewer and therefore, prevent them from ‘channel-hopping’. This is commonplace throughout the series; often opening a scene with Mark and Jeremy’s ‘thoughts’ to set the surreal tone (“Shit. Gotta get on there. [Approaches bus stop] “Yes! I am the lord of the bus, said he”). The main ‘external’ dialogue doesn’t feature until four or five minutes into the episode and when used, it is merely a tool of ‘small talk’ to bridge the consistent internal narration (“Hi Mark. I tried calling but you know…”).

Taking the first episode as a typical example then, each script is structured so that the internal dialogue of the main characters heavily outweighs the external dialogue. For example, we don’t meet with Jeremy’s character again until the following day; in which time, Mark has invited a new character into their flat to laugh at Jez’s “wicked” track. Jeremy meanwhile continues in ‘inner dialogue’ form (“This Grammy goes out to all my homeboys in Compton”); until he hears laughter coming from his bedroom (“Mark, what are you-…?”). The scene to immediately follow this sees Mark continuing the ‘inner-voice’ strand (“Great. Humiliate your best friend to impress a girl who might possibly hate you”). Bain and Armstrong clearly want to present this as a norm throughout the opening episode, notably by beginning and ending the show with an internal ‘thought’ (“All right. That’s it. Do you want a taste of my steel?” [Mark charges into a group of thugs, brandishing a lead pipe]).

As well as using a split dialogue format to maintain a narrative stream, the show employs a P.O.V style of shooting; which is essential to the outcome of dialogue as it focuses on Mark and Jeremy’s social gaffs in a near claustrophobic manner. A particular scene involving Mark leaving his hand accidentally on a woman’s bus seat for the entire journey exemplifies this: (“I should probably say. No, too late. It’s already too late”). While this technique can be fairly limiting to the scale of the plot or location, Peep Show finds its hilarity in the painful accuracy of social situations and the   characters brutal assessment of it. Interestingly, the most intrusive scenes i.e. the use of extreme close-ups seem to only enhance the dialogue; proving that the internal monologues of Mark and Jeremy govern almost the entire script and, in places, are vastly more significant than the plot itself.

Peep Show seems so reliant on internal speech in fact that, without it, each program would comprise of fillers and hesitations. Due to this, it is easy at times to overlook the storyline as it isn’t always predictable where the situation is taking us. In this sense, the program relies almost solely on the internal dialogue to inform its audience of a direction in plot. Quite simply, the contribution of writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong is creating a half-hour script out of the narrative we daren’t speak aloud.

Closed for Procrastination Maintenance

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Yes, other than maintaining my procrastination (in some repsects), my blog will be dead for a few months while I write my feature film. Snippets of which might appear here in the near future. If I haven’t eaten my own face with the stress.

Tara, loves!

Origins of Mock the Week and the ‘panel’ show

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L to R: Russell Howard, Dara O’Briain, Hugh Dennis and Andy Parsons.

The style and influence behind contemporary quiz show Mock the Week (2005-present) can be traced back as far as early current affairs programmes of the 1960’s; mixing all the irreverence of topical sketches featured in That Was The Week That Was (1962-63) with frequent stand-up and political satire. Consequently, it cannot be likened to any other comedy programme on television. The off-beat quiz has been dubbed the antidote to ‘smug and anaemic primetime comedy’, behaving instead like a series of stand-up routines whilst obliterating any laws of decency and political-correctness in its path. Oddly, this display of daring and anarchic humour is largely encouraged by the show’s host and successful Irish comic in his own right, Dara O’Briain. The opening of each episode sees O’Briain review the week’s news in a unique stand-up style introduction and while obviously rehearsed, this provides the audience with a fitting ice-breaker before any real controversy gets underway.

