Thursday, December 14, 2006

And as long as we're on the general subject:


I am sorry to have to say this, but. Little Britain. You jumped the shark. In several ways, not least, yep, racist.

Season One, I thought was mostly hilarious. Loved Vicki Pollard. Loved poor enabling Lou and selfish Andy. Loved the absurdity of the ever-shrinking soap actor-whosis you were making fun of. Loved the sheer randomness of Ray McCooney, and a number of the one-offs. Loved Daffyd, and Emily Howard. The first six or eight times, at least. Thought Marjorie Dawes was brilliantly awful, and had a great payoff at the end of the series--I honestly wasn't expecting to see her character return. And I mean, "anti-minstrel discrimination"--as in, they were meant to be actual fulltime minstrels, gloves and all, a la Shakes the Clown--that was actually kind of clever. I thought.

Season Two, you were already getting a bit stale and, if not actual shark-jumping, certainly you were playing fin hopscotch--

The Mr. T lookalike thing--well, y'know, blackface at all? Really kind of dodgy? But I suppose in and of itself, assuming (big assumption) that in some world, dressing up as Mr. T. is no more offensive than dressing up as an unsuccessful transvestite or an eccentric bucktoothed-and-glasses'd Scottish inkeeper--or any white celebrity--then i suppose that sketch was relatively innocuous, of itself. if not terribly, you know, funny. Sadly, that was actually true of a lot of Season Two. And yeah, that "exchange preacher" business really raised my eyebrows. "Al Jackson" the funny hallelujah blackface preacher in the stodgy British church. Is there some particular reason he needed to be black, besides clearly you just -really really- wanted to play with the makeup? Oh! I get it! Al Jackson! Haha! That's so--oh wait, actually, that's really lame.

but so then, now, I rented Season Three.

Glad I didn't buy this one. "Ting Tong." for fuck's sake.

Pretty much I agree with this take.

However, the moment Ting Tong, the mail-order Thai bride played by Matt Lucas, appears on the screen, the pretence to sophistication vanishes. Ting Tong is nothing more than the pathetic flogging of another crass racist stereotype - yellow makeup, dodgy buck teeth and an inability to pronounce one’s “r”s and you have a winning formula.

And let's not even get into Desiree. Well, yeah, let's, actually. Hey, what's funnier than a man in a nekkid lady fatsuit? Have "her" flighting with a man in a grotesquely-featured frizzy-haired blackface fatsuit. Over a handsome man, well, that's the least of it.

Before, the joke was mostly that "Bubbles" was living for months on end at the spa without paying her formidable bill, and her dodges to get out of it. And her delusions about herself (as with pretty much all the main characters). It did segue into the sheer oh icky icky factor of the fat ugly woman making a pass at the men pretty fast. And, as with so many other running gags on LB, we -know- what the punchline is going to be right from the beginning: the clothes come off, lookit the funny suit, isn't that nasty. Okay. Whatever.

But Jesus Mary, I mean--

You know something? I can't speak for anyone else, but personally? When I say, "this is not funny," in this case at least, I don't mean, "that upset my sense of propriety, I -would- laugh, but my sense of morality says no." [oh yes, I also did love "Computer says No" travel agent].

I mean, "I don't get it."

No, seriously? Why is this funny? What am I missing? Is the joke supposed to be anything other than the sheer grotesqueness of the two "women?" And that a handsome "normal" man is attracted to them?

And yeah, it was sort of the same thing with the granny-chaser in season one, but somehow i never felt quite as much i was laughing at the expense of the actor (played by a real woman of That Age, which did up the "shock" factor a bit) so much as the guy, and the incongruity of his lustiness and her cheerful oblivious. "Such a nice boy. Is he a trained podiatrist?" That shit's kind of funny. I think.

But this--yeah. And the same with "Ting Tong." Another one I don't get: humor is supposed to be based on some sort of recognition, right? That's one way in. But, the only source for that sort of humor seems to be any number of equally unfunny and racist white folks' very lazy 'typing. In other words: if it weren't so familiar to me from any number of other unfunny non-Asian people, the funny accent and so on would just strike me as, "huh?"

