I have been an avid Anglophile for the span of my life that I can remember. It is a pretty big span because I have not at any point received the sort of brain altering injury that makes one's memory start the day before; although I concede that the romcom of my life would be far more entertaining if that were the case or if I ever bothered dating/sexing anyone.
My mother developed her Anglophilia growing up in the 1960s and allowed the British Invasion to plant a flag or two on her developing psyche. For instance, she and a friend were crazy about the movie Oliver! and developed mad crushes on Jack Wild, the actor that played the Artful Dodger and Jimmy on H.R. Pufnstuf. So keen was their ardor that they sought out the phone number of the studio where he worked as well as his parents' home and continuously called him. Thankfully, stalking laws were not in place and they were seen more as nuisances that predators.
My father, although now quite the BBC fanman, was higher minded than my mom. But, he did encourage me to read classic literature and I was done with Great Expectations by seventh grade and working through Thomas Hardy and the Brontes in high school. Thanks to my dad's love of PBS, I discovered Lord Peter Wimsey in middle school and have read those books until the spines have broken and replacements have been called in.
I still have my fist Sherlock Holmes book, bought at Longs Drugs when I was in fourth grade. When I say I like my pop culture British, I have the Spice Girls books/CDs/DVDs to prove it. Therefore, when I decided to write about UK tele, I had no idea where to start.
I vacillated between time periods, subject matter, writers, actors, genre and other concerns. Does one begin with Graham Linehan? Is Monty Python a valid starting point? What about Armstrong and Miller? Do I have to even mention Benny Hill? *The Answer: NO*
Ultimately, I decided that my love of David Mitchell (not the guy who wrote Cloud Atlas) was deep enough and his career had enough breadth that I could connect him to most contemporary British TV and even take him all the way to its advent (Well, maybe not.The first British television broadcast was made by Baird Television's electromechanical system over the BBC radio transmitter in September 1929.) in less degrees than it takes to connect Kevin Bacon to my high school theater class teaching assistant. (Actually, that's me being tricky. My teaching assistant is on a popular USA show and had reoccurring roles on Felicity and Part of Five and Popular.) Nonetheless, this marks the inaugural write-up of 5 (Yep, 5. But, I bet I could do it in less that 3 every time.) Degrees of David Mitchell. As he is the lynchpin of the endeavor, let me rhapsodize about David Mitchell.
Name: David Mitchell
Genre: He is known for his contributions to televised comedy, in the form of sitcoms, sketch comedy, and panel shows. However, he also is involved in radio shows and quizzes. Additionally, he writes and stars in a web series: David Mitchell's Soapbox, something I use in my classes a lot. As a writer, he is a regular contributor to The Guardian, has authored a memoir and is contracted to write a novel, and has contributed to a number of well-known television shows. He has also had roles in film and done a tremendous amount of voice over work. Surely, you must be able to see how he can so easily be connected to others.
Degrees divorced from David Mitchell: 0
Where you might know him from: For readers from the UK, I imagine you know him because he is ubiquitous. As the above list of credits indicates, he is prolific. I fancy there was a period of time where the PC/Mac adverts for Apple made Mitchell and comedy partner Robert Webb both unavoidable and the recipients of a lot of criticism. Said Mitchell, at the time "I don't see what is morally inconsistent with a comedian doing an advert. It's all right to sell computers, isn't it? Unless you think that capitalism is evil – which I don't. It's not like we're helping to flog a baby-killing machine."
But, it is the panel shows that doubtlessly make him the most unavoidable. A writer for The Independent described him thusly: "if not king, then certainly prince regent of the panel games." While another more sharply makes the same point: "Cult kudos was never going to be enough for this self-consciously preppy actor and comedian best known for Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look." And although I argue against most of what the latter quote indicates, Mitchell's presence on the panel circuit is a fact.
It is so much of an accepted reality that Mitchell came to the defense of the panel show as it faced harsh criticism for supplanting the sketch comedy show on UK television."There was a quote from Catherine Zeta-Jones about playing golf with her husband Michael Douglas. We essentially all started to imagine the scene of the two of them playing golf and that was very enjoyable and turned into a really fun bit of TV," noted Mitchell, in reference to the latest panel show he hosts, Was It Something I Said?, "It is moments like that which, for me, justify the existence of panel shows because no-one would ever have written those words. It purely came out of that combination of people which proves panel shows can produce funny TV in a way you could never write into a sitcom or a sketch show and thereby justifies its place on screen. I think it is a great form of entertainment and we shouldn't lose sight of that."
It is likely That Mitchell and Webb Look and Peep Show that will trigger an American viewer to recognize Mitchell, as both are available on Instant Netflix (as is the film Magicians, in which both star) and have become cult favorites. Additionally, he and regular partner Robert Webb voiced a robotic duo in the Doctor Who episode "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship."
On Peep Show, Mitchell plays Mark Corrigan, a straight laced man who generally enjoys rules and order, but is so repressed that he often overcompensates for nervouseness/shyness with hypomania.
That Mitchell and Webb Look is British sketch comedy done well.The sketches deftly deal with history and literature as adeptly as they tackle pop culture and gender roles. Although the comedy isn't the most intellectually challenging, it is consistently funny and the pair work well at being both witty and silly.
Why he is worth keeping an eye on: David Mitchell's persona is the quintessential middleclass every man. Although he attended a semi-posh boarding school as a young person, it wasn't a top tier one and that anecdote sums up his role in most panel shows. Mitchell will never be truly posh and would be accused of putting on airs if he were to try. But, he is equally incapable of being working class. That class awkwardness becomes a whole body awkwardness that he acknowledges and uses to poke fun at himself. But, it doesn't detract from his being a clever man with quick improvisational wit and a breadth of knowledge. Hmm … smart and awkward? What is there for an internet audience not to relate to?
But, one of the most satisfying aspects of his panel persona is his tendency to launch into passionate rant.
It does not hurt that I find him super sexy.
Must Watches: (I want to say "EVERYTHING"): Peep Show, David Mitchell's Soapbox, That Mitchell and Webb Look, Would I Lie to You?, any Big, Fat Quiz he appears on, Jam and Jerusalem (Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, and Sally Phillips are all in it too), How TV Ruined Your Life (the one episode he is in), QI (the 21 episodes he is in), 10 O'clock Live, Who Do You Think You Are? (the episode about his family), Bruiser, The Ambassadors
Could Skips: Was It Something I Said? (a panel show with Mitchell as host and Richard Ayoade and Mickey Flanigan as team captains) has moments of hilarity, but it hasn't found its footing yet. ShakespeaRe-Told should have been awesome and it just was not. He hosted The Bubble and it was overly complicated and cancelled.
Did you know?
Dr. Helen Pilcher, a molecular neurobiologist and also a stand-up comedian, drafted an equation for determining a successful British comedy.
quality = (rd+v)f÷a+s
"The scientists found that the comedic value of a sitcom was determined by multiplying the recognisable qualities of the main character (r) by their delusions of grandeur (d).
This is added to the verbal wit of the script (v) and the total is multiplied by the amount someone falls over (f).
The total is divided by the success of any scheme during the show (a) and the difference in social status between the highest and lowest ranking characters is then added (s)." (Telegraph)