The Comedy Vault – Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy.

Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy (E4, 2012)/Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy 2: Tales From Painted Hawaii (E4, 2014)

The Mighty Boosh was a sitcom that I was a big fan of, and when that ended in 2007, Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt didn’t go their separate ways as such, but they haven’t done a huge amount of mucking around together since. Noel clearly still had a feeling for doing some rather bizarre comedy though, so about five years on he launched a show of his own.

The first series of Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy had a sketch format, which was hosted from a treehouse. And there were a few other regular cast members, including half-anteater Smooth (played by Noel’s brother Michael), the deceased American artist and Curiosity Killed The Cat fan Andy Warhol, and German woman Dolly. vlcsnap-01045

There would also be a rather odd range of characters, and most of them were played by Noel, including Sergeant Raymond Boombox, Wonky Steve, The Singing Fish Finger, and Secret Peter. There were also plenty of songs and animated sequences, and among the guest appearances was Richard Ayoade. I must admit that I was disappointed by the lack of a talking cushion though. vlcsnap-01048

And well, this really was some weird stuff, even Noel’s fans might have been a little surprised by how far-out it was, it was even weirder than garlic and bananas. Needless to say the critics were totally split on the show’s merits, Noel’s style could be the ultimate in the “you either get it or you don’t”-type of comedy. Some thought that his style could compare favourably to Spike Milligan and Kenny Everett, while others were just horrified. vlcsnap-01042

Noel did return for a second series though, although this had a change of format, and was more of a sitcom. All of the regulars were back, but Noel now worked in a coffee shop on the edge of a volcano in Hawaii. It was surprising that they got so many customers, and Noel had to deal with things including being unable to think of an ending to the show, and meeting his biggest fan. vlcsnap-01063

There were 12 episodes of Noel’s Fielding’s Luxury Comedy in two series. They were originally shown on E4, but I can’t recall there being a repeat run on Channel 4 though. They were also shown rather late at night on TV in Australia. All of the episodes have been released on DVD, and extras include plenty of deleted scenes, along with a look behind the scenes, and also a big poster too. vlcsnap-01062

But then, a few years ago, Noel returned with his most outrageous show yet in another different format that once again surprised fans. In this new series, Noel was locked in a tent in a field somewhere that was full of ovens, and all those people came along and had to bake some cakes while he watched on, it was seriously trippy, dude.

The Comedy Vault – The Inbetweeners.

The Inbetweeners (E4, 2008-2010)

This is another sitcom from Channel 4 that is considered to be among the best of their home-made comedy shows. This one centres around the lives of four teenage boys (ignoring the fact that the actors who played them were actually all about 25 at the time) who attend the sixth form at Rudge Park Comprehensive, who can contest that these are the best years of your life.

The Inbetweeners begins when Will’s parents go through a divorce and he has to move schools. At first he finds it all rather difficult, but then he befriends a group of boys, Simon (bid again etc), Neil, and Jay. They aren’t exactly unpopular, but they’re far from the trendiest people at the school too. Their teacher is Mr Gilbert who really doesn’t know how to deal with them. vlcsnap-00719

Will also narrates the episodes to set the story, and also reflect on what he has learnt (which isn’t much). The show could be seen to be one of the more extreme examples of shows that feature boys who have reached that age where everything can be rather awkward. They are confused, and then some. How can you do your exams when you feel like this. Will even made Adrian Mole (whose sitcom I reviewed recently) seem to be sensible and untroubled by comparison. vlcsnap-00720

Beyond school, we also see the boys doing things like attending birthday parties, visiting theme parks, trying to have a drink, and going camping, of course the embarrassment factor is high. Most of the other cast members are fellow pupils, along with some of the boys’ parents. It’s fair to say that the girls at school aren’t exactly falling for them, even though they think they are irresistibly the knees of the bees. Are the adolescence years really like this? Mine are so long ago now I can barely remember. vlcsnap-00715

The Inbetweeners received better reviews than most sitcoms from around this time. I didn’t see much of the show first time round, but after critics began falling over themselves to praise the show and were saying things like it was so funny you’ll snort like a pig, I thought that I might as well give it a go. It was definitely rather good, although I don’t recall making many pig-like noises.vlcsnap-00717

First shown on E4, the show did well enough for a quick repeat on Channel 4. The show had a rather trendy soundtrack which was released on CD, and the cast even appeared on the cover of NME, proof that their fanbase included all the trendy dudes who get on down. The Inbetweeners won a British Comedy Award, and there was also a Comic Relief special, an American version, two books, and not one but two successful films. vlcsnap-00738

The cast went on to further success, starring in more sitcoms including Rock And Chips and Friday Night Dinner. There were 18 episodes of The Inbetweeners in three series. All of them have been released on DVD (and are rated 18 because my goodness it’s rather saucy), and there are also plenty of enjoyable extras, including a look behind the scenes and outtakes.

