Monday, March 28, 2011

Netflix Challenge: TV Edition (Mostly British)

Comedy recommendations are hard. What people find funny is so subjective. I totally fit the profile of someone who should like Arrested Development and The Office, but they just don't do it for me. But my friends at Extra Hot Great were very adamant about Archer, and even though we don't always agree (see Arrested Development and The Office), they so had my number on this one. I tore through the first season on Netflix, in a weekend, then caught up with the current one.

On the surface, Archer is an animated parody of 60s spy shows, but it's so much more than that. It lovingly skewers pretty much every movie and TV genre you can think of, especially classic sitcoms. It is deeply fucked up and frequently dirty, and crosses all kinds of lines. As absurd as the plots get in each episode, it has an unexpected continuity that makes its over-the-top characters seem like real people. I love the look of the show - both the animation and the weird world which is somehow both the 1960s (reel-to-reel mainframes, mini sweater dresses, weird desktop computers and the KGB) and now (the internet on those tiny desktops).

The voice acting is also fantastic. It's interesting to hear H. Jon Benjamin on two shows at once playing such wildly different characters (he's asshole superspy Archer and sad-sack Bob on Bob's Burgers). His voice is pretty much his own on both shows, but the characters couldn't be more different. It's fun to see how the acting, the writing and the animation come together to make both characters equally credible. Archer also has Jessica Walter, Chris Parnell, Aisha Tyler and George Coe, all actors I like a lot. And I love that there's an opening title sequence that treats the actors just like they would on a live-action show.

I recognize that it's not for everyone, but for my money this is the funniest sitcom on TV right now. Season one is on Netflix Instant and season two is currently on F/X.

That Mitchell and Webb Look
I have no idea how this British sketch show ended up in my queue, but it's good! It reminded me of Kids in the Hall, Mr. Show and The Catherine Tate Show all rolled into one. It's very silly and Mitchell and Webb are very charming. My favorite sketch was about a What Not To Wear-type show where the woman being made over wore a burkha. The show does that thing where long sketches are broken up and we keep coming back to them throughout the show. In this case, we come back to Mitchell and Webb as "themselves," worrying if the sketch is racist. One of them (I don't know which is which) is still wearing the burkha, presumably because he enjoys it. When he takes it off, he's in blackface. "Blacking up again, I see," the other guy says with a sigh. It all seemed pretty tame to me, and clearly sending up both racists and political correctness, but I'm confident an American show would never dare go there, and it was my biggest laugh of the episode. I only watched the first episode, but I'll definitely come back to it when I need a fun way to kill half an hour.

Downton Abbey
This BBC miniseries got a lot of buzz when it was on Masterpiece Theatre a few months ago, so I checked it out even though my anglophilia generally runs more to scifi and comedy than something this aggressively classy. I mean, I liked Gosford Park but it didn't move me, and I've never seen Upstairs/Downstairs. But I am seriously hooked on this. It's really nothing special - a classic-style British period soap, with all the servants and the lords and ladies and lots of quippy gossip and sneaking around. The plot centers around obscure inheritance laws which I still don't fully understand. And there's a smattering of those annoying "olden times are craaaazy!" moments that drive me so nuts on Mad Men (there it's "pregnant women smoking??" here it's "the Titanic? But it's unsinkable!"). But it has a nice modern approach that feels fresh, and is also set a time when the aristocracy was starting to change (that obscure law is largely wrapped up in the fact that women can't inherit, which several of the characters are rightly pissed about). The writing is quick and clever, and frequently surprisingly funny. It's shot on location and it's gorgeous to look at. The cast is great, led by Maggie Smith at her Maggie Smithiest. It's a delightful way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon.


Mike said...

Archer is great, but it's a touch recommendation since it can get raunchy. You really have to let some people know what they are in for. But I love it.

I have a friend who I've recommended Arrested Development and a few other shows to and she hated them so I stopped recommending things. Then she turns out to love The Office which I was afraid to recommend. You're so right about comedy, it's a tough thing.

Maybe I should check out the Mitchell and Webb.

I need to say recommend more...

Adam807 said...

I generally try not to be friends with people who are easily offended. Or I do, and then they go away because I offend them.

Dimestore Lipstick said...

David Mitchell is the dark one, Robert Webb the sandy-haired one.

Kate Monster said...

Mitchell and Webb also do a sitcom called Peep Show, which is incredible. It has a lot of that awkwardness that The Office and The Office, Jr. both have, but it's centered of just these two roommates. David Mitchell plays this history dork who's sociallt inept, and Robert Webb is his roommate, who's an aspiring "musician" and kind of dim/oblivious. I think it's funnier than their sketch work, actually. All six series of Peep Show are available on Hulu right now, and I totally recommend it.