Showing posts with label Trollied. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Trollied. Show all posts

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Review: TROLLIED, series 2 (Sky1)

Sky are currently waist-deep in new comedy, but now last's year supermarket sitcom Trollied (one of the first shows to launch Sky's recent home-grown initiative) is back for a run of 14 episodes, including a hallowed Christmas special. As before, I confess to finding this show pleasant and amusing, if rarely laugh-out-loud funny or very intelligent. I could miss a few episodes and wouldn't be bothered in the slightest, or feel a desire to catch-up with what I've missed, but it fills a thirty-minute gap nicely if you chance upon it.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Sky comedy: who's laughing now?

I have my issues with BSkyB and how they function as a company (forever trying to monopolise the marketplace with unassailable sports and movie rights), but appointing Lucy Lumsden as their Head of Comedy was something of a masterstroke that's benefiting British comedy fans. The ex-BBC employee has been in charge for a few years now, and in that time Sky's comical output has quadrupled. We're living in an era where The Simpsons isn't what people immediately think of when you mention Sky in the same breath as comedy. (Admittedly, Homer and family played their part by being so unfunny since 1997.) And it's definitely a good thing that more homegrown hilarity is being made, even if much of it remains stuck behind a pay-wall the majority of people are unwilling to climb over.

Sky Atlantic's THIS IS JINSY
Sky have debuted more brand new sitcoms in the past year than the BBC and Channel 4 have managed in two. Or so it seems, perhaps as a result of canny marketing. Over the past year alone we've seen Spy, Stella, Trollied, The Café, Mount Pleasant, and This Is Jinsy make their debuts on Sky channels. Okay, so none are exactly classics of the genre the whole world's raving about (although quirky Jinsy has a vocal fan-base), but I appreciate the effort as a viewer.

Lumsden's an astute woman to have in Sky's corner; blessed with hands-on experience stretching back to the early-'90s. Chortle published an excellent interview with Lumsden this week, where she outlines her strategy for Sky and her perceived failings of the BBC's comedy commissioning model. She's clearly decided to take inspiration from US TV when it comes to Sky's new strategy, too; most notably in her aspiration to build a studio sitcom around a British stand-up comedian. This happens frequently in the US (from crappy Kevin James shows, to crappier Charlie Sheen shows), but in the UK executives tend to care more about the writers. Maybe it's because we're a nation that gave the world Shakespeare, forever ensuring our culture puts onus on the written word.

And it's not that anyone's right or wrong. Good shows need performers and writers working in harmony to succeed, but it's interesting that Lumsden's aiming to find big personalities and make a show for them—rather than vice versa. The BBC have already proven it can work in this country, because Miranda and Not Going Out are sitcoms where comedians Miranda Hart and Lee Mack essentially play themselves—or, to be fair, a version of themselves presented as very close to the truth. Interestingly, Sky kind of got there first in more recent times, when they put Al Muray's award-winning Pub Landlord character into early-'00s sitcom Time Gentlemen Please. Ditto David Baddiel in Sky's awful Seinfeld knockoff Baddiel's Syndrome.

Sky1's BAFTA-winning SPY
Lumsden also mentions trying to find more regional voices for the comedy Sky produces, which is already a notable feature of her commissions in Cheshire's Trollied and Manchester's Mount Pleasant, to Weston-super-Mare's The Café and south Wales' Stella. I'm all for that national diversity, too.

But one of the best thing Lumsden mentions in the Chortle interview is how the majority of British comedy comes from university graduates, and how many shows come through via BBC Radio 4 and BBC2. Over the decades, this has led to a dominance of a certain breed of TV star; John Cleese and Michael Palin, Rowan Atkinson and Stephen Fry, right up to contemporary funny-men like David Mitchell and Robert Webb. I'm not saying those people aren't funny because they're university-educated, but I agree most British TV comedy is oddly reliant on middle-class white men who went to uni. There are many exceptions, naturally, but I'm all for Lumsden trying to find comic voices from different ethnic and social backgrounds.

Lucy Lumsden: Sky's Head of Comedy
The only thing Lumsden fails to adequately defend is Sky's practise of poaching established names with irresistible offers of work. When you look at Sky's major comedy/drama offerings over the past few years, they're almost entirely built around familiar BBC faces: Steve Coogan, Jane Horrocks, Ralph Little, Ruth Jones, Darren Boyd, Kathy Burke, Charlie Brooker, et al. Sky rarely find and nurture in-house talent, maybe because they lack the BBC's infrastructure, preferring to lure people from other channels once they've become popular. Or else buy a neglected, passed-over, or axed show. Sky's upcoming WWII sitcom Chickens started life as a Channel 4 pilot; as did This Is Jinsy on BBC Three, and they're even resurrecting BBC2 spoof chat show The Kumars At No 42 for later this year.

Lumsden offers Spy's creator Simeon Goulden as an example of an unknown person Sky gave a big break to, because until then he was only writing the occasional Armstrong & Miller sketch, but that lone example doesn't cut it with me. I can't think of a single British entertainer who's considered to be a "face of Sky", or one who owes their career to Sky taking a chance with them.

So, whatever Lumsden says, I think it's true Sky's recent success are partly down to having the money and creative freedom to give well-known talent an alluring new sandpit to play in. As a comedy connoisseur, I still look to the BBC and Channel 4 when it comes to breaking new talent and ideas (Fonejacker, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ricky Gervais, The Inbetweeners, etc).

