When it comes to British comedies, I say the dodgier the better. To give you an example of what I'm talking about, leave us turn back the clock several decades when my UK laff meter refused to function on all stuff funny unless it had the words "Carry On" or "Doctor" in the title.
I've matured since then – but more along the lines of "past due" on a milk carton. Keep shocking me, and I'll keep laughing – that's my motto. Not stoopid poopie-fart Hangover crap, but forays into the lives of those perilously defying the rim of the lunatic fringe; in other words, something and/or someone I can identify with. Understand that when my wife calls me a crazy fool, I consider it a badge of honor. My only question is whether it's crazy with a "c" or a "k." My goal is achieve the latter status.
You can therefore well appreciate my eternal delight when I came across HONEST, a 2008 Britcom mini-series, now on DVD from Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment. As soon as I saw the package disclaimer, "Contains coarse language, nudity, sexual situations, and drug use," I was hands-on over it like Ken Cuccinelli and a vaginal probe. "Ah, finally," I sighed, "a comedy with substance."
HONEST is the demented concoction of writers Jack Williams, James Griffin, and Harry Williams (from a concept by Griffin and Rachel Lang, based upon their earlier New Zealand series Outrageous Fortune). It revolves around a mid-upscale area of suburban England and its notorious residents, The Carter Family. The Carters are petty career criminals, highly held in low esteem. As the six episodes (sandwiched on two platters) unfurl at a furious pace, we learn all about them and their neighbors. And it's a sociology course well worth attending.
As they approach middle age, Mack and Lindsay (Danny Webb and Amanda Redman) reflect upon their infamous past, and attempt the unthinkable: to go straight. Not so easy a task when one doesn't know where to begin. Almost within nanoseconds, Danny's last caper lands him back in the clink on a four-year stretch (where the only relief from boredom encompasses the in-house Neo-Nazis vs. The Rapists football matches). This leaves the inexperienced but nevertheless mighty matriarch Lindsay to rule their unruly brood ("Don't get pregnant!" are Danny’s touching parting words to his spouse. "Don't drop the soap" are hers). In regards to turning over a new leaf, Ms. Carter is adamant. She even goes so far as to look for a legit job. But first she has to lay the law down (so to speak) to her progeny. Ain't easy. Take her two grown daughters, Lianna (Eleanor Wyld) and Kacey (Laura Haddock). Kacey is a super-gorgeous white-bread blonde whose ambition is to look like her idol – rather difficult, since she’s Naomi Campbell. Kacey's ultimate goal is to become a celebrity and a skank, and, eventually, a celebrity-skank. Considering the alternative ("a big fat spotty chip-shop girl" at the In Cod We Trust fast-food eatery), it's a vocation well worth pursuing. To this end, she busts up the marriage (leaking dangerous liaison pix to the tabloids of their coupling antics) of a local TV lounge lizard (with the helpful aid of the schmuck's wife). Kacey's candle power is such that soon she's up for a turn on her dream gig – a Dancing with the Whores reality show.
Sis Lianna is more complex. Smart 'n' savvy, Lianna has been making a lucrative living bootlegging DVDs out of the video store where she's employed. Her big swag, however, comes from the decade-long blackmailing of her high-school principal (Georgia Mackenzie), whom she caught having sex with her then-teenaged brother Taylor (although it seems a moot point, as they're still an item – and now legal). Taylor is actually a brilliant shady lawyer, who slimed his way into a prestigious firm, and is currently looking to extricate himself from his cougar GF. Meanwhile Taylor's identical twin Vin (Matthew McNulty, terrific in a dual role) – a total moron (he and his similarly dim compadre Reza refer to themselves as The 3 Musketeers) – is in debt to the local Asian millionaire mob-tied businessman, Hong (a hysterical Burt Kwouk, best-known as the much-maligned Kato in the Pink Panther flicks). Hong's smokin' hot daughter, Vicky (Maye Choo), a genuinely evil modern dragon lady, revels in taunting the idiot child with her inappropriate gyrating. Vicky’s final merging with the jackass is all for naught, as she's actually doing Taylor, who fortuitously happened to get conned into taking his subnormal sib's place. Ordinarily this might upset Taylor’s constantly horny frère were it not for the fact that he's just scored Hong’s fabulously beauteous trophy wife (Jodie Mcmullen), managing the Vin/win double-whammy of getting the babe in the pudding club.
