Friday, August 03, 2012

Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Benidorm" from 28.4.2008

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2008

After several reviews of dramas, I thought I would write about my current favourite TV comedy. I have a great weakness for Benidorm which has made me laugh more than any programme recently. I loved its debut last year and am now enjoying its second series on ITV 1. I’m not sure how it failed to win the award for best situation comedy in last night’s TV BAFTAs. 
 
Written by Derren Litten, who co-wrote The Catherine Tate Show, Benidorm is set in the all-inclusive Solana Resort in the concrete heart of Benidorm on the Costa Blanca. For many, a fortnight at the Solana represents a vision of chav-hell rather than holiday heaven. It is this underlying pleasure at the misfortune of others that helps create a compelling comedy.

At the centre of affairs is the Garvey family from Manchester. They are dysfunctional and argumentative but rub along and basically care for each other in the manner of the Royle family.

Work-shy jack–the–lad and benefit cheat Mick (Steve Pemberton) and his feisty, mistrustful and well-meaning wife Janice (Siobhan Finneran) have been brought on holiday by Janice’s garrulous mother Madge.

Sun-worshipping pensioner Madge, gloriously played by Sheila Reid, embodies the series. She is a chain-smoking, motor-mouthed, leathery conker riding around on a hired mobility scooter - although it seems she can walk reasonably well.

Acid-tongued Madge sees the worst in everything and is not shy of expressing strong and negative opinions. She never lets her daughter and son-in-law forget that she paid for their first holiday abroad at the Solano last year.

In the current series Madge is accompanied by her elderly boyfriend Mel (Geoffrey Hutchings) who is of a similar mahogany hue and is the well-heeled owner of five sun-bed shops. He sees himself as Didsbury’s answer to Julio Inglesias and oscillates between white suits and a medallion like John Travolta and a backless thong of truly alarming brevity. Mel also enjoys constantly reminding Mick that he paid for this year's holiday.

The alluring Garvey party includes eight year old son Michael who caused panic at the end of the last series by launching a turd in the pool. The final Garveys are unmarried teenage daughter Chantelle with her baby Coolio.

The Solano boasts a motley selection of other regular guests who seem to return year after year.

Donald and Jacqueline, played by Kenny Ireland and Jane Duvitsky, have been holidaying in Benidorm for many years without venturing out of the resort or actually paying for anything. They have never had occasion to touch a Spanish peseta let alone a new-fangled Euro. Devoted couple though they may be, they are dedicated swingers and lead a hectic and exotic social life.

The programme’s resident gay couple are Gavin and Troy who married whilst on holiday at the Solano last year and watch the goings on with waspish remarks and fascinated amusement, hiding behind a black lace fan and clonish goatee respectively.

Also returning we have Kate and Martin Weedon whose marriage was nearly destroyed by their previous stay which included Kate’s very ill-advised fling with randy barman and love-rat, Matteo. Swearing they would never return to Benidorm, fate takes a predictably cruel twist by ensuring that their accommodation in nearby Altea falls through and they are transferred to the one place on earth they do not want to be – the Solano Resort.

The final pair of regulars is overweight 37 year old bachelor and Lancashire pub quiz champion, Geoff Maltby played by comic, Johnny Vegas and his devoted and slightly batty mother Noreen. Geoff prefers to be known as the Oracle and unsuccessfully tries to pass his doting mum off as his PA. Prone to depression, the Oracle enjoys arm wrestling for money and karaoke at Neptune’s Bar at the Solano.

On one level , we have a selection of stereotypes including the gobby family from Lancashire, mouthy mother-in-law, local Lothario, middle class interlopers appalled by it all and a deluded fatty with his mum. Why then is it so funny?

First of all, the situation is full of potential . The Solano Resort is irredeemably naff from the diet of burgers to the every night spent in Neptune's Bar to free trips to the bull fight actually intended to flog overpriced juicers. The guests are marvellously trapped. The frustration and resentment of Mick having his mother–in-law's charity thrust down his throat is funny as is the horrific experience of Kate forced to stay somewhere she loathes and where she made such a fool of herself with the barman. Similarly her devoted husband Martin has to deal with his wife’s infidelity and his failure in her eyes. The audience can work out what Kate really wants is a child.
Some of the characters are comic classics. Madge’s outspokenness, extreme tan, flatulence and queening about on her mobility scooter are surreal.

Similarly, Mel’s vile thong is hilarious. The scene in Neptune’s Bar where Mel strides on stage in his white suit and medallion reaches a wonderful climax when, instead of a gruff Barry White, he delivers Lonely Girl at length in a high falsetto. The effect is compounded by the cutting away to the open-mouthed shock it induces in the audience. I laughed so much it hurt.

There is also something utterly splendid about the pervy swingers. They are hilarious because for the most part they are innocents - a mundane and amiable couple. They have been coming to the Solano for decades and are incredibly parsimonious and unadventurous. In contrast to this they are completely liberated sexually and have no hang ups to match the rest of their suburban conformity. Occasionally this dichotomy is expressed in very rude terms - as in the first series when Donald’s throw-away reference to a pair of padded coat hangers.

Many of the gags in Benidorm have the same good-natured and very British vulgarity of the very best of the old Carry Ons. The chaotic turd in the pool scene which climaxed the first series was brilliant, as are those featuring the flatulence of Madge – and her grandson Coolio.

There are a good many genuinely funny sight gags such as Jacqueline beating Mick at arm wrestling. For me the best of Johnny Vegas comes in his slapstick scenes doing belly flops into the pool or in karaoke. The scene at the bull fight where Matteo fights what appears to be a labrador with paper horns was beautifully silly. On top of this Madge on her scooter or Mel in his thong are simply funny.

As the series continues, particular themes develop. Mel’s brushes with death in the pool and a near fatal juicer electrocution at the bullfight seem to echo the regular fatalities suffered by Kenny in South Park. One wonders if he will continue to dice with death. A more obvious and equally funny pastiche took place when The Oracle and Chantelle devoured their burgers with the sensual almost pornographic pleasure of a Flake advert -and a hint of the supper scene from the film of Tom Jones.

The trouble with writing about comedy is that the attempt at analysis destroys the underlying lightness and humour - and in doing one so appears at best a pseud. So I won’t even try to call Benidorm a post-modern Carry On.

It is however well-written and brilliantly performed. It combines funny situations and characters with a range of gags of all kinds with a wholesomely shocking brand of vulgarity delightfully all of its own.

There are occasional flashes of dark desperation and an arch insight that give the proceedings an edge which makes sure it never descends to the realm of Benny Hill. Unlike Madge on a stuffy coach on a hot day, Benidorm is like a breath of fresh air

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