I wish the BBC were in a stronger financial position to rival Sky with more competing comedies, but at least they still have one trump card: an incomparable legacy and history most British comedians and writers want to be part of, the ability to reach a truly nationwide audience, and the chance to become a worldwide hit. And if you want to be experimental and have some creative freedom, yet still have access to that terrestrial-sized audience, Channel 4 still feels like the place to be.

However, thanks to Lucy Lumsden's sterling efforts, Sky's quickly become genuine competition you can't look down your nose at. She has interesting ideas about how to invigorate the UK TV comedy landscape, and as a lifelong fan of British comedy it's hard to find too much of a negative when all this means fresh and expensive projects for the likes of Steve Coogan (Alan Partridge), Julia Davis (Hunderby), Chris O'Dowd (Moone Boy), Joanna Page (Gates), Sally Phillips (Parents), John Bishop (Only Joking), and Charlie Brooker (A Touch of Cloth)—people who might otherwise spend much of their TV careers waiting for the occasional scrap to be thrown their way from the increasingly thrifty BBC.

Just, you know, try and find some brand new talent of your own every once in a while—okay, Sky?

Friday, 5 August 2011

Review: TROLLIED (Sky1)

Having already cornered the majority of the British marketplace when it comes to sports, movies and premium US drama, Sky are now making headway into domestic comedy and drama. Eight-part supermarket comedy Trollied is their latest venture (with Mount Pleasant, Hit & Miss, This Is Jinsy, and Spy still to come), ironically starring a few actors from Asda/Tesco commercials, set in the fictional north-west supermarket Valco. The store's tagline is "serve you right", but thankfully I wasn't left thinking the same thing to myself after watching it.

Jane Horrocks plays acting Deputy Manager Julie, a brittle woman covering for maternity leave but determined to keep the job, which means trying to impress Store Manager Gavin (Jason Watkins) at every opportunity. They're joined in the store by lonely heart butcher Andy (Mark Addy) and his laddish young assistant Kieran (Nick Blood); stuck-in-a-rut checkout girl Katie (Chanel); lazy, disobedient shelf-stacker Colin (Carl Rice); aged, dotty store assistant Margaret (Rita May); gossiping customer service duo Sue (Lorraine Cheshire) and Linda (Faye McKeever); and spaced-out trolley collector Leighton (Joel Fry).

They're a believable and amiable bunch of actors/characters, and certainly the prime reason to keep watching Trollied—which only suffers because it's at that embryonic stage where it almost has to empty its system of obvious supermarket-themed jokes (customers returning half-eaten produce, staff getting stage fright when asked to use the public address system, etc.) It'll be interesting to see how Trollied fares when it's exhausted that top layer of unavoidable japes the audience are almost expecting to hear, and is then forced to get imaginative and rely more on the characters for material that isn't tethered to the environment.

This is still a show where the familiar milieu is the star, see—partly because we don't know the characters that well yet, but I'm hopeful the writing will get stronger. There are definitely signs of potential greatness: such as the wonderful, easy chemistry between butchers Andy and Kieran. In particular, a scene where middle-aged Andy was challenged to chat-up a customer to prove he's still a virile man worked very well. Those characters also walked off with the premiere's funniest moment: having fun at Julie's expense with the homonym "interim-ing" and "into rimming". A laugh-out-loud misunderstanding that, frankly, kept me watching and actively willing the show to deliver a few more belly-laughs like that. None really came, but it wasn't a bad viewing experience. In fact, Trollied is already the best new British comedy I've seen in a very long time, but perhaps that just underscores how uninspired recent British comedies have been.

It's also nice to have a sitcom on TV that stands a real chance of becoming that rare thing in the UK comedy landscape: a show that speaks to multiple generations, thanks to how supermarkets are themselves melting pots for millions of different people. Younger viewers can attach themselves to the ennui of checkout operators, middle-aged viewers can enjoy the management shenanigans, and the elderly can enjoy seeing a few people their own age being represented. The supermarket backdrop also ensures a steady and ever-changing supply of one-off and recurring guest-star customers, albeit without much scope for big storylines because shopping's generally a brief activity.

Trollied certainly got the atmosphere of a supermarket just right, too. It was filmed on a replica set in Bristol, but you'd never tell. The performances were also good—although there were times when it felt like a few of the actors (Horrocks, Watkins) were playing things a little broader than their colleagues. Maybe some people were convinced this is the retail equivalent of The Office (seeing as they've even gender-reversed that show's Tim/Dawn/Lee love-triangle), while others are treating it as something more lightweight and cartoonish. Like a sitcom version of Coronation Street's Bettabuys storylines from the '90s, with gurning Reg Holdsworth and gangly Curly Watts. And to be fair, the show itself felt a little unsure what the tone should be. Fairly adult jokes about sexual acts like "rimming" suit the post-watershed 9pm timeslot it was in, yet the overall tone and style of the show was screaming family-friendly 8pm.

If Trollied can settle on what kind of show it wants to be, while also remembering that all the great sitcoms had complex characters you cared about or sympathized with, I envisage this working rather nicely when the birthing pains are over. I'm not sure the writing's good enough for it to become Dinnerladies-in-a-supermarket, but thanks to a strong premise and excellent cast, I think this could grow to become a perfectly decent and inoffensive sitcom.

written by Julie Rutterford / directed by Paul Walker / 4 August 2011 / Sky1