Category Archives: episode review

Netflix Limited Series Review “Ripper” (2020) #100WordReview #NetflixReview

engrossing

Four episode Ripper is Netflix’s recounting of notorious serial killer The Yorkshire Ripper, a.k.a. Peter Sutcliffe, and his murder spree across northern England in the ’70s and early ’80s. The series follows the standard script: talking heads, archive footage, and narration overlaid. None-the-less, it was thrilling. Well told, we are immersed in the world of ’70s/’80s Britain. With Sutcliffe’s recent death due to Corona (in December 2020), this is a timely and engrossing look at one of Britain’s worst ever serial killers.

As the series itself says, we all expect and want the serial killer to be an otherly monster, but the reality is far more banal, and far more terrifying.

4/5

© 2020-2021 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from the-ripper-netflix-735×400.jpg (735×400) (screenrealm.com)

Spitting Image Season One (2020) Review #BritBox @BritBox_UK

A show this well-funded … with some of the best … talent around … just cannot be this badly scripted.

Episode One
Episode Two
Episode Three
Episode Four
Episode Five
Episode Six
Episode Seven
Episode Eight
Episode Nine
Episode Ten

Spitting Image is the legendary satire-with-puppets show from the 80s and 90s. Crude, surreal, and always biting. This show helped define the era itself whilst commentating on it. And in a world seemingly gone mad — Brexit, Trump, Covid-19 — it seems the perfect moment to awaken the kraken. We’ve seen false dawns before (Newzoids 2015-2016), but this is the real deal, the return of the king.

Spitting Image Season One was a mixed bag, to be blunt. The structure of an episode started out a bit chaotic, but then gradually got stronger, until the last few episodes when it was generally good: satirical takes on the news events of the week were interspersed with running sketches. The show definitely grew in self-confidence throughout its run, and hopefully this rhythm will give the show the exit velocity required to launch a more consistent second season.

The puppets were absolutely magnificent (with the bizarre exception of one, Nicola Sturgeon, read here for more details). Even better than the original run’s puppets, whilst totally in keeping with the style. Of course, the puppets would be nothing without the puppeteering, which was splendid.

The biggest problem with Spitting Image Season One, and it’s quite a big problem for a weekly satire, is that it often lacked bite, edge, or even good jokes. Worst of all, it was frequently very lazily written. Prince Andrew getting hit in the head, James Corden getting killed in almost every episode, Trump’s hands are small: no amount of repetition can render these “jokes” funny.

A show this well-funded and with a team of 16 + writers, many of whom are veterans (David X. Cohen, Al Murray, Patric Verrone), with some of the best voice talent around (Billy West, John DiMaggio, Phil LaMarr), and frankly genius caricatures and puppeteering, just cannot be this badly scripted. Okay, they are responding to moving events, which is hard, but that should be bread and butter for the talented team behind this show, many of whom are stand-up comedians or with a background in improv. And just look at South Park, they are able to create hilarious and highly contemporary stories and jokes. Furthermore, Spitting Image often barely mentions current new events (see ep 7): a real clanger was the US Election Special Part II which was extremely light on US Election Special stuff.

In short, everything about this show was magnificent — apart from the writing. There were many highly memorable moments, but Season One is best watched in 24 minute compilation format; there simply isn’t enough funny stuff to fill ten episodes. But this is a show we need. So I look forward to season two despite Season One being, on balance, poor.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://i.inews.co.uk/content/uploads/2020/09/PRI_144981546.jpg

BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E10 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

The satire was … more on-point than during most of the series.

Recent episodes of Spitting Image have been a bit weak. Would the season finale arrest this decline, or are we locked in a death spiral?

Episode 10 had the usual mix of running sketches and references to that week’s news events. This week, Priti Patel’s bullying came up. Boris Johnson compares it to his Eton shenanigans and declares Patel’s behaviour “harmless banter”. The whole cabinet then proceed to “banter” Hancock by physically abusing him while victim Hancock proclaims, “I’m part of the gang”. Probably the best scenes of the episode. Satirical, references current events, and the surreal elements had some basis in truth (Priti Patel “deporting” a succulent plant out the window for being “foreign”).

