|Morning Pages 19.0 - Recommended Viewing
||[Nov. 7th, 2007|06:49 am]
My mostly random exploration of British television via the medium of my local video stores continues and I continue to be struck by a number of elements which contrast so strongly against the American network television mind-set.
First, in the British tradition, there is a lot of room for experimental and often limited-run productions. John Cleese and Connie Booth's classic series, Fawlty Towers being perhaps the best-known example on this side of the pond.
For those of you unfortunate enough to have not encountered this seminal example of cringe comedy (bust a gut laughing out loud so hard tears my spring free from your eyes cring comedy at that), note that only 12 episodes were made and the show's writers are given pride of place in the credits, rather than the stars (although, and this often seems to be the case, particularly with comedy, the writers are the stars, or two of them), let alone the producers or the networks, get the credit.
Despite long-running franchises such as Doctor Who or Coronation Street, making shows with a deliberately limited run seems - at least from my limited perspective - seems to be the rule on the other side of the pond, and very a good rule it is, too.
Which brings me to my latest video-store discovery, The League of Gentlemen, possibly the strangest sit-com it has ever been my pleasure to stumble across.
Set in the small, very isolated town of Royston Vasey, somewhere in the north of England, The League of Gentlemen takes the old conceit of small-town excentrics to new and sometimes creepy extremes. Imagine SCTV's Mellonville fleshed-out and given much greater depth, along with that cast's brilliance at playing multiple characters, combined with The Kids In the Hall's ability to play female roles in drag while making of them real characters. Add a touch of Stephen King and you'll have some idea of the sort of thing you'll be getting into when you pop the first DVD into your player.
You see, the folks of Royston Vassey are not just eccentrics, they are almost without exception, utterly insane. And therein lies the humour. These people include cannibals, killers, urine drinkers and general sadists, just for starters. There are moments of shocking violence to go with the surrealism and, basically, the show constantly surprises the viewers expectations.
Many of the characters obviously come from The League of Gentlemen's sketch comedy days, but they have been fleshed out for these series, given emotional pathos to go along with the voyeuristic freak-show elements.
Next time you host a video-night, do yourself a favour and rent it.