#CrazyStupidDVD: Miranda – “The Finale”

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I have been writing and rewriting the opening gambit of this review for the last 2 hours and struggled to find adequate words to start it with. So, in the grand tradition of the lady herself, I’ll try to with the king AND queen of all words: a moist plinth. Aaah, lovely.

I digress. For the last five years, Miranda Hart’s eponymous BBC sitcom has been a galloping beacon of what-we-call ‘such fun’ in an otherwise dull comedic landscape. The kind of landscape that now holds criminally unfunny, supposedly ‘ironic’ comedy like ‘The Inbetweeners’ and anything starring overgrown head boy Jack Whitehall in high regard. And don’t even get us started on “Mrs Brown’s Boys”.

So to say we were, in the words of her Sloaney frenemy Tilly, ‘utterly mortificato’ when she announced that her Christmas specials that aired on BBC One last month, were to be the last of her larks in the joke shop that we’ve known and loved for three series, is both an understatement and a terrible misjudgement on the part of Ms Hart (oooh, that rhymes). The reasons of which I’ll attempt to explain as we go on, so, again, as Tilly might say, ‘bear with’.

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The final two episodes are now being released on Monday in what could well be her last comedy DVD ever. The first episode, ‘I Do – But to Who?’, shown on Christmas Day, picks up where THAT Series 3 cliffhanger ended – when both on-off love of her life Gary Preston (Tom Ellis) and her then boyfriend Mike Jackford (Bo Poraj) got down on one knee with wedding proposals a-go-go.

Naturally overcome by the situation, and the constant interference of – who else? – her mother Penny (Patricia Hodge), Miranda storms out back to the shop, declaring everyone as ‘engagement ruining idiots’. In the sanctuary of her own abode, and with best friend Stevie (Sarah Hadland) at her side for reassurance she’s making the right choice (“Don’t worry. I’m all over this like whipped cream on Gary Barlow”), it doesn’t take long for the decision she knew was the right one even at the end of series 3 to be made, as she gently lets Mike down and accepts Gary’s proposal via a Monster Munch (to replace the Hula Hoop that Dreamboat ‘I bloody love crisps’ Charlie ate).

But if you thought being newly ‘toilet door engaged’ (Stevie’s metaphor, not ours) would rid Miranda of her problems, it just creates more, with Penny and Tilly scarier than ever on the wedding planner front, and Stevie in a suitably short huff that rounds of ‘Where’s Miranda’ and games night have been shunted for coupley things with her new fiancée (who she prancées to her engagement party with ‘like human dressage’ – we’ll return to the galloping metaphor soon enough but LOVED this).

And then Gary’s freaking out (c’est chic) by the overbearingness of the situation – leading once again to Miranda’s belief he’ll get cold feet about commitment again – resulting in a very emotional final few moments. In terms of the more soap opera-y side of Miranda’s sitcom oeuvre (which we feel, like ‘Friends’ at its peak) has always made it stand out, this is the most intense episode that’s been since the infamous ‘Gary marrying Tamara the waitress for a green card’ debacle of series 2, and as our heroine slumped down in tears to the strains of Celine Dion, it did make us worry we were heading for a final episode that delivered a very anti-happy ending.

Not to say this episode was without its belly laugh moments – more specifically the ring choosing scene in the shopping centre that recalled the infamous sushi bar travellator scene from ‘The New Me’ in series 2, and the Bear Grylls style survival hen weekend Miranda and Stevie endured together that really highlighted the strength of their friendship. (And also Stevie’s love of ‘Benedict Cucumberpatch’).

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The last episode, ‘The Final Curtain’, shown on New Year’s Day, was therefore a happy surprise, in a way I didn’t expect. I won’t spoil the ending completely for some of my readers who may have not seen it yet – but it toned down the dramatic upheaval of the first episode and was Miranda at her hilarious best.

Particularly highlights included the welcome return of Dominic Coleman as the ‘We Don’t Know’ browsing customer (seriously, that guy almost needs a show of his own), Dreamboat Charlie’s comparison to Miranda and Gary as being like ‘Doritos and guacamole’ (only he could draw in a crisp analogy), and – I did promise I’d return to this – the scene where Miranda rides atop a galloping horse down a deserted beach. Her assertion in that school days flashback that galloping was the way forward has finally come full circle.

