Having absorbed every episode of the first five series of ‘The Big Bang Theory‘, my latest obsession from the world of the American sitcom is NBC’s ‘Community’, a comedy about several pretty stereotyped characters (jock, repressed goodie-goodie, too cool for school hero, etc.) thrown together at an American community college. Despite the relatively broad characterisations, a distracting insistence on parodying various film and movie cliches (a la ‘The Simpsons’), and hit-and-miss writing, it’s still well above the average for current television situation comedy.
However, a web-search for the programme quickly uncovers the trouble and turmoil lurking behind the scenes of the show, which seems certain to be cancelled following it’s current, fourth series. The show was created by Dan Harmon, but he has already left following a very public falling out with the show’s most famous cast member Chevy Chase.
Chase has built a reputation for being arrogant, rude and difficult to work with over a 40 year career. ‘Community’ seemed to be his route back to the mainstream after two decades of dreadful TV movies and cameo appearances in 1980s throwback films, but the actor continually bad-mouthed the shows writing, the long hours of filming, and even situation comedy as a genre. By the third series there was rumours of physical confrontation with some of the other actors, and his continued clashes with Harmon culminated with the audience at an end of season party being encouraged to chant ‘fuck you, Chevy’ at Chase as he sat there with his wife and daughter.
The final straw for Chase was his alleged use of the ‘n’ word on set during preparations for filming a fourth-series episode. Shortly afterwards he announced he was leaving the show.
Now, whilst racism and racist abuse is not something I would ever condone, the context in which the word was used has to made clear. Chase’s character Pierce Hawthorne is an aging moist towelette millionaire with decidedly old-fashioned views when it comes to race, sexuality and female equality. He inherited his fortune and is not only a buffoon, but utterly devoid of any sense, common or otherwise. The laughs he gets in the show are derived from his ridiculous views and his habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong audience. As the series progressed, Chase felt the writers were going too far with this side of Pierce and following one boundary-pushing joke too far he is alleged to have said that the writers would be having him say ‘n*****’ in an episode before long.
Yes, he could have said ‘the n word’ or used another phrase to get across his meaning and dissatisfaction, especially with two black actors in the principal cast, and countless black people working behind the scenes, but to me it seems slightly harsh that he should be pilloried to the extent that he felt in necessary to leave the show when using it in the form of complaint about how offensive he feels the show is becoming. It’s a fine line, and I’m sure many of you will feel Chase crossed it. Me – I’m not so sure.
All of this means that the show has lost it’s funniest performer and, almost certainly, any future it had. Whilst it’s not the funniest thing on TV, ‘Community’ is head and shoulders above much that we are asked to laugh at on our screens and it’s small but loyal following will miss it – and Chase – if it doesn’t return for a fifth series.
Film fanatics and friends Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. So far the films have received scores ranging from 10s to 3s, with both men’s choices hitting the highs and the lows. As we head towards the top of the lists, Fred and Yasser will both be hoping their favourites don’t get slated.
It’s time for a comedy and Fred is putting his favourite movies stars under Yasser’s microscope. Paired in 1927 by Leo McCarey, they are still the greatest comedy duo of all-time, but that will count for little if the big man didn’t like them.
You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.
To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.
Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.
Fred: It’s a big week for me, as my choice is the Laurel & Hardy comedy ‘Way Out West‘ – a comedy western made in the period between L&H’s last short film and their acrimonious split from producer Hal Roach. You haven’t shown much love for westerns so far. Does the comedy help?
Yasser: You’ve had a couple of westerns on your list so far, neither of which I’d watch again, so a film with the title ‘Way Out West’ should be one I’m dreading
YA: But I’m gonna make you happy straight away. After ‘Back to the Future‘, this shit right here is the best thing on your list so far
FS: Get in!
FS: When we reviewed ‘City Lights‘ you told me that you had seen a bit of L&H as a child. Was this the best you’d seen?
YA: You caught a lucky break here. See, a lot of my choices are based on my childhood experiences. I was in a bad mood the day I watched this, but L&H had me grinning from ear-to-ear
FS: (laughs) Well I’m glad they cheered you up! What else are they for if not to do that?
YA: Everyone who knows you knows you love L&H. What do they do for you?
FS: Gosh! What a difficult question to answer. They are the reason I love films. When I was young they used to play L&H’s short films after the kids programmes during the summer holidays and me and my brother David used to watch them together. We loved them, and we both still love them. Very soon after that I started to tape them to keep so I could watch them over and over. When I was a bit older I started to buy their films on VHS and I read any book I could find on them. I couldn’t get enough of them. They are still my favourite stars after all these years. I think that no other comedian on film or TV can hold a candle to them. I’m struggling to put my love into words
YA: Much like how I struggled when you asked me about Batman
FS: Anything you feel about Batman, I feel ten times over about L&H
YA: Whoa! Let’s not over-exaggerate
FS: If we’d included short films, you’d have been watching L&H every week
YA: Shall we talk about the film?
FS: (laughs) Okay. The plot concerns Stan and Ollie’s attempts to deliver the deed of a goldmine to the daughter of its late owner. Things, as is the way in L&H’s world, do not go smoothly. Did you think it was a good plot?
