Tag Archives: Family Guy

The Gang Goes Insane and Other Stories: The Top Ten Most Brilliantly Bonkers Comedies That Have Existed

My my, Sunday nights will be dull for the next few weeks – not only has Downton finished for another season, but the current series of Rude Tube, complete with the lovely Alex Zane, has also come to a close. Thank goodness, then, for Toast of London, the last brief spark of Sunday night hilarity (until the inevitable post-Christmas return of the Big Fat Quiz of the Year). Broadcast so late that no one appears to be watching it – it doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page!!! – Toast is nonetheless a delightful piece of nutty comedic programming, calling to mind British surreal humour at its best. How best to commemorate its barely noticed existence…? Sounds like it’s time for another definitive top ten list!

The Top Ten Most Brilliantly Bonkers Comedies That Have Existed

DISCLAIMER: This Is Jinsy doesn’t appear because I’ve only seen the bits with David Tennant, but it looks like it would qualify for this list. In contrast, Peep Show is excluded by being insufficiently bonkers, and The Mighty Boosh and The League of Gentlemen by being insufficiently brilliant. In my view, of course. (My definitely accurate view.)

10. Fortysomething (2003)

Just squeezing into the list at no. 10, Fortysomething wasn’t out-and-out absurd, its main attraction being the glorious casting of Hugh Laurie as the main character and Benedict Cumberbatch as his eldest son. Most of the humour came from gentle digs at the middle class (Cumberbatch’s opening scene involves Laurie telling him off for eating all the luxury seafood goujons), but two key elements push it over the line into wackiness: the constant chop-and-change of who’s sleeping with whom (the teenage boys’ girlfriends being swapped back and forth between the brothers as if they were Pokémon cards), and Peter Capaldi (yes, he’s in it too) as the semi-antagonist who is an angry thorn in Laurie’s side until his horrifying descent into madness in the later episodes of the series. Good times!

9. Family Guy (1999-present)

One of the most mainstream programmes on the list, and more ‘occasionally amusing’ than ‘pee your pants hilarious’, Family Guy nevertheless deserves its spot because of the sheer abundance of moments that make you say, “What just happened?” Primarily responsible for these moments are the show’s cutaway gags, cued in by Peter Griffin’s chorus of “This is worse than that time I…” (“went on a blind date with Gary Coleman to Mexico” / “forgot how to sit down” / “swallowed that midget who played Mini-Me”), with additional weirdness contributed by supporting characters like Adam West, the town’s dippy mayor; Ernie, the man-sized prize-fighting chicken; and the Kool-Aid Man, a large jug of red liquid who periodically bursts through walls and shouts, “Oh yeah!”. No, I don’t know why either.

8. A Bit of Fry and Laurie (1989-1995)

Hugh Laurie’s second appearance on the list*, and he’s back where he belongs, in cahoots with (and frequently being punched in the face by) Stephen Fry. All sketch shows have an element of bonkers to them, and Fry and Laurie are adept in the art of off-the-wall moments – see for example Fry demonstrating the fine art of quantity surveying – but A Bit of Fry and Laurie handles the madness with style and with substance; this is absurdity with intent, the primary victim of Fry and Laurie’s pointed wit being the English language (what’s in a name?).  Sketch shows don’t get more erudite than this.

*You’ll notice that this kind of recurrence becomes a running theme in today’s entry.

7. Black Books (2000-2004)

Black Books is a comedy set in a bookshop that has nothing to do with books and everything to do with wine, shouting and creepy house cleaners. Dylan Moran scowls his way through every episode, alternating lazy insolence with furious rage, while Bill Bailey and Tamsin Grieg’s half-hearted attempts to get on with slightly more normal lives result in bee homicide, ruining other people’s wine cellars and inappropriate responses to the Shipping Forecast. Despite all three of the main characters being egotistical, obnoxious and barking mad, the true tour-de-force of Black Books is making you like them anyway, and there are even a couple of genuinely moving episodes in the final season. RIP bees.

