Posts Tagged ‘Paul Merton’

Merton In India / Fry in America

October 13, 2008

How To Make a Television Programme
#16485 – Drop a National Treasure in a foreign country

Michael Palin’s spine is not what it once was. Apparently he can barely take a 168 to Hampstead Heath without buckling.

Ustinov’s dead.

So who could the BBC and Five send off on a jet plane for their travelogue programming? Which safe pair of hands could deliver quality footage, fit for a series at only the cost of their fee, their expenses and a handful of first class plane tickets?

Time to get out the Handbook of National Treasures…

David Jason’s too grumpy, Robbie Coltrane won’t fit on the plane and Parkinson’s not very interesting. In the end, stuck for options, Five chose Paul Merton whilst the BBC, probably thinking itself slightly superior, plumped for Stephen Fry.

Paul Merton in China was a bit of a drab affair. It was Merton’s first outing in the travel format and he didn’t look altogether comfortable. His constant asides to camera occasionally came across as slightly patronising towards the Chinese and the imported comedy moments, set-pieces created purely for camera, didn’t do it any favours. It still had a lot of good moments and thankfully the second series is a further improvement.

Paul Merton In India is a different kettle of fish. Merton’s in his element here, as the atmosphere is markedly more chaotic. This gives him the scope to make his witticisms to camera without so much of a reaction. The general hubbub around him means he is ignored, to some extent. He’s part of a constant movement rather than the focus and the show benefits from this change.

In episode one, Merton visited a gentleman called Bubbles who saved a city from exploding using guile and breathtaking bravery. Rather than focus on why missiles were being driven nearby and how one of them caught fire, we followed the story from Bubbles’ point of view and discovered that he put it all down to his worship of a Goddess. A Goddess who protects rats. He led Merton and his charming guide to a nearby temple where they hung out with the rodents and it was all very sweet, if not a little odd.

Things took an even stranger turn when PM hung out at a religious festival in honour of Shiva which featured naked disciples twisting their penises in all directions. Five didn’t shirk from showing this footage. I’m glad I wasn’t eating my dinner when the sight of a block of cement suspended from a bell end flashed on screen, filmed from behind, from the vantage point of the disciple’s arse-crack. Merton was speechless. The viewer was speechless. When offered a chillum packed with weed, PM toked on it like a man possessed, presumably to soften the blow of the visual assault. By the end of this sequence, he was visibly stoned out of his face – like an aged, slightly flabby Bruce Parry, intoxicated in the near-wilderness. It was great stuff.

On top of all this, having sat through a bizarre, faux-accident in a weird, nightmare flight simulator, Merton accidentally jumped out of the emergency door the wrong way, bounced on his head and fell arse over tit. It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year. The programme was littered with these amusing little accidents and it triumphed as a result.

Over on BBC1 in a Sunday night slot made available since Martin Clunes stopped fannying about with his dogs on ITV, Stephen Fry pretended to drive around America in a black cab. In Stephen Fry in America, he started his journey in Maine, speaking to fishermen engaged in catching lobsters. We didn’t learn much from this exhange, except that lobster-catchers in Maine are apparently the best in the world. But then, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

  • Later, Fry went hunting deer with some men who covered themselves in deer-poo. No deer made itself known, in the event, so Fry moved on.
  • He went to the Ben & Jerry’s factory and made some ice cream. Visitors to the factory enjoyed his mixture.
  • He went to Washington and talked to a satirist you’ll not have heard of.
  • He went to a Casino to act as croupier. He spoke to a Vietnamese lady who couldn’t understand his accent.
  • He went to speak with Sting, the self-styled Englishman in New York. Sting likes it in New York (when he’s not loitering in European brothels). This section was absolutely infuriating.
  • He spoke to an old man who pretends to be Abraham Lincoln for a living about the Gettysburg address.

And that was about it.

With Fry’s effort it didn’t seem items were linked by anything other than the location of the States – and several of these were completely glossed over with a fleeting apology. This was an episodic array of set pieces, all featuring Fry as he met with everyday, unremarkable Americans. There was something missing here. As with Dave Gorman’s recent America Unchained series, the central premise was flawed so momentum wasn’t allowed to build. Was Fry studying the history of America? The social relations between Americans? Was it an effort in cultural understanding? Or was it just a shallow toe in every one of those puddles, with too little exploration for it to be as engaging as it could have been?

If it was none of these things, then it should have dropped its game and opted to go for the same silly approach that Merton’s crew took. As it stands, Fry’s effort was a touch too earnest and less entertaining as a result.

His series may well improve as time goes on and Merton’s may well degenerate, but from episode one of either vehicle, Merton leads with a goal to nil.

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The Friday Question: Room 101

July 25, 2008

Room 101 has always been a mixed bag. Some contestants really understand the ludicrous premise and put abstract, absurd selections up for discussion – a couple of examples being when Spike Milligan chose Portsmouth and Chiswick Post Office  was selected by Sheila Hancock.

Others opt for uninspired choices – Ricky Gervais, supposed comedy behemoth, opted for ‘annoying noises’ which doesn’t show a huge amount of inspiration. Similarly, witless blockhead Gordon Ramsay chose traffic wardens, summoning all the creativity of a white van man in a coma.

Let’s imagine, like that bloke in the Commitments who pretended he was on Wogan while laying in the bath, we’re all celebrities and have been invited to sit with Paul Merton (or Nick Hancock) to discuss our pet hates.

