TV review: US show smashes Britcoms out of the water

Starring the "brilliantly funny" Amy Poehler: Parks And Recreation. Photograph: BBC
Starring the "brilliantly funny" Amy Poehler: Parks And Recreation. Photograph: BBC
Starring the “brilliantly funny” Amy Poehler: Parks And Recreation. Photograph: BBC

lucy-bellerby-byline-photo-bwA never-ending York winter and a freeze on decent British TV forces Lucy Bellerby to flee across the pond


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Trying to find something to review this week has been like attempting to dredge a shopping trolley from the bottom of a murky, silt filled river. Rats paddled leisurely by as skinny, balding birds get their feet stuck in muddy carrier bags.

Ninety per cent of all programmes on the BBC at the moment seem to be repeats; or at least the same boring format churned out every week. To be honest, I feel like going back to bed until Game Of Thrones returns with series three, so that I can bellow “Winter is coming!” and pretend to chop off Jeremy Kyle’s head. Our winter of discontent is not coming; it has been here for bloody ages.

Thank goodness then, for the wonderful Parks And Recreation (BBC4). It’s an American sitcom that has been around for a while now, but BBC4 have acquired it and started showing the first series a couple of weeks ago. It follows a local government department, headed up by Leslie Knope, played by Saturday Night Live’s brilliantly funny Amy Poehler.

After a local man falls into a pit and breaks both his legs, Leslie launches a campaign to get the pit filled in and a park built over the top. However, there has never been a woman less suited to the job than Leslie, who is a tragi-comedic bundle of neuroses.

She suffers with an almost constant bout of verbal diarrhoea, putting her foot in it with the press and angering the locals. “My mother is my hero. She’s as respected as mother Theresa, as powerful as Stalin, and as beautiful as Margaret Thatcher!’ she beams, completely, blissfully unaware.

The show also features a sterling supporting cast, including Aziz Ansari, who is known for his stand-up comedy in the US. Paul Schneider plays her colleague Mark, with whom Leslie has had a “romantic affair” (they slept together, once, in 2009).

She tells people that they still share a special connection, but although he views her with complete indifference, she continues to stare her special mad woman stare at him through their glass partition. It’s not often that an American show smashes British comedy out of the water, but this was the funniest thing on TV all week.

Jane is Sarah Palin on steroids in The New Normal. Photograph: Channel 4
Jane is Sarah Palin on steroids in The New Normal. Photograph: Channel 4

I’m staying out on the west cost of America, and who can blame me. In York it has been cold for a year and a half; I can’t remember what sunshine feels like and if I have kids I will have to teach them that the sky is grey and not blue. And so to The New Normal (Channel 4), which is another US comedy, albeit one that I wasn’t sure about at first. Perhaps because it is always on after 2 Broke Girls, and so seemed tainted with their irritating and formulaic brush.

The premise is thus: a gay couple hires a woman named Goldie to be a surrogate for them, and Goldie and her existing daughter Shania move in with them to form a new family. It’s all quite sweet and light-hearted, but for Goldie’s outstandingly evil mother.

Jane is essentially Sarah Palin in 20 years, on steroids. She is all the worst parts of conservative America in one bleached and Botoxed package, rejoicing in Republicans, guns, and hatred of pretty much everyone.

This week’s episode revolves around Thanksgiving, and Shania has to hide her rescued turkeys (one of which is named Edie Gizzard – best turkey name ever?) from Jane as she has “seen her take down an emu with an axe”. At dinner, Jane informs her granddaughter that “Vegetables are for the poor. Except potatoes, they are cushions for gravy, and meat is the sign of success.”

It’s pretty offensive at times, but is done in such a way that it’s poking fun at the perpetrators and not the victims. Once you get over that hump, it’s funny and rude, and just the ticket for a dull Thursday. Maybe I’ll move back to British TV next week. But unless we can come up with something better than Mock The Week repeats and driving rain, then I’m staying put.