More TV Memories – Baddiel’s Syndrome.

Baddiel’s Syndrome (Sky One, 2001)

David Baddiel is a comedian who has been popular over the years, but his career had reached a difficult point. He had previously had success in a double-act with Rob Newman, and they were at the forefront of the “comedy is the new rock ‘n’ roll” movement, even appearing on the cover of music magazines, where the rock stars once used to be. He then went into a double-act with Frank Skinner that also did well.

But those days are now behind him. One day when he is at home, he walks into his front room, and there are some people sat on his sofa who he doesn’t recognise. There is a posh Englishman called Peter, along with the American Ethan. There is also Eva, who is from Slovenia or Latvia or some such country, who knows. He is just trying to live an ordinary life, including spending a lot of time in his local pub, but he has become trapped in a world full of zany comic actors.

They talk in unnatural ways and do rather bizarre things, only taking a break for a brief musical sting accompanied by a shot of a staircase between scenes. He begins to feel rather uncomfortable about all of this, so he decides to do the decent thing, and go and talk to someone about it. #britaingettalking His therapist is unseen, but is voiced by Stephen Fry (not that I am suggesting that he was probably too in-demand to appear in person, so he probably dashed off all of his dialogue in one session, even though I am).

What eventually becomes clear in these conversations is that David had a nice person from Sky One go up to him and wave a cheque with a rather big number on it, in the hope that he would write and appear in a sitcom for that satellite channel, following on from their other home-made comedy shows, including The Strangerers, Time Gentlemen Please, and Harry Enfield’s Big Load Of Nonsense (I think that’s what it was called).

Well he is very happy to oblige, and comes up with this 13 episode sitcom, which really does come across as an uncomfortable mix of Baddiel’s deadpan style and everyone else carrying on like a fifth-rate George Costanza. Oh, and Dave Lee Travis made a guest appearance in the first episode, and everything went downhill from there really.

He didn’t do it all by himself though, other writers included his brother Ivor and Jonathan Ross. Despite all of this, it’s fair to say that the response to Baddiel’s Syndrome was mixed. One critic whined “I’m truly angered by the effrontery of it all”. After this effort, Sky One practically gave up on making comedy, and went back to the tried and trusted imports in the schedule.

More TV Memories – E Street.

E Street (Ten, 1989-1993)

I am still going through some old Australian singles charts to try and uncover more interesting stories (and they are planned to come soon), but whilst I was going through the early-90s, I suddenly remembered something. This was around the time when Australian soaps were very popular in this country, and for a while, the daytime (and nighttime) schedules seemed to be swamped with them.

Most of these were on BBC1 and ITV, but after a while, Sky One got involved as well, and in 1992, they added an Australian soap to their primetime schedule. It seemed that they were confident that E Street would soon be giving the likes of Neighbours and Home And Away a run for their money in the ratings, and there was a big promotional push for the launch, with an advert in Smash Hits and everything.

E Street had actually started in 1989, so there were three years to catch up on. The memory is a little vague on this one, and the only reason that I ever remember seeing this at all is because I knew some boys who I went to school with who lived on the floor upstairs, and they unlike us they had satellite TV, which was very fancy by my standards, and they often invited me round while they watched Sky One.

Where this was has long gone now, and it’s still weird to think that my bedroom for the first ten years of my life is no longer there, but me whinging about that it’s what you want to know, is it? You want to know about all of the terrific moments that happened in this soap. Well E Street was shown five days a week on Sky One (in half-hour episodes), and this was all about the comings and goings in the fictional part of a city. This one supposedly had more of an edge than the average soap.

I must admit that I don’t really remember too much, and as always I presume that there will be someone somewhere out there who can fill in some of the gaps, but one moment that I do remember me and the boys being rather excited about involved a character called Michael, who died, or it was presumed that he had died, then he came back to life, then he really did die? Phew, that was intense!

Oh, and there was a serial killer on the loose or something like that. There were 404 hour-long episodes of E Street in four years, but I don’t know how many were shown on Sky One, I would very much doubt that it was all of them. And it’s probably no surprise that this ended up not really taking off in this country, with viewers being more than satisfied with their Neighbours for the time being.

