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Shifting the Center of Gravity Towards England – Why “Party Animals” and “Whites” Will Be Your New Favo(u)rite Shows

May 11, 2012

One of the “secret” attributes of Hulu is the availability of British television programming. A few other writers have elaborated upon this relatively-unknown world of highly-entertaining half-hour sitcoms and hour-long dramas. I’ve already trumpeted the meaningless logos and ironic veneration of tyrants that is Peep Show, which is still available (at least the first 6 series) as of today. Thanks to the arcana of international copyright law, UK shows are not bound by the time/episode availability limits imposed upon US-based programming. Which means that both seasons of Spaced are there, just waiting for you to finally put a halt on your pointless browsing of The Guardian’s Politics page (that map of France’s presidential election, province by province, will not change, no matter how many times you hit F8). While I found Simon Pegg’s antics to be quite humourous, there are two shows that have risen above the Black Books, Misfits and Teachers of the world.

Party Animals

Yes, it helps to have an interest in the goings-on of Parliament, or of the political game, to truly appreciate this show. However, the greater themes explored throughout the far-too-brief 8-episode series, such as the fragility of the bonds between best friends, brothers, or wannabe significant others, are just as significant to the show as whether Danny Foster’s idiocy cost Joanne Porter her youth-advocacy bill, or if his brother Scott can save embattled Labour candidate Sullivan from a young Tory in a safe Labour district. As you would correctly surmise, I was all-in after the opening scene, when ambitious Tory MP James Northcoate and Porter, a rising star in her Labour caucus (do they use that term in the UK?), are debating the aforementioned youth bill. What got me, however, was that the emphasis fell upon Danny, Porter’s researcher, as he answered questions to his fellow staffers, which were then repeated by her, a la Albert Brooks on Broadcast News. A show about political staffers – right as I’m managing a campaign! One might assume that such a setting for a hour-long drama/comedy might occasionally get too dry, so creators Robert Jones & Ben Richards and director Julian Holmes placed several scenes in pubs and other watering holes. (Holmes worked on Law & Order: UK, which largely revolved around Eddie Sutton’s tempestuous tenure as Kentucky’s basketball coach). We get a The Office-esque look at the lives of five grinders within Westminster, from staff members to lobbyists to up-and-coming candidates, and their highly-suspect decision-making processes. One must wonder if the UK has only 30 actors, as the “Alison Brie effect” is the norm there: fans of Inspector Spacetime’s British counterpart, Dr. Who, will recognize Matt Smith as Danny; his brother Scott (Andrew Buchan) was prominent in Nowhere Boy; Raquel Cassidy (Jo) is one of the leads on Teachers; Andrea Riseborough (Kyrstie), who has risen to the exhalted fame-level of “Simon Mayo Guest”, starred in W.E.; and Patrick Baladi (James), whose dancing skills inspired one of the iconic, most David Brentian scenes on The Office. If you felt The West Wing needed less walk-and-talks and more not walking (because of the overindulgence the night previous) and not talking (due to events resulting from said overindulgence), click here, and tell everyone to leave you alone for about 7 hours. Or better yet, don’t watch just yet – get your politically-minded friends to join you for a weekly viewing, where you can hold post-episode discussions over a fine English ale.

Whites

No, this is not the name of a show on Fox News (when something is ubiquitous, there’s no need for it to be named, just as my friend Crowe Montgomery’s barber from Lucasville, Ohio was confused by the term “mullet”). Whites chronicles the lives of the eccentric staff within the high-end restaurant located at a Thornbury Castle-style vacation house. Roland White (Alan Davies), the namesake of the show, is the laid-back chef; with Saxondale’s Darren Boyd (“…could ye turn it down…just a smidge…”) as Bib, his sous chef; and their misadventures dealing with the antics of young whipper-snapper Skoose. When Kiki (Isy Suttie, whom you remember as Dobby from Peep Show – fear not, Super Hans appears as well, in addition to co-writing every episode) informs White that a picky customer demands an “eggless omelet”, she confusingly responds to his news that such items do not exist by inquiring, “Do we not have any?” The ensemble cast hilariously lampoons (while lovingly praising) the celebrity chef culture and the food-obsessed. Sadly, like Party Animals, David Kerr, Oliver Lansley and King’s Whites was gone long before we were full. In Whites’ case, we were served six entertaining episodes, with no discussion of a second series. We have not seen the last of Kerr, however, as he directs Fresh Meat, which was created by Peep Show’s Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, and is currently airing on the Ol’ Isle.

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