2013 was a watershed moment for disaster films. While many folks were updating their anti-Zombie kits some of us were shopping for chain saws in case the absolute worst-case came to be – a Sharknado. This terrifying premise is exactly what it sounds like – a huge Oz-level tornado sucks up sharks (and only sharks) from the sea and throws them at large municipalities and at a few people specifically. The movies aren’t comedies per se, but play it straight with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
In the opening installment, the main character, Fin, appropriately, is on a mission to save his estranged wife and daughter during the height of this cloudburst of cartilaginous killers using the best tool at hand – a chain saw. By the end, Fin has saved his family and sawed a swath through Los Angeles’ aquatic infestation.
But wait! There’s more! Five more monsoons of man-eaters!
Sharknado 2: The Second One takes us to New York where Fin’s now-safe wife April (Tara Reed) is promoting her new book about surviving a deluge of toothy torpedoes. Little do our heroes know that weather systems WILL follow you across the country when thwarted to taunt you a second time.
Some decades back, our local PBS station would run several British shows on Friday nights. For many Americans this was their first exposure to classic UK fare and, for me, solidified my love of British humour. (See what I did there?) Here are a few of the shows that grabbed our attention and found their place in America’s heart.
Fawlty Towers – Basil Fawlty is having a bad day. Every day at Fawlty Towers is a bad day for Basil, especially if his “little piranha fish” wife Sybil has anything to do with it. Easily frustrated, Basil’s constantly trying to ‘raise the tone’ of their hotel, set on the so-called ‘English Riviera’ in South-West England.
The brainchild of main character John Cleese, who plays Basil, the show was inspired by a hotelier that ran a hotel where the members of Monty Python were staying at in Torquay, Devon, whom Cleese described as “the rudest man I’ve ever come across in my life”. The man’s antics included tossing Eric Idle’s briefcase out a window “in case it contained a bomb” and viewed his guests as a “colossal inconvenience” according to Michael Palin. Continue reading “A trio of British comedies”
P G Wodehouse was a prolific writer, with nearly all of his stories set among British aristocracy and/or in the proverbial ‘polite society’ of 1920s and 30s Britain. Knowingly or not, he somewhat reflected the naïve obliviousness of a few of his characters in his real life. After moving to France and being captured by the Germans in 1940 he wrote and performed several broadcasts on German radio. Although comical and apolitical, the mere act of broadcasting over German radio during the war was incredibly controversial, and fueled a charge of treason back in Britain. Never quite understanding the ostracism, in 1947 he moved house to the US where he lived until his death at age 93 in 1975.
His characters are wonderfully stereotypical, as Wodehouse himself said, “a real character in one of my books would stick out like a sore thumb.” Even so, they become perfect players in his explorations and send-ups and show his deep understanding of human nature and behavior.
During the same period they were bringing Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster to the small screen, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were sprinkling the British airwaves with their own sketch comedy show A Bit of Fry and Laurie.
If you ever thought to yourself, as I have, “Is there any such thing as ‘highbrow absurdist humor’?” well, then this show answers that question with a resounding “Well, if you look at it with a slight squint.”
Rife with non-sequiturs and heavy with wordplay, the show satirized British society and politics and often broke the “fourth wall” during a skit. Fans of Jeeves and Wooster will recognize the general shape of the interchanges between a sharp Fry to Laurie’s blithe cluelessness, though in this series Laurie is cast as more of the straight man.
The Vicar of Dibley– Reverend Geraldine Granger is assigned to the small Oxfordshire village of Dibley, its first female vicar following the Church of England’s quite tardy change of heart regarding the ordination of women.
Offering spiritual guidance to the tiny town’s cast of oddballs, the vicar negotiates her way around and through entrenched expectations, power hungry frogs-in-a-small-pond, and just plain cluelessness.
Played by Dawn French, half of the well-known comedy team of French & Saunders, each episode ends with the vicar telling a joke to her not-very-bright assistant Alice, played by Emma Chambers, who in her struggle to get the joke tends to take it literally in ways that are much funnier than the joke itself. Continue reading “Leading Ladies of British Comedy”