There were many other funny moments, too. Barack Obama was portrayed as a money-grubbing, corrupt, shyster who only cares about selling his book. Great to see a hero of the liberal-left satirised. Harry Styles tries to be macho but just keeps getting camper, which made me laugh. And Taylor Swift was portrayed as vacuous and basing everything on market research. The runner Mike Pence’s Fairytales for White Folk was actually funny this week, almost makes me regret that we won’t likely be seeing it again. Fox Man Starmer was also back, and as usual he isn’t so much “forensic” as he is a tedious law bore. None of this was razor sharp, but it was all diverting satire with surreal and grotesque streaks running through it.

The satire was indeed more on-point than during most of the series. A great example of this was the satire of Amazon, referencing absurd over-packaging of items and its almost creepy invasiveness. So much funnier than all that nonsense with Bezos on Mars from previous episodes.

There were a few clangers, though. Bezos’s girlfriend’s puppet looks exactly like a whitewashed Megan Markle puppet. This was weirdly distracting. The song number was once again unfunny. And there were a few sketches that went on a bit long.

None-the-less, Episode 10 was a stronger outing than in recent weeks, a decent end to the season. Just nudges a three.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://i.inews.co.uk/content/uploads/2020/09/PRI_144981546.jpg

BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E9 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

Nicola Sturgeon … this was lazy and vaguely racist, poor quality nonsense from the Spitting Image team.

Spitting Image Episode 9 continues with the rhythm it found in the last outing, running sketches interspersed with satirical takes on the news of the week, and it was characterised by the same growing confidence in its own material.

As for the “news of the week” stuff, we saw Cummings get sacked. This was a diverting if not totally amusing section. There was also a return of Trump and his launch of Trump TV. Again, hardly side-splitting, but it was good to see the best character in the show back again. We also also saw Matt Hancock give an interview on Good Morning Britain, an event whose significance, such as it was, has already been forgotten by society. None-the-less, vaguely interesting but hardly amusing.

The episode was characterised, as so often during this first season, by frankly unforgivably lazy writing. The Mars stuff, where we see Bezos, Musk, and Branson trapped on the Red Planet and passing the time by blazing the days away, is as unfunny and pointless as ever. The addition of Oprah showing up as she “has houses everywhere… even on Mars” was not in the slightest funny. Joe Wicks rears his head again only to be (once again) splatted by a frying pan. This running sketch is so forgettable that I have no idea why the writers keep doing them. But the pièce de la resistance of awful and lazy writing was the treatment of Nicola Sturgeon. I am no fan of Sturgeon or the SNP, so I was yearning for some good quality satire here, but this was truly dire stuff. The accent and mannerism was all off, the jokes was bizarrely lazy. I mean, “Glasgow kiss”? Seriously. But the worst sin of all, the puppet was really poor. This show has phenomenal puppets, and it is a puppet show, so this was just shocking in its general direness. The worst part of this sketch? It has actually made me take the SNP’s side in a debate: this was lazy and vaguely racist, poor quality nonsense from the Spitting Image team.

But it wasn’t all boring or lazy or unfunny. Jurgen Klopp once again amuses, starring opposite Idris Elba in a new section called “Good Klopp Bad Cop”. I didn’t need to reach for the needle and thread, but despite the lack of split sides I did at least smile along. The life of the modern rock star mockumentary sketch was overlong, but still quite snort-worthy if not full-on laugh-worthy. The joke was summarised, “Modern pop stars: focused, middle class, and tedious”. David Attenborough’s further tech fails did actually make me laugh, as did a scene with Ronaldo as a fat pub landlord: the line “Mini Frazzles… but enough about your dick” made me chuckle. And Ru Paul’s Pope Race was actually very funny, I can’t deny. To top it off, there was another “comedy” song which, although not funny, was for the first time this season not totally awful.

Despite some good moments, Episode 9 was still fairly poor quality. I’m even more convinced of what I said in my Episode 4 review: Spitting Image Season One will be best viewed as a 24 minute viral video compilation of its best bits.

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

Reference: https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/entertainment/nicola-sturgeon-spitting-image-puppet-23061793

featured image from https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/entertainment/nicola-sturgeon-spitting-image-puppet-23061793

BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E8 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

Amusing … but uninspired and lazy

Spitting Image Episode Eight saw the show begin to get into the swing of things. With its running sketches, such as Govey in Paris and the Bond auditions, this felt like a show that was finally finding its rhythm. Sadly, it’s not a hugely funny rhythm.