6. Toast of London (2013-?)

Despite its lack of recognition from Wikipedia, and being broadcast at 10.40pm on a Sunday night, Toast is a ripping yarn, with Matt Berry (best known as Douglas Reynholm from The IT Crowd) carrying the whole show on his well-moustiachoed shoulders (you know what I mean). The premise is slight – a semi-successful actor takes on a series of semi-successful roles – but the madness abounds, with a potential girlfriend who collects beaks, some really small champagne glasses, and an acquaintance whose botched face lift has made her look like Bruce Forsyth. Each episode also has a single musical number, for no earthly reason. Finally, Matt Berry has the best hair of any actor working today.

5. Friday Night Dinner (2011-present)

Another programme that isn’t as well-known as it should be, Friday Night Dinner works on the fairly normal premise that two grown-up sons come home to their parents every Friday for a family dinner. (Un)fortunately, patriarch Paul Ritter is nutty as a fruitcake, with a penchant for topless dining, conversations in the toilet and drying his own fish, which drives wife Tamsin Grieg (cf. Black Books) and sons Adam (Simon Bird) and Johnny (Tom Rosenthal) up the wall. And yet Dad seems quite sane next to Mark Heap, the family’s next-door-neighbour; creepy and pathetic in equal measure, he’s scared of his own dog (“Down, Wilson… Argh!”) and madly in love with Mum, to everyone’s increasing discomfort. Hello, bambinos!

4. Look Around You (2002-2005)

Look Around You, which I’ve talked about in a previous post, is a simple idea brilliantly executed: a spoof of educational science programmes that is chock-full of lies and nonsense. Fronted by Olivia Colman (also appearing in Green Wing and now well on her way to national treasure status), Josie D’Arby (of CBBC fame), Peter Serafinowicz (the voice of Darth Maul) and Robert Popper (writer of Friday Night Dinner**), Look Around You teaches us about the newest inventions that are sure to improve our lives: the fast-food casserole outlet, the invigorating sport of gonnis, and a cure for that life-changing disease, cobbles. Plus, spot a vast array of celebrities in silly cameos: Simon Pegg, Matt Lucas, Adam Buxton, Harry Enfield… Thanks, Look Around You. Thook around you.

**It’s all very incestuous, isn’t it?

3. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (2005-present)

Probably the most offensive show on the list, It’s Always Sunny takes five awful people and puts them into ridiculous situations that allow their worst qualities to shine through: episode titles include “The Gang Finds a Dead Guy”, “Frank Sets Sweet Dee on Fire”, and “Mac Fights Gay Marriage”. The plotlines are barmy and not one of the characters is an acceptable human being, with the possible exception of Charlie, described by my dictionary (Wikipedia) as “the least morally bankrupt member of the Gang”. So, really, it’s all about mocking those who mock others, and not at all about laughing at people with monobrows or poor spelling. Not at all.

2. Green Wing (2004-2007)

Set in a hospital but with a cast of characters you wouldn’t trust with a sticky plaster, Green Wing treads a fine line between wacky comedy – such as this classic example of the hilarity of helium – and actual pathos, most obviously in the ongoing love triangle between Caroline (Tamsin Grieg in her third appearance in this list), Mac and Guy, none of whom deserves not to get the girl/guy at the end. The combination of actual issues like friendship, family, pregnancy and terminal illness with batty moments like people falling out of windows and the occasional appearance of a camel or motorbike traversing the wards takes a bit of getting used to; but whose life wouldn’t be improved by being able to name all the bones in the skull and having a thorough knowledge of the rules of Guyball?

And the winner is…

1. Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974)

What can you say about Monty Python that doesn’t involve the phrases ‘lumberjack’, ‘dead parrot’ or ‘Lobster Thermidor aux crevettes with a Mornay sauce, garnished with truffle pate, brandy and a fried egg on top and Spam’? The dream team of surrealist comedy need no other description than to note that the sketches produced by their combined minds are the most abstract and random on the entire list; and that, good sir, is saying something.

All hail the masters of laughter and nonsense! And go and watch Toast.

