As we (im)-patiently await the next Facebook status update from the inhabitants of Downton Abbey, chronicling the devastating events of series 3, episode 4, it time to, yet again, turn our attention to what really sets British actors apart from their American counterparts. As we experienced, first hand, back in 2009 at the Theatre Royal in Bath as part of our interview with Penelope Keith for PBS’ Funny Ladies of British Comedy program.
As has been proven ever since, there isn’t a night somewhere in England that you won’t find a very familiar face from your favorite British comedy series performing in either one of the many strong regional theatre’s or on London’s West End stage. It’s not uncommon to see the likes of Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith, Patricia Routledge, Judi Dench or any of a number of other British comedy stars on stage. Though many will argue it’s the writing that sets British comedy apart, of which I will whole-heartedly agree, it’s also the incredible talents of the actors and actresses involved that have had years and years of formal training at places such as The Old Vic or the Royal Shakespeare Company. And, not only the London stage. In recent months, theater-goers in New York can see the likes of Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley, Downton Abbey) in the final days of The Heiress with Jessica Chastain. And, remember, it was James Corden (Gavin & Stacey) who won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Actor in an Play with his performance in One Man, Two Guvnors on Broadway. Two recent examples from today’s headlines do nothing but reinforce my point.
Dame Judi Dench in Peter and Alice
As Time Goes By Star, Dame Judi Dench, with her 11 BAFTAs, 7 Laurence Olivier Awards, 2 Screen Actors Guild Awards, 2 Golden Globes, an Academy Award, and a Tony Award in tow, heads to the London West End stage beginning March 2013 through May 2013 for Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre. When Alice Liddell Hargreaves met Peter Llewelyn Davies at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932, the original Alice in Wonderland came face to face with the original Peter Pan. In John Logan’s remarkable new play, enchantment and reality collide as this brief encounter lays bare the lives of these two extraordinary characters. Dame Judi Dench plays Alice, and Ben Whishaw plays Peter in Logan’s first new play since Red, which went on to win six Tony Awards in 2010.
Rowan Atkinson in Quartermaine’s Terms
Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder, Mr. Bean, Thin Blue Line) is currently leading Simon Gray’s Quartermaine’s Terms at Wyndham’s Theatre now through April 2013. Set in the 1960s in an English language school for foreigners, the play is so quintessentially English. At the heart of the group is St. John Quartermaine (Atkinson), a kind, pleasant and agreeable, but utterly hopeless as a teacher. An almost permanent feature in the staff room, he’s always available to listen to the problems of his self-obsessed colleagues. But when a new Principal is appointed, Quartermaine’s future looks precarious. In the ‘pictures are worth a thousand words’ category, this looks like a must. Why is it all Rowan Atkinson has to do is sit still and I laugh? More pictures to convince you here.
Next time you find yourself looking for something to do most anywhere in England, take a moment, look up at the marquee of the nearest theatre and I’ll bet you’ll recognize the name in lights. What a great way to see a British comedy ‘friend’ and support regional theatre in the UK.
Vicar of Dibley fans worldwide have long patrolled the Internets for any trace of a much hinted at thought of a Bishop of Dibley from the mind of Richard Curtis starring Dawn French. While that seems much more of a long-shot than anyone cares to admit, there is good news on the immediate horizon that involves everyone’s favorite vicar (although the Reverend Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander, Rev) is getting ready to give her a run for her money in my book for that title).
Dawn French has signed on for a new BBC2 comedy series, The Wrong Mans, to play James Corden’s ‘mum’. The series is written by Corden and Gavin & Stacey co-star, Matthew Baynton, who came up with the idea while working together on the BAFTA award-winning series in which Corden starred as Gavin’s pal Smithy while Baynton played his mate Deano.
The Wrong Mans centers around a tale of mistaken identity where office co-workers Sam and Phil (Baynton and Corden) are caught up in a criminal conspiracy after stumbling across a ringing phone at the scene of a car crash.
The six-part comedy set for BBC2 broadcast later this year also stars Silent Witness’s Emilia Fox (Silent Witness) and Nick Moran (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) who play a mysterious duo at the heart of the story. Rebecca Front (The Thick Of It), will also appear as the head of MI5, which is investigating the plot.
Dawn French and James Corden aside, BBC executive producer Mark Freeland promises a comedy that features “…explosions, a lot of running about, murder, extortion, friendship and love”. What’s not to like?
