i cant recall when i became aware of the classic BRITISH comedy show YES MINISTER (BBC, 1980-84) but the premise of the show still feels relevant today in a political climate full of commonly used conspiracy terminology like the deep state and fake news.
the premise deals with a lowly minster newly sworn in to a minor department in the BRITISH bureaucracy. idealistic, wet behind the ears and naive to the machinations of government he is routinely put in ever more dire situations by his aide. every statement he makes is taken and interpreted in a manner that makes the minister look weak, uninformed and daft. as the aide and other "backbenchers" of the civil service are present and unchanging throughout all administrations, the show gives off the impression that it is really they that hold the reigns of power, not public officials. the main aide to the MP, expertly played by SIR NIGEL HAWTHORNE, is as ruthless and linguistically manipulative a character as SHAKESPEARE's IAGO.
comedy-wise it is a much smarter version of any BUGS BUNNY / ELMER FUDD cartoon, often lampooning the OXBRIDGE and ETON/HARROW/RADLEY crowd and their pretensions of incontestable refined sophistication and intelligence. the fact that an aide and an anonymous sea of civil servants could upend this dunce is almost a victory for common BRITAINS.
obviously now in the age of TRUMP this who premise is reversed, these civil servants seen at best as obstructionists to the will of the people and at worst an enemy within.
beyond interesting, and deeply hilarious, example of BRITISH comedy made even more timely in our current climate. whats even more biting is the fact that the follow-up series was YES PRIME MINISTER (BBC, 1986-88) as the blabbering idiot of an MP, deftly played by PAUL EDDINGTON, moved up the food chain, kinda like our resident idiot.
years ago i spent a week the summer before i started graduate school at childhood friend's place in MONTREAL. what a gorgeous enchanted city, especially during the summertime. i'd never been to CANADA, only made fun of it my entire waking life at that point. besides eating smoked meat late night at the famous SCHWARTZ'S DELI and hanging out with my friend's peers and acquaintances, what i remember most fondly is watching this reality show KENNY VS. SPENNY (CBC, 2003-2010) on repeat.
it blew my mind.
first off, i hate REALITY TV as a matter of principal. i just feel that they are mindless dribble and the worst kind of voyeurism since they elevate attention-seeking cretins hungry for 10 minutes of celebrity. but this was different. the show is basically two friends (KENNY HOTZ and SPENCER RICE) that have a competition each week. they agree on a challenge and then the person that loses said competition gets humiliated by the other at the end of the show. KENNY is basically the devil incarnate, always trying to find loopholes to the rules and taking advantage of his friend SPENCER, who is likewise a stand-up yet gullible figure. some of these competitions are brutal, such as:
this show was on network television (CBC no less) and it was easily, scripted or not (i still dont know), the most mean-spirited thing i have seen on television to date. for the DEAD OCTOPUS episode KENNY slips SPENCER LSD and convinces him that he is being chased, resulting in SPENCER lying in a fetal position crying for help. for the KISSING THE MOST WOMEN episode KENNY decides to kiss SPENCER's sister in front of him. for the 10 MILE RACE episode KENNY knew SPENCER was more athletic so he got him away from the track where they were to race at a predetermined time by having SPENCER's mom convince her son that she got cancer and needed him at the hospital. the cruelty is absolutely boundless on this show, which blew me away because its CANADIAN. out of 80+ episodes i must have watched 50 over a few days. i was obsessed.
it was a weird trip because at some point on television there was a televised debate for some public office where one candidate said to the other that he "disagreed intensely based on firm principles." it was so CANADIAN because they didn't demean one another. fast forward a few nights of watching KENNY VS SPENNY and my opinion of CANADIANS has permanently shifted. plus deep down i know im more SPENCER than KENNY, sadly.
im telling you, this is the most debased, depraved, irredeemably cruel show i've ever watched. I TOTALLY RECOMMEND IT.
ABSTRACT: THE ART OF DESIGN is an ongoing NETFLIX series of documentaries that highlights exemplars associated with various fields of design. in this entry i am focused on the episode related to the inventive, progressive creative work of the modern DANISH architect BJARKE INGELS.
before watching this episode my prior entry point to his work was a critique by THE LIFE-SIZED CITY YOUTUBE series which criticized a pedestrian bridge to his new corporate complex in COPENHAGEN which serviced no target demographic and in fact made nearby major intersections less efficient. so there you go, my only bias. i've never been to DENMARK and have never seen INGELS' work in the flesh. what the episode presents is a young, ambitious architect that has an inclusive YES IS MORE mentality towards commissions and input by shareholders. his designs seem inventive, modern and slightly ostentatious, yet apparently are made on the cheap utilizing lesser unconventional materials.