Yeah, Daffyd's a flaming stereotype as well, but the joke is that he's a stereotype because he thinks he's -supposed- to be one; the town is filled with perfectly respectable men and women who like "a bit of bum fun."

Or, a commenter at the Pass the Roti thread put it,

Dafydd is gay. Matt Lucas is gay. They’re the same minority. Matt Lucas has said publically that Dafydd is based on his own experiences growing up. The sketch may be one-dimensional, and desperately tired three series in, but it’s not unsympathetic. Questionable judgement, lazy writing, but not actually bigoted.

Mat Lucas is not, you may have noticed, Thai.

Another noted,

I think all the problems with LB come down to the very first thing you mentioned - the trouble it has getting beyond one dimension, at most. There’s no reason why Matt Lucas shouldn’t dress up as a Thai bride, providing there’s actually something funny in the character other than the fact that, hey, it’s Matt Lucas with slitty eyes.

To put it another way, if Ting Tong was actually played by an overweight, buck-toothed Thai actress, would there be anything amusing about those sketches? I doubt it. Whereas Vicky Pollard would still get laughs if she was played by somebody else (which is a good thing for Catherine Tate), because there’s genuinely good lines in those sketches.

I think some would argue that there's no reason why Lucas shouldn't dress up as a Thai bride, given the historical really not funniness of yellowface; but I agree that if he'd actually been, you know, funny--seeing as how, unlike oh say a political campaign, "being funny" is supposed to be the whole point of this show, it would've... helped.

In that vein--you know what I kept waiting for? Some sort of fourth-wall revelation that the character was actually a white British man who was doing this for his own reasons. Yeah, it'd be like every other sketch where that happens--Ann, Lou-- but at least you'd have had to work a bit to come up with an interesting reason why he's doing this.

But no: the joke is that the wily little lotus flower runs the poor zhlub out of his own apartment, by opening up a restaurant in it.

Which is really funny, I suppose, if one is already of the mindset that yep, ain't that the truth: give 'em an inch and...

That's all I can fathom anyway. Because the sheer absurdity of a restaurant in the guy's apartment (having been built apparently in the few hours he's been away)--not really enough to carry it, I'm afraid.

Yeah. Bottom line: for me, it's funniest when:

-it's mocking the actually powerful

-the sheer absurdity carries me away.

This last season, besides the repetition and the ever-increasing reliance on "gag" jokes (streams of vomit, floods of piss), what I noticed was that the punchline seemed more and more to be at the expense of the victim rather than the asshole. Biggest example: the horrible secretary in the university office. First time, it's surprising enough to get a laugh: sweet little lady ends up viciously mocking the student in front of her.

But then, as with all their sketches, it keeps on happening, and you know the punchline (that the woman is a creep, and she's going to say something very mean about the student, who will go from smiling to hurt) from the beginning, so the -real- punchline can only be the insult itself.

And generally, they're not very clever; and I dunno, but somehow, watching someone who's been painted as perfectly decent get mocked for no reason doesn't really crack me up in the same way that does oh say Andy leaping out of his chair and beating the crap out of the yobs who've been mocking him while Lou (of course) chatters on oblivious.

Or Andy pushing the temp nurse to her death over a cliff; because she's clearly horrible, and we feel sort of sympathetic to Andy by now; he's just sort of pure Id, and he misses his Lou.

And there was no real payoff to that one either, the secretary.

It's kind of getting like (cringe) Saturday Night Live, tell you the truth. That is not a compliment, no. To quote one last commenter:

The thing that makes LB potentially offensive is exactly the same thing that stops it bringing anywhere near enough funny - far too often, the sketches are a single idea, played out far too long and far too straight, with no other merits. Poor Dafydd’s been stuck in the exact same sketch for three series now, for goodness sake, over and over again like some nightmarish, PVC-clad version of Groundhog Day.