With the announcement this week that both Gavin & Stacey and Spy have been picked up in pilot stage by U.S. television networks, Fox and ABC, respectively, and the news weeks back that there will now be an ‘American’ Downton Abbey, one can’t help but revisit some past history of comedies trying to head west to America. While situation comedy has faced monumental issues making the trip back across the Atlantic, other formats have flourished in the States. Reality format programs such as Antiques Roadshow, Pop Idol, Big Brother, The X Factor, Hell’s Kitchen and Strictly Come Dancing have been quite the success stories for American networks.
From a comedy standpoint, of all the attempts to ‘Americanize’ the brilliant British comedy that comes out of the UK, success’s can be counted on one hand with Sanford and Son, All in the Family and The Office leading the way. I’d say we all remember the failures, but given that some of them either never made it to pilot stage, never made it past pilot stage or were, essentially, ‘one and done’ by week three of the networks Fall season, you may now know all the entries without a scorecard.
Thankfully, WalesOnline has done most of our work for us and done a brilliant job of reminding us of the number of British sitcoms that crossed the pond over the years and, in their words, ‘…were no laughing matter. They start out by correctly identifying that America and the UK are ‘two nations divided by a common language’. Somehow, however, when it comes to comedy, that divide seems to be larger than the Grand Canyon. Looking at the list, I had forgotten about a post-Soap Richard Mulligan trying his best to be the American Reginald Perrin.
It really hasn’t made a difference if scripts were bought and read word for word (Coupling), if producers decided success was guaranteed if they simply would import stars from the successful UK versions (Nigel Planer from The Young Ones, Richard Ayoade from The IT Crowd) or import creators/writers of the UK versions to pen the American versions, there is no blueprint for success when it comes to comedy. Why anyone would watch Fawlty Towers, perhaps the funniest comedy on Planet Earth, and think that they could make an American version. They tried….three times!
Chateau Snavely starred Harvey Korman in the Basil Fawlty role overseeing a highway motel, while Amanda’s had Bea Arthur (post-Golden Girls) changing the character’s sex and, the most recent ill-fated attempt was in 1999 with Payne with John Larroquette at the helm of the Whispering Pines Hotel. Even though it had John Cleese’s personal blessing, its doors closed once and for all after only eight episodes with one of them having never aired.
So, you can see why I’m a bit leery when I hear that the newest entries in the ‘let’s make British comedy better by making it American’, Gavin & Stacey and Spy are headed to pilot stage. Hopefully, they will prove me wrong for once.
…catching up on episodes would be so easy and life on social media would be suddenly worth the time.
Unfortunately, it will never happen as it would be a bit difficult to install WiFi at Downton given the Dowager Countess’ feelings toward electricity. We all remember her comments that were so late-19th century when she said, “I couldn’t have electricity in the house, I wouldn’t sleep a wink. All those vapors floating about.” Kind of hard to install WiFi without electricity. And, as you now know, it would be just an added expense for Downton that, given their recent need to cut back on expenses and subsequent apparent mismanagement of funds, it might not be something anyone upstairs or downstairs is ready to take on at this time.
Still, it would be just short of brilliant if Downton Abbey were on Facebook, wouldn’t it? Catching up on missed episodes would be way too easy…and, fun. Thanks to the folks over at the appropriately named, Happy Place.com, electricity or not, we can quickly get caught up with the goings on during the first three episodes for series 3 as we all eagerly await episode 4 tomorrow night on PBS’ Masterpiece series.
Downton Abbey on Facebook. Series 3, episodes 1-3 recap
Here’s a quick recap of last week’s episode from series 3 (episode 3). Happy reading. If you’ve missed any episodes from series 3, you can quickly catch up on the arrival of Martha Levinson (episode 1) and then for a quick episode 2 recap, catch up on Lady Edith’s wedding plans…and all that that implies. Can’t wait to check out Facebook next week to see a Downton Abbey status update.
Don’t look for Julian Assange to be standing next to you in line to buy a ticket to the November 2013 premiere of The Fifth Estate anytime soon which is currently in production. During a video-link hook-up from his refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Assange told a group of Oxford University undergraduates that the upcoming Dreamworks film, directed by Bill Condon and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange, Downton Abbey star, Dan Stevens, Laura Linney and Peter Capaldi, was a “massive propaganda attack“.
Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA
The Wikileaks founder, supposedly holding what looked to be a script to the film which was written by The West Wing‘s Josh Singer, went on to tell the Oxford Union that Condon’s film began with scenes inside a military complex in Iran, where nuclear symbols could clearly be seen. The suggestion, he said, was that the country was building a nuclear weapon that the film was clearly an attempt to go about “fanning the flames” of war. “How does this have anything to do with us? It is a lie upon lie,” he said. “The movie is a massive propaganda attack on WikiLeaks and the character of my staff.”