The Comedy Vault – Malcolm In The Middle.

Malcolm In The Middle (Fox, 2000-2006)

This is another American sitcom that I must admit I haven’t watched a huge amount over the years, but I am definitely aware that this is considered to be one of the most popular (and indeed funniest) of its era. The main character is Malcolm (not to be confused with that weird puppet thing on that game show that I reviewed recently).

He is “in the middle” because he lives with his parents Hal and Lois, and two of his brothers, Reece is older than him, and Dewey is younger (his other older brother Francis is away). Malcolm is a rather bright boy, with an IQ that is well above-average, but he doesn’t always find school to be an easy experience. His only real friend is Stevie, who helps him along the way.

But despite is supposed cleverness, when he is at home, he squabbles with his brothers just as much as any other family does. His parents often have trouble keeping everything under control, including his short-tempered mother who works at a department store. Malcolm sometimes can’t help but wonder what life is all about, and reflects on his situations in pieces straight to camera.

As the series progressed, more attention is made to the aging of the children than there is in most sitcoms. Malcolm entered his teenage years, Francis got married, and Lois eventually gave birth once again, bringing a fifth son into the family. Malcolm didn’t consider his parents to be fairly odd though, because that was another show. This was definitely a step above the “everybody in my family is crazy”-type sitcoms that there have been so many of.

There were 151 episodes of Malcolm In The Middle in seven series, and they have all been released on DVD. This was first shown in this country on Sky One, but really took off when episodes were shown on BBC2, often shown after The Simpsons, to create a rather satisfying double-bill. In more recent years, there have been repeat runs on various other channels.

The theme music “Boss Of Me” was provided by They Might Be Giants, and this also became a hit single, making this the first time that they had been on the UK chart for over a decade. There was also a memorable parody in Family Guy, even accounting for the fact that they have now parodied just about every other show on TV, this one still managed to stand out. I’m talking to you!

More TV Memories – The Kumars At No. 42.

The Kumars At No. 42 (BBC2, 2001-2004, BBC1, 2005-2006)/The Kumars (Sky One, 2014)

This is a comedy show with a difference, that features many of the people who contributed to sketch show Goodness Gracious Me. The Kumars At No. 42 was a comedy chat show, in a style similar to The Mrs Merton Show. The idea is that they are a family who live in London, and we see them at their home, which is rather unusual, because this contains a TV studio, and there’s plenty of room to fit in an audience too.

I can only imagine what their neighbours thought of all of this. Sanjeev invites various celebrities into his home, where they meet the rest of his family. He then goes on to conduct an interview, and asks various questions. But the fun comes in from his parents and gran who are watching on, and they like to interrupt and ask the guests much more outrageous questions.

And of course, this causes lots of amusing moments. Hopefully the celebrities have realised what they are letting themselves in for. But the decent line-ups that they managed to attract to take part (and get the joke) definitely enhanced this show. The Kumars At No. 42 ended up doing rather well for BBC2, appearing in a Monday evening slot for several series, winning awards, and then being promoted to BBC1 for the later series.

They ended up becoming popular enough to be chosen in 2003 to perform the single released in aid of that year’s Comic Relief. Their version of “Spirit In The Sky” went on to be a chart-topper (the third time that song has been Number One in this country), and they were even brave enough to collaborate with Gareth Gates on this. Well it might be no “The Stonk”, but it was still rather good fun.

There were some repeat runs on BBC Choice, but I don’t recall seeing this much in recent years though. But then, curiously, about a decade after the original version ended, Sky One briefly revived the idea, with the title being shortened to The Kumars, and the family picking up where they left off. Yet more celebrity guests took part, but this had run out of steam by this point and wasn’t as successful.

More TV Memories – TV Years.

TV Years (Sky One, 2001-2002)

Rather famously in the early-2000s, there was a time when there were a lot of nostalgia documentaries and list shows, so for example, the debate about what the 46th greatest children’s TV show was or the best toy of 1979 could finally be settled. Sky One also did some series like this, although the idea was becoming a little stale by this point, and almost lapsed into self-parody.

