The Comedy Vault – Friends.

Friends (NBC, 1994-2004)

This is an American sitcom that needs little explanation from me really, which is just as well, because I couldn’t give an explanation because I must confess that I don’t think that I have ever even seen an episode in full over the years. But because this is such a well-known show, I thought that I might as well finally review this, because there are a few thoughts and memories that I do have.

Friends of course featured the lives of six rather young and successful people who lived in New York, and enjoyed spending time together. This came to Channel 4 in 1995, and it was also in this year that the theme song “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts was a Top Ten hit single in this country (cue lots of people asking “what does ‘your love life’s DOA‘ mean?”). After a while, the popularity grew, as was proved by the amount of high-profile guest stars who were eager to appear. It didn’t take long for Channel 4 to realise that they had a guaranteed hit as part of their Friday night schedule, suddenly everybody wanted a “Rachel”.

I also remember that The Adam And Joe Show did a very amusing parody, reimagining the cast as toys, and there was also a special episode that was made in England. As the success continued, and the lives of the characters became increasingly entangled, in 1997 “I’ll Be There For You” became a Top Ten hit for a second time, joining a small list of songs to have achieved this. Episodes also did well when they were shown on Sky One, and along with the regular repeats, plus the new episodes, this was very often on the screen. I even remember articles in Inside Soap magazine, which didn’t usually give coverage to sitcoms.

When Channel 4’s companion channel E4 launched in 2001, they took the rights from Sky One, and again, episodes old and new played a big part in the schedule. Friends managed to run for a decade, and when the tenth and final series came to a close, some dedicated viewers found it all rather hard to take. “It’s like losing a limb”, apparently. There had also been lots of special interviews and documentaries reflecting on the success, and all of the episodes have been released on DVD. But the story hadn’t ended just yet.

The character of Joey went into a spin-off sitcom. This was shown in this country by Five, who in an ambitious move, decided that it was time to have some high-profile imported comedy. This did indeed deliver some of this channel’s highest-ever ratings at first, but some critics felt that this was all rather inferior to what had gone before, and this ended all rather quietly by comparison. Channel 5 then bought the rights to Friends off Channel 4 and E4, leading to hundreds more repeats on their companion channel Comedy Central to this day, as if they hadn’t been shown enough.

The main cast had long-since gone on to work on other projects, but a year or two ago, the sextet reunited for the first time (not for a new episode though, but a special looking back at some highlights). There seemed to be a huge amount of news articles afterwards informing us that “Matt LeBlanc looked like your uncle at the Friends reunion”. Although I don’t think that he looked very much like my uncle, although that’s because I don’t actually have any… but I’m sure that he’s thrilled about that being the legacy of what he brought to this show.

More TV Memories – South Park.

South Park (Comedy Central, 1997-present)

Recently I’ve been taking a look back at cartoons that I remember from my childhood, but here’s another one that you definitely wouldn’t have seen on CBBC or CITV, as it was made for older viewers. As this is a rather long-running show that there has been plenty written about over the years, it’ll be a piece about how I got into the show, along with some of its scheduling.

In the early-90s, The Simpsons caused a big sensation, and opened the way for more offbeat animated sitcoms. When South Park launched it caused arguably the biggest buzz in the genre since then (Family Guy would begin about a year or two later), as it had a distinctive animation style along with a rather outrageous take on American life. The show was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who also wrote and directed the episodes, and provided the majority of the voices. sp1

The main characters are four children who lived in the Colorado town of South Park, where some rather unusual things would happen. They are Eric Cartman (remember, he isn’t fat, he’s big-boned), along with Kyle, Stan, and most memorably Kenny, who wore a hood that was so tight that you couldn’t understand what he was saying, and he would meet a horrible fate in almost every episode (leading to the famous catchphrase “oh my god, they killed Kenny!”).

There were a few other main characters, along the way we also meet some shocked parents, a few befuddled teachers, and more children including Butters, Timmy, and Wendy. The children often liked to watch their favourite TV show Terrance And Phillip, and get caught up in all kinds of strange adventures, including lots of parodies and satire, nobody is off-limits from being targeted, that’s for sure.

After a short while the show became a cultural phenomenon, and for a year or two it was the hottest thing in animation, receiving a lot of magazine covers. There was even a chart-topping single, where the Chef character (voiced by soul singer Issac Hayes) informed us about how great his “Chocolate Salty Balls” were, which gives you an idea of the level of humour, of course it was very amusing. Following on from this, there was also chart success for Mr Hankey The Christmas Poo, how terrific.

This then led to the film Bigger, Longer, And Uncut, which was also a big success. There was also a lot of merchandise, including some PlayStation games, and although they had fairly average reviews, I did enjoy playing them. There have also been lots of books including episode guides, along with toys, and just about everything else you can think of.

Because of the hype, this was a show that I was interested in seeing, and I remember a lot of people being rather surprised when I said that I was a fan, as a I was considered to be something of a nerd (I’m not sure why), but I went as far as buying the first series on VHS, which was released with only two episodes on every tape (including introductions by Trey and Matt), which in the DVD and on demand era doesn’t seem to be that generous.

Eventually, the early series were released on DVD, and they include some extras. As far as scheduling goes, plenty of episodes were shown on Sky One and Channel 4, who in 1999 also dedicated an evening to the show featuring various episodes featuring classic episodes and documentaries. After a while though, it was moved to an ever later timeslot before vanishing altogether. South Park is still going though, and there have now been over 300 episodes in 23 series that continue to take a crudely satirical view of the world.