The Fifth Estate is based on Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange at the Worlds Most Dangerous Website and WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War On Secrecy, by the Guardian’s David Leigh and Luke Harding.
Some of the first photos surfaced earlier this week with a rather creepy one of Sherlock star, Benedict Cumberbatch, sporting Assange-like blonde hair. Sadly, all I could think of was how creepy and out of place I always thought seeing Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat with blonde hair in Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire. This photo, however, from the Guardian’s Steve Rose, adds a bit of ‘elementary’ Sherlock-style deconstruction to see if there are any clues to the film that we can uncover. Do a quick roll over of the photo with your cursor to see what I’m talking about.
I’ll wait before passing judgement either way. Remember, not too long ago how everyone scoffed at the idea of a movie about Facebook. Rightly or wrongly, The Social Network did win two Oscars. Full disclosure, I had no interest in seeing that one. This one, however, might be a different story. How about you? What do you think?
Depending on your individual definition of ‘normal’, it’s hard to argue with the thought that ‘being human’ is difficult enough for the average everyday person. Imagine just how difficult this task might be if you happen to a vampire, ghost or werewolf. Just ask Hal (Damien Molony), who finds himself tied to a chair in the first episode in an attempt by his flatmates to expedite the process a bit.
You don’t have to imagine much longer as is was just announced that series 5 of BBC Three’s Being Human will transmit in the UK beginning Sunday, 3 February at 10:00pm. No word as of yet of an American broadcast premiere on BBC America but, hopefully, it will follow soon (pay no attention to the American version of Being Human as it pales in comparison to the original British series). Lots of questions are to be answered this season. Here’s where it gets a bit sticky. Will being tied to a chair be enough to help Hal go cold turkey? Can Alex (Kate Bracken), the new apparition on the block, forgive Hal for her untimely death? Might be a bit of a difficult task considering it was Hal who killed Alex at the end of last season when he returned to his blood-drinking ways forcing the chair incident this season.
Being Human started out almost five years ago now as a series that bordered on equal parts comedy and equal parts horror/drama with original stars, Lenora Crichlow (ghost), Russell Tovey (werewolf) and Aidan Turner (vampire). Over the past several years, the series has added new cast members, Michael Socha (Tom the werewolf) and Damien Molony (Hal the vampire), as the original cast began to move on to other ventures such as Turner being cast in that little known Peter Jackson film and Tovey starring in several comedy projects. Sadly, this will be the first series without any of the original three. That aside, the news that the great Phil Davis will be introduced as the new villain, Captain Hatch, is brilliant. Show producers describe Davis’ character by saying, “Hatch embodies the worst in humanity – he’s bitter, manipulative, obsequious and cruel. And beneath his decrepit exterior there lies within him a dark and toxic secret that could rattle your soul with fear.” Ok, so what do you really think? Have to say, I’m so ready for someone that has a bit of Herrick’s evil in him.
While creator/writer Toby Whithouse hasn’t revealed any plot points as of yet, Being Human online executive, Rebecca Denton, had a few series 5 promises saying:, “…Bigger, better, bolder, braver and definitely more terrifying that anything that has come before,” adding that it promised “…to deliver all the laughs and fun of season 4 but with a very definitely new and nasty, chilling edge”.
Ok, it is 3 February yet?
Bottom line, one can never have enough pie be it American or British so, no matter where you are and whether you are a fan of the traditional American ‘pie’ or British ‘pie’, it’s National Pie Day here in the U.S. Unfortunately, loyal Tellyspotting readers in the UK are way ahead of us here in the States at the moment as their National Pie Day was 1 December 2013 so we have a lot of catching up to do. So, grab a fork and dig in.
And, what better time than the present to begin the celebration and sit down with our own individual favorite variation of traditional American pie and then begin to focus our attention on the upcoming British Pie Week 2013 which will take place 4-10 March, 2013. While most, if not the entire celebration that will take place in the U.S. will be centered around the traditional Apple, Pecan, Pumpkin, Cherry or any one of a number of various Cream Pies, British Pie Week is of particular interest to me as any week that celebrates Shepherd’s Pie is #1 in my book.
For those that believe that pie is one of civilization’s best inventions, we’d love to know how you either chose to celebrate National Pie Day or how will you choose to celebrate British Pie Week…and, we’d love pictures to post of your exploits and/or creations. Me? I definitely foresee a slice of Apple Pie in my future today and will be making yet another Gordon Ramsay Shepherd’s Pie in the not-too-distant future. If you want to compare, here’s the recipe and the video.