In every edition of TV Years, there would be a look back at some popular shows, and the stories behind them. The 80s and 90s were covered, I do remember that there was a piece about the launch of Bullseye in the 1981 edition, and I also spotted some of an edition online that was about 1992. About four or five shows would be featured, and a wide variety of people contributed.

These included a few people who actually appeared in the shows, plus whoever else they could get hold of. Among them were Peter Kay, Bill Bailey, and Johnny Vegas, who always seemed to turn up in these type of shows, plus others, including Jim Bowen (who definitely didn’t seem to think that everything was “marvellous”), and Harry Enfield (who seemingly had signed a 20-year contract with Sky and had to be given something else to do after his sketch show ended).

There were even appearances from Mel And Sue, and I could be wrong, but some of the observations did seem to have the “watch a short clip and them just describe what happens” tone. And there were the usual “what were the prizes about on Bullseye?” and “do you remember being sat at home watching Gladiators?”-type comments, but you have to remember that even these were new jokes once.

But overall, TV Years was interesting for the “I wonder what’ll be featured next” element, and there were a few good memories in among the clich├ęs. So not long after, Sky One decided to do it all again with Pop Years, which took a look back at the biggest pop music of the 80s and 90s, including some of the singers who were on the scene, plus the usual commenters again.

More TV Memories – Jumpers For Goalposts.

Jumpers For Goalposts (Sky One, 2001)

The Fast Show was one of the most successful comedy sketch shows of its era, and so it deserved to be. Even though there wasn’t a huge amount of editions (three series and some specials), rather a lot more was squeezed out of the idea, with the popular characters also appearing in various adverts, on stage shows, in sitcom spin-offs, and so on. There was also a comedy panel game.

This was on Sky One, instead of the BBC, and I do remember this attracting my interest and seeing a little at the time. Jumpers For Goalposts (being one of The Fast Show‘s famous catchphrases) was all about sport, in a similar style to A Question Of Sport and They Think It’s All Over, that were also around at the time. This was presented by Simon “bid again, Simon” Day in character as Clive Gordon. vlcsnap-00461

Two teams of three took part, and the team captains were Mark Williams in character as Scottish hardman Tommy Stein “Stein-Housmuir”), and Paul Whitehouse in character as Ron Manager (“Ron’s Rangers”, although these team names changed every week), who had a big rivalry, and also often wore some nice knitwear. Ron had a rather old-fashioned view on football. Do you remember the days when there were puddles on the pitch? Isn’t it? Now like now, no, marvellous. vlcsnap-00455

Every week they would be joined by some panellists, including comedians, footballers, or anyone that they could get hold of cheap really, and this led to some rather unlikely combinations. So if you’d ever wanted to see Noel Gallagher and Paul Daniels, or Jim Bowen and Goldie, on the same team, then there was some good news for you. vlcsnap-00460

There were various rounds, but none of them were particularly original, such as can you guess who this sportsperson is from these clues, and the fingers on buzzers, and although there was a score kept and a winning team announced, as always with these type of shows, it was the contribution that they made (such as how much they laughed at everything) that mattered the most. vlcsnap-00462

There were 13 editions of Jumpers For Goalposts in only one series, but this all came and went with little attention, and it could be said that this stretched the idea of the characters a little too far, maybe the genre was already too crowded. In later years there would be more sport-themed comedy panel games including A League Of Their Own and Play To The Whistle. But this one remains a curiosity from two decades ago. Ooh, mantle with aplomb, marvellous. jumpers0001

More TV Memories – Blam!!!

Blam!!! (Sky One, 2000-2001)

I thought that I would review another show about computer games. There have been various shows going back to the 80s, and although I didn’t watch all of them at the time, the early-2000s were something of a boom period for this genre. Shows included Channel 4’s Bits, even ITV got in on the action with Cybernet (although it was shown very late at night), and various other channels including Bravo also had dedicated shows.

