The Comedy Vault – The Big Bang Theory.

The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 2007-2019)

This is a popular American sitcom that I haven’t watched a huge amount of over the years, but somehow this does seem rather familiar, partly because it seems that this has been on the TV every day for the past ten years. The Big Bang Theory centres around a group of physicists, who know a lot about science and complicated formulas, but not much else.

In the earliest episodes, the main characters are Leonard and Sheldon, along with Penny (Kaley Cuoco, who had previously been in sitcom 8 Simple Rules…). I bet at this point they didn’t realise that there was going to be 12 series of this. Of course there are plenty of unusual situations. And as the series progress, further characters join, including the woman who used to be in Blossom (a sitcom that was regularly on Channel 4 in the early-90s but passed me by somewhat).

When they weren’t at home working on various ideas, Sheldon and co. could often be found at the comic shop. There were also a few running gags and traditional sitcom mysteries, like why did the lift never work, and why did Penny appear to not have a surname. And there were also the things that had too much read into them and probably weren’t mysteries, like if the messages on Sheldon’s T-shirts or the background items signified anything.

And there were guest appearances from various science-type people that resulted in a lot of fanboy squealing, including h-Wil h-Wheaton (he was in Star Trek: The Next Generation you know!), and the veteran comedian Bob Newhart. There was also a parody of this in Family Guy where the actual actors provided the voices, and it was interesting to see them send up their roles. And the theme music was provided by Barenaked Ladies, which was almost as good as “One Week”.

The scheduling of this has been remarkable though. This was occasionally shown on Channel 4, but there had been some repeats on E4. And then, after they lost the rights to Friends, they decided that they had to fill the schedule with another sitcom that was guaranteed to get people watching, despite having been shown several times before, and this is now practically the whole of their afternoon schedule.

And if this wasn’t enough already, there was the spin-off Young Sheldon, taking a look back at his younger years (which has also been shown frequently on E4). There were 279 episodes of The Big Bang Theory, and they have all been released on DVD, which contains plenty of extras. Well who can ever resist an out-take or two. You’ll never think of inert gases in the same way again.

Game Show Memories – Banzai.

Banzai (E4, 2001-2003)

When the digital channel E4 launched in 2001, among the repeats and imports, there was some space in the schedule for some original comedy programming. This included the final series of The Adam And Joe Show, and TVGoHome, but there was also this rather bizarre game show, which led to some critics saying that they were knocking spots off what some of the competition had to offer.

Banzai was essentially a parody of those Japanese game shows that were sometimes shown in this country where contestants had to endure some rather bizarre things. But this one had betting elements, and viewers were invited to guess the outcome of some rather unusual challenges. Some of these were rather bad taste, and some featured celebrities, who probably wondered what they were getting themselves into.

Look, there’s Pat Sharp! Look, there’s Peter Davison! He used to be on the telly! The challenges would be explained, we would then be asked to bet, and the outcome would be revealed. This was all usually accompanied by some breathless commentary from Harry Hill’s mate Burt Kwouk (there was no in-vision host as such). And there were also a few regular features.

These included Lady One Question, who simply asked a celebrity just one question, and viewers would have to guess how long it would be before they walked off. And there was also Mr Shake Hands Man, who would interview someone whilst shaking their hand for as long as possible. He started to become well-known to the point that he was replaced by someone else for the second series.

I also remember at the NME Awards one year somebody thought that it would be good to do this (I can’t remember if it was connected to this show or not), so there was a page with lots of short interviews that mostly consisted of “yeah, it’s been great, I’ve been having a good time… er, you can stop shaking my hand now”. 32 seconds, wow!

Viewers at home really could play along though. If they pressed the red button on their remote control, they could make their choices, and their score would be calculated and revealed at the end. I remember that I did play this once, although I don’t think I did that well. There was some merchandise released too, including a book, DVD, and even a soundtrack of the music. Banzai ran its course after a few series though.

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 – E4 Music.

E4 Music (E4, 2005-2009)

When E4 launched in January 2001, it was one of the earliest spin-off digital channels from Channel 4. Although this had a 24-hour slot, they actually didn’t show programming all day, usually running trails for several hours, before starting in the afternoon. After a while, someone realised that this downtime could be used to feature live coverage from the Big Brother house to compliment the main show.

However, because the antics of the housemates were often so crazy for that time of day, they would have little choice but to show a shot of a chair accompanied by minimal sound most of the time, so little extra insight would end up being gained by viewers. In the time when this wasn’t running, in 2005, E4 decided that they would try something different in this slot.

E4 Music was a strand that would be notable for various reasons. These include a rather amusing trail for all this around the launch, which insisted that this idea had been around since 1886, accompanied by Patrick Allen and his lovely voice. But this would be an opportunity to show new music videos, along with live performances from the archive. And you could watch it all again on +1.

There would be various themed hours, such as videos of songs in the same genre, or even some that were picked by a guest pop star. There would be various hosts for this, and these included George Lamb, and Sarah Hendy, who had caused something of a stir on Price-Drop.TV of course, and looked destined for further hosting jobs (she was also on BBC3 around this time), before she just vanished from the screen one day.

There would also be the sort-of spin-off show Freshly Squeezed, featuring the best new music videos, which was usually shown very early on weekday mornings on Channel 4. I suppose that looking back now, this was the third generation of music channels on TV in this country. If the first was the likes of Sky Trax and Music Box in the 80s, and the second was MTV and UK Play in the 90s, then this along with TMF and The Hits was the 2000s.

The days when they would show videos by successful indie bands, it all seems to long ago now. E4 Music came to an end following the launch of the 4Music channel, which could show music videos all day, and was a great idea, and this allowed E4 to now fill their morning slot with repeats of The Big Bang Theory. The slight flaw though was that they barely showed any videos, and this channel closed rather recently.

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.