British TV Show Reviews "C"

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Dates refer to when review was written

Calling the Shots (7/94)
Lynn Redgrave stars in this somewhat derivative 2-part thriller as a investigative television journalist who does whatever it takes to get her story. When the subject of one of her expose's commits suicide and then threatening phone calls begin, she begins to lose control.

Call the Midwife (2/12)
Based on the memoirs of a real district nurse serving the East End of London in the 1950s, this BBC drama series shows the lives of both the midwives serving the area (most babies in that era were born at home without a doctor present), and their patients.   Newcomer Jessica Raine plays fresh-scrubbed Jenny, who rides her bicycle between appointments throughout the rubble-strewn streets near the docks, populated with as many extras in period clothes as the BBC can afford.  Joining the team in the second episode is Chummy, an awkward giant of a woman (Miranda Hart, perfectly cast) with a posh background but a heart as big as the world. Hart plays it perfectly straight and her ongoing relationship with a local Bobbie propels the emotional story forward, even as we discover secrets from Jenny’s past.  Touching and a loving recreation of the era as only the BBC can do, maybe not for all tastes with its working class setting and nearly all-female cast, but extremely well mounted.

Cambridge Spies (3/04)
Four-part dramatization of the most successful spy ring in British history which got its start in the 1930s when a group of four idealistic anti-fascists students at Cambridge are recruited by the Soviet Union with the hopes they will eventually infiltrate the highest levels of British society.  It's a shrewd bet, as most of the British establishment at the time did indeed come from either Oxford or Cambridge University, and so begins the careers of Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Kim Philby.  They remained ever-loyal to their Soviet masters through the 1950s, although ironically the Russians were so paranoid they suspected the Brits of being double agents and never really trusted much of their intelligence.  Burgess and Maclean escaped to Moscow one step ahead of slow-to-realize MI5 (which never imagined one of their own could be so seriously compromised, much to the frustration of American CIA officers who long had smelled a rat).  Philby was able to keep his high-ranking job in the diplomatic corps until 1963 when he finally had to finally defect to Russia to escape capture.   Blunt, a respected art historian, became confident to the Royal Family and eventually was knighted (he had effectively given up the spy game by this time) but he was outed by Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and stripped of his knighthood before he passed away.

Campion (3/89)
Peter Davison's new 30s detective series is due to run on Mystery this fall. What little I've seen is quite charming, particularly Davison's portrayal.

Campus (6/11)
This Channel 4 comedy from the makers of Green Wing clearly wants to tap into that same level of zaniness by way of The Office.  The vice chancellor, Jonty de Wolfe, talks right to the camera even though apparently no documentary is being made.  He's probably insane, nearly everyone else at Kirke University seems to have taken literally the advice that you don't have to be crazy to work here but it helps.  De Wolfe though is no David Brent.  Considering what he has to work with, he's an effective motivator, unlike what you would expect to see in a British comedy.  He's also one of the worst human beings on the planet as well as a terrible racist.  The uni has been blessed with a best-seller author, Imogen Moffat, a mousy math teacher who inexplicable has written a massively popular book called "The Joy of Zero."  De Wolfe decides to implement a "publish or perish" doctrine to the rest of the staff which disrupts the slacker philosophy of English professor Matt Beer.  Beer spends most of the first episode trying to get someone to do the work for him, while the accounts manager who has accidentally overpaid everyone tries to find £600,000 to make up the shortfall.  Campus debuted to low ratings its first week, a sign perhaps that audiences have grown tired of this sort of format.  I'm glad I stuck with it though (more out of morbid curiosity to see what they'd do with de Wolfe) but as the character relations grew I really got into it and the series ends with a great musical number that parodies "Glee." 

Candy Cabs (6/11)
This BBC drama series takes place in a coastal city where a group of women are starting up their cab firm with distinctive pink taxis and female drivers, hoping to appeal to women clients.  But as the show begins, Sharon, one of the partners, has suddenly died and the rest must decide whether to carry on without her or pack it in.  Jackie (Jo Joyner, "EastEnders") is the more enthusiastic of the two, while Elaine has secretly taken out a second mortgage to finance the business without telling her husband.  Meanwhile, Sharon's scuzzy ex-husband (Paul Kaye, who else?) returns to the scene and reveals that he has inherited her part of the business and will be sticking around.  I really go for these sorts of shows even though clearly I'm not the target audience. Candy Cabs is nothing extraordinary, don't look for it on the BAFTAs next year, but it's a solidly-written, nicely performed drama the BBC is so good at making, a staple of the kind of programming I expect to see on British TV.

Canterbury Tales (5/99)
The BBC, in connection with Russian television, produced this elaborately animated two-part series loaded with celebrity voices, dramatizing Geoffrey Chaucer's classic stories. A framing device done in stop-motion gives way to traditionally animated segments of different styles as each individual tale is told. Two versions were produced: one in colloquial modern-day English, the other performed in the original Middle English. A great introduction to the material, particularly for those whose patience is tried by the original text.

Canterbury Tales (5/04)
Tony Marchant (Holding On) loosely adapts the Chaucer classic into modern times in this anthology BBC series.  In "A Knight's Tale" two best friends serving time together in prison are torn apart when both fall in love with the prison's teacher.

More modern adaptions of Chaucer's tales with "The Miller's Tale" with James Nesbitt (Cold Feet) as a devilish interloper to a village where the local publican (Dennis Waterman) keeps a tight rein on his sexy younger wife (Billie Piper).  Temptation is the name of the game, and Nesbitt is only too happy to supply it and then pull the rug out from everyone at the end.  This was Piper's first bit dramatic role prior to becoming a regular on Doctor Who as she transitioned from pop singer to proper actress.

The Canterville Ghost (3/98)
Hot on the heels of the Patrick Stewart version, Ian Richardson gets into the act as the spectral presence whose ancestral home is infested by that worst of all plagues: Americans. Richardson chews the scenery with fine aplomb, and Rik Mayall appears as a demented priest attempting an exorcist.

Captain Butler (7/97)
Craig Charles (simultaneously starring in both this and Red Dwarf VII which went out on the same weeks) is a pirate captain with a crew of the usual misfits in this alleged comedy. The late night timeslot on Channel 4 allows Charles to swear at will, but the whole thing is fairly pedestrian and very low budget. Robert Llewellyn (Kryten) guest stars as Nelson in one episode.

Captain Star (9/97)
Children's ITV animated series that is lightyears (literally) from the dreary Wyrd Sisters. Based on a comic strip, Captain Star (voice of Richard E. Grant) is a Captain Kirk-like space explorer who has been put out to pasture with his ship and crew on a nameless planet but hasn't quite realized it yet. With an animated style reminiscent of "Yellow Submarine," Star's three person crew include a multi-headed (nine in fact) engineer (Adrian Edmondson), and a restaurateur with a fish obsession. A fairly clever satire, as aliens, machines and sinister "friends" attempt to vex Star's quiet contemplations from his wheelbarrow - waiting for orders that will never arrive.

Cardinal Burns (6/12)
E4 sketch series featuring the double act of Seb Cardinal and Dustin Demri-Burns.  They are a bit raw, like early Armstrong and Miller (another pair who rose from Channel 4 to eventually getting their own BBC1 series) with a growing cast of characters and amusing spoofs.  Not for all tastes, but a nice addition to the sketch comedy genre.

Carrie's War (11/04)
BBC TV movie based on the Nina Bawden novel about some London children who become war evacuees, sent to a small Welsh village at the start of WWII.  They end up in the strict household of a no-nonsense shopkeeper and his sister, and must abide by his arbitrary and severe rules (like not walking on the center of the stairs carpeting).  But they also meet his other sister, a kindly woman (played by Pauline Quirk) who lives out in the country and doesn't mind children who laugh and play.  It's a coming-of-age movie set at a time when the public was asked to make certain sacrifices for the good of the country in wartime (remember that?), and it's a good character piece.

Carrott Confidential (5/89)
Topical news humor featuring sketches including "A Day in the Life of A British Sumo Wrestler" and "Men's Toiletries." With Jasper Carrott, later of The Detectives.