I remember in an issue of PlayStation World magazine (around the time I started to buy it because I had a shiny new PS2 in those days) there was a look back at this genre, reminiscing about such attempts over the years to let viewers know more about the world of games including Bad Influence! and GamesMaster. The feature also looked at a new show that was coming that aimed to bring the genre in a new era and be more exciting than most. vlcsnap-00001

This was Blam!!! (three exclamation marks?), which was shown on Sky One on weekend mornings (this channel having already brought us the memorable Games World, which I definitely enjoyed). The host was Julia Reed, whose profile at this time was on the up after she replaced Philippa Forrester as the co-host of Robot Wars which was doing well, and it looked like she was on the brink of becoming a big TV name. She was slightly more glamorous than the likes of Andy Crane and Dominik Diamond too. vlcsnap-00002

What did Blam!!! have to offer viewers then? Well there was plenty. There were the usual reviews (including the new PS2), but along with this, we were also told how much the games were worth and what website you could buy them from, meaning that technically the show was classed as advertising, which was a little odd as I always thought that there was supposed to be a clear difference between what the shows and adverts are. Was this an audition for a shopping channel maybe? vlcsnap-00004

And there were also charts, interviews, along with various challenges where gamers who thought that they knew a thing or two showed off their skills in a competition, while Julia walked around in a big black coat. Despite all of this, Blam!!! didn’t really change the genre that much at all, it ended after only a short while, and I don’t remember seeing Julia on TV much after this. vlcsnap-00005

Although it was a worthwhile idea, Blam!!! joined the fairly long list of those frustrating attempts at trying to bring gaming more into the mainstream that didn’t really succeed, and unsurprisingly there isn’t a huge amount out there about the show online. But looking back now, it’s another reminder of just how quickly the games industry changes, as well as TV.

More TV Memories – Hex.

Hex (Sky One, 2004-2005)

I have never been that interested in TV drama, but I have enjoyed a few shows that are in the supernatural genre, such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Dark Angel, and that was one of the reasons that I was attracted to this British-made series. And I have got to admit, another one of the reasons that made me want to watch this one was that Jemima Rooper was among the cast.

Now Jemima had previously appeared in As If, the Channel 4 teen drama from the early-2000s that I really enjoyed at the time, and I was just so pleased that she was continuing to get work in TV drama series, especially as I don’t remember seeing the rest of the cast in much else. She also went on to appear in ITV1’s costume drama Lost In Austen, which earned her a Radio Times cover, but I liked this one more. vlcsnap-00664

However, as this one was created by the same team behind As If, maybe it’s not too much of a surprise that Jemima appeared. The main character in Hex is Cassie, who attends Medenham Hall, a school with a strange history. It’s rather tough for her, but she soon befriends Thelma… who is actually a ghost. This another one of those shows where nobody is who they seem and everyone has a secret to hide. vlcsnap-00662

Cassie’s secret is that she is a witch. There are also people who can turn into demons, this is clearly no ordinary school. Well once again it’s time to save the world. And as the episodes progress, the mysteries become ever more complicated, and the destinies have to be fulfilled. Gave me the fright of my life. In the second series Ella joined the cast, someone who definitely could be classed as mysterious, being 500 years old and all that. vlcsnap-00667

Hex wasn’t too bad an effort at creating something different in this genre, it went down well with critics, there was a great amount of tension, and it contained a lot of moments that were spooky, and indeed some that were even rather scary. This was also a show where a gloomy theme song would’ve fitted well, and Garbage definitely obliged there with the suitable “#1 Crush”. vlcsnap-00688

There were 19 episodes of Hex in two series, including a double-length special to start things off. The show was originally on Sky One, but because I only had Freeview by this point, I was rather pleased when it was repeated on Sky Three or whatever it was called at the time, I definitely got into it. All of the episodes have been released on DVD on eight discs, and extras include a making of and some deleted scenes.

More TV Memories – Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (WB, 1997-2001, UPN, 2001-2003)

I have never been that interested in the drama genre, but having enjoyed the likes of Alias and Dark Angel, I thought that I should give this one a go too. This is a show that is well documented online, but as I became a fan I thought I might as well add my piece. Buffy The Vampire Slayer started out as a film in 1992 that starred Kristy Swanson and had more of a comedic style. Then in 1997 it was decided to return to the idea, but this time as a fantasy TV drama series, and with Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead role.

