Punch Irnes

When you say Lynda La Plante, you think dodgy East End villains, stubbly blokes with iorm, up to no good and speaking in colouriully sinister argot. That said ‘TV’s liueen 0i Comedy’, as the tabloids call her, has branched out somewhat ior her latest TV work, embracing a new breed oi dubious underclass, the alternative comedian.

Channel 4’s Comics, while having most oi La Plante’s trademarks oi shitty coppers, murder and dodgy tea- leaves, is oi interest because ol its attention to detail in depicting the lite ol the stand-up comic. Specilically Johnny Lazar, an American arriving in London in a drug and alcohol-induced haze, and attempting to revive his career on the British circuit.

American actor Tim Cuinee plays Lazar, a role which called on him to develop his own stand-up routine (with the help oi Brit comic Mark Thomas). ‘lt was a completely diiierent experience,’ he says. ‘As terriiying as I can imagine. The discipline that’s required is astonishing, you have to stay so locused.’

When it came to recording the gig scenes in a sweaty London dive, the producers decided to go tor the verité approach. ‘The lirst day I did stand-up they had the extras in at six in the morning and I wasn’t on until two o’clock. Between those hours they had an open bar going on, so by the time i came out it was kinda interesting, cos some oi those people had iorgotten they were extras in a lilm by that

‘t'im tsuinee as Johnny Lazar

stage. I got heckled a couple oi times which wasn’t in the script.’

Further traumas ensued in Scotland, when the crew headed north ior a couple oi weeks oi night shoots. ‘Filming a scene up there, we heard a great noise behind the camera. The director turned around and these sheep had turned up and one oi them was pissing at the back oi the camera. Like, everyone’s a critic.’

Unsurprising then that Cuinee is not about to give up acting lot a stand-up career. ‘llo, thank you, that would be like undergoing chemotherapy unnecessarily.’ (Tom Lappin)

Comics begins on Channel 4 on Sunday 6 June at 9pm.

Southern expo

Sa- Waterston stars in I'll Fly Away

At lirst glance, the characters in I’ll Fly Away, Channel 4’s new American drama series, look like an amalgam oi all the dramatic stereotypes oi the American South. There is a small town prosecutor with a social conscience, a Southern belle wile in hospital alter a nervous breakdown, a wise-cracking ingenue on the verge ol womanhood, a dependable black housekeeper . . . Fortunately, I’ll Fly Away promises not only to be much more than the sum oi its parts, but also to make its audience question their assumptions. Set in the iictional Southern town oi Bryland at the very end oi the 1950s, it sets the story oi one iamily, the Bediords, against a backdrop oi social


change and the emergent civil rights movement. The ambivalent and complex relationship between the races is caught in miniature in the Bedlord tarnin where Lilly, the black housekeeper, is both privy to the lamin secrets and treated as it she were invisible. Lilly, the central character, is lar lrom the stoic servant usually portrayed, however, and shocks her employers when she voices her opinions. ‘i reiuse to let her slip into somebody’s black mammy myth,’ says Regina Taylor who plays her. Other strands oi the story ioliow lawyer Forrest Bedlord (played by Sam Waterston) through his court cases, and his son through the tribulations oi high school with the understated observational humour that one might expect lrom the producers oi liorthern Exposure. With high production values and a commitment to exploring a period oi American history usually passed over in iavour oi the Wonder Years or liappy Days, I’ll Fly Away makes ior intriguing and inlonnative viewing. ll luture episodes in the 21 - part series can resist the American appetite ior didacticism and treacly sentimentality, it may prove one oi the most impressive American drama imports to date. (Frances Corniord) l’ll Fly Away opens with a ieature- length lirst episode on Channel 4 on Monday 14 June.


In the Gallup chart of those entities that should never mix. rock 'n‘ roll and the 625-line TV system are up there at number threejust ahead of oil and water and one place behind Beverley Allitt and small children.

If you’re the sort ofstan'y-eyed and idealistic/deranged-by-drugs-and- alcohol type of TV producer misguided enough to consider making a TV programme about popular music. you‘re faced with two choices. Go for the moronically upbeat pop trivia approach. all balloons, screaming girls and Take That‘s exposed torsos; or treat the music reverentially, as something of substance. book loads of sensitive singer-songwriters and linger on their chubby fingers as they strum their acoustic twelve-strings.

lio Stilettos (BBCI) goes out-and-out for the latter and wheels on some of the most turgid musos seen since Channel 4‘s Rock Steady was packed up and deposited in the dusty archive cupboard. Maybe it‘s the filming in a church that‘s the problem. Certainly there‘s a devout stillness about No Stilettos that all those religious shows with Thora Hird never managed to achieve. Eddi Reader kicked off proceedings with a lengthy dirge to stir an already sluggish audience into new depths oftorpor. and from here on in it was like viewing a particularly sparse talent night down the local Legion, without the attractions of half-price beer and the bingo to look forward to.

‘From here on in it was like viewing a particularly sparse talent night down the local Legion, without the attractions oi hall-price beer and the bingo to look forward to.’

Unknown (funny that . . .) New York songstress Ani Di Franco came across like a failed Greenwich Village busker recycling third-hand Suzanne Vega- isms. ploughing new depths of embarrassment with a ‘poem‘. Still. these folk-singers have a way of summing up the prevailing mood. and her song ‘What If No ()ne‘s Watching' probably voiced the producers‘ mood. Later on the Tansads‘ (an exuberant but uninspired bunch who might be advised to drop the first syllable of their name in the interests of honesty) chant of


‘going up me own arse‘ also struck an appropriate note.

In impressionable early teen years I was subjected to The Sweeney every Wednesday at 9pm, a kind of testosterone-flavoured starter to the main course of Sportsnight that started just after ten. Shown again as part of BBCZ's witty and discursive Cop Night. the memories came hurtling back. Most vivid was the language. TV‘s first and most potent dip into Estuary English. Within the first fifteen minutes we‘d had ‘What’s the whisper'?‘, ‘A nice little tickle' and the sublimcly quaint ‘he done porridge for a blaggin' guvnor‘. You just knew the cop show would never be the same again.

Otherwise The Sweeney was less violent and more farcical than I remembered. A set-upjewellery heist turned into a Keystone Cops cock-up. and Jack Regan (John Thaw when he was hard) only said ‘bastards' once. As emerged later on in the evening. in the 70s real-life rookie cops were fighting for a seat in the Hendon Police Training College common room to cheer on the fictional ‘tecs (and adopt them as role models). but there was nothing too disturbing here. A touching element was the verging-on-homoerotic supper Regan cooked for his oppo Carter (just what is an oppo? - suggestions gratefully received). Carter (Dennis Waterman with sidebums) swilled down his steak with a tumbler of crude red. belched and said. ‘Them birds still live upstairs guvnor?‘ You don't get dialogue that sparse these days.

What we get instead of course is eccentric amateurs moonlighting as sleuths in overlong. beautifully shot. feature-length specials. Regan would have quit the force in disgust if he hadn't been able to slap on the bracelets and bellow ‘you're nicked' after 55 minutes and a couple of commercial breaks. but Janet McTeer and Imelda Staunton. the Cambridge dons of Don’t Leave Ate This Way (BBCI ), were shockineg tardy in rumbling their guilty party (a stout and ingratiating type called George). Again this was crime played substantially for laughs. In fact Imelda Staunton as the short and baffled Dr Bridget Bennett was uncannin reminiscent of Ronnie Corbett's Charlie Farley in The TH?) Rmmies. Perhaps they are by some chance related. (Tom Lappin)

The List 4~|7 June I993 67