Carrying Dad (11/95)
A short subject about an impromptu funeral procession. When the hearse that is suppose to take a late green grocer fails to start, his children (and a few strangers) decide to carry the casket through town to the cemetery. Along the way they attract a considerable procession and finally make a stand at the spot where he sold vegetables for decades.

Casanova (10/05)
Russell T. Davies' first production for the BBC (which led to Doctor Who) was this humorous dramatization of the notorious lover told from the point of view of Peter O'Toole as his older, wiser memoir-writing self.  Future Doctor Who (catching a theme here?) David Tennant plays his randy, younger self, conquering Europe but never quite the love of his life, a Venetian noblewoman married to a bore.  Done in a fast-paced, witty visual style (with O'Toole and Tennant mustering all the comedy they can), it's an entertaining costume drama.  My favorite line is when Casanova falls for a famous castrado and discovers to his delight in a "Victor/Victoria" moment that she's really a woman in disguise when he pulls her fake penis out of her pants and deadpans, "Hmm, mine doesn't do that."

Case Histories (6/11)
Jason Isaacs, usually cast as the villain in movies like "The Patriot" and "Harry Potter," gets to be the good guy for a change in this detective series based on the books by Kate Atkinson and adapted by Ashley Pharaoh (Life on Mars).  Set in a somewhat de-scottified Edinburgh, Isaacs plays Jackson Brodie, divorced, with partial custody of his daughter, a former policeman who is now a private detective.  Often his cases involve cheating wives or missing cats, but in the first story, cases just seem to fall into his lap like the two sisters whose sibling mysteriously vanished three decades earlier, and a businessman (Phil Davis) who wants to find his daughter's murderer.  Isaacs really gets to turn on his charm, most of the women in the series find him hot, and it doesn't hurt that he's often shown jogging around Edinburgh or taking his shirt off.  It's implied in the backstory that Jackson left the police force under a cloud--he's not very popular with them or his ex-wife as he continually takes his daughter along to inappropriate situations during his cases.  We also get glimpses of something that happened to him when he was a boy that no doubt pushes him to want to get to the bottom of things now.  Certainly TV isn't hurting for detective shows at the moment, but with enough humor and charm, Case Histories is a nice time passer although it relies far too much on extraordinary coincidences in resolving its mysteries.

The Casual Vacancy (9/16)
The novel that turned out to be written by JK Rowling is adapted by the BBC about the machinations in a small English village. Plans for development that will aid the well-connected, but displace a community center used by the less fortunate, are imperiled when an election to fill a spot on the parish council puts both sides against each other. Michael Gambon and Julia McKenzie play an older couple who think they run the village and attempt to install their feckless son in the position.  We see the positive effect of the community center for those who need it, but Rowling cynically shows what happens when the good guys don't always come out on top.

The Catherine Tate Show (3/05)
Catherine is this year's Tracy Ullman, and she appears as different recurring characters in this BBC sketch comedy series.  Some running jokes include a very nervous housewife, a paranoid profane granny, an insolent schoolgirl (a character not far off from one played by Matt Lucas on Little Britain), and an existential detective.

Celeb (1/04)
Harry Enfield stars in this BBC comedy as an Ozzie Osbourne-like former big-name rock star, now living in his country manor, but still oh so nouveau riche.  Based on a comic appearing in "Private Eye" but frankly a one-joke idea.

Censored at the Seaside: The Saucy Postcards of Donald McGill (4/07)
Documentary about McGill's "naughty" artwork that was popular mid-century with holiday-goers.  Maybe it was a more innocent time, or political correctness hadn't caught up to them, but despite his prolific output (thousands over his lifetime), he hardly ever made any money from them.

Century Falls (3/93)
A children's drama with supernatural overtones, based on a novel. Though it won't set the world on fire with its plot (although fires, oddly enough, figure greatly in the plot), but it is imaginative and certainly light-years ahead of what is considered "suitable" for children in the USA.

Chalk (7/97)
BBC sitcom based at a grammar school run by completely psychotic Vice Headmaster Eric Slatt (David Bamber) who is part Basil Fawlty, part Gordon Brittas. Everyone else at the school, except for new teacher Suzy, are just as nuts including the ditzy music teacher who has imaginary students playing in an imaginary band, a PE coach into S&M, and the befuddled old headmaster with the unfortunate name of Richard Nixon. Slatt is a great comic monster, always allowing situations to deteriorate way past the point of salvage, and then completely overreacting. Written by Steven Moffat.

The Chamber (1/96)
Comedy pilot about the goings-on in a city council. An ambitious Tory councillor sees his chance to advance when the city's autocratic mayor passes away suddenly. Trying to oppose him are some well-meaning Labour councillors (including a working mother) but they are out-numbered and out-matched, particularly by the Tory's well-connected wife.

Chambers (3/02)
BBC comedy set in a solicitor's office with John Bird (Bremner, Bird & Fortune) as a greedy, and frankly incompetent, barrister who keeps getting himself deeper and deeper into trouble.  His partners are James Fleet (The Vicar of Dibley) and Nina Wadia (Goodness Gracious Me) both playing variations of characters they've done before.  An example, I'm afraid, of the failed office comedy genre.

Chandler and Co (1/95)
Barbara Flynn (A Very Peculiar Practice) stars as one-half of a female private investigation duo. Both women are rank amateurs at the detective game, but with some luck (and aid from an electronics expert) they manage to solve most of their cases. Needless to say, the emphasis is on drama with nary a car chase or gun in sight. Not a bad little show.

The do-it-yourself female detective series begins its second season without my favorite actress, Barbara Flynn. Nevertheless, the demands of drama (and television executives) say the show must go on, and a new partner is served up to help out in cases with a distinctively feminine angle.

Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe (11/09)
Brooker is a cynical TV critic who slices and dices what he finds annoying on the box with deft humor and commentary.  He creates an entertaining and subversive series that rises above the usual art criticism genre. 

The Chase (4/08)
Women's drama about the prodigal daughter returning to her family's rural veterinary practice (the house is called The Chase) and reinserting herself into the soap opera life she originally ran away from to London.  

Chasing Shadows (12/14)
Former League of Gentlemen Reece Shearsmith stars in this series of two-part ITV mysteries as DS Sean Stone, a brilliant, but socially-challenged detective. I'm talking Aspergers, but highly functioning. His boss (Don Warrington) hates him, so assigns him to a missing person's unit run by a civilian (Alex Kingston) where Sean proceeds to kick up a fuss when he spots the pattern of a serial killer. Helping them is a regular detective played by Noel Clarke. As police dramas go, it's okay, but odd casting to put a comedian in the central role.

The Chauffer's Tale (9/96)
The ex-chauffer for Dame Barbara Cartland tells all in this clever short film.

Chef! (3/93)
Lenny Henry stars as a super-serious cook in a three-star French restaurant. He abuses, threatens, and fires people with reckless abandon, but deep down he just wants to be recognized as the greatest chef in creation. The English are obsessed by the French, heavens knows why. Currently there is running a very high profile series, A Year In Provence, featuring John Thaw (Inspector Morse) as an Englishman who moves to Southern France and his strange encounters with the locals. All I can figure is the British take vacationing VERY seriously, and think Americans are quite uncivilized only having two weeks of vacation per year.

Enters its third season on a down note as his long-suffering wife Janice decides she wants a divorce. Not funny stuff. Nor is the running joke of the owner's dim daughter having her named mispronounced by her own father (Ree-nee instead of Ruh-nay). This used to be a good show, now beaten into mediocrity by the demands of the BBC.