But hey, I like repetitition myself, sometimes, it's true; and third time's the charm. Per Donna, then:

I'm always curious when someone has the impulse to protect the powerful against the weak.

Or, in this case, spend so much time targetting the weak when they could be targetting the powerful (more often) for far funnier results.


Nezua Limon Xolagrafik-Jonez said...

I don't even know what "little britain" is, actually. I'm assuming it's a TV show, if it has "seasons." If it's british, I wouldn't be surprised to see a bunch of racism. I've noticed that it seems there're a few countries (def england) very comfortable with slandering other ethnicities. In america, it seems we are half loving racism, and yet half afraid to not look guilty enough over loving it, tiptoeing around (somehow) not yet admitting, facing, or apologizing for all the racism that has buouyed up america for so long, not to mention the slavery that went down so recently so we're sort of like a crazy person jumping back and forth and it slips out here and there in our ads, celebreties' drunken rants, political campaigns, etc. but it's always dressed up, glossed over, rationalized, or explained. I've noticed in some other countries, it's just BANG right out there. ugly either way.

sorry, i think this comment is now officially a "rangent."

Veronica said...

I've only seen it once, and I came away mostly just confused, as it was mostly about incestuous phone sex.

Nanette said...

I've not seen it or heard of it but, like Nezua, it doesn't surprise me. I've too noticed that places like Britain are much more "out there" with their racist and sexist stuff - "humor" I guess.

Mind you, I've never lived there, this is just from observation and speaking to people from there. The "edgy" racist stuff we relegate to comedy clubs or cable is just upfront and out there in other places.

Still loved by the general population though and, yes, still ugly either way.

Eli said...

Feh. Never heard of LB, and would probably have been just as content to have continued right on not hearing about it; it sounds ghastly.

MadTV has (had?) and interesting character, kind of an anti-stereotype: Bobby Lee as "An Average Asian" - this perfectly ordinary guy who's baffled and annoyed by everyone around him assuming that he's good at martial arts and math, and eats lots of sushi, when he's basically just a guy, who happens to be Asian. Most of the rest of their racial/other-cultural content is, shall we say, not so enlightened, but this premise is intriguing because of the way it makes fun of shallow stereotypes. (Come to think of it, there's another sketch with an obnoxious 8th-grader who tries to use her black friend to prove that old people are racist, and the littleoldlady she keeps urging her to move closer to and make handbag-grabbing motions at ends up offering her cookies.)

I suspect I have completely missed the point. It happens.

Kim said...

I haven't seen Season Three -- is it out on video?
I have seen the Ting character on TV once or twice -- not funny at best and wondered about the stereotypin' and whatnot.

I wonder if they are trying to funny in that "I know it's very unPC to laugh at this shit, therefore we're purposefully doing it" kind of way?

In a way, LB rather takes swipes at everyone: Vicky, the whole "welfare" mother thing, Daffyd at gays, etc? Maybe they are jabbin' at everyone as a statement that they are NOT jabbing at anyone in particular?

I don't know -- need more thought on this. I admit I am INCREDIBLY hestitant to give up my beloved LB. I will say, I found all the projectile vomiting and breast feeding in Season II to be tiresome and down right unfunny.

Kim said...

What was that, Belle?
You want me to write the theme tune, sing the theme tune? :)

Tom Nolan said...

Little Britain, as many - but obviously not enough - people in slightly larger Britain have noticed, was never that good, and was, from the moment it got going, going downhill. It started out as a club/stage show, went to radio and then to television, but didn't seem to gain any good new material during the ascent. It's also very derivative, and can't be bothered to hide its debts to, in particular, "The League of Gentlemen", the first two seasons of which are to be recommended as much funnier than anything Lucas and Williams have managed. And it's much, much darker.

If you're into squirming embarrassment and comedy that makes fun of racism rather than race, you can try Alan Patridge (available on region one DVD) or, of course, the original "The Office" (not the defanged, declawed American remake).

Really flying the flag here.

belledame222 said...

You know--totally not telling anyone to give up or not give up.

