In praise of Karen

There was more than a tinge of sadness this evening as I caught up on last week’s episode of Outnumbered. As the final episode of series 5, it’s almost certainly the last ever episode and all in all [no spoilers] I think it rounded off the series well. The fabulously awful Aunty Angela returned; Grandad was involved (although not seen); past incidents were referred to; and ultimately, things seemed to be working out ok in the Brockman household.

I wasn’t just mourning the end of a TV series that I’ve always enjoyed (despite those who criticised it for being the epitome of middle class England – I loved it for the fabulous children and their use of improvisation), I was mourning the growing up of children I’ve known for seven years – when the youngest was just 6. Unsurprisingly, given that these are real children, not Simpsons characters, they had to grow up.

OutnumberedOutnumbered, 2014

When this last series began last month (which is also when I began writing this post, albeit on a slightly different angle) there was much consternation amongst fans regarding just how much this youngest child – Karen – had aged. Quite why we were all surprised is a mystery. It had been nearly 2 years since the last series, and was now at secondary school. She wasn’t going to stay 6 forever…

Outnumbered 2007Outnumbered, 2007

Everyone in my family has had a soft spot for Karen. Her ability to say just the wrong thing at exactly the right time was in evidence right from the off. When the last episode ended this evening, I went straight back to episode 1 of series 1. [Thank you iTunes freebie several years ago, which slightly makes up for the fact that I have no idea where my DVD of series 1 currently is.] In it, Karen regales her bemused father with words she learned the night before, when over-hearing her parents argue. It’s fabulously real and utterly hilarious. Throughout the early series, all the best moments were Karen’s. Two of the best also happen to involve the church…

First up, series 2 episode 2, ‘The Dead Mouse’. Hands-down the best example of how liturgy meeting a modern context, and an excellent use of a cheese sandwich. Karen conducts a mouse’s funeral:

“Dust to dust. For richer and for poorer. In sickness and in health. May the force be with you. Because you’re worth it. Amen and out.” Genius.

Secondly, why you should be careful in getting involved in theological discussions with children. This is more a Ben moment, but Karen’s interjections are fabulous:

But do you know why my family particularly liked Karen? Because in many ways she embodied some of the things that me or my sister did while growing up. The guilt-tripping of a mother after the mouse death? Totally my sister. The grilling of a vicar? Me. My Dad even brought it up in the letter he sent me on the eve of my selection conference for ordination! His tip was to treat everyone with respect, even idiots – a reference to ongoing list of idiots that Karen kept in early series, which was reminiscent of something I had done at the same age. (I think I may have had an idiots’ notebook…)

However, series 5 Karen was different. I did not have as much in common with a 12 year old Karen. A Karen who intimidated her swimming competitors in an effort to win, because she was that competitive. [Well, I’m competitive, but not psychologically intimidatingly so…] She didn’t use punctuation correctly. [As if I would stoop to that level!] She was struggling with school. She was convinced her lost hamster was alive and living in their home’s crevices. Life was not going brilliantly for Karen.

It wasn’t until the penultimate episode when a chink of light appeared in this darker world. Karen had a brief return to classic form, having written a detailed letter of improvements her school could make, and sent it to the school governors. The Headmistress (played fabulously by Rebecca Front) wasn’t impressed and called her in to talk, giving her a talking to that seemed to do what nothing in the preceding 7 years had done – repressed the irrepressible.

Maybe, just maybe, Karen will turn out to be as well adjusted as those who preceded her. She too could be an eccentric, but well loved, secondary school drama teacher or a vicar-to-be ready to answer a new generation’s precocious questions.

Here’s to all the Karens of the world – may they not tolerate fools gladly for as long as they live!

Friday Fun with awesome people

Hallelujah for Friday Fun inspiration that arrives on a Monday – I know it’s going to be a good(ish) week when that happens. Thank you G2 at the Guardian for introducing me to: Awesome People Hanging Out Together.

The concept is a simple one and thus brilliant. It gathers together photos of celebrities hanging out with other celebrities, which may sound like an edition of Hello! or Now magazine, but is wonderful because of the bizarre or historic gatherings it depicts. Like Helen Keller meeting Charlie Chaplin, Snoop Dogg baking with Martha Stewart, and Salvador Dali with Walt Disney (that meeting could explain an awful lot…). Two of my favourites are below.