Chekhov: Comedy Shorts (12/10)
Digital channel Sky Arts 2 in conjunction with Steve Coogan's Baby Cow productions filmed a number of one-act plays written around 1889 by Anton Chekhov. These are all one-set productions, in fact if you watch them back-to-back like I did, you will notice it's all shot on the same set just dressed differently for each production. But the main reason for watching Chehov: Comedy Shorts is the very familiar actors from British TV performing each part.  "A Reluctant Tragic Hero" stars Mackenzie Crook and Johnny Vegas; "The Bear" has Julia Davis (Nighty Night), Julian Barratt, and Reece Shearsmith; "The Dangers of Tobacco," a monologue with Steve Coogan; and "The Proposal" with Mathew Horne, Sheridan Smith and Philip Jackson.  If none of those names mean anything to you, then Chekhov: Comedy Shorts is not for you.  Johnny Vegas in particular is very good, his rant about how terrible his life is practically becomes a monologue and means Mackenzie Crook just sits and reacts.  The Bear is the name given by Julia Davis's recently widowed character to a bill collector played by her real-life boyfriend Julian Barratt from The Mighty Boosh. Coogan's monologue about the dangers of tobacco drifts more into a description of his overbearing wife.  And in "The Proposal," Gavin & Stacey's Mathew Horne attempts to ask the hand of his beautiful neighbor (Smith) but gets easily sidetracked along the way. You can see the appeal this material had for the producers at Baby Cow with somewhat exaggerated comic characters each living their own personal part of hell.  Whether a 21st Century audience is ready to laugh out loud at 19th Century comedy might be beside the point, it's nice to dust off old plays and make them accessible to modern audiences using actors we are already comfortable watching.  Sky is increasing the amount of money they are pouring into original productions, both dramas, comedies and arts fare like Chekhov Comedy Shorts that in the past would have been on BBC2 or these days BBC4. For viewers, it's good to see the digital TV landscape isn't completely littered with repeats, reality shows, and cheap imports, but some honest-to-god homegrown drama.  Even if it was originally Russian.

Chelmsford 123 (3/90)
A historical comedy in the Black Adder vein, this one set during the Roman occupation of Britain. It's pretty good, with familiar characters and funny situations. There were two seasons in total with Rory McGrath, Philip Pope and Jimmy Mulville.

The Chest (9/97)
Neil Morrissey (Men Behaving Badly) stars in this comedy movie as a family man horribly in debt who gets wind of buried treasure pursued by a nutter (Jim Carter). They eventually combine forces when a map lands in Morrissey's hands, but the over-the-top music clues us in to the farce unfolding.

Chewin' The Fat (1/02)
BBC sketch comedy series featuring a Scottish double act.  All these types of shows, whether it's featuring the teams of Morecambe & Wise, Hale & Pace, or Fry & Laurie, are pretty much interchangeable, the only question is, are they funny?  Here, the hit-or-miss ratio is pretty good but absolutely no new ground is being broken.

Chickens (11/13)
Simon Bird, Joe Thomas and Jonny Sweet co-wrote and star in this Sky1 comedy series set in 1914 just after the war breaks out, as the last men in the small village of Rittle-On-Sea. Cecil (Bird) is medically unfit to serve, George (Thomas) is a conscientious objector hanging on to his fiancee by a thread, and Bert (Sweet) is just an amoral idiot. The fiercely patriotic women of the village despise these men who stayed behind and make their lives hell.  For some reason, perhaps owing to stiff-upper-lipism, the boys continue to endure this abuse in a world now run by women, often to comic effect.

Chiller (9/95)
A creepy anthology series on ITV presents supernatural tales involving possession, ghosts, and other things that go bump in the night. Among the stories: "Prophecy" with Nigel Havers and Sophie Ward, where a seance leads to the systematic destruction of the participants and the key is a young boy who sees their deaths. In "Toby," Martin Clunes is a husband whose wife still believes she's pregnant with their miscarried baby -- and then gives birth.

Christmas (1/97)
Bleak TV movie set during the holiday about a young gangster who is forced to kill his mentor or else lose his brother. Who will he betray?

A Christmas Carol (3/01)
Ross Kemp (EastEnders) stars in this modern version of the Dickens' classic.  This time, Scrooge is loan shark working on a grim housing estate, followed around by his toady Crachit keeping track of all the debtors in his thrall.  What's interesting about this version is in-between the ghostly visits, Kemp is forced to relive Christmas Eve over and over (a la "Groundhog Day") until he gets it right.  The sentimental finish though (complete with snowfall) is never in doubt, so be prepared for maximum saccharine.

Christmas Unwrapped (1/02)
Tony Robinson presents a series of fact-filled Channel 4 shorts that spotlights each of the traditions of Christmas and how their origins for the most part have the most tenuous of connections to the actual birth of Jesus.  Most were borrowed from pagan times and "adapted" by the Christian church, or frequently have only a very brief history (Santa's red suit in fact derives from Coke ads in the 1930s!).

Christopher and His Kind (3/11)
Matt Smith got to expand his acting range beyond defeating Daleks as Christopher Isherwood in this BBC2 biopic based on his book.  One hopes young children weren't watching this very adult drama that featured Smith smoking, drinking and having lots and lots of gay sex.  Isherwood left England after dropping out of medical school with one published novel under his belt to check out the promising gay scene of 1930s Berlin.  To earn money, Isherwood teaches English one-to-one.  The "His Kind" of the title has multiple meanings.  Obviously it refers to the gay subculture that Isherwood traveled in.  But his kind also included the British expatriots who inhabited Berlin for various reasons even as Nazism was on the rise.  This includes Imogen Poots as Jean Ross, the inspiration for the character of Sally Bowles who appeared in Isherwood's Berlin Stories and later the musical Cabaret.  But there's a third category of "his kind" that permeates the production and that is class.  Like any good Englishman of the era, Isherwood was very class conscious and even though most of his boyfriends were working class Germans, his friends were all similarly upper-middle class like him.  He could never forget it and perhaps the novel, written decades after Isherwood had been living in the United States after the war, gives him the perspective to see how it affected him.  Nevertheless, "Christopher and His Kind" is a look at a unique time and place where on the one hand there was a thriving if somewhat sordid gay lifestyle, and on the other how a country drives off the cliff as the Nazis came to power.

Citizen Kahn (10/12)
Adril Ray wrote and stars in this humorous BBC comedy about an aspiring Pakistani family living in Birmingham.  Ray plays the title character, a typical sitcom dad whose cheapness and get-ahead-quick attitude constantly bite him in the ass.  He is married and has two daughters, the first isn't very clever but is engaged to a young man who is even dimmer, the second appears to be a devout Muslim but it's just an act she does in front of her dad; in reality she's a typical British teenager who is always texting on her phone.  A lot of the action takes place at Kahn's mosque which, much to his horror, has hired Dave, a red-haired Englishman convert (Kris Marshall, My Family) as the manager.  As Homer Simpson has proven over 20 years, you can never get too tired of watching stupid fathers screwing up on TV, and Citizen Kahn, though no "Simpsons," is funny by its ability to make Kahn the butt of the joke every single time.

City Lights (7/08)
Robson Green stars in this ITV series that is an odd blend of serious drama (he and his best friend witness a brutal gangland slaying) and slapstick humor (these two bozos often act more like Laurel and Hardy than serious characters). After the murder, they and their two families (their wives are sisters) enter Witness Protection and move from Manchester to London with new names and try to fit in. But domestic problems keep rearing their heads and the gangster's goons get closer and closer to them.

City of Vice (1/09)
Channel 4 docudrama series about the forming of what would eventually become the Metropolitan Police force in 1753 with Ian McDiarmid as Henry Fielding, the writer of "Tom Jones," who teamed up with his blind brother to form the Bow Street Runners, the first constabulary.  The squalor of 18th Century London is vividly recreated, and CGI maps help the viewer navigate the landscape as the action unfolds. 

A Civil Arrangement (6/12)
Alison Steadman stars in this one-off drama (part of a night devoted to her on the BBC) that is essentially a monologue to the camera (though we see other actors) about the impending gay wedding of her daughter. Steadman has patented the anxious, middle-England mother character, which here leads to an unexpected (especially for her) conclusion. She's swell.

Class (9/97)
A three part documentary on ITV looking at the three very different segments of British society: the working class, the middle class and the upper class. Interviews with mostly famous people shed light on their differences and the effect on the country as a whole. Fascinating stuff for we "classless" Americans.

