Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Lizzie and Sarah, or when the last straw is long overdue.

March 26, 2010

Last Saturday, BBC2 aired the pilot episode of Lizzie and Sarah, a 30-minute dark comedy written by Julia Davis and Jessica Hynes. They also play the title characters in a cast that includes Mark Heap and the actor Kevin Eldon.

And when I say dark, I say it in the same way you might claim that the International Space Station is ‘a bit high up’.  The title characters are middle-aged housewives who are posh, dowdy and not the types to make much of a fuss. Over anything. At all. Well okay, anyone who has seen the pilot will know that do they have a line, a last straw, but it lies very, very far away from where it lies in most of us.

Within the first two minutes of the programme, its made very clear to the viewer that Lizzie’s husband John doesn’t give much in the way of respect or courtesy to his wife and that Lizzie’s best friend Sarah doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary in his rudeness after being denied a sandwich.

Like I said, dark.

Over the next twenty minutes or so we get to see more of how the pair are mistreated by their husbands, a Brazilian housekeeper, criminals in a pub and the husband of a grieving mother. And through it all I was struck that L&S dealt with everything they did in this way because it was the only way they knew how to, that they had learned over many years that acceptance of a small transgression here and there was the easiest way to keep everyone else happy, until everyone in each of their lives thought nothing of living however they wanted. Why worry about keeping on your wife’s good side when she never responds in anger?

The programme starts dark and gets darker. Dead teenager not shocking enough for you? What about her close friends trying to turn her memorial service into a chance at stardom? Or finding out that she was killed by her own father, who took his eyes off the road to ogle same friends changing out of netball clothes? Or the heartbreaking “thank you” Sarah gives after the most unromantic marital sex scene you’re likely to see on a BBC comedy show on a Saturday night.

But I couldn’t accuse the show of trying to be shocking for cheap laughs, like any number of other modern-day comedies. When the duo do snap – and believe me, it takes longer than I expected it would do – you see that the they still are essentially the same people, not wronged women on a rip-roaring-rampage-of-revenge, but still overly keen to apologise and live under the rules they are expected to live by. Sarah apologizes three times after – sorry people, hard to avoid spoilers here- shooting the man who stole her wallet and worries about breaking into her husband’s office because she “isn’t usually allowed in there.”

The last scene shows that the duo have developed a taste for dishing out long-overdue vengeance and that Rick, played by Eldon, could be the next one to feel their wrath. Except, it’s looking unlikely, despite strong reviews, that the BBC will want to commission further episodes. The beeb don’t normally air pilots without greenlighting a series first and this pilot was aired in a very poor slot. The strong subject matter does warrant late-at-night airings, but Saturday night isn’t a great time to attract the sort of audience Davies and Hynes were likely aiming at. Simon Pegg tweeted much the same opinion last week. I honestly do hope we do get to see more of this; the end suggests the writers know where they want to take the next episode and it left me wanting more. But I can see why the beeb might be anxious. If other British comedies like Peep Show and The Office make me want to cringe at times with embarrassment, Lizzie and Sarah made me gasp at the implied horror of the lives of the central characters.

Other thoughts:

-And I didn’t even talk about the performances. All the actors I’ve named above did very well, as did Claire Rushbrook. But special praise to Hynes, she really did put across a lot of emotion and depth while still keeping up an incredibly middle-class accent and seeming natural all the while.

-Yes, The Office might not have been the most contemporary reference to make my point, but apart from Peep Show, I can’t think of another current UK show that does shocks-as-comedy quite so well.

-Seen the Scott Pilgrim trailer? Wow. It sure does promise a lot, and I hope that Edgar Wright can deliver. Previous examples of his work suggests he can, but it’s a hell of a work to try to adapt for film.