The anthropomorphised Coronavirus “Coronie” is back again. He’s depressed because of the vaccine, but gets a pep talk from the Flu who tells him that Chicken Pox isn’t down in the dumps so why should he be? So Coronie vows to “mutate with the times”. Uninspiring stuff, but at least it has surrealism to make it borderline diverting. Something that cannot be said of our inane Bezos-Musk-Branson storyline featuring the three entrepreneurs trapped on Mars and getting high as kites. This is as unfunny as ever.

Biden comes face-to-face with the Illuminati which is comprised of underused puppets created for the show, one of which is Piers Morgan. But really, Morgan is that influential? Having him as a main member of the Illuminati could only be motivated by a desire to flatter the real Morgan’s huge ego in order to get air time on GMB. Weird stuff.

But it wasn’t all dire.

Harry and Megan made a return. It’s still the same joke: he’s a clueless put-upon prat and she’s a power and fame hungry C lister who’ll stoop to anything to get breaks. None-the-less, it’s amusing. A rather amusingly well-delivered line from Harry was, “Either I’m an idiot, or you’re the greatest actress of all time”, to which she responds “Oh, Hairr-brains, that’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said”. As much as I’ve been doing down this show over the last few episodes, that exchange genuinely made me chortle, and it was also refreshingly humanising of these two individuals.

The spoof of Tarantino was completely straight-forward and predictable but none-the-less reasonably amusing.

BoJo was shown as beholden to public opinion and willing to flip-flop at the drop of the hat if the people, that is, Marcus Rashford, will it. This was quite amusing, and I shared an online clip of this segment, such was my amusement.

Idris Elba‘s “smoulder” was back, and pretty amusing. The best bit of the episode, really, all five seconds of it. And there was some mockery of Gwyneth Paltrow‘s new age nonsense, which also amused. The James Corden impersonation is still shockingly accurate, hard to believe it isn’t actually him. Seeing Corden get hit around the head with a club by Tiger Woods was satisfying and amusing, but it was hardly great satire.

Amusing. Yes. “Amusing” is the word. Much of this episode was amusing, some of it raised a smile, but none of it made me laugh out loud as moments from previous episodes did. Therefore, even though it was more solid than Episode Seven, it has no real stand-out comedy moment unlike last week’s outing. Although there was an exceptional stand-out bit of surrealism where Kanye West takes to rearing GMed cattle which are designed to grow trainers instead of hooves which he then just snips off and sells…

Spitting Image seems to be finding a rhythm, finally, and growing in self-confidence, but it is still uninspired and lazy, lacking in bite, edge, or even good jokes.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.nme.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Kanye_Spitting_Image.jpg

BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E7 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

a rather arid outing.

Spitting Image Episode Seven was the first to come out after the US Presidential results. So it was sure to be heavy on the Biden-Trump satire, and Trump was certain to get a right marionetting. I was looking forward to it.

Trump’s distended arsehole (no, yes) is still as shockingly funny as ever, really inspired toilet humour. Other toilet humour, such as a piss-exploding corgi, was good, albeit a bit senseless. We saw more of Keir Starmer’s superhero alter ego Foxman, which amused, and Vladimir Putin definitely doesn’t give James Corden a plutonium-laced death kiss — which was satisfying. Glad to see I’m not the only one who seethes with hatred (and jealousy?) whenever Corden comes on the screen.

Sadly, these good moments were few and very far between in a rather arid outing.

Dominic Cummings began the series as one of the best characters, but now his alien schtick is getting very old. None-the-less, the “head pulse” is still hypnotic and amusing. The “New James Bond Auditions” sketch, which has become a runner, is a potentially great idea — such a shame that it hasn’t been particularly funny.

The satire, such as it is, goes downhill from this point on.