A show which undoubtedly inspired this segment, as well as having a direct influence upon Mock the Week’s format, is the long-running and some would argue the original ‘current affairs quiz show’, Have I Got News for You (1990-present). Each week, no-nonsense host Angus Deayton would read two or three headlines from the week’s news with an accompanying piece of ironic footage. Even the introduction of guests provided a moment of comedy prior to the first round, as Deayton welcomed them with an amusing and sometimes scornful anecdote: (“On Paul Merton’s team, a woman who gave up a career in film to become a Labour MP, bidding the world of fantasy and make-believe a fond…hello, Glenda Jackson”).

Ostensibly, such techniques have been abandoned by the modern quiz show which can often render relationships between the host and audience stale and predictable. Mock the Week exemplifies this in name-checking all six panelists before launching eagerly into a ‘caption contest’-style opportunity for risqué laughs. It seems the charm of HIGNFY’s tradition then is the warmth or unplanned chaos that can ensue in forging connections between regular contestants and fresh faces. This close-knit and rather intimate format has often led to many conflicts in the shows twenty-year history, notably sparking the long-term rivalry between ex-editor of The Mirror Piers Morgan and team captain and editor of Private Eye Ian Hislop after Morgan hired reporters to watch Hislop’s house prior to the recording. An equally controversial incident following a sex-scandal in 2002 led to the very public ridicule and eventual sacking of host Angus Deayton in the 23rd series, cementing the show’s reputation as one of the sharpest and most cynical panel games in the genre’s long history.

Where guest stars are concerned, Mock the Week is comparatively short on tension. This is partly because Dara O’Briain must keep four regular team captains in check in addition to two guest stars; including established comedians Hugh Dennis and Andy Parsons, and newcomers Russell Howard and Frankie Boyle (the show’s famously morbid and controversial comic). As well as jovial host to the proceedings, O’Briain is himself a successful comedian, and as such will often contribute to the programme’s one-liners as much as the panel which creates an atmosphere of equality. Where its predecessors would prefer to show restraint, Mock’s panelists almost feel obliged to openly ridicule the host and vice versa; demonstrating that the professional relationship between host and contestant has tamed somewhat in the last fifteen years.

A programme with a familiar concept to Mock the Week and one to have provided a similar breeding ground for up and coming talent was the hugely popular game show Whose Line Is It Anyway? (1988-98). Written by the two would-be producers of Mock the Week (Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson), Whose Line began life on Radio 4 in the late 1980’s before moving to television with four alternating performers and the show’s former radio presenter, Clive Anderson. As its title suggests, performers were expected much like Mock to create various characters, scenes and songs on the spot. These ideas were often chosen by the studio audience themselves in rounds such as ‘scenes from a hat’ which involved acting out themes such as ‘Bad ice cream flavours’ or ‘Fortune cookies that tell the truth’ etc. Mock the Week’s blatant equivalent to this arrived in the form of ‘scenes we’d like to see’, the show’s popular final round and usually the most anticipated from the point of view of the comedians. The game instructs all six team members to stand in the ‘performance area’ whilst O’Briain calls out ideas for various scenarios including ‘Commercials that never made it to air’ and the controversy-seeking ‘Things you wouldn’t hear in the Queen’s Speech’.  At this point in the programme, the humour can become quite dark and subversive; giving comedians the freedom to pursue taboo areas such as race and gender that may have otherwise deemed inappropriate in the earlier, conversational rounds of the show. As one might expect, any suggestions made during this period carry a certain degree of controversy and in October 2008, a response made to the latter ‘scenario’ caused public outrage when comedian Frankie Boyle made a sexually offensive remark about the Queen. Worse still, this edition was part a repeat shown amid the controversy surrounding radio presenters Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross who were involved in a similar scandal. In light of Boyle’s remarks made almost two years before in a 2006 recording, the BBC was inundated with near to thirty thousand complaints, even prompting a debate on Newsnight which questioned issues of taste in comedy. In hindsight however, this has only done more for the show’s popularity, as viewers are constantly searching for satire that isn’t afraid to push the envelope in a politically correct climate.

