The ultimate weird-off: US vs UK television shows

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You Americans may have your Robot Chickens and Renegade Angels, but we’ve got time-travelling hangman-pimps and men giving birth to giant eyeballs. Which nation shall emerge victorious as we pitch US and UK TV shows new and old against each other in the ultimate weird-off?

Round one: animated sketch show with pop culture parodies

US: Robot Chicken

What’s it about?: Highly irreverent childhood-ruining pop culture mash-ups from the twisted brain of Dr. Evil’s ginger son.

Random quote, out of context: ‘I’m Bill Clinton! I’m gonna push over this cow!’

UK: The Adam and Joe Show

What’s it about?: Created by, written by and starring Joe Cornish of directing Attack The Block fame and Adam Buxton of ‘being absolutely awesome and hilarious all of the time’ fame, this turn-of-the-millenium sketch show features dozens of film and TV parodies (including Snatch, American Beauty and Se7en) acted out by cute and cuddly toys.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Well, I once snogged my brother, and I’m a Princess Leiasbian.’

Winner: Robot Chicken – Adam and Joe’s parodies are too accurate to be truly strange.

Round two: retro gothic

US: The Heart She Holler

What’s it about?: It’s basically William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying with incest jokes.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Son, just because you grew up in a lifeless cavern with zero human contact until I died last week and you were released and taught to speak and put in charge of this holler, is no excuse for your shoddy mismanagement!’

UK: Hunderby

What’s it about? It’s basically Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca with fart jokes.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Mistress Matilde is still abed, sir. She complained of vipers lashing her insides… Her bowel has still not spoken, sir, though I fancy I caught a whisper.’

Winner: The Heart She Holler

Round three: horror

US: American Horror Story

What’s it about?: Insane asylums. Serial killers. Ghosts. Aliens. Nazis. Demonic possessions. Nuns. Rubber gimps.

Random quote, out of context: ‘We’re all going to be together in the dark, watching The Sign of the Cross. A movie full of fire, sex, and the death of Christians. What fun.’

UK: Psychoville

What’s it about?: Insane asylums. Serial killers. Clowns with hooks for hands. Dwarves with psychokinetic powers. Christopher Biggins.

Random quote, out of context: ‘You killed her? What, cos she made a dwarf eat some cheese?’

Winner: American Horror Story

Round four: medical drama

US: Childrens Hospital

What’s it about?: Fast-paced parody exploring ethical medical dilemmas, like, can you perform surgery using only the healing power of laughter? Is it ok to fake your own death because you have too many emails? Is it morally wrong to provide a secret abortion to the wife of a right-wing, pro-life senator, when the foetus in question is a sixteen year old boy?

Random quote, out of context: ‘I’ve been peed on so many times I’d know if you’re a ghost.’

UK: Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

What’s it about?: Much like Childrens, but the hospital was built over the gates of Hell (in Dagenham, Essex – where else would it be?)

Random quote, out of context: ‘As I’m sure you people are aware, Won Ton’s gamma radiation mumps program went west, and created a horny giant eye on legs.’

Winner: Darkplace

Round five: independent women

US: Strangers With Candy

What’s it about?: A 46 year old former prostitute and recovering drug addict returns to high school to put right what once went wrong. Every episode ends with mass dancing and everyone learning a valuable lesson (‘violence really isn’t the only way to resolve a conflict, but it’s the only way to win it’/’I don’t have to join the debate team to get people to pay attention to me, I just need to starve myself to the brink of death!’/’Drugs are for losers. Unless you use them to win. In that case, drugs are for winners!’/

Random quote, out of context: ‘I did things I wouldn’t force on a mule, and that includes things I forced on a mule.’

UK: Nighty Night

What’s it about?: The course of true love never did run smooth. Any love that is worth having is worth fighting for. When you fall in love with the married doctor who lives next door, sometimes you have to tell all your friends that your still-very-much-alive husband has died, start dating a rich simpleton who describes his personality as ‘Scottish’, organise a farewell coffee morning for said married doctor and his wife which centres around you pole dancing in their living room to Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, murder your husband, attempt to murder your vicar with poisoned Angel Delight for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, follow married doctor and his wife to the spiritual retreat where they have gone to save their marriage, pretend you are a therapist who works there called Floella Umbagabe, accidentally nearly kill the real Floella Umbagabe, pretend you are with child following sexual assault by married doctor’s twelve year old son, get pushed off a cliff by married doctor’s wife, land on top of married doctor and drag his unconscious body across the ocean in an inflatable rubber ring.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Hiya Cath, Hiya Don. It’s Jill. I know I’m not allowed to speak to you anymore, but I’m just phoning to say I’ve shot myself. Bye.’