The Comedy Vault – New Girl.

New Girl (Fox, 2011-2018)

This is another American sitcom that caught my attention. I am not that hugely interested in films, but I have enjoyed some of the work of Zooey Deschanel, who has put in some amusing and quirky performances in various films including (500) Days Of Summer and Yes Man. So when I discovered that Zooey was going to feature in a TV sitcom I was definitely interested.

Three young men anticipate the arrival of a new flatmate, presuming that it will be somebody else who is rather like them, but it turns out that it’s a woman?! Well, it’s fair to say that they definitely weren’t expecting this and it turns their macho world upside-down. New Girl (avoiding the obvious thought “how can they still be a new girl after the first episode?”) starred Deschanel as Jessica, a teacher, and words used to describe her were often around the area of bubbly, offbeat, and quirky. vlcsnap-00905

The men were Nick, Winston, and Schmidt (keeping up a sitcom tradition of a character who is only known by their surname), who have had various jobs, including being a basketball player for a short while, and also featuring is Jessica’s childhood friend Cece. What an ensemble they are. Of course, as the episodes progress, their love lives have plenty of changes, and there were breakups, weddings, and everything inbetween. vlcsnap-00926

New Girl could be considered to be a little too cute and rather heavy on the hugging when compared to the average UK sitcom, but there was still plenty to enjoy, and Deschanel definitely adapted herself well and gained lots of laughs. There were also plenty of guest stars, and there was much surprise when Prince, who never usually did that kind of thing, made a special appearance. Let’s hope that he spoke up. vlcsnap-00910

Trying to get into New Girl was rather difficult because of the way it was scheduled in the UK. It originally started in a primetime slot on Channel 4, which I was pleased about because I felt that it deserved that level of exposure, but unsurprisingly it was moved rather quickly to E4, before it was seemingly increasingly neglected, featuring in various daytime slots, before it vanished altogether. vlcsnap-00936

There were 146 episodes of New Girl in seven series, but the final three series haven’t been released on DVD in this country, unlike America where they have all been released, which is rather frustrating too. I don’t know why they stopped, but the ones that are available feature a decent amount of extras including deleted scenes. Overall it was an enjoyable sitcom, and I look forward to seeing more of Deschanel soon.

More TV Memories – The Cleveland Show.

The Cleveland Show (Fox, 2009-2013)

By the late-2000s, Family Guy become one of the most successful animated sitcoms for older viewers. Despite being cancelled twice, it constantly came back and eventually established itself. By this point, the show had been running for a decade, and the characters had become very familiar, so why not launch a spin-off series? Along with this and American Dad, Seth Macfarlane would now have three comedy cartoons on the go. Which cast member would it feature though?

Would it be Glen “Giggity” Quagmire? Or maybe it could be Joe Swanson? Well actually it was neither of them. Cleveland Brown was probably not the first choice viewers would pick for a spin-off series. He was in Peter Griffin’s circle of friends, and originally he was a delicatessen owner, who was married to Loretta, and had one son who was Cleveland Jr. tcs1

He was rather dour though, and he would say things in a rather boring voice (although he didn’t have the most boring voice that I’ve ever heard in a sitcom) including “ooh, that’s nasty”, seemingly an early attempt at a catchphrase. Apart from a running gag where he fell out of the bath in every other episode, it was clear that he would need to have a little more excitement in his life to make it work.

So by the time The Cleveland Show launched, things had changed a little. He had divorced Loretta, and then he moved away to live with his new family in the small town of Stoolbend (how amusing!), meaning that he would no longer appear regularly in Family Guy. By this point he had married his old High School sweetheart Donna, and he still had Cleveland Jr (although he didn’t seem to be the original Cleveland Jr, and he now looked a lot like Peter).

There were also Donna’s children from a previous marriage, the teenage daughter Roberta, and the son Rallo, who was about five-years-old but had something of an attitude. Cleveland also makes a new group of friends, including Terry, Lester, and Holt, and for some reason his next-door neighbours are a family of talking bears. We also meet Cleveland’s parents for the first time, the joke seeming to be that he looks more like his mother than his father.