Unlike the strict ‘game show’ element of Whose Line, Mock the Week tends to focus heavily on stand-up routines and as a result, rounds can often run on longer than expected. This is casually over-looked by O’Briain however, who is often just as engrossed as the viewer. In this sense participants can afford to stray into surreal and sometimes, unthinkable tangents in the subjects assigned to them. In a section aptly titled ‘Wheel O News’, panellists are asked to lampoon a selected topic for five to ten minutes; these can range from sport to technology and the comedian to receive the biggest laugh is usually deemed the winner.  Because panel games rarely combine satire with actual stand-up, stars based in sitcoms and other such mediums of comedy are often featured on the programme; seemingly to test the water in latter rounds such as ‘between the Lines’ and ‘scenes we’d like to see’. One of the first programmes in Britain to provide young comedians with a springboard into stand-up was Saturday Live (1985-1987), an innovative comedy programme influenced by the popular American show Saturday Night Live or ‘SNL’ (1975-present). In its brief history, the programme helped to launch successful comedy partnerships and sitcoms based on small acts performed on the show.

Occasionally, material ‘tested’ in a recording of Mock the Week can make its way into the stand-up routines of individual comics; and sure enough, two of the younger comedians Russell Howard and Frankie Boyle have sold out nationwide tours since having an association with the show. Evidently, panel games have always provided a breeding ground for younger, less-established comedians but recently the ‘quiz show’ seems to have adopted a whole new agenda; dividing into various sub-genres of popular culture in an aim to fill every available slot of primetime television.

Ian Hislop (with a bit more hair), Angus Deayton and Paul Merton.

Classic ‘quiz shows’ in the vein of Have I Got News for You make for comfortable viewing; coaxing audiences through a predictable yet welcoming structure. Modern quiz shows however appear to be doing the opposite, following along the lines of indefinable programmes in the genre such as the otherworldly Shooting Stars (1993-2002) a game disguised as a chat-show where points were unnecessary and so too were any ‘celebrities’ made to feel who appeared on it. A recent game show with a similarly single-minded approach is QI or ‘Quite interesting’ (2003-present), a show determined to provide interesting facts in addition to light-entertainment, courtesy of its affable host Stephen Fry. Unlike Mock the Week, current affairs are by and large irrelevant as contestants are given a lesson in ‘general ignorance’; answering questions that fall under the category of that particular series (e.g. Series D for Divination). It has been observed by fans as the ‘thinking man’s quiz show’, though this isn’t to say it is taken any more seriously. While Mock the Week adopts a general disregard for the scoring system, Stephen Fry is so ludicrously strict that acquiring any ‘IQ’ points at all becomes a game in itself. QI famously awards points to interesting answers rather than correct ones and Fry channels an affectionate headmasterly rapport with the show’s only regular panelist Alan “dimwit” Davies.

In the current age of ubiquitous quiz shows, Mock the Week is one of the few remaining programmes to focus solely on political satire; exposing the fabrication and falsity of the system much to the delight of the general public. Of late, panel games have been made in an effort to revive the careers of past TV personalities, with the emergence of Would I Lie To You? in 2007, a modern-day Call My Bluff hosted by Angus Deayton. This has spawned further games within the ‘pub quiz’ genre of programming such as the self-explanatory Big Fat Quiz of the Year (2004) and 8 out of 10 Cats (2005-present), a show about opinion polls and statistics in which the panel are introduced by an announcer; returning quizzes to their game show roots of the 60’s and 70’s.

It seems the winning format of Mock the Week lies in its general disrespect for politicians and political life, a formula initiated by comics of the satire boom such as Peter Cook and Alan Bennett in Beyond the Fringe (1964). While other shows fall at the wayside, Mock manages to remain fresh by attacking the universally objectionable world of politics. Like HIGNFY, Mock the Week abides by the notion that politics is ‘only a game’ and therefore our ridicule of it should be treated in much the same way. Have I Got News for You undeniably set the benchmark for this type of humour and is still running today (currently in its 40th series); so not only is Mock the Week influenced by it, but is having to compete with it in the panel game genre. For now though, Mock the Week remains its provocative counterpart.

Rebecca O’Kane