FYI, the 2012 Pub Pie Champion was Carol Haime from The Sandrock Pub & Restaurant, Farnham with her recipe for Wheatley House Pie. If you are thinking of attempting this at home and not in the presence of professionals, a bit of a heads-up. You’re going to need a couple of pheasants to get started.
Remember, send pics of how you celebrated or of your creations. We’ll post them on the Tellyspotting flickr page for all the world to see.
Most of the time, no matter what stage your career is in, there are points in time where you realize you have arrived. In the case of Downton Abbey, all of the audience figures and critical acclaim have been nice, but it wasn’t until a couple of Jimmy Fallon parodies, appearances on The Colbert Report and a Saturday Night Live spoof did the world truly wake up and realize that we were in the presence of pop-culture greatness.
In the case of one Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s hard to argue with the well-deserved meteoric rise of his career since the 2010 premiere of Sherlock. Since both series of Sherlock have aired on the BBC and PBS, Cumberbatch has been seen in the likes of Tinker Tailor, War Horse, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and has the distinction of being the main antagonist in the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness film due out in May of this year. The numerous awards and brilliant acting roles aside, Planet Earth is now keenly aware that Benedict Cumberbatch has reached the pinnacle of his career by virtue of his voicing not one, but TWO roles in an upcoming Simpsons episode, coming soon to a telly near you. Cumberbatch’s appearance has him in good company as The Simpsons was featured in the 2010 Guinness Book of World Records, receiving the award for “Most Guest Stars Featured in a TV Series”. As of December 1, 2012, 602 different people had appeared as guest stars on the animated show.
Following a chance meeting between the Sherlock star and Simpson show creators, Benedict explained: “I was at a meeting in the same place ‘The Simpsons’ is recorded and heard there was a part going in an episode. I said, ‘I hate to muscle in here guys but could I record it?’ Next thing, I’m standing in a room with all those famous voices; Bart, Marge, Homer, Lisa.”
According to recent reports, while it’s definitely not Sherlock-related, Benedict Cumberbatch will have two small roles as both a ‘sinister accountant and a snake-like character’ in “Love is a Many Splintered Thing” which is tentatively set to broadcast on Sunday 10 February 2013 on Fox. The Valentines Day themed episode will see the return of Bart’s almost girlfriend Mary Spuckler (Zooey Deschanel – who co-starred with Cumberbatch’s Sherlock co-star, Martin Freeman, in the 2005 feature, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).
Prior to his role on The Simpsons, Cumberbatch and the rest of the Sherlock crew achieved a bit of unofficial early Simpsons stardom when they were honored with a bit of fan art from Sam over at Springfield Punx. Set the DVR now for Sunday, 10 February on Fox for yet another golden opportunity to, hopefully, take your mind off of the fact that we are still months away from Sherlock 3.
British born actor, Babou Ceesay, is more than ready to take his seat in the Oxfordshire police car alongside Inspector Lewis, played by Kevin Whately. As DC Alex Gray, Ceesay picks up his police notebook beginning tonight in the third installment of the 7th series of Lewis.
Ceesay, who grew up in Gambia, has taken a bit of a non-traditional road to the world of acting as he started out studying micro-biology. Following University, he worked in the London financial district as an internal auditor for Deloitte. Personally, having taken only one semester of accounting myself at the University of Texas, I can completely understand his career-changing decision to abandon the straight and narrow for a life of acting by studying drama at the Oxford School of Drama where he graduated in 2004. In 2009, Ceesay came to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, traveling the world performing Shakespeare (you need to get him to tell you what his favorite role was in The Merchant of Venice) and, as they say, the rest is history.
We caught up with Ceesay this past week prior to his introduction tonight as Lewis’ new sidekick, where he takes over for DS James Hathaway (Laurence Fox has played DS James Hathaway since the series began in 2006) while he’s ‘on sabbatical’. “Ramblin’ Boy”, the new two-part episode of Lewis airs tonight at 2100 on ITV1 and next Monday, 28 January at the same time. For American audiences, the new installments of the Inspector Lewis series will return to PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! in Summer 2013.
Tellyspotting: Having been formally trained in the theatre and, subsequently, having considerable stage experience, including work at the RSC, what’s the takeaway from this formal stage experience as you approach a role on the small screen?