So to return to my earlier statement at the start of this review then, you may wonder why I think she’s a total and actual idiot for chucking it all in now? Well. I feel rather like she is somewhat backing – or should that be galloping? – away from comedy, what she is strongest at, just because of the show’s snooty and supposedly ‘ironic’ detractors. She’s made a great point of highlighting in recent interviews of a desire to – and I’m balking even at the use of this irksome phrase – “to be taken more seriously”.

But in her great haste to run away from what has bought her to our affections – I’ve tried to get into ‘Call the Midwife’ and delightful as she is as Chummy it is too depressing a watch by far – she has forgotten one of the most cardinal rules of comedy. As her idol, and one of mine, Jennifer Saunders once said, ‘the minute you start to take yourself seriously, is the moment comedy loses its spontaneity and disregard for maturity’.

As Jennifer herself learnt though, when she bought ‘Ab Fab’ to a premature end after its 3rd series in 1995 in favour of doing painfully unfunny projects like ‘Vivienne Vyle’ (remember it? Didn’t think so), perhaps what comes next for Miranda may make her realise she’s given up on a good thing. Until then, it’s reruns on the sofa with our fruit friends whilst we pretend to be a geisha in our oven glove slippers, and spontaneous bursts into the entire back catalogue of Whitney Houston. Onwards with the show, chums.

RATING: 4/5

‘Miranda: The Finale’ is released on 2Entertain DVD from Monday, priced £9.99.

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Watch with Alex: my forgotten gems of kid’s TV

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Firstly, a belated happy new year to you all! I realise I have been somewhat lax with the blog lately – largely due to a somewhat trying two weeks, and this is something I am now looking to rectify as it were. In short: I’m back!

For today’s post, let me take you back to this weekend just gone. My nephew has just turned 2, and for his birthday last Thursday, I bought him a DVD of the original series of ‘Postman Pat’ from 1981. Which got me thinking/reminiscing on YouTube about the TV shows I loved when I was a nipper.

Indeed, with new series of old favourites like ‘The Wombles’ and ‘Clangers’ set to arrive on the small screen for a new generation on Channel 5 this year, the fever for nostalgia of these TV favourites led me to throw open debate on my social media timelines today, about some of the lesser remembered gems of our early viewing.

There was strong arguments in the case of stuff that I too, grew up loving – hello to you, ‘Button Moon’ and ‘Morph’ – and realising I am happily not as old as I thought I was with suggested shows to which my natural reply was ‘What was that?’ (a hearty hello to you, ‘Jonny Briggs’ and ‘Pippi Longstocking’, suggested by Barnsey and Julia on my Twitter respectively).

Of my own personal ‘gems’, it was hard to whittle it down to a top 5, but after several repeat YouTube viewings, I got there in the end. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

5. MR BENN
(BBC TV, 1975)

Based on the series of picture books published in the 1960’s by David McKee – also the man behind the equally brilliant King Rollo and Elmer the Patchwork Elephant – ‘Mr Benn’ was, like much of the Beeb’s best kids shows, one of those ones that was so good that you were deceived into thinking there was more than actually produced.

In reality, just 13 episodes were aired in the mid 70’s, and rerun frequently over the next 15 years – just in time for the then 2/3 year old yours truly to see it rerun on BBC Two lunchtimes after nursery. In his unmistakable bowler hat, Festive Road’s most famous resident sought to escape his fairly ordinary life by visiting a fancy dress shop just down the road from his home.

Here, a magic, fez wearing shopkeeper let him try the various costumes on in his changing room, complete with a Narnia/Tardis like back door, leading to a world of adventure and excitement – one minute, he was a scuba diver, the next a clown in the circus.

Narrated by veteran actor Ray Brooks, and charmingly animated in a way that wasn’t too dissimilar to one of my niece’s current favourites, ‘Charlie and Lola’,  ‘Mr Benn’ opened a world of excitement beyond more than your average dressing up box.

WATCH: Mr Benn – “The Zookeeper”

4. ROD, JANE & FREDDY
(Thames TV, 1988 – 1991)

Everyone of course, knows singing trio Rod, Jane & Freddy from their time on Thames’ main giant of 80’s pre-school viewing, ‘Rainbow’. But not many people seem to be familiar with their own spin off series they scored off the back of the show that gave us Zippy, George and Bungle.