I'm just sayin': I found it offensive, and also not real funny.

for the others: It does have its moments.

Nezua: Maybe, but I dunno: the whole cutesy "yellowface" schtick at least I actually seem to see fairly often. Well South Park jumped that shark and way beyond.

and yeah, sometimes I still find them really funny, too.

And yeah, sure, no sacred cows, yadda: but, again: one at least would request originality, cleverness, some damn thing.

You know what it is: i think it -might- help if every once in a while we might see some sketch comedy that wasn't made by, y'know, white dudes.

French and Saunders were kind of hit or miss (Ab Fab I loved, at least the first few seasons), but it definitely had a take that you would not have gotten from the dudes.

John Leguizamo had a TV show for like, about five minutes. I still remember a couple of sketches as pretty funny: most notably, West Side Story's Sharks rumble with the Crips.

"da DA da da duhh, da DA da duh duh--"


oops. end of the rumble...

belledame222 said...

I'll have to check out the League of Gentlemen one of these days.

I still haven't finished my Father Ted DVD's. I'm told they get pretty surreal as it wears on. I'm enjoying it already. That's a whole 'nother context.

"Feck off!!"

belledame222 said...

oh yeah, I saw a bit of the British Office (American versions of British any sort of comedy: never as good in the interpretation. Also see: Hitchhiker's Guide, Whose Line Is It Anyway...). didn't even get to the racism bits, but it was plenty squirm inducing. i actually had to turn it off. something about being acutely embarrassed for fictional characters, I have a harder time with that than just about anything else (with the possible exception of way too damn much projectile vomiting, gore, etc. ad nauseum, literally).

belledame222 said...

and of course there was "In Living color," which i never really got into, although i'm sure i saw my share.

i suppose their gay baiting was about on a par with LB's creators' appeals to racism, so, um, yay?

Eli said...

I still haven't finished my Father Ted DVD's. I'm told they get pretty surreal as it wears on. I'm enjoying it already. That's a whole 'nother context.

Father Ted is absolutely brilliant stuff, start to finish. Red Dwarf as well, although maybe it does start to flag a bit towards the 7th & 8th season... maybe.

emily said...

I think I pretty much had the same experience as you Belle. Thought series 1 was funny, series 2 far less so, series 3 unwatchable.

To be honest, I think they were so succesful with the prostethic humour they figured new characters would work even without any forethought. Even though it's pretty much blatant class sneering, they're on far surer terrain with Vicky than with their black/yellow face characters, simply because they don't really know what they're trying to parody. And crucially, a total lack of empathy..

As for Daffyd and Emily, they're ambivalent portrayals at best. The joke on Daffyd - Welsh village is all accepting, he's in love with being repressed - is funny at first (though highly repetitive of course). However. It's easily appropriable into anti-PC homophobia, ooh we're all so tolerant and you noisy queers just won't shut up. I've personally had more than a few straight people use that, or "I'm a lady" said to me because I'm mtf transgender. So not really loving either, you know?

I disagree with Nezua's comment that racism is less blatant in the US than in other countries. It's just *different*. The "Catch an Immigrant" rally that bfp posted about, for example, just *wouldn't* happen here on a campus here in Australia. But conversely, we had race riots in Cronulla last year.. Different.

belledame222 said...

Lucas has said that Daffyd is based on himself to some degree; i had kind of figured, tbh. he is more sympathetic, more recognizable, in some ways: the kind of over-the-top thing some people do when they're first coming out.

and i was kind of charmed, at first, by the idea of a world in which the minister and little old ladies and -everyone- were just fine with being a Gay. (as with everything else on the damn show, after about twenty or thirty times...okay already...)

ditto Emily's Victorian affectations, and her sort of odd innocence (again, at first). anyway the first time I saw "Ladies Against Feminism" i thought of her, and cracked up.

i get your point, though. it's sort buttressed (huh, huh) by the overall attitude the show has toward bigotry: nothing serious! just a bit of jolly fun! only -seriously- engaged in by Awful People (which we aren't, see?) pip, pip!