i haven't been to DENMARK, but i have been all around EUROPE and what always struck me was this dual sword represented in the idea of tradition. this focus on tradition can be manifested in art, music, food, clothing and architecture and can either be stifling to creativity or a springboard. you get the sense that DANISH culture is rather reserved and its buildings highly practical with a certain uniformity that belies the homogeneity of its people. INGELS comes off as almost AMERICAN in both his ambition and sheer bravado. i mean the dude, made a ski slope on top of a power plant. i have no idea if this guy is a PRITZKER level talent or an ambitious yet reductive, over-hyped upstart.
not sure i really care either way whether or not he is a naive at best or a charlatan at worst, which seems to be the consensus of his detractors. his cost-effective, multi-use spaces provide a bit of poetry towards infrastructure concepts that are long overdue stateside. his energy and commitment to sustainability and efficiency as well as fun is sorely missed in outdated, eyesore AMERICAN infrastructure targets like airports, train stations and community centers.
we need rejuvenation. something to capture our imagination. just like our democracy and adherence to market capitalism, our architecture is outmoded. we need to get on that. rejuvenate. put a ski slop on a goddamn power plant already!
i think character development is overrated. SEINFELD made a killing by having multi-dimensional characters that from the get-go we recognize as archetypes for friends, neighbors, colleagues and family members we've come in contact with in the past. and then they put them in crazy situations that they largely wondered into unknowingly but somehow with hubris and passion. each show is concluded and nothing is carried over from episode to episode. nothing gained. nothing referenced later on (that i can remember at least). each episode is its own universe.
for me IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA has that same basic format going on accept in their reality, each one seeks a downward trajectory of moral depravity and dehumanization in futile hopes of clawing their way out of the psychic morass they collectively created. the writing is ingenious and you get the sense that the bar is lowered significantly from season to season. each episode attempting to out-pathetic and the one before with no carry over. no lessons learned. no character development.
since there are three sets of real-life marriages represented in the actors that portray the characters, there is an interesting subtext utilized for comic effect that i've never seen beforehand. One main character (CHARLIE) is routinely rejected by his love interest (THE WAITRESS) in increasing savage and emasculating fashion (the two are married in real-life) while another main character (SWEET DEE) who is visibly pregnant is essentially called a tramp all season by the cast (including her real-life husband) who question who the father might be.
its brutal. but that is what makes the show work. it showcases modern AMERICAN life as pugilistic with little to no safety net or realistic professional opportunities. the only thing constant in this show is conflict and, oddly, family. this group is a family unit of sorts, dysfunctional beyond repair, but a cohesive surrogate family nonetheless. they all can be counted on to mock, injury and defame one other. its almost enduring. given that the growing economic disparity and structural racism in our country has pushed our democracy to the brink and left any notion of our AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM as a sad biting joke, in my eyes this show is right for the moment. it both displays what moronic self-interest leads to on a micro scale as well as mocks the development of that depraved worldview from inception to execution. itd be funny if it wasnt so real since we are all living through a REALITY TV show right now. a shitty one at that.
oh check out the songs from the show though. they're great. embedded below
ok admittedly this last one is just genius editing by someone in youtube land.
its funny when rewatching old TV SHOWS from your youth how prescient things become in retrospect. such is the case with the animated MTV show DARIA (1997-2002) and its depiction of disaffected high school geeks and outcasts and the general jaded malaise that sets in when you come to realize that world is full of it.
what makes it interesting now for me is the fact that it depicts a time pre-SOCIAL MEDIA and at the very beginnings of modern internet culture and 24/7 cable news coverage. in my mind, turning on TV nowadays is all REALITY TV, news coverage or not. everything has come to, in essence, be a SICK SAD WORLD segment, meant to jolt and shock you from the fog of information inundation but essentially just contributes to the sensation overload.
i'm sure at the time this was meant as a knowing commentary on late night tabloid TV newsmagazines like A CURRENT AFFAIR or HARD COPY or INSIDE EDITION, but as we now know, this yellow journalistic model has spread and metastasized in mainstream new coverage of every political stripe. its all about the hits, clicks and likes in this era and such is perfect for coverage without moral and ethical restraints that trades on our most debased and uninformed tendencies.
and i don't think its gonna change. ever.
so thank you DARIA for welcoming us all to this new world order. ironically this show is brought to you by the same channel that brought us all REALITY TV (a la MARK BURNETT PRODUCTIONS) and later our very own REALITY TV president (a la THE APPRENTICE - a BURNETT production).
sick sad world, indeed!
i was watching a recent FRONTLINE documentary called about immigration policies under TRUMP called ZERO TOLERANCE the other day and was swept up with anger and frustration at how collectively diminished and lost we have become as a country in the past few years.
i am definitely not the most vocal rah-rah american ever, but i did spend nearly half my life abroad as well as spent time as a volunteer with the PEACE CORPS serving others in our name. so i feel like i have some skin in the game. i do care about our role in the bigger international community, probably because i grew up in it. i've seen firsthand how others once viewed our country with a sense of ambition and aspiration. that is gone now. what is continuing to go on in our collective name as americans makes me particularly ashamed of my gender and ethnicity. i hate that when TRUMP speaks he feels deeply that he is talking on my behalf as a white male. the fact that people feel are foolish enough to agree is depressing on a level i cannot even begin to effectively express.