Buffy Summers attends a school at Sunnydale, but there is no getting away from her destiny. If there are ever any vampires, werewolves, zombies, or any of those kind of things around, and there are a rather surprising amount of them it seems, Buffy has to come to the rescue. Can Buffy save the world and still get her project in on time? Well hopefully. vlcsnap-00420

There were plenty of other characters that we meet in the show of course, including Angel, Cordelia, Spike, and Buffy’s shock secret younger sister Dawn who turned up in the later episodes. So those zombies better watch out. Also playing a major part was the school librarian Rupert Giles, who was played by the English-born Anthony Head. vlcsnap-00297

Now to some he will always be best-known as Giles, and to some he will always be best-known as that bloke in the Gold Blend advert. But my parents were once in the studio audience for the BBC Radio 4 sitcom Bleak Expectations that Head starred in, so to them he will always be best-known as Mr Gently-Benevolent (and we mustn’t forget his role as terrifically-voiced Captain Hercules Shipwright in Cabin Pressure either). But either way, he always put in a great performance. vlcsnap-00298

The show was also full of pop-culture references, and Buffy soon became a reference in itself after gaining a decent-sized fanbase, and was referenced in Spaced among other shows. A few creative ideas were tried out too, including a musical special. There were 144 episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer in seven series, they have all been released on DVD uncut, and extras include outtakes and scripts. vlcsnap-00299

The show has been on several channels in the UK, including BBC2 and Sky One, but they were usually shown in an evening slot, meaning that most of the slaying was edited out. Other merchandise included computer games and a monthly magazine that contained a comic strip and posters, I did have a few of these, but I do wish that I managed to have more. vlcsnap-00300

There have also been three books released called The Watcher’s Guide, that contain everything that you could ever want to know about the show, including episode guides, a look behind the scenes, and interviews with the cast and crew. Along with the main show, the Angel character went on to have a long-running spin-off series that was well-received too.

More TV Memories – ALF.

ALF (NBC, 1986-1990)

Who would’ve thought that one of the most popular personalities on American TV in the late-80s would be some furry puppet thing? But that’s exactly what happened with this sitcom which was full of science-fiction silliness. Firstly, ALF isn’t the main character’s name, it’s because he is an Alien Life Form, his real name is Gordon (and he is definitely the second-best sitcom character called Gordon after Gordon Brittas).

The Tanners are a very ordinary family, not one who could sustain a sitcom on their own, but all that changes when one day a spaceship crashlands in their garage, and they are fairly surprised to see him to put it mildly, because ALF has arrived from the planet Melmac. Life is not boring now! But he is soon welcomed into their home, because he is a 229-year-old with attitude, and naturally has a smart comment for every situation. vlcsnap-01101

ALF does eventually adjust to life on Earth, even if he does struggle to understand it. The next-door neighbours aren’t aware of the situation, although it is clear to them that something rather strange is happening. Someone who doesn’t befriend ALF though is Lucky the cat, as he likes to eat such things, and his wiggles his ears with excitement upon seeing one. If he can’t eat a cat though, a huge sandwich often makes up for it. vlcsnap-01098

The original run of the show ended with ALF finally leaving Earth like so many unpopular animated baseball-cap wearing canines. There were 102 episodes of ALF in four series (every episode title was taken from a pop song). But would he do it all again? Well yes, because there were two cartoon spin-off series, along with a film. And of course, they made a few quid with the merchandise, including toys that were advertised rather frequently, everybody wanted to hug him. vlcsnap-01102

ALF did fairly well in the UK too. Although it wasn’t ever shown on CITV, the show was considered to some extent to be a children’s sitcom in this country, and it was usually shown in the afternoon on LWT, before moving to Sky One. ALF did make a few guest appearances on CITV though, and he also had the honour of some Lookin covers, which was his aim when he arrived on this planet I’m sure. vlcsnap-01100

Looking back now I suppose it’s rather obvious why viewers fell for ALF’s charms. I don’t think that there has been a DVD release in this country though which is disappointing, because it would definitely be a good move. And I got through doing this piece without making the usual “the puppet had more charisma and personality than the human actors” joke. Well, nearly.