So – what goes into Room 101?

Thank God You’re Here

January 28, 2008

Thank God You're Here

Thank God You’re Here is a new effort by ITV to put some decent comedy about. They succeeded with Harry Hill’s TV Burp, which for my money is the only laugh out loud thing on TV at the moment. Actually – not ‘for my money’ at all as it’s on ITV – it’s more ‘for my ability to sit through a series of rubbish thirty second adverts every fifteen minutes’.

Anyhow, Thank God You’re Here is hosted by Paul Merton, an old hand when it comes to improvisational comedy. TGYH involves well-known comedy faces walking onto a set in a costume. Actors, in character, are ready for them and set the scene immediately, enabling the hapless arrivals to attempt to seamlessly fit in and find their role. Obviously, with no preparation, this can be pretty amusing as the improvisers attempt to steer the situation in their own direction.

Featuring on Saturday were Marcus Brigstocke, the current Mr Show-Me-The-Money of television, having taken up Jimmy Carre’s crown when he decided to do that rubbish news parody thing with Trevor Mc Trevor McDonald. He did alright, thrown into a situation where he was a surgeon reporting on a child’s progress. More impressive was Phil Nichol, an American comedian who dealt impressive with the Wild West scenario he found himself in, managing to develop his character as a gay, fashion-obsessed outlaw who’d just returned from Milan. Bizarre, but impressive. Lee Mack was my favourite of the night, responding in his usual dry manner to being a bronze Olympic medallist who was giving a presentation to a school room. I laughed at all these bits.

Sadly it all fell down a peg or two when Coronation Street’s Fizz took to the stage. It’s not often the viewer can honestly say ‘I could do better than that’, unless they’re watching Paul Robinson on international duty. Or, as in this case, Fizz off of The Street trying to be funny. She died.

Peculiarly, Paul Merton also fell apart when taking to the stage as a clown being interrogated by a Ringmaster. His improvisation wraps up the show and is clearly an attempt at rounding things up professionally. Sadly, the actor he was meant to bounce off barked questions at him so quickly he’d have had trouble coming up with anything other than half a one-liner. A half-liner, if you like.

That’s the only weakness in this pretty diverting hour – the fact that the constructed situations can be a little too restrictive. It’s hard to know what limits to put on the actors, but I suppose it’s best they’re not allowed to drift off as they did in the woeful latter days of Whose Line Is It Anyway. But a bit more freedom for talented types like Nichol and Mack would’ve made this comedy gold.

On reflection, I watched this whilst seven pints deep on a Saturday night, so don’t take my word for it being alright. I’ll laugh at a potato when I’m half cut, so it may well be utterly unloveable poo. I once laughed at an episode of Friends, but we’ll blame that on the vicious strain of sensimellia my mate had skinned up a few minutes previous to the telly being flicked on. Also, that episode featured a monkey, which further excuses me.

Paul Merton In China

May 23, 2007

Paul Merton In China 

Donkey cock. It was thinly sliced and looked like tongue, served in a ramekin with a small amount of sauce. Paul gingerly ate a slice, he didn’t mind it but retched at the next dish. Not sure what it was (I think they were silkworm grubs, or was it a snakes reproductive sack?) as I was still in remission from watching a man chop up a winkle.With his rather fetching assistant, I watched Paul Merton undertake an engaging visit to The People’s Republic of China in order to discover more about its culture, people, blah blah. The largely friendly residents are clearly in the iron fist of The Communist Party, to the point that the Chinese rappers, aping the brothers in the hood, are forced to enthusiastically rap about how nice Chinese food is (‘It’s kinda tricky gettin da taste… But throw in soy sauce, you’ve got no waste’) rather than crack, bitches and guns which makes them seem a little, well, shit. Still, its better to tow the party line than getting beaten with sticks for a year before being sent off to till the land until your fingers drop off.

The highlight of the show was this bloke that makes robots. Apparently this chap had no formal training in electronics and using components from other people’s rubbish built an array of stunning robots, including this huge silver object that, in addition to speaking, had the strength and coordination to pull a fucking rickshaw and a couple of people. He’d even made a smaller version for his son. It was truly astonishing, much to the amusement of Merton and yours truly, sat on a couch smoking skunk. The only person unamused by all of this was his bloody wife. Instead of acknowledging his genius she just wanted him to go to work like everyone else. The miserable old cunt.

There was one glaring snag in all of this – the bit when Merton went and visited a truly horrific hotel. Built in the style of a French Chateau, this sprawling 40 million pound pile of shit was the equivalent of the perpetually fake Colleen McLoughlin, minus what brains it possesses. Its owner, a despicable rich member of the Communist Party, turned up unannounced to introduce himself to Paul as if he were an ambassador for the British government – the creep. But this wasn’t the main problem, it was a ridiculously staged scene whereby Paul is ‘woken up’ by a load of guests doing Karaoke and is ‘forced’ to join in. Paul dressed in an underpant flashing dressing gown hams the whole fucking thing up to the detriment of his status as a genuine and likeable man.

On the whole Merton managed to present a view of China that was at once charming, worrying and interesting. He’s no seasoned traveller (like Palin for example) but isn’t afraid to look bemused and confused by the people and it’s politics. Shame then that he felt the need for that shit karaoke scene, which isn’t even a Chinese invention.

Still, I’ll keep watching, dammit I like the guy.