Class Act (1/96)
Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) plays Kate, an ex-con former socialite now advancing on middle-age trying to maintain her lifestyle (and house) in fashionable Chelsea. She shares her house with her senile father (Richard Vernon, "Slartibardfast" from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) who is titled but penniless, a pretty young Australian housekeeper who also has criminal tendencies, and a dodgy journalist who lives out in her shed. This very dysfunctional un-family manage to find trouble, or it finds them, each week in this hour-long ITV comedy/drama series. Lumley gets the best lines, but is also the butt of most of the jokes about her somewhat sad character who dreams of being on top again. Ethically, she's not much more evolved than Patsy on AbFab, although deep down you suspect Kate might actually harbor nice feelings about the people around her.

A Class Apart (7/08)
Tony Grounds wrote this BBC TV movie about a woman who wants her multi-racial son to get a better education than at the local public school and gets the chance when the progressive headmaster of a posh private school offers him a scholarship. But is the boy too working class to fit in and is the headmaster merely trying to prove a point to a rival that he can education anybody? The relationship between the mother and the headmaster is less interesting than the educational drama but I suppose love sells.

Clinton: His Struggle With Dirt (3/99)
Armando Iannucci (The Friday Night Armistice) presents this humorous look at the Clinton presidency as seen from the year 2028. There, all the participants are older but not necessarily wiser, as they look back at the events that shaped 1998.

Clocking Off (3/01)
BBC drama series about workers at a textile factory, each week focusing on a different character.  One week it might be the foreman who is having trouble keeping his son out of trouble while trying to keep an affair quiet to his co-worker wife, the next it might be the owner (Philip Glenister) working to save the company when the building lease expires.

Close Up: Dennis Potter, Under The Skin (1/99)
BBC documentary about the famed TV writer who passed away a few years ago and his impact on the medium. Classics like Pennies From Heaven and The Singing Detective cemented Potter's reputation on British TV, but debilitating diseases and lack of normal socializing for years, although fodder for much of his material, also affected his ability to maintain perspective when given complete control over his projects. Nevertheless his main body of work stands the test of time, and even his "failures" are interesting and unique productions, unrivaled by anybody else.

A Close Shave (1/96)
Wallace and Gromit, the clay-animated stars of A Grand Day Out and The Wrong Trousers, are back in a new adventure. While tending their window washing business, inventor Wallace and faithful dog Gromit discover a conspiracy involving sheep rustling. Is the kindly owner of a wool shop whom Wallace fancies behind the mystery, or is it her sinister dog (who resembles -- I swear -- a Sontaran)? Like The Wrong Trousers, a chase is the highlight of the film, in fact at points the movie resembles an Indiana Jones film. And Wallace's gadgets are inventive Rube Goldberg-like devices, including a sequence parodying Thunderbirds. Director Nick Parks again creates a funny, clever short that all ages can get a big kick out of.

Cluedo (11/90)
It's the famous Parker Brothers game ("Clue" in the USA) evolved (some might say "devolved") into a game show. Real actors portray Col. Mustard, etc. and two sets of contestants must figure out each week whodunnit. In one episode this season, Paul Darrow was the celebrity victim.

Cockroaches (9/16)
Two twentysomethings are making out in their parent's basement when nuclear war breaks out and they spend the next 10 years in the fall-out shelter raising their daughter. This is all before the opening titles, the series is about when they finally crawl out and discover what post-apocalyptic Britain is like -- and the fact they might want to see other people now.  They discover a motley band of survivors who are all a bit unhinged in this BBC-3 comedy. It's a low-rent series with amazing guest actors including Jack Whitehall, Nigel Planer (!), and Robert Bathurst as the former Prime Minister!

Codex (4/08)
Tony Robinson (Time Team) hosts this Channel 4 quiz show shot in the British Museum (after hours, judging from the lighting) that sends contestants scurrying around the exhibits looking for clues and answering questions. 

Cold Enough For Snow (3/98)
Writer Jack Rosenthal's sequel to Eskimo Day with the same cast reuniting as the two families cope with a Romeo and Juliet situation. The father (The Full Monty's Tom Wilkinson) only wants what's best for his daughter, which he knows is not uptight Maureen Lipman's son. An ironic ending caps the story which is nicely acted.

Cold Feet (5/99)
Six part series following on from a pilot movie last year on ITV about three different couples, each in a different stage of relationships (one just shacking up, the other just having a baby, the third after years of marriage). What really sets this comedy/drama series apart is the brilliant editing which is razor-sharp and keeps crosscutting forward, back, and sometimes to fantasy sequences to keep the story racing ahead. Excellent writing and performances (including the gorgeous Helen Baxendale (An Unsuitable Job For a Woman) produce many true-life moments, but also scenes of extreme hilarity. Definitely not your father's adult drama, but a great, entertaining, sharp series. NBC is doing an American adaptation of this to premiere in Fall 1999. Read more about Cold Feet here.

Cold Lazarus (11/96)
For the final work of his life, Dennis Potter pulls out all the stops and makes a full-fledged science fiction drama in this immediate sequel to Karaoke. It is now 350 years in the future and a host of interests vie for the memories contained in Daniel Feeld's head which was cryogenically frozen upon his death. His memories are disturbing but potentially commercially lucrative to the citizens of the future, who live in bland world, marred only by outbreaks of terrorism by the "RONs" who espouse, "Reality Or Nothing." Crass American commercialization is well satirized, embodied by Diane Ladd as a manipulating trillionaire crone who wants to sell Feeld's memories to the jaded public. The focus is on the scientists who experiment on Feeld's head unaware he has achieved consciousness and knows what is going on around him. Like Karaoke, many parts of Potter's life (and death) make up elements of Cold Lazarus, and give a fascinating glimpse into how he must have viewed posterity. A slick production, Channel 4 spared no expense in creating a futuristic world, with digital effects o'plenty.

Comedy Connections (3/04)
This compilation series narrated by Julia Sawalha (Jonathan Creek) graphically illustrates how various famous British comedies (including Only Fools and Horses, Men Behaving Badly and Are You Being Served?) each draw on the background of their writers and performers in prior shows and what happened afterwards.  We are treated to clips of many short-lived pre-1970s comedies that have never been rerun showcasing early appearances by actors, and the visual design of the series make for a very informative documentary look at many comedy mainstays.

Comedy Lab (5/99)
Channel 4 anthology series trying out different comedy styles each week. One is a parody of the so-called "docu-soap" trend, this one being set at a motorway service stop. Another focuses on street magicians performing their tricks, another on bizarre stunts performed in front of the unsuspecting public. A good forum for "alternative" comedy styles, which is what Channel 4 is really all about.

The Comedy Map of Britain (4/08)
Flying over a huge computer-generated map, we make stops in various towns and cities and see clips from famous productions and celebrities that originated there. Essentially a clip show, though interviews with people like Bill Bailey who discusses his show-biz origins and influences, is entertaining.

Comedy Playhouse: Over To Bill (6/14)
In this BBC pilot Hugh Dennis (Outnumbered) stars as Bill, a recently unemployed TV weatherman who goes to humiliating lengths to get back on telly.  His best friend Jez (Neil Morrissey) is about to get married, but also knows an influential producer. Bill's misadventures at Jez's wedding demonstrate just how desperate Bill is and what he has to do afterwards to save face and maintain his friendship. Written by Doug Naylor (Red Dwarf).

Come Fly With Me
I didn't laugh once during the first episode of this 10-years-too-late parody of docusoaps by David Walliams and Matt Lucas (Little Britain). They play the bulk of the characters at various airlines that are the subject of the documentary.  Maybe I'm just getting too old to appreciate their humor, but it was successful enough on BBC1 and got recommissioned for a second series.