Trump talking about having a big penis, Prince Andrew getting hit around the head (again), and Her Majesty with a mouth like a Tommy in the Trenches (Why? How does this even make sense?) were particular lowlights. The whole foul-mouthed Queen stuff took up significant screen time, as well. But we hadn’t quite reached rock bottom yet. That was “achieved” with not one, but two very unfunny and painful to watch/listen to “comedy” song numbers: the first, based on the decades-old skit idea of coming up with a new Bond theme tune, the second, on the potentially fruitful topic of euthanasia. Potential for laughs, sure, but the numbers were atrocious. As I’ve said before, the writers either need to knock these so-called “comedy” songs on the head, or else hire someone who can actually write funny music. Awful stuff.

The worst thing about this episode, given it came out after the US Presidential Elections results came in, was that it was distinctly light on current news or satire or reference to the election. Very disappointing.

I’m not sure that this show is getting better as it goes on. Scrapes a two. Sad.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.itv.com/presscentre/sites/default/files/20200905_spitting_image_3_05_prince_charles_camilla_0532.jpg

BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E6: US Election Special Part II #BritBox @BritBox_UK

underwhelming

Spitting Image‘s sixth episode saw a return to Megan and Harry, the start of what looks like a running sketch (new James Bong auditions), and more of Richard Branson’s deluded ramblings that he’s still relevant.

BoJo’s audition to be Bond was an amusing bit, I can’t deny. Perhaps this sketch really could be a runner and a great addition to the series. Let’s see how they use this audition set-up.

We saw Megan Markle release — what else? — a cosmetics range of her own. In a truly grotesque moment, we see that her range features a bottle that squirts the liquid out of an orifice shaped like a lady’s part: inspired toilet humour and satire. The puppets really sell it.

Bezos, Musk and Branson duke it out to be the first to land on Mars. This was fairly topical, which was good, but it was fairly unfunny, too, which was bad. The less of this boring triumvirate the better.

Jo Biden gets confused and starts working in a diner: this was amusing stuff. Although, once again, cutting edge it was not. What point were they making other than that Biden seems to get easily confused?

Generally, episode six was underwhelming. It was far weaker than episode five. And weirdly for a “US Election Special”, there was very little US election in it. A bit of a let down.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E5: US Election Special Part I #BritBox @BritBox_UK

Explaining jokes smacks of writers who don’t have confidence in their own material or in their audience… it’s unforgivable.

Spitting Image episode five was the first half of a US Election special double-parter with a season-appropriate Hallowe’en theme (although later on, the theme slid into Christmas, which was a tad discordant and odd).

The stand-out scene, which came early, was a séance which ended up in Margaret Thatcher’s ghost taking over Boris Johnson’s body. Boris-in-a-wig was something to behold, but nothing compared to the image of Michael Gove wanking off under the table to said possessed Johnson or to Priti Patel actually getting off with the spectre. A surprising and delightful scene.

We got to meet Fox Man Starmer, a hero for our age, which seemed to recall the classic Batman and Robin scene from Only Fools and Horses. Another surprising and delightful turn. I hope we see more of Starmer’s alter ego.

However, the episode was far from solid laughs. One problem with Spitting Image so far is the tendency to explain its jokes. For example, we saw Trump declare, “I want an election that is free, and fair, so I’m going to personally check all the mail-in ballots”. Which was great! But then they ruined it by carrying on, “… and destroy all the fraudulent ones that voted Democrat!” We got the joke already!! Why explain it to us? Or how about another decent moment, where we see Boris Johnson going to Biden to grovel and pre-emptively be friends — great! But then once again the joke is spelled out and ruined, BoJo telling Biden, “I love you … since I’ve seen the latest polls”. Explaining jokes smacks of writers who don’t have confidence in their own material or in their audience. It’s bad writing at the best of times, but in a supposedly sharp satire, it’s unforgivable.

Apart from these hit-and-then-miss moments, there were many moments that missed altogether. For example, there is another song that falls flat. Guys, don’t write these songs if you can’t write them funny. And the lazy jokes kept coming: Prince Andrew repeatedly being hit in the face. I understand: he’s a punching bag. I understand: we just want him to shut up. I understand: every time he opens his mouth, bad stuff happens. But it’s not funny. Stop.

Richard Branson was presented as yesterday’s man, a kind of prehistoric Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, who, at least in his own deluded mind, he is in competition with. Weirdly, none of these jokes worked well and I kept looking at the time to see when the Branson-Musk-Bezos segments would end.