FS: A perfect description. Delivering a piano, arresting a burglar, escorting a drunk man home, doing a jigsaw – all of these things become Herculean labours when L&H are involved. What scenes stood out for you?
YA: The camp-fire scene. Stan eating Ollie’s hat is one of the best moments in the film
FS: I agree. I love that scene
FS: Stan the innocent and Ollie, in charge, but actually dumber than Stan. That scene includes some of what Stan Laurel termed ‘White Magic’ – Stan’s ability to do the seemingly impossible like eating a hat, lighting his thumb like a cigarette lighter, and smoking his pipe even though the bowl and stem are not attached to one another – did you enjoy those little touches?
YA: They put me in a state of awe
FS: The chase around the room and the tickling scene?
YA: Stan getting tickled on the bed is the funniest shit in the whole film
YA: We also get to see is Stan saying something really funny without realising it, like when he says to Lola “Now you’ve got the deed, I bet you’ll be a swell gold digger“
FS: He is stupid, but not in a dickheadish, Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler way
YA: I like Ferrell in a few movies, but I lost a lot of respect for Sandler after watching ‘Jack and Jill‘
YA: Stan, easy. It’s because of Stan that they are in those implausible situations. It’s because of his actions that Hardy loses his shit, and after he does, it’s Stan that makes you laugh harder trying to make up for it
FS: Stan Laurel was the genius behind all the gags. He’s the man whose invention and comic ability made L&H what they were as he virtually wrote and directed all of their films. However, on-screen, I love Ollie the most
YA: Tell me why, my friend?
FS: I think he is just amazing. It’s the tiny little, dainty gestures that get me every time
YA: They are the perfect combination – the PB&J of comedy duos
YA: Peanut butter and jam
FS: I hate peanut butter, but I’m guessing you mean this as a good thing
YA: Hey man! Those sammiches are amazing when you need something quick to munch on
FS: They ARE virtually inseparable, but there is something about Ollie I just adore. That southern gentleman style. A big ball of pomposity just waiting to be punctured
FS: That scene is a lovely bit of silent comedy in a sound film. There is no essential dialogue for the first five minutes that L&H are on-screen
YA: And the bit where they try to break into the saloon is also a highlight
FS: That is the bit I remember laughing hardest at as a child. God! This should have been number one on my list
FS: Well, just because L&H are my favourite stars doesn’t mean they make the best all-round movies. Also, their short films tend to be higher quality than the feature films, though there were four L&H features that could have easily made my list. The only mistake I’ve really made is that this should be the highest comedy on my list and it is not
YA: I liked Finlayson and Lynn. Their devious characters were well-played
FS: Finalyson supported L&H in numerous films. I think he’s hilarious. A right bastard, but such a klutz too
YA: I think Lynn’s Lola was a better character, though
FS: She is very good. So underhand. What did you think of the heroine, Mary Roberts (Rosina Lawrence)
YA: I like her name. ‘Mary Roberts’ sounds like she’d be a nice lady, doesn’t she?
FS: (laughs) Yeah. She hasn’t much screen time, but she’s a perfectly sweet heroine. Honourable mention must go to Stanley Fields as the sheriff. He has two very funny scenes opposite L&H
YA: Yeah – agreed. For the short time he had on-screen he had that presence, that authority
YA: There was one thing
FS: Go on…
YA: It was only 65 minutes long
FS: Oh good! Yes – that is the worst thing. I thought you were going to say the songs
YA: Nope. They put me in a good mood and they felt like part of the plot
YA: I think I’ll score it now
FS: Okay. Go for it
YA: There are a few iconic characters in cinema history, be it Brando yelling “Stella” or making people offers they can’t refuse, Monroe in her white dress, Solo shooting first, Dorothy telling Toto they are not in Kansas anymore, or that funny little tramp with the Hitler moustache. Nigh on everyone knows these characters and that can also be said of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. They are pure icons of the silver screen. Everything you see in ‘Way Out West’ encompasses what L&H are about. It’s a simple formula, really. They set out to do something, Stan fucks up, and both of them spend the rest of the picture trying to put things right. The thing about simple things is they work, and they rarely work better than this
YA: From start to finish I was laughing, chuckling, and smiling from ear-to-ear. The pair are one-and-the-same when they are together, and they execute both physical and verbal comedy beautifully with moments that really charm you and reach out to your inner-child. The film has a good pace, but only has a short running time. But what you get is pure genius. It’s surprising this is only number seven on your list because it should be reaching for the top spot. Pure brilliance without a fault. I give it 10/10 which should stop Fred from twirling his tie, making frustrated humming noises and saying “that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into”
FS: (laughs) No arguments here! I’m absolutely delighted, though it is “another NICE mess“. Everyone gets that wrong, though
YA: (laughs) You better not be close to tears
FS: I just thrilled that my three old comedies got ‘8’, ‘9’ and ’10’. Amazing
Next week: Two great ensemble casts in Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ and Otto Preminger’s ‘Anatomy of a Murder’