Discombobulated much? Aren’t we all, these days? Being stoic in the face of near-hallucinatory reality is where we are at.
It is a time when monomaniacs and the delusional roam the earth, spouting anti-science, anti-reason gibberish and getting loads of attention. It is a time when a certain form of comedy has a particularly piquant appeal. You know the genre I’m talking about – the cringe-inducing comedy about the desperately incompetent and the desperately confused. Here are two recommendations to suit the mood.
Stath Lets Flats (one season of six episodes, streams CBC Gem) is a little masterpiece of British weirdness. There hasn’t been a comedy as strange as this since the original British version of The Office. And while it owes a debt to that classic, it is entirely its own universe.
A chap named Stath (Jamie Demetriou from Fleabag) is a needy, embarrassingly confused young man who works for his dad’s firm, renting apartments in London. Stath is hopeless at the job, spouting gibberish to customers and making all manner of wild claims for the properties he’s assigned to rent. A good deal of the deeply neurotic comedy arises from customers standing in embarrassed silence while he soldiers on, talking nonsense.
He’s not alone. Stath’s sister, Sophie (Natasia Demetriou, real sister to the star and creator), is equally delusional and convinced she’s on her way to being a successful singer/dancer. What unfolds is a series of squirm-inducing encounters with others. There is a plainness to it all which is admirable. These are people who are lovable in a strange way. Stath is so intensely well-meaning while being awful at his job that you get used to his obnoxious behaviour and tolerate it while seeing the humour in the contrast between him and his colleagues who are, really, just a shade shy of his weirdness. In the old-fashioned British style, the series makes a point of being set in a very unglamorous world.
The appeal is the absurdity of it all. No matter how hopeless his efforts to get customers interested, Stath will just repeatedly ask, “Do you want to take it?” Sophie, meanwhile, is the kind of person who gets lost two blocks from the office but is absolutely certain she’s going to break into show business. We live in absurd times and this odd little show is an ideal companion to spend time with.
Jennifer Falls (one season of 10 episodes, streams Amazon Prime Video) is a different kettle of awkwardness. It was made in 2014 for TV Land, but never made it to Canada. For conventional U.S. television, it feels almost experimental in tone and style.
Jaime Pressly plays Jennifer Doyle, a woman with many anger issues she doesn’t want to acknowledge. But she’s obliged to shift gears when he’s fired from her top job at some Fortune 500 company. (The firing scene in the first episode is very nicely done, with Jeffrey Tambor playing the boss who has to tell her she’s fired.) Soon, she’s broke and must, along with her teen daughter, move back into her mom’s house. Mom is played by Jessica Walter, who is just ace at doing the passive-aggressive monster.
What happens is fairly predictable. Jennifer goes to work at a sports bar owned by her brother (played by Ethan Suplee, who also starred with Pressly in My Name Is Earl) and, one by one, all the people Jennifer insulted when she was rich and obnoxious, turn up. It is comeuppance after comeuppance.
But what gives Jennifer Falls an edge is the occasional descent into unexpected absurdity. Jennifer’s mom is a psychologist who hires her patients to work in the office. Mom also wants to offer therapy to Jennifer and there’s an acid, rather bonkers quality to the therapist who really wants to analyze her own daughter. Not that she will do it for free. As mom says, it will be in return for, “maybe a little yard work, just some light weeding.”
There is more going on in both these series than meets the eye. Stath Lets Flats might seem nonsensical in its bizarre humour but it’s made clear that Stath and his family are Greek-Cypriots trying to run a business in a Brexit-obsessed Britain where some people will disdain them as foreigners. Jennifer Falls is a less intensely distorted form of comedy, and even has some feel-good moments, but there’s a subtle subtext – Jennifer was fired from her job for being the shouty, competitive executive that men are encouraged to be.
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