It’s safe to say that 2/3 year old me fanboyed heavily over them, to the point my mum would tape their show at lunchtime for me as well as ‘Rainbow’. In the series, they ran their own theatre, and would put on a weekly show with songs, poetry, sketches and mimes. Said attempts to recreate their show on our lounge windowsill were met with slightly less enthusiasm from my mum.

These would be on all manner of topics, from the fairly safe pre-school territory of letters and numbers, to more abstract shows about emotions and my personal favourite, an episode about food, which included a rousing finale number with a pseudo-Duran Duran backing extolling the virtues of – wait for it – a Chinese takeaway. It’s the sort of thing that has to be seen to be believed.

WATCH: Rod, Jane and Freddy – “Food”

3. BUMP
(BBC TV, 1990)

Aww. Who could forget – or even resist – the cutest elephant on all of kids TV? ‘Bump’ was a show with such a simple concept at its heart, but this was part of its adorable charm. Bump was an elephant yet to find his way in the world – quite literally as he kept on bumping into things and others, hence his name.

Luckily, his friends Birdie, Munch the Tortoise, MacDuff the dog, Mrs Squirrel and Little Bun were there to guide him through the triumphs and travails of the world around him in these animated adventures, lovingly and melifluously narrated by the late Simon Cadell and with an almost Mungo Jerry-ish theme tune that was, for a very brief time last year, a surprisingly effective alarm clock for my phone.

WATCH: “Bump Has a Funny Day”

2. THE HERBS
(BBC TV, 1968)

“Herbidacious!” Just one utterance of that magic word, and you had entered the Herb Garden, a whimsical world created by Paddington Bear author Michael Bond, where every human and animal is named and takes on the persona of a herb through song. We had dainty Lady Rosemary, and her bumbling husband Sir Basil. Bayleaf, the wise old gardener and Dill, the erratic, bone loving dog. Pashana Bedhi, the snake charmer and Sage, the anti-nocturnal owl.

But perhaps most famous of all the Herbs in the Herb Garden – for it was he who greeted us and bade us farewell at each episode’s beginning and end – was Parsley, the Lion. His purpose in the Garden was often explained through a song with lyrics to this effect:

I’m a very friendly lion called Parsley,
With a tail for doing jobs of every kind
But I mustn’t treat it roughly or too harshly
For its such a useful thing to have behind

As with ‘Mr Benn’, this was a show that aired years before I arrived in the world, but that I quickly became acquainted with from reruns post-‘Sesame Street’ at lunchtime on Channel 4 in the early 90s. Even now, I haven’t looked at a regular herb garden in quite the same way.

WATCH: The Herbs – “Strawberry Picking”

1. CHARLIE CHALK
(BBC TV, 1988)

Part Robinsonade, part Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussycat”, Charlie Chalk was a delightfully zany treat from Woodland Animations, the same team responsible for giving the world ‘Postman Pat’ and ‘Bertha’, and followed the escapades of Charlie, a clown with a ‘funny way of walking and a wacky way of talking’ as he found himself shipwrecked on the isle of Merrytwit.

Led by the thorough and respectable Captain Mildred of the marooned ship Buttercup, Charlie encounters an equally unusual crew of folk in his time on the island – bossy Lewis T Duck, clumsy Arnold the Elephant, lazy Edward the Monkey, resourceful store owner Trader Jones (cf. Ted Glen from Postman Pat), and Mary the Hover Fairy, a spell granting granny with a propelling beanie hat, liable to make bananas run and hop of their own accord (albeit by accident. Watch the hilarious episode ‘Jumping Bananas’ to see what we mean).

A thoroughly silly but moralistic show at heart that we feel is sore missing out on an opportunity to be rerun to today’s youth. I know for a fact my niece would love Charlie.

WATCH: Charlie Chalk – “Shipwrecked Charlie”

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

To my followers and friends on my timelines for suggesting these equally brilliant forgotten gems, I heartily thank you:

Huxley Pig
Chorlton and the Wheelies (now THIS was excellent)
Pigeon Street
Bagpuss
Funnybones