Episodes featured things such as Cleveland at work in his new job at a cable installation company, and what the children got up to at school. Cleveland would also meet lots of people including the rapper Kenny West. The Cleveland Show was first shown in this country on E4, and then it moved to ITV2 when Family Guy and American Dad did, where is it still repeated rather frequently in a late-night slot.

There were four series of The Cleveland Show, and when it came to an end after 88 episodes in 2013, Cleveland had little option but to move back with his family to Quahog, which led to several in-jokes about his show flopping by comparison to the long-running original, and you can imagine how well he took that. Rather frustratingly, only the first two series have been released on DVD, but they do contain lots of extras including deleted scenes. I would definitely buy the other two if they were ever released.

More TV Memories – Popworld.

Popworld (Channel 4/E4, 2001-2007)

This is a show that was all about pop music, and it took a look at this genre in a way that very few other shows have. Popworld had a fairly quiet beginning in 2001, but after a short while there were some production changes which really made the show come into its own. Popworld was originally hosted by Simon (bid again, Simon!) Amstell and Miquita Oliver.

Some editions were shown in the early days of digital channel E4, before being established in a Sunday Morning slot as part of Channel 4’s T4 strand. Now because I was in my late-teens when Popworld launched, this was around the time that I was really interested in pop music, so any chance to see such groups as the Sugababes on TV was always going to be welcome. vlcsnap-00137

There was a mix of features on Popworld, including going behind the scenes of music videos and live performances of the latest hit singles. The earliest editions also featured some contributions from one of Leigh Francis’s characters, I’ve always found all of them rather irritating myself, and I am rather surprised that he is still on TV all these years later (especially on every other show on ITV2 it seems). vlcsnap-00163

But it was the interviews that Popworld would become best-known for. As the years went by, the hosts (especially Simon) would ask rather bizarre questions, leaving manufactured boy band members rather baffled as they tried to put together a response that wasn’t a cliche. Simon certainly excelled at this “ha-ha he’s taking the mick out of them and they haven’t even noticed” style, and then perfected it to great effect when he became the host of BBC2’s Never Mind The Buzzcocks. vlcsnap-00181

A lot of big acts in pop music took part, and there were also a few specials, but after about five years, Simon and Miquita both left, and the decision was made to carry on with new hosts Alex Zane and Alexa Chung (who also hosted Channel 4’s new music show Freshly Squeezed around this time). They tried to continue in the usual style, but the format had become a little tired by this point, and Popworld came to an end in 2007. vlcsnap-00143

There was also an attempt at launching a magazine spin-off called Popworld Pulp, but this lasted for just two issues, before closing around the same time the TV show ended. It was certainly something different though. Simon would go on to have further success as a comedian and writer (and I remember that he was also good value when he appeared as a panellist on Liquid News too). And if anyone else likes this piece then that’s just a bonus.

Game Show Memories – Fanorama.

Fanorama (E4, 2001-2003)

Another game show review, I hear you ask? Well, yes, indeed it is, so there. This one is notable because it’s from the early days of digital TV, when Channel 4’s companion E4 tried out a comedy panel game inbetween the imports and the adverts. Fanorama (what a great pun) was a show where people aimed to show off what they knew about their favourite subject, along with pop culture in general.

Two teams of three took part, including one team captain. Fans of a variety of things took part, from TV shows to pop groups. The captains were Rhys Thomas, who would go on to appear in sitcom Swiss Toni, and also produce other comedy shows, and David Mitchell, before he hit the big time with Peep Show and went on to appear and laugh too much on every other comedy panel game made since. vlcsnap-00980

One amusing element was the captains trying to bluff their way through the show and insist they were a big a fan as their teammates. I do have a memory of when Fanorama was being promoted on E4 with a trail, Mitchell introduced a contestant by saying “and this is a fan of Britney Spears” to which this middle-aged man (dressed like Britney in the “Baby One More Time” video) interrupted “er, I actually am Britney Spears”, and they didn’t seem to be joking, it was mildly creepy. vlcsnap-00614

The original host of Fanorama was Claudia Winkleman, who was replaced in the later editions by Lauren Laverne. Lots of rounds where played where the teams could show off their knowledge. One of the more bizarre rounds was where various people interpreted a pop song’s video by doing some mime, and the teams had to write down what they thought it was. vlcsnap-00981