I mean, the Tory ladies could've been -hell- funny if they'd actually done something more interesting with them than have whatsis vomit in her racism, every. single. time! seriously, how many times is that one funny? even once?

belledame222 said...

and yeah, Vicky is class sneering, but again, she's sort of oddly likable, and has humorous aspects that work in their own right--the mile-a-minute patter, the "yeah but no but" signature, the bravura teenage thing. and yeah, she was definitely far more closely observed than the (for fuck's sake) "Thai mail order bride." which was supposed to be the punchline all by itself. the "bling" thing, for instance, i kind of liked the...observation, i guess (BRAND! NEW! ADIDAS! BAG!!)

i did like "Bitty," although, again, the gag factor of the breast feeding got really. old. fast.

i liked them best when they stuck to character types, people who were defined by personality or job or both, even within the same rigid format over and over. the failed kid's show host, the former Olympic athlete, the aging former stage actor (show biz of course is another area they were able to observe well), "Computer Says No," Marjorie Dawes (especially when they took her outside of the Fat Fighters setting and/or had the joke on her--visiting Mom in hospital, shopping for groceries...).

Ray McCooney was no doubt a stereotype also, but 1) they put him in a context where all the other Scottish people thought him seriously odd and maddening as well 2) the sheer randomness, the wanting to make everything magic, which i -really- wish they'd gone with more often than the racism and the body fluids, was good fun.

weirdly, even though it was one of the most repetitive, i started to love the store owner and demanding customer showdown. it was the only sketch that grew on me in season 3, possibly because almost everything else was so awful by comparison. something about the tension increasing from sketch to sketch, the unspoken, "so. we meet again." tickled me.

toward the end, store owner blurts, at the end of one of the sketches,

"I hate you so much."

customer, with a little smile,

"I know."

I did laugh out loud at that one, whatever that says about me.

belledame222 said...

>I've personally had more than a few straight people use that, or "I'm a lady" said to me because I'm mtf transgender.>

-seriously?- oh, that bites. gah. do they go "I want that one!" to people in wheelchairs, and expect them to get up?

You know, i think the difference between people like this and the really funny, lasting sketch or standup comedy--Monty Python, Lenny Bruce--well, with the latter, he had a heart. that helps, too.

but on a more technical side, (or something), they don't adhere to rigidly to "hey, this worked last time, let's keep it," to formula. yeah, with MP as well, they use standard sketch structure, but they're willing to riff and riff and riff, you know, just get carried away by the sheer absurdity of it, follow the stream of free-association.

and yeah, there are "in-jokes,- coming back to the same characters or references to earlier lines or gags, but they do it -sparingly-. they don't -rely- on it.

Saturday Night Live does the same damn thing. even when it actually used to you know have funny actors and writers on it. "hey, if it was funny once, it's funny a thousand times! and in exactly the same way, without raising the stakes!" zzzz.

at least LB didn't have SNL's habit of stretching the individual sketches out longer than a seventies rock anthem.

belledame222 said...

oh yeah, one of the sketches i thought was smart--Daffyd's take on Myfanwy's wedding. gay male lesbophobia/misogyny isn't something i see covered very often, and in that one the joke was definitely on him.

yea, "write what you know" maybe isn't such a bad maxim, at that. particularly when in comes to comedy.

belledame222 said...

...actually, with daffyd I wouldn't say it's so much in love with being repressed as in love with the "outsider" status (and yes that is more familiar), at least partly to make up for massive insecurity and sheer terror of having a sexual relationship (ditto).

Eli said...

Saturday Night Live does the same damn thing. even when it actually used to you know have funny actors and writers on it. "hey, if it was funny once, it's funny a thousand times! and in exactly the same way, without raising the stakes!" zzzz.

I would say that way more than half the time, the characters that they choose to be recurring weren't even funny the first time. There *has* been some funny stuff on SNL, but for some reason they choose the *weakest* shit to recur. And this isn't a recent trend either, IMO.

belledame222 said...