Come Rain Come Shine (3/11)
David Jason stars in this ITV1 TV movie as Don Mitchell a retired hackney cabdriver living in estate housing with his wife Dora (Alison Steadman).  He has two grown children, a daughter bringing up two boys on her own, and a son, David, who is a successful real estate developer with a mansion, flash car and trophy wife.  But all good things must come to an end and the real estate crash hits David who loses his job and house and has to move the family in with Don and Dora.  Don's problem, and all the women in his life know this, is he thinks David walks on water and defends him to the bitter end.  He even takes out a mortgage on their flat to lend David the money to buy into a new lucrative real estate venture.  When that blows up in their face, Don goes back to driving his cab.  David disappoints everyone when he leaves his wife for another woman which ultimately sends Don to the hospital in a coma after suffering a heart attack. It's always interesting to think about the messages in a movie like this, particularly in aspirationally challenged Britain.  You are supposed to know your place and not take on airs, and there's a certain amount of schadenfreude in seeing others cut down to size who forget this.  In the Thatcher era, David would have been the hero, but the drama here in Come Rain Come Shine is really about Don's inability to judge his son and what it does to him.  As an aside, some of the scenes were shot literally up the road from where I used to live in Homerton in the East End of London 17 years ago.  It's definitely not the best part of London but it's not the worst either, and it was a good setting for a salt-of-the-earth character profile like Come Rain Come Shine.

Comic Asides (11/89)
The BBC's "Pilot Playhouse" where they try out new comedies. KYTV, a parody of a certain satellite news channel, with Angus Deaton. Dowie, about a recently deceased performer. The Stone Age with Trevor Eve as a burned out rock star. And I, Lovett featuring Norman Lovett, the original "Holly" on Red Dwarf as a bizarre inventor. Only two of these shows went to series.

(4/94) This season is another mixed bag including: The High Life (see separate listing), a comedy about Scottish flight attendants starring Alan Cummings from "Bernard and the Genie." The Last Word, about a muckraking reporter for a London newspaper who is sent to the Obituary department and becomes a huge success writing scandalous things about the recently departed (who can't sue under British libel laws). Woodcock is a historical costume sitcom about a naive boy who joins an 18th century sailing ship. A bit too much like a Carry On film for my tastes. The Honeymoon's Over about a working class couple living in a council flat and their love/hate relationship. Their cement tower block building reminded me of one down my street when I lived in London.

Comic Relief (5/89)
This is the BBC version, not what HBO runs. I have nearly six hours of material. Here is a brief list of clips. Many feature Rowan Atkinson. The Last Waltz; "Mastermember" with Atkinson; Alas Smith & Jones, Ken Dodd, Ronny Corbett; Dave Allen, Loadsamoney; a scene from the stage version of 'Allo 'Allo; "Help" with French and Saunders; short film: "Night of the Comic Dead"; Atkinson as a surgeon in a sketch with John Gordon-Sinclear; Paul Daniels; Don Henderson as a P.C.; an ad for Satanism; TARDIS sketch with C.P. Grogan; Holiday '89 Alaska Tou with Nigel Planer; "Night Thoughts" with Martin Jarvis; "Nose At Ten"; Barry Awars for best comedy movie; Atkinson interviews politicians; Michael Grade doing new parody; much more...

In 1991, seven more hours of sketches and appearances including: a special Mr Bean segment; Birds of a Feather with French and Saunders; and a repeat of Blackadder: The Cavalier Years.

Comic Relief `97 (7/97)
Six hours of fund raising on Red Nose Day included many celebrity performers and specially made sketches. Stand-outs include: Anne Robinson sending herself up in Points of View; Ulrika Jonsson with a special edition of Gladiators; the cast of Coronation Street as contestants on University Challenge; "Ballykissdibley" wherein Father Clifford meets up with Reverend Geraldine (Dawn French); a brilliant "Forrest Gump"-like recreation of "The Graduate" featuring Dustin Hoffman and Mrs. Robinson - Anne Robinson!; Men Behaving Badly with the boys meeting Kylie Minogue but not realizing it; "Prime Cracker," an elaborate parody featuring Helen Mirren's character meeting Robbie Coltrane's along with an appearance by Pete Postlewaite and a brilliant musical number; Rowan Atkinson as an Indian waiter; and "The Sugar Lumps": Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Kathy Burke sending up the Spice Girls (who of course turn up in person).

Comic Relief 1999 (11/99)
The biennial all-star charity fundraiser on the BBC produced another evening of great comedy entertainment with specially-made sketches and programs. The highlight this year was a four-part elaborate 20 minute parody of Doctor Who starring Rowan Atkinson that was hailed by fans as the best Doctor Who in the past ten years (and, aside from the 1996 TV movie, the ONLY Doctor Who in the past ten years). Alongside Atkinson as the Doctor, were Julia Sawalha (Absolutely Fabulous) as his assistant, Jonathan Pryce as the Master, and cameos by Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley. It was the highest rated segment of Comic Relief and has subsequently been released on home video in the UK to raise additional money for the charity. Other highlights included a special Vicar of Dibley where Dawn French got to meet Johnny Depp (who was shooting Sleepy Hollow in the UK at the time); Lenny Henry going on Blind Date with Cilla Black and having to choose between Twiggy, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Elle McPherson; Victoria Wood and the Dinnerladies cast doing a spoof, Wetty Hainthropp Investigates; the cast of Men Behaving Badly in a "lost pilot from the 1960s" showing how their series might have looked back then; live sketches from The Fast Show cast; a combination of every BBC celebrity quiz show, Have I Got Buzzcocks All Over; Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) hosting from Norwich Radio; and even Chris Evans over at Channel 4 got into the act with a special edition of T.F.I.Comic Relief.

Comic Relief 2001 (1/02)
The biennial fundraiser for Comic Relief on the BBC brings out the usual stars and featured among other things this year: a version of Big Brother that actually locked up a number of celebrities (including Jack Dee) in a house for seven days and let the public vote members out; an EastEnders spoof with Mel Smith as a fictional producer trying to manage the "Who Shot Phil" storyline while fending off Harry Enfield who wants to be on the show; special filmed episodes of My HeroKiss Me Kate, Gimme Gimme Gimme and One Foot In the Grave (that is particularly impressive when you consider Victor Meldrew was killed off in the last series); a Popstars parody with Rowan Atkinson, Simon Pegg, and Lenny Henry; Robbie Williams meet The Fast Show characters Ralph & Ted; Billy Connolly strips; Ali G interviews Posh & Becks;  Baddiel & Skinner bomb on the BBC, but Graham Norton does a nice version of his show with a faux Elton John (Matt Lucas) but then interviews the real Fergie.

Comic Relief 2003 (3/04)
The biennial fundraiser on Red Nose Day fills an entire night on BBC-1 with the usual celebrity hijinx including: Jack Dee spending the evening atop a pole outside Television Centre, an elaborate "Harry Potter" parody starring Dawn French & Jennifer Saunders (with Jeremy Irons as Snape!), the cast of EastEnders in a decidedly more upbeat version, a celebrity edition of Fame Academy with non-singers training to survive daily audience elimination, Rowan Atkinson and Lenny Henry parody the Martin Bashir/Michael Jackson interviews, the cast of Auf Wiedersehen Pet in a short adventure set in Miami, Ricky Gervais (The Office) makes a video diary and manages to offend just about everyone, Rob Brydon doing a live version of Marion & Geoff, Ali G at the UN interviewing Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Tom Conti's daughter Nina doing an R-rated ventriloquist with a monkey, and Richard E. Grant helping out the cast of Smack The Pony.

Comic Relief 2007 (7/08)
This Red Nose Day telethon features Mr Bean at a wedding, Lauren Cooper (Catherine Tate) antagonizes her new English teacher (David Tennant), Little Britain meets Dennis Waterman, Catherine Tate as a woman who doesn't realize her boyfriend is Daniel Craig, Sting visits the Vicar of Dibley, Peter Kay and Andy from Little Britain sing "500 Miles," Lauren meets Tony Blair (a true highlight, Blair unexpectedly turns the tables on her and got a huge response afterwards), plus appearances by Kate Moss, Borat, Lenny Henry, Mitchell & Webb, Christa Berg, and Jimmy Carr among many, many others.

