Welcome to another look back at the highs and lows of TV in the last seven days.
I think we can all agree that 2013 has been a bit of a rubbish year for British comedy, but it does seem that things are finally turning around. Firstly we had the excellent The Wrong Mans while last week saw the return of Fresh Meat and now Sky One are getting in on the act. Yonderland is a new family sitcom created, written and starring the sextet behind the wildly popular children’s show Horrible Histories. The loose plot focuses on bored housewife Debbie Maddox (Martha Howe-Douglas) who fills her days with mundane activities once her twin girls start school. However, it appears as if Debbie is ‘The Chosen One’ who will save the fantastical Yonderland from evil overlord Negatus (Simon Farnaby). Though it takes a while for her to discover her destiny, Debbie soon realises that she must help save the rather odd world that she has been sucked into. The only problem is that one of the eleven elders, lost the scroll that informs Debbie of what she should do in order to save the world so each episode sees her complete a seemingly simple task which will take her closer to achieving her goal. So for example, the first episode sees her show two knights how to shake hands instead of killing each other and the second sees her reunite a magician with his companion. Though life lessons are learnt by the supporting characters, the show never feels too preachy and that’s why I feel it will appeal to children and adults alike. Because, after all, who doesn’t like a talking stick?
Earlier in the month, I wrote a preview of my experience of attending the Yonderland screening and at the time felt that I didn’t want to ruin any of the jokes for people who going to watch the show. However, now the show has aired, I can share some of my favourite gags which included Jim Howick’s excellent performance as The Crone and Simon Farnaby’s Elder who wants to remove his cumbersome robes. The thing about Yonderland is that the central cast will always try and get an extra laugh from a scene if they can. One example of this is Ben Willbond’s Elder whose mispronunciation of Debbie’s name provided one of the easiest and best recurring jokes. Though the group were quick to play down any comparisons to Monty Python, it’s clear that Yonderland does bare more than a striking resemblance to the Python movies most notably Life of Brian. Just like with Python, the humour is lovingly surreal but the Yonderland gang never let the story slip away and instead leave you with the best of both worlds. One thing that the group were great at doing during their Horrible Histories days was incorporating contemporary references into historical stories. Those pop culture references continue into Yonderland with the second episode offering up references as diverse as Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May and Dynamo: Magician Impossible. Ultimately, Yonderland offers up something unique from the rest of the crop of sitcoms we’ve seen this year. It appeals to the whole family, has a great episodic story and most crucial of all – it’s very very funny. I’m just hoping that the laughs continue throughout the rest of the series but, having met the group in person, I have faith that it will.
Although not as overtly funny as Yonderland, the second series of Hebburn also provided a lot of laughs courtesy of the ensemble cast. The first series saw Jack (Chris Ramsay) introduce new wife Sarah (Kimberley Nixon) to his home town of Hebburn as the two were forced to move their following a health scare in the family. The start of this second series sees a now pregnant Sarah desperate to move out of Jack’s family home, but as ever her husband wasn’t exactly being to proactive. Meanwhile Joe (Jim Moir) is still in recovery following his stroke which has meant Pauline (Gina McKee) has had to go back to work and is now an estate agent. The running joke throughout the episode is that Pauline hasn’t been able to sell a house and this leads to a great piece between her and mother-in-law Dot (Pat Dunn). It’s Dot for me who steals the show this episode as she attends the funeral of a friend but is more interested in what she’ll get during the will-reading. Elsewhere, Vicki (Lisa McGrillis) is considering her career options as she feels she doesn’t want to just be applying spray tan for her boyfriend (Neil Grainger) for the rest of her life. Though it’s occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, the main appeal that Hebburn has is its characters most of whom are likeable and realistic. Jason Cook, who also stars as Ramsey, has written a great script which obviously draws on experiences of his own family life and I feel that the series is incredibly well-observed. In addition, this second series sees the cast become much more comfortable with their characters which just adds to the charm of the piece. Ramsay and Nixon share great chemistry as the lead couple while McKee is brilliant as the warm yet slightly patronising matriarch. Stealing the show though is Dunn, who plays the greedy mother-in-law from hell roll with great aplomb and therefore generates the majority of the show’s big laughs. In fact it comes to something when Vic Reeves is the straight man of the series but here, using his real name, Jim Moir is just happy to be a supporting player as his Joe attempts to recuperate. Overall, Hebburn is a charming and well-observed sitcom that feels very old-fashioned but at the same time has plenty of modern sensibilities.
Unfortunately, not all of the comedies this week were top notch as we saw with the return of supposedly anarchic sketch show The Revolution Will Be Televised. Shockingly winning a BAFTA for Best Comedy programme, the second series plays out much like the first as posh boys Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubenstein try to act cleverer than those around them. The problem with The Revolution Will be Televised is that the idea of comedy characters interacting with politicians and newsworthy folk has been done better elsewhere. For example the opening sketch, in which a mock newsreader joins the EDL on one of their marches, put me in mind of something that you’d see done better on The Daily Show. The joke was basically that the EDL members basically believed every outrageous statement that was given to them, but I have feeling that the crew probably filmed for an entire day to get about four minutes’ worth of footage. Meanwhile, the skit in which a celebrity interviewer gives big questions to famous faces was a direct rip-off of Dennis Pennis, though I’m guessing the central duo are hoping that their audience aren’t old enough to remember him. Of course the biggest moment in this first episode was when the duo’s mock politicians came face to face with David Cameron, who instantly brushed them off as the pair of juvenile jokers that they were. The fact that they probably thought that they’d achieved some sort of satirical masterstroke after interacting with the prime minister tells you all need to know about what’s wrong with the show. In my opinion the duo comes across as awfully pleased with themselves most of the time and you get the impression they think they’re funnier than they actually are. Maybe it’s just my age, but I feel that satirical comedy should be a lot cleverer than it is here and ultimately I didn’t find any of Heydon and Jolyon’s big stunts particularly funny.
Finally, Friday saw the country go out to work in its pyjamas. No the population didn’t have a mass mental breakdown, but instead it was this year’s big fundraising idea for Children in Need. As always all eyes were on BBC1 on Friday night as the charity aired their annual telethon which offered up the usual blend of celebrities doing silly things for money and some really heartbreaking appeal films. Though the show gets involved every year, this time around Eastenders was a bigger part of the action as Albert Square was taken over by a whole host of face. As always the Eastenders dance routine was a must-see and their massive number to Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ was visually spectacular and even Tracey the barmaid got involved this year. My one criticism would be that the way the dance was filmed meant that you couldn’t always pick out the Eastenders cast members involved which is a shame for the actors who’ve worked so hard on their routines. Elsewhere, it was preview-central as we got a new clip for next week’s Doctor Who special and a trailer for the Call the Midwife Christmas episode. Other memorable moments included the first ever performance by McBusted, Torvill and Dean on Strictly Come Dancing and a very surreal rendition of YouTube sensation ‘The Fox’ featuring Buck’s Fizz and The Cheeky Girls. But for me, the highlight of the night had to be Harry Hill’s contribution to the night – a new version of the ‘Take on Me’ video where he starred alongside Sinitta, Nick Hewer, The Hairy Bikers and Heather from Eastenders. Despite not being as memorable as other charity galas, Children in Need’s annual night still has that infectious appeal and once you donate you feel a great sense of community. However, I would say that the day Terry Wogan stops doing it is the day that Children in Need’s telethon has to stop as to me Sir Tel is always the life and soul of the party.
Let me know what you thought of this week’s TV by dropping me a line on Twitter @mattstvbites