Oh no, it's been going on for years. if it hasn't changed back for the better recently (haven't even watched it in years, but whenever i do see a bit for whatever reason...spectacularly unfunny).

but yeah, it was already going downhill even when it was still watchable--the Dana Carvey era, say.

the days of Gilda Radner and Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy in his prime are long, long, loooooong gone.

and they still beat jokes to death, but at least they were more often funny to begin with.

"Land Shark" still cracks my shit up, I have to say. yeah, i never said i wasn't a cheap date...

belledame222 said...

and: while stuff like "White Like Me" and "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood" was obviously palatable for the mainstream, it's still a rather different sort of humor from y'know people who think "ching chong ching chong" is just the funniest thing ever all by itself.

i forgot about Dave Chappelle; you know, i never really watched it, i don't think, mainly because by then i'd cancelled cable. (LB i got on DVD, and yes to answer your question Kim, series 3 is out).

belledame222 said...

the -other- thing about SNL is, at least the last time i saw it, the people they had couldn't, well, act. Like, at all. I mean, -perform-, you know, Didn't know where to stand, how to hold their hands, same facial expression all the time...

...which is the one thing the LB people -are- pretty consistently good at.

also they were loathsomely reactionary, but then i caught them at the height of the rah-rah Bush era. i think it was the one where Gore came on? i'd come to watch that. it tells you something when Al Gore way outperforms the regular cast of yer wild and crazy comedical-type show.

and the -rest- of it--i remember some sort of attempt at a piss-take of "Charlie Brown Christmas" or something; it was like Bill O'Reilly and William Bennett had co-written it or something. and some sort of godawful mockery of the war protesters that read like my high school would have done it (reactionary little fuckheads, amateur dramatics and all)--i felt like i'd fallen into Bizarro World. oh, it was bad. maybe it's actually better now, in that regard.

but i have no use for "comics" that are too cowardly to take on power, let alone suck up to it, if they're going to deal with anything more controversial than cats and airplanes and so on to begin with.

R. Mildred said...

MP actually did a black face sketch as well, I can't remember how they did it though, I think it might have been a sort of intentional "look how crappy this is" thing to mock the then current "black and white minstrel show", but I can't remember it too well so it could have just another blackface skit.

Which of course shows that British cannot compete with thasurrealist comedy has never been to far removed from it's ancestral roots with Spike Milligan and The Goon Show (a radio show from the 50's, which started most of the recurring characters thing and was otherwise quite good as long as you ignored the fact that about a quarter of the jokes on the show (which was on the radio remember) revolved around how Ray Ellington, the lead singer for the musical interludes each show had, was you know, black, and that's before we get into the fact that they had him do a dodgy "me, um, how, um, big chief me" generic aboriginal type person character (which wasn't as bad as it sounds sometimes because, yes he's doing the vocal equivalent of black face, but they'd ahve the character, big sterotypical indian chiefs and all, charging white people money for parkign their buildings (shifting sand was involved, don't ask) on ancestral parking lots and bizarre things like that).

I love the Goon show and Spike Milligan's writing, but I like it inspite of the racism, I love it for leather omnibuses and a landspeed record for wurlitzers (with appropriate sound effects for a mobile wrulitzer) and eccles and bluebottle being "deaded" every episode, I love it because it inherently mocked governments and the military and the fact that seacombe couldn't act and kept bursting into giggles whenever someone flubbed a line and milligan started to ad lib (because it was all done live).

Little Britain, pft, little britain? Puh-leeze.

R. Mildred said...

oh dear, I appear ot be in non-sequitur mode today, oh joy of joys...

emily said...

You're right about Daffyd and Emily, but I think they walked a fine line and eventually fell off...

I liked the Vicky sketches best where her bravura worked to her advantage--the courtoom one in particular stands out. The joke is as much about generational incomprehension as it is on her..

But there's definitely none of that ambivalence about "Ting-tong"...

I thank Jeebers and the Christmas bunny that Saturday Night Live has never made it to network tv here, all the bits I've seen on cable have been dire..