Things aren't that much better at home either, as Lindsay must also contend with Norman, the Carter's granddad ex-con (Michael Byrne), whose occasional (possibly faked) lapses into early Alzheimer's provide Lianna and Kacey with the giggly op to paint his toenails pink. Granddad has a secret or two up his wrinkled sleeve – mainly a series of local robberies co-sponsored with his GILF girlfriend Margaret (Joan Blackham), who used to be Norm's partner back when she was a he.
Are you getting the gist of this? Hey, you ain't heard nothin' yet!
Lindsay's job-hunting proves another cropper. Saddled with psycho coworkers and/or bosses scamming their companies (Katy Murphy, James Benson) regularly makes Carter a scapegoat. Her eventual acceptance in an upright community women's league is revealed to have merely been a ploy to get Lindsay's expertise on fencing these respectable dowagers' stolen amassed stash (Mack and Lindsay's closest relative manages the burg's pawn outlet, stocked with items obtained in a non-kosher fashion). Even the hamlet's police wives run their own white-collar thug cartel. On the brink of insanity, Lindsay soon realizes what we all knew from the outset: that the Carters are likely the most commendable humans within their entire town's populace.
And the coppers don't help. "I have to do a job catching criminals – and most of them happen to be members of your family," soberly reminds DS Bain – the Carter's relentless Javert (Sean Pertwee). Bain's young assistant (Thomas Nelstrop) is no angel himself – obsessed with Kacey to the point of taking suspension when caught masturbating to one of her tabloid pix. While the flattered younger Carter is curious as to "which one was it?," mom, once more, is the voice of reason, arriving at a literal epiphany ("we always thought the police were wankers!").
Throughout this merry melange of mirth are such additional aberrant wrappings as bungled arson frauds, a botched 200 grand robbery (from the coffers of one Dick Tiny), a pervy music teacher, the saving grace of toilet cam and a seemingly turnaround investment in a made-to-order naughty knickers corporation.
Insult to injury, when Lindsay finds the town shunning her (they think she's turned snitch), it perfectly coincides with the increasingly lonely woman's disturbing sex fantasies of her banging Bain.
The dialog is hilarious. When discussing Mack's possible appeal with Taylor, Granddad nonchalantly replies, "In my day we just got down on our knees and felated the guards." Later when Lianna approaches Kacey with an oh-pul-leeze "Tell me you didn't make a video like Paris Hilton's!," Granddad interrupts with a reasonable "And if you did, tell me at least it was better quality." The incidental tidbits are equally engaging. When someone throws a lawn gnome through the Carter's window with the word "BITCH!" attached to it, no one in the household can figure out which female is the recipient.
Certainly, the cast is a major coup to HONEST's success. Most praiseworthy is lead Redman, who was then concurrently starring in New Tricks. Her Lindsay Carter isn't that much different from her Sandra Pullman – same attitude, just coming from an alternate wavelength. To be sure, the entire ensemble is aces (with special nods to McNulty, Haddock and Byrne), as is the direction, co-chaired by Brian Kelly and Julian Holmes.
HONEST looks pretty nice too (courtesy of d.p. Jim O'Donnell) – offering up a crisp, brightly hued 16 x 9 anamorphic transfer. The stereo-surround track features a Benny Hill-esque yakety sax theme song by composer Kevin Sargent and is in perfect tune with the cockeyed proceedings.
HONEST was the first ITV comedy assignment for Greenlit Rights Ltd., the company responsible for Foyle's War. The show’s smirky nudge to other hit tele-series adds to the fun. The investigating detective and his hormone-crazed assistant present a lip-biting parody of Midsomer Murders Barnaby and Jones (or the latter's predecessors). Producers Jill Green and Eve Gutierrez likewise admit that the Carters are, in part, their snickering hat-tip to The Sopranos. While its debut scored an impressive 24% share (six million viewers), subsequent episodes saw a drop in interest, due to competing with BBC’s phenomenal Dr. Who spin-off Torchwood. Thus, it’s likely that the first season is all we’ll see of this comedy (suffice to say, the wrap-up on episode six works fairly well, leaving just enough hanging to satiate its loyal fans’ delinquent imaginations).
Hey, all that matters is that I'm still chuckling as I'm committing these thoughts to my laptop. Look, bottom line, if you worship the edgy humor of Father Ted, Worst Week of My Life and others of this ilk (which I emphatically do), then you might want to take a shot at HONEST. And that's the truth.
HONEST. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 2.0 stereo-surround. CAT # AMP-8967. Acorn Media Group. SRP: $39.95.