Thursday, October 04, 2007

Green Wing

[Apologies to my British readers who already know this. Back me up in the comments.]

Of the not insignificant amount of television I was exposed to in my two years living in England, Green Wing was surely the best of the bunch. It is an hour long comedy with an ensemble cast centered around a hospital. There is is a story in the sense that things happen, but there is not really a "plot" to the episodes: each episode shows a day at the hospital and maybe the aftermath at a bar or something.

Comedy relies on surprise, and Green Wing does what Adult Swim did when it first premiered -- jokes always come out of left field. This is harder to do in live action than cartoons, where there is more range for the anarchic -- but Green Wing pulls it off. Part of the genius of the show is that underneath all the madness is a hospital drama about a new female doctor trying settle her romantic feelings for two of her colleagues. I think that plot only serves to lull us into a false sense of security at regular intervals, before ABSURD jokes like I have never seen come flying out of nowhere. Hour after hour the show continues to surprise, which is not an easy thing to do.

When something dull is going on the film speeds past it and when something interesting is going on the film slows down to catch it. The editing, on one level, is not exactly rocket surgery, but coupled with an amazing, original, and indispensable soundtrack the show taps directly into the idea that comedy requires perfect timing and rhythm to work. This principle is usually reserved for describing single jokes, but Green Wing essentially replaces story structure with a comic rhythmic structure on a much larger scale.

I could go on about the show for days -- including Dr. Alan Statham who is surely one of the great comedy creations (though his first scene is not representative of the genius of the character). But someone put the first eight and a half minutes of the first episode up you YouTube, so here it is for you to see for yourself -- much better than me trying to put examples into words.

[As a side-note I often hear people wishing they would make Region 1 DVDs of British television. Do what I do -- get a region free DVD player (not even that expensive) and then get DVDs through EBay or whatever. British TV rocks.]


James said...

Geoff, have you seen much/any of Chris Morris' stuff (The Day Today, Brass Eye etc.)? I could never get into Green Wing, because it felt like they were ineptly aping his style. Anyway, check some out if you haven't, it's much more satirical than Green Wing, but it still has an absurdist streak a mile wide.

Kenney said...

I adored the first season of Green Wing. Like you said, to humor was so out of left field that it was impossible to predict what was going to happen next.

I liked how it was almost like a sketch comedy show, with only the hospital being the common factor between the players.

Sadly, season 2 didn't grab me and so I didn't watch it.

Anonymous said...

Chris Morris's savage parodies of tv news in the UK turned out to be accurate predictons.
I like Michelle Gomez in Green Wing; she has a really eccentric quality.
Don't praise our tv product too much - the kids I was teaching the other day only watch Big Brother, X Factor and EastEnders.

Christian said...

Speaking of brilliant British comedy TV, how about Spaced?

Mikey said...

Peep Show - consistently the bleakest, funniest thing I think I have ever seen. (Apart from maybe the page in Jimmy Corrigan where the superhero jumps off a building).

I also urge everyone to watch Garth Marenghi's Dark Place on Youtube or wherehave you. My favourite from the recent Boosh/IT Crowd/Nathan Barley axis.

America may have perfected long-form serial drama but I think we've got comedy locked. Due credit to Curb of course....

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, Green Wing is one of the best British TV shows to come out in years. I was unsure if its unusual comedy style would go down well with an American audience, but I'm glad to read that it has. Love, love, love this show. Just a shame that it ended.

Geoff Klock said...

We have all of Spaced, Mighty Boosh and Peep Show here. We spent lots of money at HMV when I went to England to defend my thesis.