Maybe the bickering between the captains overshadowed the main game a little, amusing as it was. There was also a round where the captains took part in some comedy sketches doing some silly impressions that gained a lot of laughs, and questions were asked after. It might not seem much, but don’t forget this was the early-2000s where technology had advanced to the point where people could now download endless polyphonic ringtones, and making sure they haven’t used up all the memory in their digital camera was rather important. With possibilities like this, life in the 21st century is going to be fun. vlcsnap-00979

The final round was on the buzzer, with more questions asked on the team’s subjects, with a bonus if the opposing team managed to get it right. Although the scores seemed to be made up as it went long, there were still lots of well-earned prizes on offer for both teams. Fanorama was usually shown in the afternoon, but E4 didn’t seem that interested in making any similar shows, and after it ended it’s barely been seen since.

The YouTube Files – Big Brother Auditions.

Big Brother Auditions (E4, 2002)

Big Brother is a show that doesn’t need any introduction from me really. I did watch some of the first few series occasionally on Channel 4, although in more recent years I have gone off it. I didn’t particularly want to write a piece about the show, partly because it is already well documented, so instead I’ll share with you one of the more unusual moments that happened in the early years of the show.

Back in the old On/ITV Digital days, Channel 4 launched their entertainment channel E4 in January 2001, and although it was a 24-hour channel, at first they didn’t show programming all day, not coming on air until about 4pm, so they used to fill their downtime by usually showing trails of their upcoming programmes. In 2001 when the second series of Big Brother began they were a little more creative, filling the daytime with uninterrupted live coverage from the house, which was intriguing until it was clear that all this turned out to be was a shot of a tree for an hour because all the housemates were being oh-so outrageous. vlcsnap-00159

But in the run-up to the third series of Big Brother in 2002, E4 did something a little different. For about two weeks before the launch, in E4’s downtime they showed on a loop about an hour or two’s worth of audition tapes that they had received from people across the country who wanted to be on the show. When thinking about this again recently, I was pleased that I found some of these videos had been uploaded to YouTube by a user called Frank McGowan, so credit goes to them. vlcsnap-01239

I do remember watching a lot of these auditions and I thought that it was a very odd way to fill the time. First of all we were told that the Big Brother production team had received over 10,000 tapes which had all been watched, but none of the videos that were shown featured people who had actually made it into the house, but it was a good example of the kind of things that people insisted that they would do to have a chance to make it on TV. vlcsnap-01189

Some of the audition videos were very straightforward, with people just talking to the camera about their personality, but some of them were also rather funny like mini comedy sketches, and you probably won’t be surprised to know that I liked the ones that were rather weird, and just the way that some of them were made was an odd thing to come across when channel hopping in the afternoon. vlcsnap-01117

The DVD of the first series of the sitcom Peep Show features an extra of what is supposedly Jeremy’s audition tape for Big Brother, I wonder if the team on that show did see any of these, as Jeremy’s “I’m crazy, me!”-style of presenting himself did seem very similar to these real videos, and whether by accident or design it was a very accurate and amusing parody. vlcsnap-01116

It was good seeing some of these videos again recently. I wonder what the people whose videos did get shown on TV made of it? I suppose it follows the old “15 minutes of fame” rule, and I’m sure that they’ll be thrilled that I still remember them and their antics as much as most of the actual housemates from this time after all these years.

More TV Memories – As If.

As If (Channel 4, 2001-2004) asifAs If was a comedy-drama series that centered around the lives of six London teenagers. It had a rather distinctive style, with every episode coming from a perspective of one of the characters who would directly address the camera about their feelings, and there also features like clever camerawork and creative use of music which was very innovative at the time and it came across as a show that looked like it was made in the 21st century. There were also episodes based around spoofs of films such as The Blair Witch Project and Moulin Rouge which were great and its theme song, Touch And Go’s 1998 hit “Would You..?” was a suitable choice for the show. vlcsnap-00895

The boys were Jamie, Alex and Rob. Jamie could best be described as cheeky, he was a ladies’ man who went out with many women, and although it often doesn’t work out for him he remains optimistic. Probably because he’s got a PlayStation 2! Alex was a gay character and he has as much trouble finding the right man as the others did dealing with the opposite sex. Rob was someone who often had trouble with himself and ladies too. vlcsnap-01002