Episode Five also saw Putin and his troll farm get “investigated” by Zuckerberg. It was amusing, but the only two real laughs came from the lines “U, S, and also A” and “da”. When funny accents and dodgy foreign grammar are the best bit of your satirical take, you know you are in trouble.

All in all, there were several laughs and a couple of really memorable scenes. However, laziness, jokes that make little sense, and a general lack of cutting edge (Tories literally or metaphorically wanking off to Thatcher is not original or clever, no matter how funny that scene was) mean that this episode never rises above being merely “good”.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E4 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

When your best joke in a twenty-four minute sociopolitical satire relates to a five year old viral meme about the colour of a dress, you need to ask yourselves some serious questions.

Spitting Image‘s fourth episode saw an increased emphasis on the doings of Michael Gove, pop star Adele, and Ivanka Trump. It was about as focused as last week’s episode in this regard (which also focused on a few main characters, mainly Prince Harry and Megan Markle), there thankfully being no return to the chaotic scatter gun approach of Episode Two.

However, there was nonetheless a notable drop in quality from last week. Many of the jokes weren’t relatable (I still find the “Priti Patel is a vampire” thing unintelligible, only now it’s unintelligible and tedious) and many of the others have been well and truly overdone by only the fourth episode (I’m thinking Emmanuel Macron’s overly long lascivious tongue). The joke about Adele’s weight loss and everyone’s fixation on it was mildly amusing the first time it was told in this episode, but not the second time — let alone the fourteenth. We get it, we get it already! Here comes another joke for the umpteenth time: Ivanka Trump is a vacuous person. Okay, okay. Stop it, please, stop the “joke” already. My God, stop. On the up side, Jurgen Klopp was, once again, amusing, although not quite as “funny” as he was in Episode Two. And the “The dress is blue and black… I heard ‘laurel'” joke was admittedly funny, albeit five years out of date. When your best joke in a twenty-four minute sociopolitical satire relates to a five year old viral meme about the colour of a dress, you need to ask yourselves some serious questions.

The main “joke” about Gove seems to be that his cheeks look like two giant bollocks. Heady satire indeed(!) Speaking of which, however, the puppets are wonderful. We get a long look at Piers Morgan, and it’s truly delightful. The puppets really are magnificent. A shame the episode wasn’t. Another tawdry song number rounded off what was a pretty poor, if not totally worthless, fourth instalment. It has made me YouTube the songs from Not the Nine O’Clock News; now that was how to write a funny comedy song!

I haven’t given up hope yet, but I’m getting the feeling that Season One might end up being best viewed in a single twenty minute “Best Bits” compendium.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.chortle.co.uk/images/photos/small/spitting-image-michael-gove.jpg

BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E3 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

Spitting Image still seems to be finding its way

The third episode of BritBox’s Spitting Image was a bit less random than last week’s outing, focusing more on a few key characters. This was necessary as it gave us a bit of time to develop the jokes, insofar as the jokes are developable and not just the same gag repeated and reheated.

We see a massive increase in the presence of Prince Harry and Megan Markle. The jokes were mostly obvious — Harry is a bit of an idiot, he’s posh, he thinks he’s run away to freedom but is actually more under-the-thumb than ever — but these punches nonetheless landed and were funny. The line involving “chukka” made me laugh, encapsulating in a few words Harry’s total detachment from reality like never before in his life.

We started to see significant time committed to ridiculing the totally ridiculous Labour front bench. This was nice, and it’s unclear why the Shadow Cabinet hasn’t been featured that much already; perhaps it’s fear of offending the left, or perhaps it’s just that this ridiculous Labour frontbench is beyond satire. In any case, Starmer was portrayed as the only competent one, all his team presented as incompetent toddlers in need of direction. I’m not sure if this is particularly on the nose, however, as his team is generally seen (by critics) as an example of positive discrimination gone awry with incompetents being overpromoted due to having ticked the right boxes.

Episode Three did just enough to nudge a good rating, but it’s still marginally weaker than the season opener. Spitting Image still seems to be finding its way. It’s a show that the world needs, and it’s a show with a great weight of history behind it. Therefore, I’m willing to give it time to come of age. But it’s still not hitting the right notes.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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