Winner: Nighty Night

Round six: musical madness

US: Glee

What’s it about?: A brutal dystopian vision of an alternate reality where teenagers burst into song once every few minutes for no logical reason, no one ever learns anything – everyone has to be reminded every single week not to be completely awful to each other all the time (you know, just like that valuable lesson that they learned last week), and Lea Michelle does That Face. A lot.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Did you know that dolphins are just gay sharks?’

UK: The Mighty Boosh

What’s it about?: Two zoo keepers/band mates/clothes shop owners/frenemies go on a journey through time and space, meeting plenty of gorilla demons, green-skinned homicidal hitchhikers and sexually predatory half man/half woman/half fish Rick James doppelgangers along the way.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Cheese is a kind of meat/A tasty yellow beef/I milk it from my teat/But I try to be discrete/Oh cheese!/Oh cheese!’

Winner: Glee

Round seven: TV intellectuals

US: Dr. Steve Brule

What’s it about?: Little Stevie is something of a renaissance man. While primarily a medical doctor, he also knows a great deal about astronomy (the names of the planets are ‘Sun, Mercurus, Uranus, Water Planet, Plunto, and this one they didn’t have a name for it yet. It’s too far away. You can name it if you want. Name it Dorris, after my mom’), gastronomy (sushi is ‘just cat scraps’) and erotic dancing. He’s a hard-hitting interviewer who isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions (‘Did you ever invent a jet pack?’)

Random quote, out of context: ‘Some dads are not your dad.’

UK: Brian Butterfield

What’s it about?: Businessman. Entrepreneur. Businessman. Owner of a five star(/asterisk) hotel with a ‘prince-sized’ bed (although the pillows do contravene European safety regulation – after all, they are blocks of printer paper) and a celebrity lookalike agency (see below), whose lookalikes all very much resemble Brian Butterfield. He also invented a pre-cursor to the 5:2 Diet with the Butterfield Diet Plan. For six days a week, breakfast is only one cornflake, toasted with low fat spread, but on Saturday you can eat all the pork cylinders, garlic pudding and pints o’ cream you want.

Bad Space Kingelton johnsmichael jackman

Random quote, out of context: ‘Those aren’t stars, they’re asterisks, each one referring to a fault with the hotel – one of which is the lack of toilet facilities.’

Winner: Dr. Steve Brule

Round eight: gentlemanly pursuits

US: Loiter Squad

What’s it about?: It’s exactly how you would expect a sketch show starring a rap group who call themselves Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All Don’t Give A F*** Litter Life Bacon Boys Loiter Squad Butt F*** B**** N****s to be.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Sometimes the apple falls and attacks the tree.’

UK: Snuff Box

What’s it about?: Surreal sketch comedy framed by the adventures of two hangmen in the pursuit of the perfect pair of silver cowboy boots/each other’s fiancees/writing the world’s greatest pop song (if only bozos like Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie wouldn’t keep interrupting them). Also, Matt’s long-dead ancestor shows up occasionally, bringing a gaggle of Victorian prostitutes with him.

Winner: Snuff Box

Round nine: puppets

US: Wonder Showzen

What’s it about?: From the disclaimer at the beginning of every show: ‘WARNING: WONDER SHOWZEN CONTAINS OFFENSIVE, DESPICIBLE CONTENT THAT IS TOO CONTROVERSIAL AND TOO AWESOME FOR ACTUAL CHILDREN. THE STARK, UGLY, PROFOUND TRUTHS WONDER SHOWZEN EXPOSES MAY BE SOUL-CRUSHING TO THE WEAK OF SPIRIT. IF YOU ALLOW A CHILD TO WATCH THIS SHOW, YOU ARE A BAD PARENT OR GUARDIAN.’

Random quote, out of context: ‘We’re on an adventure, you’re not on our adventure. You’ll never have an adventure, cause you’re sitting on your couch like a loser. Smash your TV and have adventure… Smash your TV and have adventure… Smash your TV and have adventure… Smash your TV and have adventure.’

UK: Bo Selecta

What’s it about?: Does an insane Yorkshireman wearing a cheap rubber mask and an enormous pair of reading glasses pretending to be Scary Spice count as a puppet?

Random quote, out of context: ‘This is the living room, where I like to relax and sometimes stick my penis between my legs and pretend I’m a lady’.

Winner: Wonder Showzen

Round ten: just sheer, unadulterated, disturbing, brain-hurting weirdness

US: Xavier Renegade Angel

What’s it about?: God knows. Some sort of bird-man-thing with a snake for a hand tries to avenge his parents’ deaths?

Random quote, out of context: ‘WHAT DOTH LIFE?’

UK: Jam

What’s it about?: Imagine the strangest, most disgusting and taboo thing that you could ever think of, times it by a million, and imagine it slowed down x20 and filmed through CCTV, and that just about covers it.