The girls were Sooz, Nicki and Sasha. Sooz had a distinctive look and seemed tough and independent, but she was actually somewhat insecure. Nicki was spoilt and slept around a lot. Sasha was rather classy and a lot fussier about men. vlcsnap-00896

The first time I remember watching As If was around the end of 2001 when there was a repeat run of the first series on newly-launched digital channel E4. It was a show that I really enjoyed, because I was about the same age as the cast at the time and also because the show was clearly innovative in the way it was made, and watching some of the first series episodes again 15 years on including one where Jamie dated an older woman he met online brought back a lot of memories. vlcsnap-01006

As If eventually ran for four series, although unfortunately I didn’t see much of the later episodes, partly because it seemed to be only shown on Sunday Mornings as part of Channel 4’s teenage strand T4, and as the love lives of this sizzling sextet continued to become increasingly tangled, it did seem to some people the show wasn’t suitable for that slot, and it did fizzle out a little by the end, but they did eventually make 76 very entertaining half-hour episodes. vlcsnap-01001

I remember that I watched As If regularly around the same I watched Hollyoaks for a while, but I do prefer As If. Although the show was also shown in lots of other countries and it gained a decent amount of viewers, there are no plans for a DVD release presumably because of the vast amount of music used which is disappointing, although a soundtrack of some songs used were released on CD. vlcsnap-01009

I don’t recall seeing much of the cast on TV again after As If ended in 2004, but Jemima Rooper who played Nicki went on to appear in more dramas including Hex and Lost In Austen which earned herself a Radio Times cover too which was nice, and As If also inspired a chart-topping single, with McFly’s 2004 debut “Five Colours In Her Hair” being a tribute to the character and multicoloured dreadlocks of Sooz. You can’t say that about Hollyoaks now, can you.

The YouTube Files – TVGoHome.

TVGoHome (E4, 2001)

Charlie Brooker has been around for many years. In the late-80s he contributed to the anarchic comic Oink!, and in the 90s he also wrote computer games reviews for the magazine PC Zone. In the late-90s he set up a website called TVGoHome which every fortnight featured a rather savage foul-mouthed parody of TV listings magazines, featuring some outrageous and bizarre ideas for fictional TV programmes.

Around this time he also co-hosted a show about technology called The Kit on the little-remembered BBC Knowledge. By the early-2000s his site had increased in popularity and there were a couple of spin-offs produced. Firstly, a great book was released featuring the best bits from the site plus some new material which I got for Christmas in 2001, and the design of the TV pages was practically identical to that of Radio Times in the late-90s/early-00s. Also around this time, there was a TV version. vlcsnap-00838

In its earliest days the digital channel E4 had a go at making some original British comedy shows, and TVGoHome was one of them. It was an attempt to try to bring some of the ideas from the website and book to life, with Charlie Brooker among the writers. There were six episodes made that were shown at stupid o’clock and although I recorded a couple at the time I didn’t keep them, so finding a few clips on YouTube recently has helped bring back memories. vlcsnap-00835

Among the sketches were parodies of panel games such as A Question Of Sp – Ow!, where the contestants tried to answer the questions while they were repeatedly being poked with a stick, Nowbiter, which was a culture-type show, Scorch, a celebrity gossip-type show, Daily Mail Island, where young Sarah Galoshes was about to meet an awful fate, and Plebdazzle Party, which mocked general mainstream entertainment shows. How did they think of these things. vlcsnap-00836

In among all of this there were also spoof continuity announcements and adverts. Among the cast were James Holmes, Alex Lowe, Samantha Spiro, and Catherine Tate, who would go on to get her own sketch show. The show was clearly made on a small budget and must have been watched by next to nobody, and there has been no DVD release, but it was a bold attempt at creating something different from such an odd idea. vlcsnap-00837

It didn’t end there though. In 2005 there was another TVGoHome spin-off on Channel 4 featuring Nathan Barley, the useless hipster idiot who desperately tried to prove to everyone how cool he was. It was co-written by Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris, and again although it was an ambitious idea it wasn’t a big success, there was only one series, and the idea hasn’t been returned to since, although this show has been released on DVD. vlcsnap-00839

However, in more recent years Charlie Brooker has gone on to be a big name, bringing his hard-hitting presenting style to various shows on BBC2 and Channel 4 including Screenwipe, and going to write further TV shows. Over 15 years later I still think the TVGoHome site and book are great and I do recommend them. You’ll never think of Mick Hucknall in the same way again.