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The Rise of the Meta-Celebrity

Since film and television began, actors and other famous people have been paid lots of money to pop in unexpected places, say a few lines, and disappear again, leaving the audience going, “Wait, was that…?” Increasingly, though, celebrities are rendering the question moot by appearing as themselves, or at least grotesque, exaggerated versions of themselves. Of course, some of these Meta-Cameos* are egotistical puffery, but others nail it, pulling off the neat trick of proving themselves funnier and more likeable by pretending to be an awful human being. In celebration of the people in this second group, we now present a highly subjective, mostly arbitrary, vaguely ranked list of celebrities playing themselves on television: The Official and Definitive List of TV’s Best Meta-Cameos Ever!!!**

10. Trudie Styler in Friends

The appearance of Trudie Styler (AKA Mrs Sting) was brief but fruitful. Although Styler was a good sport, the storyline involving her was slightly underwhelming (mainly because it also involved the entirely forgettable Ben Gellar), and Styler herself wasn’t especially humorous. Nonetheless, her presence sparked hilarity anyway because it opened the gates to some eve-more-insane-than-usual behaviour from Phoebe, including a series of Sting-related puns (“Look, I just pressed a button triggering a silent alarm. Any minute now the police will be here.” “The Police? Here? A reunion?”) and a song that gave even Smelly Cat a run for its money.

9. Stephen Hawking in… well, pretty much everything

Stephen Hawking’s brain apparently works so fast that even explaining the universe only takes a couple of hours a week, because he’s played himself in more TV programmes than you can shake an event horizon at. Particularly entertaining appearances include The Big Bang Theory, where he causes Sheldon to have a mini-meltdown, and The Simpsons, where his wheelchair can fly, but perhaps the most notable is his appearance as a Star Trek hologram (of himself, so it totally counts) that plays poker with Data (Brent Spiner). It was, as Spiner himself put it, “the most notable moment in television history since Albert Einstein guest-starred on Gunsmoke”.

8. Emma Bunton in Neighbours

Neighbours has had its fair share of Australian celebrity cameos, from Shane Warne to the Wiggles, but British viewers had a field day when Karl and Susan came to London to get married (for around the ninety-seventh time). They ran into Michael Parkinson, Julian Clary and Jo Whiley – as I do every time I go to London – but cream of the crop was Emma Bunton, who found Karl’s lost engagement ring and was rewarded by Karl having no idea who she was. Fortunately Susan made up for it by screaming with joy at recognising her. After all that excitement, Dr K and Susie Q got on a boat and were married by Neil Morrissey, because why not?

7. Josh Groban in Glee

Just so we’re clear: I’m not a Gleek, but I am a Grobanite. Groban’s appearance on Glee was short and not-so-sweet: he turned up to an a-capella performance given by Mr Shue and his cronies, insulted everyone who took part and then left to seduce Mr Shue’s mother, all the while referring to himself in the third person. The fact that he didn’t sing is pretty infuriating, especially since everyone else in the programme sings non-stop; but we did at least get to look at him. In the words of Mr Ryerson:  “He is an angel sent from heaven to deliver Platinum Records unto us”. Amen to that.

6. Matt LeBlanc in Episodes

Matt LeBlanc is pretty damn famous now, so in a way it’s bizarre that his most successful post-Friends role has been playing himself. But he does it with flair. Opting squarely for the ‘sex-mad actor who also played a sex-mad character’ archetype, LeBlanc gives it a slightly sinister edge by getting rid of all of Joey’s puppy-like innocence and replacing it with cold calculation and world-weary cynicism. Do we like the Matt LeBlanc who sleeps with every woman he can get his hands on, including a slightly psychotic stalker and his best friend’s wife? Not as such. Do we like the Matt LeBlanc who plays him? Yes.

5. James Van Der Beek (and Dean Cain) in Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23

Ignoring for a moment the bizarre new trend of giving your show a title that can’t actually be spoken on air (see also: S*** My Dad Says), James Van Der Beek has been quite enjoyable as a slightly whiny version of himself who hangs out with normal, non-celebrity people. But the last few weeks have seen him shoot up the list due to his acceptance into (a fictional season of) Dancing With the Stars, the USA’s version of Strictly. For one thing, his main rival is Dean Cain, aka Clark Kent, aka Superman, who is already awesome. For another, Van Der Beek can actually dance. Very nice.

