By BRUCE DENNILL
The Duchess / Created by Katherine Ryan / 16LS
Ben Platt: Live from Radio City Music Hall / Directed by Alex Timbers and Sam Wrench / PG
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga / Directed by David Dobkin / PG13
The black comedy involved in being an earthy working mom seems to be becoming a standalone genre, with several excellent shows, including Andrea Savage’s I’m Sorry and Catherine Reitman’s Workin’ Moms, mining similar territory now or in the recent past. Katherine Ryan’s The Duchess relocates the scenario to London, which changes some of the cultural references and the tone of some of the humour. The basic outline of the show’s first series has Katherine (the character – it’s semi-autobiographical), considering the possibility of a sibling for her daughter, a process that, for various reasons, reaching out to her now loathed ex, who is the father of her child. There’s plenty of scope for conflict there, all of which has to be jammed into just six episodes. Perhaps because of the brevity of the series, gags are sometimes shoe-horned in where the flow of the story doesn’t really allow for that – or so it feels. The result is an unevenness in parts – of each episode and of the series overall – that makes it less effective than some of the competition. The shock value of some scenes or punchlines doesn’t develop into satisfying, unusual threads, necessarily, but it does keep you on your toes. And for all her faults, Katherine has plenty of heart, which makes her likeable enough to come back to as a protagonist, even if she’s definitely not on the babysitting list. More pathos and insight into the complexities of parenting via comedy? Good reasons to watch a show, and enough reason to hold thumbs that the bumps in this offering will be ironed out and a touch more depth will be introduced going forward.
Stage, film and television actor and singer Ben Platt went on an extensive tour to promote his debut album Sing To Me Instead, with the closing date on the hallowed stage at one of New York’s most famous venues, where Ben Platt: Live from Radio City Music Hall was filmed. The way the film is shot often reveals the magnificence of the room’s interior and Platt is a vociferous fan of the place, thrilled to be joining the long line of iconic performers who have plated there. The buzz he’s on is infectious, and his high-wattage engagement with his audience both physical and virtual makes it easy to feel welcome to his party – and happy to be there once his superb backing band kick in and the singer submerges himself in his happy place. His passion for what he does and the supreme confidence that comes with being in his natural habitat – on a stage, behind a microphone – gives Platt an authority far exceeding what you’d expect from someone touring a debut album, regardless of how lauded their performances on other platforms have been. This also manifests in his easy banter between songs, which sees him being vulnerable and sensitive, an interesting counterpoint to the strutting and grinning that accompanies his singing. The one consistent downside is the strength of this charm offensive – if you’re not an established Platt fan, it may occasionally feel like he’s made his point and could dial it back a bit. But the strength of the music – the playing and the bulk of the writing, particularly Grow As We Go, perhaps the album’s best-known single – makes the concert well worth a watch and a listen, with the power of each individual’s connection with Platt a bonus or, at least, a warm and fuzzy add-on.
The Eurovision Song Contest is so completely nuts and off the wall that satirising it feels almost redundant. Will Ferrell is hardly less subtle, even in his more restrained moments. So building a storyline around an Icelandic duo called Fire Saga – Ferrell as Lars and Rachel McAdams as his best friend Sigrit – and outlining all of that in the title of the film, makes this project appear to be a single joke, delivered with metaphorical tongue deep in cheek. Everything is painted in ridiculously broad strokes, with everything from the music to the costumes amplifying the bonkers mix of self-belief and eccentricity that makes both Eurovision and much of Ferrell’s output guilty pleasures. Still, a consistent tone, however over the top, may have made the piece focused but forgettable fun. Instead though, the script – and the actors who must follow it – meanders between seeming to want to pay tribute to the song contest and wanting to lampoon it. Also, the ideas chosen to try and achieve either outcome appear to be somewhat ill-matched – many fine and fairly funny in isolation, but components of a more stilted and unsatisfying whole when combined. Ferrell, McAdams and Dan Stevens as an ego-driven Eurovision competitor are all pleasing on-screen presences, but this is too loose a combination of not-quite-aligned elements to warrant really investing in.