Wednesday, January 27, 2016

To laugh is divine

As I said in my previous blog post, there’s generally so much to listen to on BBC Radio (and by extension iPlayer) that formerly, I have been focusing all my listening time on drama.  I’m not sure why I’ve avoided the comedy (possibly because I’m quite picky when it comes to TV comedy but much more forgiving for radio comedy; otherwise how could I have such affection for Fibber McGee and Molly and Baby Snooks???).  BBC iPlayer Radio App on the Smartphone has gotten me to try out some of the comedy series, and for the most part I’ve been quite impressed.  I don’t know if just-after-Christmas was a good time to try out comedy series for the first time given so many of them were Specials, but generally I found that to be a good way into the series as a newbie.
I caught up on a heck of a lot of seasonal comedy on 1 January (though ironically on my computer rather than through the App).  In my opinion, the “Christmas Eve” episode of Love in Recovery by Peter Jackson was the best of the lot.  This series is about Alcoholics Anonymous, written by a former alcoholic.  A group of troubled people meet on Christmas Eve but insist it’s not an AA meeting.  It stars Eddie Marsan, who I really liked from the BBC Little Dorrit (2008). There were some excellent jokes, especially the punch-line of the daft cleaning lady who unthinkingly gifts Andy, the group leader (Marsan) with a bottle of sherry.  

Later, I enjoyed the Old Harry’s Game Christmas Special from 2010.  I had only heard one episode of Old Harry’s Game before, but I enjoyed this quite a lot.   The premise is simple (and easily done on radio whereas it could be disastrous in other media).  Basically comedian (and the writer of this series) Andy Hamilton is Satan, and the series is set in Hell.  While that may not seem like it would reap a lot of comedy, it does.  In this Special, Satan is feeling a little at loose ends and decides to take a mini-break to the Lake District, leaving his peon Scumspawn in charge, who has no authority whatsoever over the demons.  Satan ends up crucifying a lot of hapless blackbirds in the countryside and starts to feel himself again when he gets to torment an evangelizing Christian, which was by far the funniest part.  

Ed Reardon was another long-running comedy series with which I was not really that familiar, so I gave it a go this January.  I heard the Christmas/New Year’s Special, “Ed Reardon at Christmas.”  I suppose I thought Ed Reardon was a real person and that the comedy was sliiiightly more rooted in real life.  I enjoyed it—a very pompous hack writer who spends his Christmas ghostwriting a book about The Great British Bakeoff in someone’s office while drinking lots of cheap plonk he bought by selling plastic carrier bags.  

However, the comedy series I’ve been most enjoying is The Long Swedish Winter by Danny Robins which is in its second series.  It took me a little while to get into the first episode, which was all about Swedish Christmas (the gag about a St Lucia girl setting her head on fire fell flat for me, somehow).  However, I quickly warmed (oy vey) to the characters:  Geoff (Adam Riches), the British ex-pat who has settled in a village in northern Sweden with Linda (Sissella Benn) and their son John/Jan; his in-laws (Thomas Orredsson, Anna-Lena Bergelin); and Kurdish-Danish transplant Soren (Farshad Kogli).  Robins himself plays Ian, another ex-pat.  

Recorded on location in Sweden, the whole thing feels quite natural to the point where I didn’t realize the Swedish actors are all big comedy stars.  Geoff’s predicaments are quite familiar, but often solved or subverted in unusual ways, and there’s always an enjoyable self-deprecation which proclaims that this is a British comedy.  In the first episode, highlights included Geoff, Ian, and Soren belittling Swedish skinheads, a visit from the Swedish version of Krampus, and Geoff having to cut down a Christmas tree.  The second episode takes place mainly in Ikea and was quite funny, too.  I also enjoy the snippets of Euro Pop you get in each story!   

BBC iPlayer Radio App

In an attempt to give this blog a kick up the caboose, I thought any reviews are better than no reviews.  To that end, I wanted to propound upon the charms of iPlayer Radio App for Smartphone.  I am a Luddite and did not actually get a Smartphone until about 2 years ago.  Although I was shown the iPlayer Radio App I didn’t download it immediately.  However, I did finally give it a try in November, and now I am quite obsessed with it.  I have to admit I almost never listen to radio drama on analogue anymore, but with the App I am now scarcely listening to it via iPlayer website, as I used to.  I find the App very convenient for commuting—I have been listening to OTR and downloaded audio drama on the phone though there are capacity limits—and a secondary effect is that I am listening to programs I normally wouldn’t make time for, such as comedy, documentaries, and music.  And Prayer for the Day!  Also, I am getting to hear drama from Radio Scotland which, for one reason or another, I was never able to hear before.  This is very exciting!  Like iPlayer online, you have your finite download period, after which the episode disappears.  Once you’ve finished with the episode, you can delete it yourself and make room for more!  The download feature defaults to “downloading is paused” if you are not connected to Wifi.  

I found the App extremely useful for a transatlantic flight.  Everything I had downloaded before leaving the UK remained with its finite download period (obviously you can’t download anything new when you’re outside the UK).   Thus I had a phone full of content to listen to on the plane there and back.  I did have a problem when the App upgraded; I couldn’t get any of my downloads to work, and the only thing I could do to fix it was delete the App and reinstall.  This, unfortunately, meant I lost all my downloads. 

Of course, you don’t have access to everything that you can get on iPlayer online, due to rights issues I suspect (I noticed that you can’t download the BBC World Service programs, you can only listen to them streaming).  But, as I said above, it pushes me out of my comfort zone somewhat, which has been refreshing. 

It would be exciting if one day we had a similar Smartphone app for audio drama generally, with a recommendation feature (“if you liked X, then you might like Y, Z, and A”).  I like iPlayer Radio App so much I think I would pay a modest monthly or annual fee for it, but it’s nice for now that it’s free.