Babou Ceesay: The thing with the stage is that it is continuous action with the story going chronologically. You start to learn how to tell story on a journey arc. You learn how to take a character from A to B to C to D right down to the climax to the end of their journey. When you go to TV, it’s all broken up so that its filmed back to front. You could be filming your climax scene on day 1 and your introduction scene on day 10. Because you have the grounding of knowing what it feels like to run through a character from beginning to end, you know how to prepare and learn how to do the jumps. The biggest thing I learned was confidence, being on stage in front of people. Confidence and concentration. Concentration to do your job amidst all the distractions on set with an ‘audience’ in a sense of the endless production personnel doing their jobs, not to mention the camera.
TS: What do you look for in a script?
BC: Whether it is comedy or drama, you look for a story. A story that you would like to be involved in the telling of it. A story that flows from beginning to end. From the very first read, if the story speaks to you, you get a good sense as to how you are going to feel about it. I look for a good character journey.
TS: With respect to your character of DC Alex Gray in Lewis, did you try to understand a ‘back-story’ to get a better grasp on your character?
BC: Absolutely. One thing I always try and do is figure out what this person compulsively thinks about. I think all have something that lurks in our mindset that if, given half a chance, we would compulsively think about it. It was important to research what it was like to become a policeman, how long it takes to become a Detective Constable, what kind of work to they do, what kind of crimes would I have solved and what’s the worst thing I would have encountered. It’s also important to look through the script to see what people say about you.
TS: Were you familiar with the Inspector Morse series growing up?
BC: Definitely. When I was growing up, there would be re-runs on TV or people would be in England and record a day of TV and bring back home and Morse was a part of it so I was quite familiar with the series.
TS: Even though you were the ‘new kid on the set’ of Lewis, filming in Oxford must have been a bit like ‘coming home’ given your knowledge of the Morse series and having attended school there.
BC: It was nice. The principal of my old drama school came and saw me. We had a nice afternoon tea and a chat. I owe that school a lot. They took me from being an auditor who hadn’t really performed as an actor and during the time I was there, they pushed and stretched and forced us to mold ourselves and become much more intelligent as an actor. It felt like I had come back to somewhere that I knew. It felt like the risk I had taken jumping in to this was the right one.
TS: Speaking of your previous life as an auditor, I wonder what experiences you might have been able to draw upon as you prepared for your role in Lewis?
BC: Well, auditing is very forensic. It’s financial forensics, really. As an auditor, the need to always know the detail, asking what does this mean and having the ability to pin people down to an absolute statement translates to the world of crime forensics where you always have to ask the question of ‘…what did you mean by that?’.
TS: Your character is introduced tonight in part one of “The Ramblin’ Boy” on Lewis“. Tell us a little bit about who DC Alex Gray is.
BC: He’s a Detective Constable, which isn’t very high up. The Detective Inspector is definitely high up so he would always call him ‘sir’. The other fact is that he volunteered for this job. Hathaway is away on work leave and Lewis is left without a sidekick and he volunteers to work with Lewis. There’s a bit of background because he has an emotional attachment to Lewis from something that happened in the past that he knows about and Lewis doesn’t remember. He looks up to Lewis a lot, wants to impress him, but with his being inexperienced at bit, Lewis is irritated with him at times because he’s squeamish, doesn’t like seeing dead bodies, doesn’t like blood and, he’s trying to quit smoking. Lewis finds it difficult that he’s not as quick as Hathaway is in helping him solve the crime. Over time, he becomes more confident, Lewis is more nurturing in terms of trying to get him to see that he doesn’t just need to follow the rulebook to solve crimes.
TS: And, maybe, Lewis should think back a bit as to how he was with Inspector Morse.
BC: There’s actually a sentence in the show something like “…was Morse easy on me so why should I be easy on him”. It’s intrinsically hierarchical in that way. There’s a respect as you go up the ladder. The DCI is basically unleashed. They can put the rulebook down and really try and figure out cases. They don’t have to be nice to anyone or explain themselves to anybody.
TS: Finally, having intruded on your weekend far enough, what do you watch in your spare time?
BC: I love American series. Right now, it’s Oscar time so I’m catching up on all the Oscar films. Also, I watch Homeland. I love Homeland. And, I recently got a boxed set of Breaking Bad but haven’t had time to watch it yet. Something I’m very much looking forward to.
Later in 2013, look for Babou Ceesay in the feature film, Half of a Yellow Sun, which is based on a book about the Biafra war in Nigeria. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out Lewis’ new sidekick, DC Alex Gray, beginning tonight and continuing next Monday, 28 January, on ITV1′s Lewis. American audiences, Inspector Lewis will return this coming Summer as part of PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! series.