Comic Relief 2011 (3/11)
Highlights this year included Outnumbered with tennis star Andy Murray tormented by the kids; a special two-part Doctor Who short by Steven Moffat; MasterChef with Miranda Hart, Ruby Wax & Claudia Winkleman "cooking" at Number 10 Downing Street for David Cameron; Autumnwatch done Harry Hill style; an elaborate filmed parody of Downtown Abbey (directed by Adrian Edmondson) featuring Harry Enfield, Jennifer Saunders, Michael Gambon, Joanna Lumley, Simon Callow, Victoria Wood, and Dale Winton; Susan Boyle sings a duet with Peter Kay; after a live reunion of Take That, a tribute band, Fake That, is formed with James Corden, John Bishop, David Walliams, Catherine Tate, Alan Carr; the cast of Miranda (in character) do Pineapple Dance Studio; James Corden's character of Smithy convenes a round table at the BBC to help save Comic Relief in a scene with more A-list celebrities than you can imagine; the cast of The Inbetweeners track down the rudest place names in England for a challenge; Kate Moss meets Misery Bear; and Jonathan Ross, Jimmy Carr and Claudia Winkleman watch in horror as Ricky Gervais, Steve Merchant and Karl Pilkington spend 10 minutes slagging off the whole idea of charity drives.

Comic Relief 2013 (6/13)
Highlights from this year's Red Nose Day include the wedding of Simon Cowell to a mystery bride, a Call the Midwife/Doctor Who crossover, Dame Edna and Jack Whitehall participate in a special MasterChef, Ricky Gervais shows what happened to David Brent 10 years after The Office, Dawn French's Vicar of Dibley needs to do an important church vote, David Tennant snogs John Bishop, and David Walliams having to tell all his exes about his social disease is an excuse for a number of celebrity cameos.

Comics (7/93)
Lynda LaPlante's (Prime Suspect, Widows) latest thriller is about a burned-out American comic coming to London and getting embroiled in a murder. Thankfully, the producers cast a real American (although his agent's accent is suspiciously mid-atlantic) though the show is stolen by the young black man who at first was charged with the murder, then exonerated by the comic, only to prove to have been connected with it after all. Some nice moments, although the comic's self-destructive behavior wears after awhile.

Comic's Choice (3/11)
In the run-up to Channel 4 hosting the British Comedy Awards in 2011 they ran a week of Comic's Choice featuring Bill Bailey interviewing famous comedians (Alan Davies, Sean Lock, Lee Mack, Jo Brand and Jessica Hynes) each night and having them nominate and choose winners for their own personal all-time British comedy awards.  Of course this means plenty of clips but in what is becoming a disturbing trend, shows that were originally made in the 4:3 standard definition aspect ratio have been cropped for 21st Century widescreen TVs.  Not only does this mean a substantial portion of the image is missing, but the additional increase in the image size for high definition makes the old clips seem grainy and fuzzy.  I see this done more and more on clip shows, a practice I wish were halted.

Comic Strip Presents... (7/89)
Read my feature article about the series. During the 1980s, MTV ran early seasons of this show incessantly in conjunction with The Young Ones. Later episodes never showed up in the US. These include: Strike: Alexei Sayle plays a Welsh miner who has just finished a screenplay about the 1984 miners strike, which is bought by an American producer. They of course ask, "for a few rewrites," then cast Al Pacino and Meryl Streep in the leads. Pacino likes the script but he feels that the character he plays (Arthur Scargill) "is a loser." Sayle tries to explain that's the whole point of the film, the strike failed, crushed by the Thatcher government. But Sayle gives in, slowly at first, and the finished product is a glorious example of the excesses of American "upbeat" filmmaking. Now the Pacino character rescues his daughter who is trapped in a mine cave-in, rides to Parliament on a motorcyle, and makes a heart-rendering speech which doesn't leave a dry eye in the house. It's so outrageously phony, yet we've all seen films like this: the little guy always winning in the end. Whether it's "Rocky", "The Karate Kid" or "Listen to Me," we know how artificial and manipulative these endings are, yet we support them. When's the last time you went to an American film that had a downbeat ending or was about a depressing subject? Strike was perfect satire, showing Hollywood runs roughshod over any historical accuracies in the name of "entertainment."

(5/90) More parodies this season including South Atlantic Raiders, a two-part epic about the Falkland War; Oxford, with Dawn French as an American student who will do anything to get into the college; and GLC, another film parody about the end of the Greater London Council.

More great 30-minute comedies from the mind of Peter Richardson and Keith Allen starring the usual suspects: Sayle, Mayall, Edmondson, French, Saunders, Ryan, Planer and Coltrane. Brilliant British parodies done with a style and even a decent budget at times. Detectives on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown saw the return of "Bonehead and Foyle" from the 80s masterpiece, The Bullshitters. Here, they are brought back to investigate a 70s-style murder that the new 90s-kind-of-cop can't handle. Spot-on parodies of The Professionals, Department S, and The Sweeney. Best bit: the Bullshitters get to Canary Wharf only to discover it is now a teeming (well, sort of) office development. "There're no puddles!" they exclaim, as they stand around in their underpants and leather jackets, "How are we supposed to chase someone if we can't run through puddles in deserted docklands?" Space Virgins From Planet Sex was more a James Bond parody than a sci-fi one. Secret Agent James Blonde is sent in to investigate when buxom women from another planet begin kidnapping men in order so they can continue their race. Yet another British hero is forced to come to terms with Political Correctness. The Red Nose of Courage ran the night of the 1992 General Election, and has young John Major run away from the circus in order to become an accountant. Eventually he finds himself Prime Minister but must moonlight as a clown and carry on the family trade when his brother dies in a freak accident. Complications ensue when Glenys Kinnock (Neil Kinnock's wife - and a subtle Hillary Clinton-like suggestion that she is the real power behind her man) falls in love with the clown not realising he is her bitter rival in the House of Commons. Oddly enough, it works, and is almost sympathetic to its leads except at the very end when it suddenly gets anti-Euro. Queen of the Wild Frontier featured Josie Lawrence and Julie T. Wallace (The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil) in parts that were clearly written originally for French and Saunders. In any event, they are contemporary lonely frontier women whose lives are changed when two escaped convicts show up at their farm. Will love conquer all? Gregory, Portrait of a Nutcase is a clever parody of both "Silence of the Lambs" and the kind of personalities which feed on movies like it. Some great piss-takes of the movie, as well as Adrian Edmondson trying woefully to recreate events from the movie in his own flat (the torture dungeon doesn't quite work when you're on the second floor). Demonella, directed and co-written by Paul Bartel, is the tale of the Devil (Jennifer Saunders) who wants the chicken soup recipe from the mother of a down-and-out music publisher (Robbie Coltrane). Totally demented but very amusing. Perhaps a little American infusion isn't such a bad thing.

Four Men In A Car is the first Comic Strip since 1993, and reunites Rik Mayall, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, and Adrian Edmundson with Peter Richardson in a tale about four salesmen trying to reach Swindon in a car trip to hell. Things in fact go surrealistically wrong for them and you begin to wonder if they've somehow slipped into The Twilight Zone. As usual, instead of spoofing a particular genre, Comic Strip provides an interesting look (or distortion, if you like) at British life and institutions.

"Four Men In A Plane" is a semi-sequel to "Four Men In a Car," giving regulars Peter Richardson, Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer another chance to completely send up middle class corporate types. The four, in various stages of their careers, are in Africa for a training conference and decide to charter a small plane to avoid a long bus ride across the desert. It all ends in disaster of course with them stranded in the middle of nowhere and no sense of survival skills. You may not be able to wait for them to all die horribly, but the inventive comic talent of Mayall, Edmondson, et al, keeps you watching.

"Sex, Actually." It's good to get a new installment of the Comic Strip now and again, and in this outing a middle-class couple from the city move to a small village and take over a house whose residents recently died under suspicious circumstances.  The neighbors are all uniformly weird and there are plot twists aplenty. With Rebecca Front, Rik Mayall, Doon MacKichan, Phil Cornwall, and Nigel Planer.

The Hunt For Tony Blair (11/11)
The Comic Strip reunite on its 30th anniversary (they were the first program ever transmitted by Channel 4) with a 1950s style period movie that posits Tony Blair (Stephen Mangan) on the run.  It almost seems like beating a dead horse at this point to mock Blair, long out of power, but the 50s pastiche at least make it interesting to watch. 

