Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Fry’

News Gush: Who’s the New Doctor Who?

November 6, 2008

It’s official. During the total fiasco that was last week’s National Television Awards (is there anyone on earth more wooden than Trevor McDonald?) David Tennant confirmed that he’d be leaving the show in 2009 after another four specials next year.

Speculation has inevitably started about who will be replacing him. Names in the frame so far include: John Simm, David Morrissey, James Nesbitt, Rhys Ifans and little-known Paterson Joseph, who could become the first black Doctor Who:

More off-the-wall suggestions include both Stephen Fry and Stephen Merchant. Personally, I don’t think they need to look any further. I think Stephen Merchant would be a superb Doctor Who. But what about a woman this time?

Would that work?

I hear Russell Brand is now free…

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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.

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?

St Trinians

January 7, 2008

Sex Lives of the Potato Men. Carry on Columbus. Fat Slags. Large. Cradle of Fear. Mr Bean’s Holiday. The Boys in Blue. Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis. Shopping. Spice Girls the Movie. Up ‘n’ Under.

Above is a list of British films so bad, so woefully embarrassing, so resoundingly piss-poor in concept and execution that they serve not only to remind us why we have virtually no film industry in this country, but that we also really don’t deserve one. If the God of Film were to descend upon our little nation tomorrow, armed only with that list and he decreed that we were no longer allowed to make films then it would be a deserved statement.

That is not to say that we don’t make good films – we make incredible films when we want to – but for every ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ or ‘London to Brighton’ there is an ‘Evil Aliens’ or ‘Fat Slags: The Movie’ waiting in the wings to fuck things up. It seems to me that we have three different types of movies:

  • Big Budget, co-financed with the US movies (‘Notting Hill’, ‘Sunshine’) that largely make their money back in international territories.
  • Low budget, lottery funded, arthouse relegated, critically worshipped movies (would Mr Loach and Mr Leigh please stand up) that are seen by relatively few people.
  • Sitcom spin offs, TV show and classic film updates or homegrown star vehicles (‘Alien Autopsy’, ‘Magicians’) which make their money back domestically by are never exported abroad.

Which brings us nicely to St Trinians; a film that while it doesn’t quite belong in the rogue’s gallery at the top of the article still manages to be indicative of all that is wrong with British cinema.

Firstly, the production values are so embarrassingly cheap it looks like an ITV drama premiere from 20 years ago. Secondly, it relies on hoary old concepts that we’ve been using since the beginning of time, namely men in drag and cameos from otherwise respectable TV personalities. And thirdly, it takes a British institution from a bygone era and dumps it in the modern world with all the finesse of a dancing drunken father at a teenager’s party.

It makes me weep. It really does. The opening half an hour of this film is so horrifically unfunny and so staggeringly amateur you begin to wonder if you’re accidentally stumbled into a sixth form media studies screening. It appears to have been written by the illiterate, shot by the blind, edited by the limbless, scored by the deaf and released by the idiotic because there is no other explanation for the sheer technical incompetence you are seeing before you. It appears to have been shot on VHS, so lifeless is the photography – and the editing seems to come from the Neighbours school of film-making where continuity and an internal timeframe are unnecessary burdens.

And then it picks up. Well, a little. After the initial horror of Rupert Everett in drag (desperately, desperately unfunny) the film develops some charm and you find yourself ignoring the technical faults – and then Russell Brand appears, then it’s the makeover montage, and the painful Stephen Fry on drugs sequences and by the time Girls Aloud pop up to play their new single you’ve completely forgotten that it’s meant to be a film about individuality and rebellion and are immersed in another advert for Just 17.

Updating it was a big mistake. The pop culture references, the jazzy styles, the cameo by that girl off of the OC all smack of forty-something writers trying to “make it more MTV.” Any anarchy or genuine risk that may have existed in the originals has been replaced by numbing consumerist tendencies and MySpace researched definitions of youth. When they try to be clever it’s with film references and in-jokes that would leave kids bemused and adults patronised.

It’s not the worst British film of all time, just another massively disappointing one. If this is the best that can be done with a potentially great concept like St Trinians then perhaps the Film God is right and we don’t deserve an industry. Shame on us.