Grok My Enthusiasm (49)
December 14, 2016
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars.
Nothing seems to capture the existential futility of it all quite like the UK TV sitcom. Deep solace can be found in the sense of resignation, melancholy and failure that permeates the nation’s most successful comedy shows. The examples of Anglo-comedic misery are countless: Tony Hancock’s lonely pomposity in Hancock’s Half Hour; the cruel absurdities of war in Blackadder Goes Forth; Del and Rodney’s tragically optimistic attempts to make an honest wage in Only Fools & Horses; the going-nowhere workplace environment of The Office; the pathetic pursuit of fame that drives Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge character to madness. One of the BBC’s best-loved sitcoms of the 1960s and ’70s was Steptoe & Son, which depicts the mutual irritations of father and son rag ’n’ bone men in West London. Its pilot episode was broadcast in 1961 as part of the BBC’s ‘Comedy Playhouse’ series, but this bleak study of family loyalty and class betrayal is so moving it’s more a tear-jerker than a rib-tickler. I suspect even Samuel Beckett might have told its writers to lighten up a bit.
One of the finest contemporary practitioners of comedic despondency is actor, writer and director Julia Davis. As a performer, her ability to portray sociopathic, small-town social-climbing bullies is second to none, be it Jill in the series Nighty Night (also written by Davis), who uses her husband’s cancer scare as a way to drive a wedge into her next-door neighbour’s marriage; or her most recent monster, Faye, who in Davis’s directorial debut Camping usurps someone else’s birthday celebrations, and twists it into a masterclass in emotional abuse. Her portrayal of the real-life celebrity chef Fanny Craddock in the 2006 TV play Fear of Fanny was a strange combination of hilarious and haunting. Despite sometimes choosing to play it light — see her parody period drama Hunderby — Davis finds ever-ingenious ways to weaponise language, turning seemingly innocuous remarks into acts of passive aggression so subtly vicious they should be banned by international law.
Davis has an acute eye for detailing the emotional costs of snobbery and revenge, and for capturing the sad human truths of ageing, loneliness, insecurity, rejection, and one-sided love. In other words: comedy gold.
GROK MY ENTHUSIASM: Rob Wringham on THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | Gordon Dahlquist on WEEKEND | Joe Alterio on MILLION YEAR PICNIC | Adrienne Crew on LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | Josh Glenn on THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | Alix Lambert on THE SKIES BELONG TO US | Adam McGovern on PENELOPE and CHAVEZ RAVINE | Rob Wringham on THE LYKE WAKE WALK | Mark Kingwell on NORTH STAR SNEAKERS & GWG JEANS | Gordon Dahlquist on FELLINI SATYRICON | Erik Davis on AH! | Devin McKinney on WHISPERING AFRAID | Mimi Lipson on 1973 SEARS ROEBUCK CATALOG | Jessamyn West on MOSS | Josh Glenn on THE SCOUT HOW BOOK | Brian Berger on SLACKER | Alix Lambert on ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS | Chelsey Johnson on MONOTREMES | Devin McKinney on THE BUTCHER COVER | Flourish Klink on ONE DIRECTION | Gordon Dahlquist on FULL METAL JACKET | Allegra Huston on CLOTHESLINE | Jenny Davidson on POWERLIFTING | Evan Narcisse on REZ | Deborah Wassertzug on VEGETARIAN MEATBALLS | Chris Spurgeon on WALLACE AND GROMIT | Mandy Keifetz on BENEFICIAL MICROBES | Annie Nocenti on MARKS ON WALLS | Molly Sauter on THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF | William Nericcio on LAND OF THE LOST | Dan Fox on “VOICE OF GOD” RADIO DJS | Brandi Brown on WIKIPEDIA TALK | Claire Lehmann on THE APPARATUS REVEAL | Alice Boone on COSTUME JEWELRY | Colin Dickey on WIDESPREAD PANIC | Anshuman Iddamsetty on THE FULL BODY PROJECT | John Hilgart on MAKING GRATEFUL DEAD ALBUMS | Rob Wringham on STEVEN UNIVERSE | John Overholt on DECKLE EDGES | James Hannaham on HABIT PATTERNS | Jessamyn West on THE PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM | Adam McGovern on THE SPACE GIANTS | Brian Berger on MEDIUM COOL | Chris Spurgeon on THE DUNNING-KRUGER EFFECT | Joe Alterio on TABLETOP WARGAMING | Mimi Lipson on TRASH PICKING | Jason Grote on CZECH CINEMA | Roxane Gay on AUTOMATED CAR WASH | Dan Fox on JULIA DAVIS | Amy Thielen on BINGO | Steph Burt on FEIJOA.
#SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads | GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other new wave songs. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other fantasy novels from 1934–43. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other old-school hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.