Five Go To Rehab (12/12)
In 1982 The Comic Strip was the very first program broadcast on Channel 4 with "Five Go Mad To Dorset," a Enid Blyton parody. For the 30th anniversary, the cast reassemble and often shooting in the same locations do a sequel, "Five Go To Rehab."  It's great to see Peter Richardson, Adrian Edmondson, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French back together again, joined by familiar faces as Robbie Coltrane, Nigel Planer, Rik Mayall and recent Comic Strip addition Stephen Mangan. Sure, the actors are all in their 50s now, and some have aged better than others, but it's nice to see Channel 4 remember past glories such as The Comic Strip.

Coming Down The Mountain (1/09)
TV movie drama of a teen who has to care for his brother with Down's Syndrome.  It's a burden for his social life, and when they run away for an impromptu camping holiday, an accident seems to solve all his problems--or does it. 

Coming Home (9/98)
Two-part ITV drama based on Rosamunde Pilcher's book about the lives of two girls from their meeting at boarding school in 1936, through the war years. It could also be facetiously been titled, "Gosh, It's Swell Being Rich." No working class people are witnessed during the entire production. Instead, due to a timely death by one girl's rich aunt (Penelope Keith), she is set for life, and can keep up with the upper class lifestyle by her best friend whose parents are played by Joanna Lumley and Peter O'Toole. But first she has to fend off the unwanted attention of slimy David McCallum as a dirty old man. Then the war hits and everyone's chances for happiness are up in the air, with lovers separated and missed opportunities. Nicely mounted and acted, though a bit prone to soap-ish moments.

Coming Soon (1/00)
Ben Miller (Armstrong and Miller) stars in this Channel 4 series that is a hilarious send-up of arty "fringe" acting groups, in this case a company which gets a commission to tour Scotland and develop an abstract show. But things go awry when a big name jazz singer is recruited into the company (in order to satisfy Scottish content rules) and then begins to attract huge - and unaccustomed - audiences to shows that are essentially about nothing. The petty rivalries and politics behind the scenes are gloriously displayed, and I'm certain based on real incidents.

Common As Muck (1/95)
Edward Woodward stars in this BBC working-class drama series about bin men (the British term for garbage collectors). More than a few striking similarities to ITV's Moving Story, although Muck flirts much more with being a soap opera by concentrating on the extra-curricular activities of the men (and their women). Expertly acted and written as you might expect, with genuinely involving characters and plots. A second season ran in 1997.

Common Ground (3/13)
A series of shorts for Sky that are loosely interwoven but essentially self-contained one-off dramatic comedies.  Like Little Crackers, this is a staging ground for possibly launching new series, but also shows the economy that one can create an entire world full of characters in just 10 minutes.  My favorites include Charles Dance as an irresponsible aging roady grandfather, and two friends who are desperate to create the Next Big Thing.  Paul Kaye plays a creepy loan shark who appears in about half the episodes.

The Complete Guide To Parenting (4/08)
Peter Davison is a middle class father and university child psychologist who clearly has much to learn about raising his own son.  Davison gets to do that slow burn he is so good at (I think he's turning into Victor Meldrew), dealing with a world that won't go quite his way. 

Complicit (3/13)
Channel 4 TV movie about a black MI:6 analyst Edward Ekubo (David Oyelowo) who has been passed up for promotion but finds a link between a British Muslim and terrorists in Egypt. Sent there to follow up on the arrest, he finds the shackles placed on him by government policy and the cleverness of his subject too much to stand. Violating orders, he has the Egyptian security services do what he can't: to extract information using torture, but it ultimately blows up in his face.  Clearly the movie wants to make the point that Jack Bauer-ism, ends-justifies-the-means torture is not the way to go, but Ekubo is keen to prove himself, especially when he finds evidence that a sarin attack is going to happen in Britain but nobody on his side seems particularly worried or anxious. But short-cuts have consequences, it's too bad, he probably would have done pretty well in Bush's American during the last decade.

Coogan's Run (3/96)
Anthology series written and starring Steve Coogan, first seen in Paul Calf's Video Diary. Here, each episode has him as a different character all inhabiting the same, strange universe. One week it's an obnoxious salesman, the next a village fix-it man. Most of his characters are clueless losers, but each impersonation is unique, with funny situations.

Coup! (4/08)
Dramatization by John Fortune about a British-financed (allegedly by Mark Thatcher--Margaret's son) African coup that was thwarted before it could begin.  Based on a true story, and done in a slightly tongue-in-cheek style, the clueless Brits (driven by greed, natch) get swept up in events (and with dodgy mercenaries) quicker than they can imagine.

Coupling (3/02)
Hilarious BBC comedy by Steven Moffat (Chalk) starring Jack Davenport (Ultraviolet) as he winds his way through the perils of relationships.  The series begins with him ending a long-term relationship with his self-absorbed girlfriend and hooking up with sensible Susan who is a co-worker of his best mate.  Most of the scenes are Jack and his two buddies or Susan and her two best friends reconstructing some incident and revealing how the two genders see things differently.  Moffat has a ear for believable comic observations about how same-gender relationships work and interact.  It's also brilliantly funny and Davenport has a great flair for comedy.

Count Arthur Strong (11/13)
Steve Delaney has played the titled character for years on radio, and here it was loosely adapted for TV along with writer Graham Linehan for the BBC. Strong is a former vaudevillian double-act whose late partner's son Michael (Rory Kinnear) wants to write a book based on their lives. What Michael doesn't realize at first is that Arthur is insane, an easily-befuddled and distracted talentless old man who always gets the wrong end of the stick when he isn't rambling off-topic about something. He mostly hangs out in a nearby cafe, and Michael soon becomes one of the regulars there. The episodes are about their misadventures together. The highlight for me came when Arthur goes to a talent competition audition (with a borrowed dog) only to go on a tear about their intelligence, "I mean, dogs don't have much of a brain, do they? If they did, they'd be ruling the world, riding round on horses with machine guns, like the monkeys did that time. Glad all that's blown over," he muses. Of course, nobody else in the room has a clue what he's talking about.

Cows (7/97)
Live-action comedy written by Eddie Izzard about a family of cows. Actors are made up in elaborate cow costumes and interact with humans as if nothing is unusual. Not particularly funny, but just the novelty value alone makes it worth watching.

Crackanory (2/14)
Digital channel Dave (home to Red Dwarf these days), sends up "Jackanory," wherein a celebrity tells a children's story, although in this case the tales are decidedly not aimed at kids. In the first episode, both Jack Dee and Sally Phillips are the storytellers, which pretty much set the mood for what kind of mischief you'll be encountering.

Crapston Villas (3/96)
This latenight Channel 4 offering is a clay-animated series that pushes the boundaries of good taste (the opening episode features a cat eating its own vomit). This "soap opera" concerns the residents of a clapped-out building, all of whom are sad, disgusting individuals. It's funny in a way that Ren and Stimpy was, but definitely not for all tastes.

The Crash (6/13)
Two-part BBC3 drama "inspired by real events" about the impact on the lives of a group of teenagers when a car crash on prom night kills two of them.  As you might imagine, there is a lot of guilt and blame to go around for the survivors (including the driver), but the question is, can there be forgiveness and being able to move on.

The Creatives (3/99)
Scottish sitcom starring and co-written by Jack Docherty set in a third-rate Edinburgh advertising agency. Each week the team has to mount a no-hope ad while overcoming their considerable personal difficulties. There’s some good potential here, and each week the show ends with the hilarious ad they’ve managed to produce.