Random quote, out of context: ‘When dancing, lost in techo trance, arms flailing, gawky Bez, then find you snagged on frowns, and slowly it dawns, you’re jazzing to the bleep tone of a life support machine that marks the steady fading of your day old baby daughter. And when midnight sirens lead to blue flash road mash, stretchers, covered heads and slippy red macadam, and find you creeping ‘neath the blankets, to snuggle close a mangle bird, hoping you soon too will be freezer drawed. Then welcome. Welcome. In Jam, Jam, Jam, Jam, Jaaaaam.’

Winner: Xavier, (snake)hands down.

Overall winner: USA wins! That’s… something to be proud of, I guess?

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“But how’s it going to end?”

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Riley Schmidt - Rubber Man

I have recently started watching American Horror Story, and I love it. It contains everything that’s good in the world. Aliens! Haunted houses! Hotties! Lesbians! Nuns! I prefer Asylum to Murder House – my tastes are much more Vertigo than Shining, and the campier the better. Most of all, I love the format – each season has a completely new setting, story and characters, but with many of the same cast members playing different roles.

What a revelation! I find it liberating – no more battling through series I hate in the misguided hope that it will all be worth it in the end. I watched whole seasons of Lost and Desperate Housewives before I realised that I wasn’t actually enjoying them. I was so focused on getting to that incredible ending – the one that shines a whole new light on the entire series while also making all the bizarre twists and turns fall into place – that I hadn’t even noticed that watching them had become a chore. When you would rather spend four hours reading crackpot fan theories on TV Tropes than spend 40 minutes watching the actual programme you’re supposedly obsessing over, something is wrong.

It has made me more cautious about embarking upon new series – and I think I’m not the only one. Plenty of shows – FlashForward, Revolution, The Event, Alcatraz – have tried and failed to be ‘the new Lost’. When I watch an episode of Mad Men, or Game of Thrones, I enjoy it, but I don’t know whether I want to commit myself to a full seven seasons. To watch Lost in its entirety would take you 86.9 hours, or 3.6 days. The idea of that bothers me, and I have seen all 10,387 or so ‘cycles’ of America’s Next Top Model.

Can you dip in and out of a show like Game of Thrones, or Mad Men, or The Walking Dead? After eight years or so, if we finally discover that Game of Thrones is actually a game of Dungeons and Dragons being played by a teenage boy/Dick Whitman died in Korea/Larry David is Jesus in Purgatory, will it all have been worth it? Or will we still be shocked and thrilled by that final hour even if we haven’t been with them every step of the way?

It’s the reason why Twin Peaks has been gathering dust in my download folder for several months now. The general consensus is that the first season is incredible, but that it goes downhill in the second and never recovers. If only they had done an American Horror Story and wrapped up all of the murdered teens, log ladies and backwards-talking dwarves into a neat bundle within one season. A girl can dream.

The implication is that an ending that we don’t enjoy can ruin our memories of what came before it, while a great twist ending can make even the dullest story worth persevering with. It’s why we as a culture treat M Night Shyamalan like that cheap tart we picked up one night who gave us the ride of our lives, against our better judgement. I was way more disappointed than I had right to be by The Prestige, with its muddled and saggy twist, when up to that point I had been completely engaged in the story of two magicians driven insane by rivalry. On the flipside, I can’t handle the thought of a Mulholland Drive without that unforgettable twist ending, even though without it, it would still be a moving tale of a naive young ingenue trying to make it in Hollywood and falling in love with a mysterious amnesiac. Would The Sixth Sense still be a good movie if it was an About A Boy-style tale of a a troubled child teaching a totes-not-dead child psychiatrist a few valuable life lessons, which help him fix his broken relationship with his wife? Sure, why not?

The only ending more unpopular than a bad one is an uncertain one. Scriptwriters know this. It’s why Zodiac ends triumphantly, after a decades-long murder investigation, with a key witness identifying the killer from a row of photos, only for the screen to go blank and a couple of paragraphs of text to flash up on the screen, in the world’s smallest font, which reveal that, erm, sorry, the guy that was identified most likely isn’t the killer, and they still haven’t found who did it. It’s why they trust us to assume that nearly all romcoms end with the two people we have just seen bickering and deceiving each other for ninety minutes living happily ever after, even though she’s really young and moving to a different part of the country/she’s emotionally scarred and the dynamic of their relationship is hideously unbalanced/she basically raped him once.

Having never seen an episode of The Sopranos (I know, I know, I should have my blogging licence revoked), I have read about how it ends, and that people were unhappy with it. It has put me off watching it, even though I’m sure every hour of my life I would give over to it would be filled with thrills, and gasps, and laughs. I can appreciate such an open ending on an artistic level, but I can’t bear the thought of anyone trying to pull a stunt like that with Walter White.