Keep Mum Mum and Don’t Forget Don’t Forget the Driver

Sometimes I wish the Beeb wouldn’t put so many box sets on the iplayer because then I go and watch them in all a bloody great binge.  This isn’t so bad when a series has already been on and you’ve seen it week by week, but they’ve taken to putting some things up before they’ve even been broadcast and I found myself unable to stop viewing the latest excellent Toby Jones vehicle, ‘Don’t Forget the Driver.’

This was in its way as innovative as ‘Detectorists’ though without the involvement of Mackenzie Crook: written by Toby Jones and Tim Crouch it features Jones as a well-meaning but unassertive coach driver who from his base in Bognor takes a different group of people each week to places like Woburn Abbey, Legoland and Hampton Court.  Like Detectorists this has no laughter-track or studio audience and the incidental music is cleverly done by broadcasting whichever tune is ‘playing on the radio’.  If I have a beef with this it’s that the scenes are sometimes too short and the cuts too frequent, so that it ends up a bit like the classic disaster movie switching from train to trapped female and back to approaching train… but it’s a small beef.  I’m not going to say any more about the plot as its still being broadcast but there’s some brilliant understated humour:

Japanese tourist (outside Hampton Court, holding a volume of Shakespeare):  ‘Please can you tell me about this… iambic pentameter?

Peter (Toby Jones):  Well, Mr Pentameter, if you go that way you’ll find the guide who will tell you all you need to know.

Tourist: (nods happily) Thank you.

Mum‘ on the other hand, is not so much understated as unstated.  OH asked me, as I was chuckling away, why I enjoy it so much when in general I dislike cringe-comedy.  It’s true that I avoid stuff like ‘The Office’ and ‘I’m Alan Partridge’, because I think comedy should be a release rather than making you more uptight than you were to start with: but in any case I think ‘Mum’ is different because she is the only character not making us cringe.  We are feeling and laughing with her, not at her – and that’s the difference.

Again it’s a programme with no laughter and almost without incidental music, though there’s a little of the title track’s percussion between scenes.  What’s also different is that nothing actually happens; each episode takes place before or after an event, usually when people are getting ready for something.  We first meet Mum Cathy on the day of the funeral and one by one all the other characters drop by: her brother Dave with his unbearable girlfriend Pauline; the rude and miserable grandparents and her live-in son and his well-meaning but clumsy girlfriend.  And then there’s Michael.  It’s obvious from day one that Michael is head-over-heels in love with Cathy, and probably always has been.  It’s equally obvious that he won’t make a move – not today because it’s the day of the funeral, but probably not ever, because Dave the deceased was his best friend and it would seem like betrayal.

As prolonged and delayed romances go, this is drawn-out agony with more misunderstandings, absences and interruptions than any human being can bear.   The supporting cast are all, in their own way, intolerable, and Michael is the only person Cathy can talk to but they hardly get an opportunity to talk and when they do, each of them is so hesitant and reticent that you just want to bang their heads together.

Anyway I’ll say no more but let you go ahead and watch them both.

Kirk out

 

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Never Stand-up When You Can Sit-com

Where comedy’s concerned I prefer sitting to standing as I like sit-com but find stand-up quite scary.  I’m terrified of people not laughing.  Stand-up is quite confrontational; it’s a series of jokes, whereas sitcom is far more complex.  The comedy comes from dialogue, situation and character; every sitcom creates a world of its own and that’s something that really interests me.  Take the latest series on BBC about a pair of blokes searching for bits of metal in a field.  ‘Detectorists’ (we learn in episode one that a metal detector is a piece of equipment and the person operating it is a detectorist) is an unusual sitcom in that it takes place mostly outdoors as the pair search for the Holy Grail that is the Saxon ship thought to have been buried nearby.  It’s a very well-observed comedy and the characters are utterly believable and well-acted by Mackenzie Crook (Gareth in ‘The Office) and Toby Jones (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and, bizarrely, the voice of Dobby the house elf).

I could see myself writing sitcom (and in fact I did once write a radio sitcom) but I could never in a million years do stand-up.  As a poet the worst thing that can happen to you is that people don’t listen or don’t clap – but as a comedian if you’re up there giving it your all and people don’t laugh, it’s just the worst thing ever.  It makes me shudder.

I need some comedy at the moment as I’ve just had an email saying my memoir has not even made the longlist.  I’m really upset because I thought this was going to be my big break.

Kirk out

PS I’ve just found out that Toby Jones is the son of Freddie Jones, the character actor.  I once knew someone at Uni who was friends with him…