Crime Traveller (5/97)
From the maker of Bugs, with all the same flaws and fortunes, this BBC fantasy series stars yet another fugitive from EastEnders (Michael French), and Chloe Annett from Red Dwarf. Chloe's father, it seems, invented a time machine in a spare room in their house, except it only takes you back a few hours and has so many arbitrary rules about using it that it hardly seems worth the bother. One of them is you have to return to the room before the moment you left (huh?) or else you are caught in an "infinity loop," whatever that is, a fate which has already befallen the father before the series begins. French plays a copper who uses the technology to solve cases without really understanding what is going on. Chloe has the virtue of being 100% less annoying than she was as Kochanski on this season's Red Dwarf but neither she nor French are playing anything that would resemble real people. You know nothing about them or even what motivates them. This same problem haunted Bugs, our heroes seemingly being Good Guys because that was their job description. Even more annoying is this series, though nicely mounted, drew 15 million viewers on Saturday night on BBC-1 in a time slot (and with a budget) that could have been better spent on a new series of Doctor Who instead. It doesn't take a genius to now realize the Doctor has no future on the Beeb, who would prefer empty-headed, though glossy, adventure series over anything with any real texture or history.

Criminal (11/94)
Depressing true-based BBC TV Movie about a slow, socially challenged young man who gets into trouble and eventually hanged himself before his eighteenth birthday while in jail. I think the whole thing is an indictment of the Tory policy that put all the mental patients out in the street during the 1980s.

The Crimson Field (6/14)
BBC drama series set in a British army field hospital in 1915 France and focusing on the nurses and female volunteers. Kitty Trevelyan (Oona Chaplin from "Game of Thrones") is a headstrong young volunteer who nearly gets sent home for disobeying orders from the strict Matron (Hermione Norris). Suranne Jones plays Sister Joan (nurses were all ranked as Sisters) who has come to France aboard a motorcycle but with a hidden secret. There are casualties of the week along with the ongoing stories of the women and the soldiers they work with.  Written by Sarah Phelps.

Critical Condition (1/99)
Channel 4 series of documentary films looking at different types of critics. Each episode focuses on a separate genre, from opera critics to the effect that opening night reviews can have on a new play. The cinema verite style, and interviews with critics as they work, help illuminate this rarely seen field.

Crocodile Shoes (5/95)
Jimmie Nail co-produced and stars in this rags-to-riches tale of a singer from Newcastle who gets involved with an unscrupulous record producer in London. Sub-plots abound in this 6-part drama series whose main point seems to be the newsflash that the entertainment industry is a dirty business.

Crocodile Shoes II (3/97)
Jimmy Nail (Evita) writes and stars in this sequel, this time having his alter ego, Jed Shepperd, run afoul of the law and fall from grace when his embezzling manager is found murdered. But Jed is a true "man of the earth" and goes from being a music superstar to working in a factory again and doesn't seem to mind much. Meanwhile the bodies continue to pile up and a sinister cabal tries to prevent him from learning the truth.

Crossing The Floor (3/97)
This TV movie sequel to A Very Open Prison keeps the focus on the conniving Cabinet Minister (Tom Wilkinson of The Full Monty) who will do anything to survive - even jump ship to the Labour party. Not quite as sharp as Prison, but as a run-up to this year's General Election, a fun poke at campaigns and politicians.

The Crouches (3/04)
A multi-generational working class black family living in a semi-detached home is the focus of this BBC comedy that has its share of laughs.  Some big names do supporting parts for the workplace scenes including Danny John-Jules (Red Dwarf) and Don Warrington (Manchild).

The Crow Road (3/97)
Based on Ian Banks' novel, this Scottish 4-part drama on BBC-2 concerns a young man who investigates the mysterious disappearance of his eccentric uncle years earlier. Along the way he opens many skeletons-in-the-closet and learns a lot about his family he probably would have preferred not to know. In a surreal touch, the missing Uncle (Peter Capaldi, he was the Angel Islington in Neverwhere) appears and talks to him from time to time, egging him on to solve the mystery. There are flashbacks within flashbacks as the tale is related, requiring close attention but rewarding viewers with an excellent tale.

Cruise of the Gods (1/04)
Rob Brydon (Marion & Geoff) and Steve Coogan (I'm Alan Partridge) co-star as the former actors of an early 1980s youth sci-fi series called "Children of Castor" who are reunited 20 years later on a celebrity cruise in this BBC TV movie.  Brydon's character, the original star, is now a hotel porter and only goes on the cruise to mingle with the rabid fans of his old series because he needs the money and attention.  He accidentally runs into Coogan who is now the rich and successful star of an American action series ("Sherlock Holmes In Miami," if you can believe it) and though he doesn't have to, eagerly drops in on the convention to relieve old memories.  Needless to say, much fun is made at the expense of sad fans (particularly Little Britain's David Walliams as the organizer with the nickname "Lurky") but the actors don't come off much better, feeding as they do off the dreams and desires of their admirers.  Life on a cruise ship is also expertly observed, particularly the staff's obsession with folding items in your room into odd shapes.

Cuckoo (12/12)
"Saturday Night Live" veteran Andy Samberg stars as Cuckoo, a free spirit American who is brought home as the new husband of a nice English girl whom he met during her gap year in Asia, much to the horror of her parents Ken and Lorna in this BBC3 comedy. Ken (Greg Davies) can't stand Cuckoo and conspires to get rid of him, but Cuckoo is such a mellow guy that he bonds with Ken anyway and eventually begins a potato van business.  Lorna (Helen Baxendale) finds her new son-in-law sweet, and it's not like she and Ken are middle-class squares (they grew up in the 1970s after all). Davies, a giant who towers over the petite Baxendale, often seems he is channeling Rik Mayall, constantly angry about something and allowing himself to be humiliated by his own shortcomings.

I was surprised when this BBC3 comedy was coming back for a second series when star Andy Samberg was busy doing "Brooklyn 911" in the USA. This was quickly resolved when in the opening minutes his character is killed off in Tibet and we are introduced to his son, Dale, played incredibly by movie star Taylor Lautner. He's actually quite good and charming as a naive refugee from a cult who finds adapting to life in England difficult. Ken and Lorna take him under their wing, Ken in particular gets quite attached to Dale, unlike his prickly relationship with Cuckoo. Meanwhile, Cuckoo's widow Rachel (who Dale keeps calling "mom," much to her chagrin) is engaged to a boring accountant, but can't help noticing this very cute guy living in her house who reminds her of her husband. Much like the casting of Samberg in the first series, I'm amazed that this rather obscure British comedy going out on a digital station can attract someone as famous as Lautner to be in the cast. He certainly didn't do it for the money.

Cucumber (9/16)
Russell T. Davies returns to writing series TV in this Channel 4 drama about the lives of middle-aged gay men in Manchester (something I'm sure he can relate too). The focus is on Henry Best (Vincent Franklin) who's been living with his boyfriend Lance for years even though they've never had sex. After a fight, Lance throws Henry out who moves in to a loft occupied by twentysomething squatters. At first they treat him with contempt as "the old man," but he makes himself useful at least until he loses his job.  Minor characters got spun off into their own stories on Banana which ran concurrently each week with Cucumber. The actors also talked about the series on Tofu.

The Cup (7/09)
Low-key summer comedy featuring a boys northern soccer team and their overly ambitious parents done in the style of a fly-on-the-wall documentary.  The team actually has talent (or in some cases, luck) and makes it to their league's championship final, although not without much aggravation (and attempted fund-raising) along the way.

Cutting It (3/03)
Manchester-based BBC drama about a successful hair salon run by happily married Alison along with her sisters, whose lives are all about to be turned upsidedown when Alison's old college flame Finn turns up with a perky fourth wife (Amanda Holden) and opens a rival salon right across the street.  These upstarts are utterly ruthless with Finn determined to win back Alison, and his wife to destroy her business.  But first everyone gets to shag everyone else, while secrets and lies involving mothers and daughters are revealed in this compelling soap-like series that features clever dream sequences at the beginning of each episode that show each character's insecurities.

Cuts (7/97)
Peter Davison stars as a no-name novelist who is tapped by mad television executives at Eldorado TV (named after a famously failed BBC soap) who want him to write a historical costume epic that will get their license renewed. Unfortunately Davison's style of writing doesn't lend itself at first to the demands of television, but that quickly changes and soon he is rewriting as fast as they can make suggestions - no matter how daft. A cute behind-the-scenes parody of TV showing, sadly, the British can be just as clueless as Americans when it comes to producing quality television.

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Written and maintained by Ryan K. Johnson (
December 5, 2014