The YouTube Files – Win Beadle’s Money USA.

Win Ben Stein’s Money (Comedy Central, 1997-2003)

I was thinking recently about TV anniversaries. I know some people might find them rather meaningless, but I wondered if any game shows I enjoyed launched in August 1994, 1999, 2004 or anything like that. And then I realised that this month is the 20th anniversary of the launch of Channel 5’s game show Win Beadle’s Money. I know that this was based on an American format, so I thought that I would review that to continue my series of looking at the original American versions of game shows that later came to the UK, and there are plenty of editions of this one on YouTube.

Win Ben Stein’s Money (Ben Stein being an awfully clever chap who has an interest in politics and practically everything else) launched on Comedy Central in 1997. The gameplay was just about the same, although the biggest difference was that there was $5,000 on the line (as opposed to the £1,000 with Jeremy Beadle). Three contestants took part in the hope that they could beat Ben at his own game. One thing’s for sure, it’s not going to be as easy as it looks. Keep watching and you might learn something. vlcsnap-00977

The other main host for the early series was Jimmy Kimmel (in the UK version it was Richard Morton). In the first round there were five categories concealing questions with a value between $50 and $150. The questions are asked by Ben himself at this stage. Getting the right answer takes the money out of the prize fund, and then a supplementary question is asked for a further $50. All the questions appeared on a screen, but try to remember that you are not on Jeopardy! vlcsnap-00979

The lowest-scoring contestant is eliminated, and any money they had is put back into the fund. In round two, Ben takes the eliminated contestant’s place, and Jimmy now asks the questions. Ben has no advance knowledge of what they are, honest. Questions are now worth between $200 and $500. If Ben gets it right, he doesn’t score anything, he simply stops the others from taking more out of the fund. There are no supplementary questions here. Again, the eliminated contestant’s money returns to the fund. vlcsnap-00980

The winner keeps their money, and can now play for the full $5,000, deciding if they want to go first or second in the final. They both go into isolation booths so they can’t hear each other. The finalist’s booth was rather tatty, while Ben’s was very lavish. The finalist and Ben are individually asked the same ten fairly difficult general knowledge questions in 60 seconds. Wins didn’t happen very often though (make the inevitable “Ben should be a Chaser” comment here). vlcsnap-00981

If the contestant did beat Ben though, they won $5,000. A draw meant that they won their money plus an extra $1,000. A defeat meant they only won the money they already had, and Ben keeps his lofty reputation. There were also special editions were winners could play again for $25,000. There were over 600 editions made of Win Ben Stein’s Money (a lot more than the UK version), it won plenty of awards, and it did come across as very entertaining and quirky.

More TV Memories – Futurama.

Futurama (Fox, 1999-2003, Comedy Central, 2008-2013)

The Simpsons was one of the most successful TV shows of its era, so when it was revealed that its creator Matt Groening was working on a new cartoon, a lot of people including myself were wondering what he would come up with next. It turned out that his new show was a science-fiction cartoon set 1,000 years in the future called Futurama.

I can still remember the first time that I saw a picture of the Futurama cast at the beginning of 1999 and I was rather excited. They looked like characters from The Simpsons… but there was something different about them! There was a huge buzz around the show when it finally launched later that year, and Futurama made its debut on TV in this country on Sky One around the same time as Family Guy so I can’t help but always group those two shows together. 


Futurama is one of those shows that is very well documented online, so there isn’t much need to explain the plot in huge depth, but I’d just like to add my views on the show to the many already out there. It begins at the end of 1999 when we meet our hero of the show, the ordinary pizza delivery boy Fry (who was voiced by Billy West of Ren And Stimpy fame among many other animated shows). vlcsnap-00132

Fry manages to get himself locked in a freezer, and when he finally awakes in the year 3000… it is fair to say that things on Earth have changed somewhat. We then follow Fry’s new life in the future as he gets a new job as a delivery boy on the Planet Express spaceship, and like all good shows there are a small amount of very enjoyable regular cast members, the main ones being the purple-haired one-eyed Leela, and Bender the talking robot. vlcsnap-00135

Also featuring was Fry’s elderly relative Professor Farnsworth who was always inventing things, Amy, Hermes, and Dr Zoidberg. I remember being particularly amused by Zapp Brannigan, especially his difficultly with pronouncing the word “champagne”, which really upset him. There were also lots of other good touches in the show including a title sequence which changed every episode, and a chance to spot secret messages. vlcsnap-00136

I remember watching the early episodes of Futurama on Sky One in the late-90s/early-2000s when there was something of an animation boom on TV which brought the genre into a new era. Some episodes were also shown on Channel 4, but these were in some odd timeslots and the show never really managed to get as big a following in this country as The Simpsons but it still had a huge amount of fans. The DVDs also feature a good amount of extras looking behind the scenes of the show. vlcsnap-00134

As time went by Fry and co. visited several planets and encountered a wide range of creative aliens, technology, robots and so on. After a few years though Futurama was cancelled by Fox, but then it was revived a few years later by Comedy Central before being cancelled again, and there have been constant rumours ever since about its return. I also remember that there was a lot of merchandise for the show including comics, and I also had the PlayStation 2 game. There were so many great episodes over the years and I still enjoy watching the show.