The first I love because it’s historic and truly a gathering of awesome people – Einstein, Marie Curie & Schrodinger to name but a few:

The second one grabbed me because it’s the kind of scenario that occurs during the best nights with the best friends – gathering around a piano to sing show songs. The fact that this particular gathering includes Jeff Goldblum on keys and Jane Lynch (aka Sue Sylvester, star of this week’s waterfall of tears inducing Glee episode) make it all the more surreal and fabulous. Plus, I think you’ll agree that this looks like a normal photo – the kind that would turn up on Facebook – and which Jane Lynch would most probably de-tag:
You know what else is awesome? The BBC, specifically their free tickets to show recordings. I’ve benefited from this a few times in the past – Just a Minute, Wittertainment (in fact, had it not been for a wedding I’d have made it to another of those 2 weeks ago), Have I Got News for You and then last night at The Now Show. Listening to them is fun, sure, but seeing it in the flesh is something else. 
In the case of The Now Show the visual highlight is undoubtedly Hugh Dennis’ mimes during the warm-up (well, that and discovering just how short little Jon Holmes is…). Fortunately, a few of them exist on YouTube, so I thought I’d share.
The classic and most viewed mime is his Veloceraptor – as seen on Mock the Week (ever wondered what a mime of a lassoed Raptor might look like?) and in this clip from Outnumbered

(I adore that clip for a whole host of reasons – firstly, it’s that perfect childhood moment of being allowed to stay up late; secondly, the kids’ reactions are totally natural; and thirdly, it’s very early Outnumbered when they were all very young. To the person who still has my copy of series 1, this is why you need to watch the rest of it!)

My favourite moment was Hugh pretending to be on the rings – you know, as in gymnastics – but sadly I couldn’t find a video of that. But I did find him ski jumping, which was also highly amusing – particularly the dismount:

See what you miss on the radio? But fear not, tonight’s episode (6.30pm, podcast available) is still hilarious. In the immediate aftermath of the recording neither of us could remember what had us nearly falling off our chairs with laughter, but on the way home I dimly recalled a gag about Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca (if that’s not niche Radio 4 humour, I don’t know what is!) and then vividly remembered a West Country Darth Vadar…superb.

Hope you have an awesome Friday!

Parallel universes

In TV-land, you have to suspend disbelief an awful lot if you’re to truly buy into what you’re watching. This came into my mind this evening while watching the ever-wonderful Glee.

Avoiding possible spoilers, this evening’s episode included a moment when Rachel heard Shelby Corcoran – Vocal Adrenaline’s director, played by Broadway superstar Idina Menzel – singing. The thing is, earlier in the series we learned that Defying Gravity, a song made famous by Menzel as the original Elphaba in Wicked, was Rachel’s “go to shower song”. Thus, surely she (like all other Wicked devotees) would recognise Idina’s voice anywhere?

Then there’s the things you have to ignore, just so that things make sense. Two EastEnders examples spring to mind: do the Carry On films exist in a world where Barbara Windsor is the local pub’s landlady? Have the people of Walford never seen the wonder that is Gavin & Stacey because the guy who played Archie Mitchell is Gavin’s Dad? 
Or, how about the fabulous Brockman family of Outnumbered fame? They seem like just the kind of family who might have Radio 4 on in the background, particularly at lunchtime on Saturday when the Friday night comedy programme’s repeated. But how could you reconcile Hugh Dennis’ hosting of The Now Show with his other role as Pete Brockman, put-upon father of three? [Incidentally, I would love to see a hybrid of the two programmes in which Karen (or the girl who plays her) gets to host a political debate or simply take part as a contributor, it would be amazing!] 
Am I simply thinking way too much??

There are plenty more, but the heat and the lateness of the hour is frazzling my brain. Instead, I leave you with another Glee related snippet – a tribute to the wonder that is Brittany. Even if you’ve not watched Glee, watch this video, you need to know about a girl who thinks dolphins are gay sharks – trust me! 

Can I ask you a question about the Bible?

Today’s Friday entertainment comes thanks to my Dad and the BBC. (More thanks is probably due the BBC, Dad simply e-mailed me the link.)

I’m sure I’ve raved about Outnumbered before, it’s a gem of a sitcom – mostly thanks to its precocious cast whose roles are almost entirely improvised. My parents love it and I think this clip is now a part of my Dad’s mission to educate his students (he’s principal of a school for vicars) in how to deal with over-intelligent children who ask too many questions.
Dad says he’s well placed to teach this as he had to deal with his own Karen (the 6 year old star of the show) for many, many years. Apparently he means me. I’m trying not to take offense.
Anyway, this is a hilarious clip. The e-mail that went with it ended with the line: “If this doesn’t put people off ordination, nothing will!” Duely noted. Thanks Dad.
If you’ve ever wondered why baby Jesus didn’t simply zap Herod, here’s the answer…