4. Wil Wheaton in The Big Bang Theory

One of many Star Trek actors to cameo in The Big Bang Theory, Wheaton made a stylish first appearance by enraging Sheldon, which is always funny to watch (see ‘Stephen Hawking’, above). Since then, the development of the rivalry between the two has worked really well, particularly when Wheaton’s horrible behaviour induces us to feel sympathy for Sheldon (because nobody messes with Sheldon’s meemaw). And for those of us who are familiar with Star Trek: The Next Generation, the bitchy remarks about the whining and uselessness of Wheaton’s character Wesley Crusher are bang on the mark – he really was THAT annoying.

3. John Prescott in Gavin and Stacey

You might be surprised to find this one so far up the list (that is, if you’d forgotten that this list was (a) official and (b) definitive). Prescott only appears for a few seconds and barely says a word, but this appearance was brilliant for three reasons. First, it’s an unexpected but good-humoured (and probably quite savvy) move from a man who was the butt (no pun intended) of a lot of negative jokes at the time. Second, it’s a great moment for Nessa’s character development – the audience has always been a bit sceptical about whether she really did sleep with Richard Madeley and Goldie Loookin’ Chain, roadie for The Who and sing with All Saints, but this finally vindicates her. Third, it’s John Prescott. In Gavin and Stacey.

2. Shaun Williamson in Extras

Extras, by its very nature, was full of actors pretending to be themselves, which made this one a very difficult call. Other contenders were Kate Winslet’s cynical nun, Orlando Bloom’s miserable failure with women, and Daniel Radcliffe’s sex-mad teenager – but in the end the award must go to Shaun Williamson, primarily because he manages to hold his own against Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, both very talented people, by wringing every last drop of sympathy out of being constantly overlooked. Plus, Williamson’s character, Shaun Williamson, also responds to the name ‘Barry from Eastenders’, which make him the only Meta-Meta-Cameo on the list. Kudos.

AND THE WINNER IS…

1. Adam West in Family Guy

Let’s be clear – the man who played Batman in the original TV series is already a legend and can almost certainly do no wrong (if proof was needed, I offer you this clip of what can only be described as a surf-off). But Adam West goes one step further and hits the top spot because his character in Family Guy is genuinely inexplicable. He’s the Mayor of Quahog and therefore nominally in charge; but instead of going down the megalomaniac route, West produces the dippiest, most surreal and probably most heavily doped up character on television. Plus, he’s 95% helium.

~

*Patent pending.

**30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, SNL and Entourage are excluded because, although they’re famous for exactly these kinds of shenangians, I haven’t quite got round to watching them yet…

Legen – Wait For It – Giggidy!

The current TV schedules mean that it’s a good time to talk about a character type that seems to be in endless supply at the moment: The Player.

"Eyyyy!"

“Eyyyy!”

Now obviously The Player is not a new invention – the Fonz could make girls appear with a simple ‘Eyyyy…’, Captain Kirk was a hit with women of all ages, races and species and, of course, Lord Flashheart stole his best friend’s bride while acting as best man at the wedding (complete with pocket canoe). But just at the moment barely a day goes by when you can’t switch on and find a comedy complete with The Player chasing the ladies: Tuesdays give us New Girl and the painfully metrosexual Schmidt, Thursday is a double bill of The Big Bang Theory’s Howard Wolowitz and How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson, Tony DiNozzo pops up on NCIS several times a week, and every night, it seems, is Quagmire night (Family Guy).