i was trying to think of a bright spot since my return stateside over 2 years ago and i realized going to see a taping of the now defunct COMEDY CENTRAL satirical send-off THE PRESIDENT SHOW with my dad at STEPHEN COLBERT's old studio (where during college I similarly witnessed a taping of his similarly-themed COLBERT REPORT) really connected me back to humanity, being able to laugh at this current ass clown occupying the oval office with a diverse crowd of like-minded citizens. at the time i needed that.
this show is an artifact of the beginning of his term. my fear now 3 years in is that he is completely beyond parody as he has now become the modern personification of evil in a purely american capitalist-gone-wrong mold.
we are almost a year out, so please vote. if you aren't registered, here's a LINK to help get you started. i'll say it again, please vote.
oh my god, i love NORM MACDONALD. dude is my spirit animal.
he is quite honestly the funniest comedian ever. my opinion. what i love about him is his ability to self-sabotage and decimate every premise available with absolute conviction. watching him is watching a tight-rope act of the most highest order. he is the comedy equivalent of a sledgehammer, disregarding form, audience and even time limits.
in other words he is beyond unique and a comedian's comedian. dude hosts the ESPYS in the 90s and eviscerates his audience, a RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL audience full of athletes. he hosts SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE within a year of being fired for making fun of his boss only to eviscerate his former boss and the show in his opening monologue. NORM even does a roast of his peer BOB SAGET with unfunny jokes designed to bomb. then there is his legendary moth joke. i could do this all night. but i wont.
dude is a legend.
whenever i am down i just search for his guest appearances on LETTERMAN or CONAN and just laugh. to me he is the ultimate because he is absolutely unhinged. other comedians feign like they are out of control, but NORM truly doesn't give a shit. his career is so up and down because of his unpredictability, but im telling you, when its all said and done he is the LENNY BRUCE, the RICHARD PRYOR, the GEORGE CARLIN of this era.
him and CHRIS FARLEY are my two favorite comedians ever. please check out his material embedded below.
for whatever reason, the four seasons of 90s cult classic comedy show MR. SHOW (HBO, 1995-1998) starring BOB ODENKIRK (BREAKING BAD, BETTER CALL SAUL) and DAVID CROSS (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) is criminally overlooked. an outgrowth of the alternative comedy scene in LOS ANGELES at the time, its cultural impact can be seen in the varying careers of its many collaborators including that of BRIAN POSEHN (METALOCALYPSE, THE BIG BANG THEORY), TOM KENNY (SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, THE POWERPUFF GIRLS, JOHNNY BRAVO), JILL TALLEY (SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, THE BOONDOCKS), PAUL F. TOMPKINS (BOJACK HORESMAN, BOB'S BURGERS, THE DAILY SHOW), JACK BLACK (TENACIOUS D), SARAH SILVERMAN (THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, BOB's BURGERS), JAY JOHNSTON (THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM, MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENHOLE), BEN STILLER (THE BEN STILLER SHOW, ZOOLANDER, DODGEBALL), JERRY MINOR (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, COMMUNITY), MARY LYNN RAJSKUB (24, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE), JOHN ENNIS (TWIN PEAKS, WALK HARD, ZODIAC), SCOTT AUKERMAN (BETWEEN TWO FERNS WITH ZACH GALIFIANAKIS), MARLON WAYANS (IN LIVING COLOUR, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM) and JANEANE GARAFALO (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, 24, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW). the "Titannica" skit was referenced in the name of a BLINK-182 song ("Adam's Song") and the show even become the springboard for a TOOL side project (MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN's PUSCIFER) and TENACIOUS D, who themselves had an HBO show that was co-created and co-produced with ODENKIRK and CROSS.
the show takes its sensibility from MONTY PYTHON in that live and prerecorded skits are connected tangentially from segment to segment with no narrative arc. this frees the material to be the focus. a product of the CLINTON-era, much of the focus of the humor is derived from lampooning the stupidity of american life (reality tv, jingoism, sensationalist journalism) and public institutions (the police, government officials, corporate america). in many ways the lack of intellectual curiosity and selfish nature of the american general public is a target just below the surface and for that reason, this show has aged remarkably well.
given the political nature of their comedy, the creators and select cast members have done mix-media tours of theaters over the years. i saw them in NYC around 2003 as they lampooned the build-up to the misguided return american military adventure into the middle east on their HOORAY FOR AMERICA! tour. to me MR. SHOW holds a special place in my heart as they were consciously articulating a perspective and using comedy as a mirror to articulate just how far from our professed ideals we had fallen, especially during a time of compliance and plastic patriotic fervor rooted in raw, uninhibited xenophobia.
again, MR. SHOW still holds up. definitely worth your time to investigate.