 

Everyone's favourite Friend

Everyone’s favourite Friend

But what makes The Player interesting is not that he exists in so many forms, but rather that viewers seem to love him. Bearing in mind that The Player is a character who makes a life’s work of finding new ways to chat up, flirt with, entice, trick and ensnare women, it seems crazy that he should be popular, especially with female viewers – but he is. Take Joey Tribianni. He only ever had two things on his mind (the other being food) and was, not to put too fine a point on it, two eggplants short of a lasagne; yet he was an incredibly popular character, so much so that the Internet is still producing articles about how wonderful he is. And as for Barney Stinson, AKA The Barnacle, AKA way-past-borderline sex addict and least PC man ever to don a lobster bib in New York City: he has nearly four million likes on Facebook, his own real/fictional blog, several books, and a vast array of T-shirts and other apparel so that you too can totally suit up.

 

Howard Wolowitz's least horrifying shirt

“Howaaaard!”

Of course, not every Player is a popular Player: see for example Howard Wolowitz, the tiny Jewish science geek with the worryingly tight trousers. Far from being adored and admired, he’s the watchword for sleazy chat up lines and was recently described by the Radio Times as the “King of Creep”. Howard speaks, and every female part of me runs away to wither and die in a corner. So what makes Howard hideous and Barney awesome?

 

Awesome.

Awesome.

One obvious answer, albeit a worrying one, is that Barney is attractive, and can therefore get away with his awful behaviour. Maybe we just don’t notice the terrible things coming out of his mouth because we’re too busy looking at his angelic face and natty suit. The same applies to Kirk – beam me up, captain! – and DiNozzo – ahoy, sailor! – as well as to other well-groomed Players such as Grey’s Anatomy’s Mark Sloan, who came into the show sleeping with his best friend’s wife and who has nonetheless managed to steal it. Contrast Howard, whose absurd bowl haircut only seems to be emphasised by his atrocious taste in clothing, and Quagmire, who has one of the most inexplicable faces known to man or cartoon and has the dubious honour of being even more horrifying than Howard.

Dr Guy Valerie Secretan

“Rocket ma–a–an!”

But then there are exceptions. For example, Don Draper of Mad Men is quite the looker – again, note the snappy tailoring – but he’s also an awful human being (Sixties morality notwithstanding) and quite frankly I wouldn’t want anything to do with him. On the other hand, Green Wing’s Guy Secretan famously resembles a certain animated equine, and yet who would say no to a quick round of Guyball and an Elton John singalong with him? So perhaps the world isn’t quite as shallow as it sometimes seems.

Maybe, then, something else is at work here. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with whether a Player is actually any good at playing. You might think that a Player who doesn’t know how to play (what TV Tropes calls a ‘Casanova Wannabe’) might be less threatening, and that’s certainly the case for those inept Players like Guy and Schmidt – and, if Marshall’s arithmetic is accurate, Barney – who are actually pretty likeable. Meanwhile, Players with game are more, such as Don, Quagmire and Two and a Half Men’s Charlie Harper (who wouldn’t be a catch even if the actor who plays him hadn’t recently gone completely insane). Yet Joey, Kirk and DiNozzo are also pros at the dating game and fans love them to bits; and Howard, though generally appallingly bad at picking up women, remains objectionable.

Just... NO.

Just… NO.

Ultimately I think we judge fictional Players in the same way that we judge real people – the ones we like are the ones whose good points outweigh their faults, and the ones we shy away from are icky to the bone (no pun intended). Quagmire and Howard are one–trick ponies: all of their other characteristics pale into insignificance when compared to just how creepy they are (which is one of the reasons why Howard has become so vapid and pointless now that he’s hitched).

Schmidt happens.

Schmidt happens.

The good ones, on the other hand, have a bit more substance. Sure, Schmidt takes his shirt off a lot and makes so many slimy comments that his friends have instigated a Douchebag Jar – but he’s also generous and thoughtful (how many men do you know who’ve designed a girl her very own perfume with “base notes of cocoa because of your brownness and sea salt because it kind of sounds like ‘Cece’”?). Sure, Joey eats off the floor, but he’s a fiercely protective older brother who takes a cuddly penguin to bed. Sure, Guy keeps a league table of his female colleagues, but he cries when he finds out his best friend is dying. Sure, Kirk has slept with half of the known universe, but, hell, HE DRIVES A SPACESHIP.

Even Lord Flashheart’s canoe can’t compete with that.