Friday, 13 February 2009

The Ace of Spade

I can’t remember exactly when my near fanatical love of David Spade began, but I would say it’s a pretty safe bet that the Paramount Comedy Channel had something to do with it.

Much of my mis-spent youth was spent staring at a TV screen that had the famous blue mountain plastered in the top corner. I’ve always favoured American comedy over our home-grown efforts, so Paramount, with it’s schedule jammed full of U.S. sitcoms, quickly became almost like a utopia for me.

Don’t get me wrong, it had, and still does have, it’s fair share of crap in the schedules, an awful show called ‘Bram & Alice’ springs to mind that had Alfred Molina who played Doc Ock in ‘Spider-man 2’ in it. Utter garbage.

But for the most part, with the few terrestrial channels that had U.S. sitcoms on them, seemingly intent on burying them in the schedules (the BBC’s treatment of ‘Seinfeld’ was borderline criminal) Paramount became the only place to catch a plethora of quality shows from across the pond. A comedy Xanadu if you will.

(Paramount also needs to be commended for broadcasting the absolutely amazing ‘Flipside TV’, but that’s a tangent I’ll save going off on for another time and perhaps another blog.)

One such show was the brilliant ensemble comedy ‘Just Shoot Me’, which starred one David Spade. As acerbic receptionist Dennis Finch, Spade stood head and shoulders above the rest of the cast.

Paramount soon showed a feature length stand-up show Spade had done in America called ‘Take the Hit’, which aired not long after a Chris Rock show which had brought me to near tears, Spade achieved the pretty impressive feat of actually making me cry. Now I don’t cry much these days; at a death; maybe, when I climax; usually, at comedy; extremely rarely.

Although a lot of the jokes in ‘Take the Hit’ went over my head back then, I was hooked on this little guy with feathery hair. Research (when I should have been revising Huxley’s Sliding Filament Theory) turned me on to a whole catalogue of Spade material and I soon discovered that David Spade pretty much was Dennis Finch.

As an alumnus of comedy star-maker ‘Saturday Night Live’, Spade had the pedigree; sadly he never really got a chance to shine during his ‘SNL’ tenure. Often stuck playing the straight man to the late Chris Farley and seemingly lost in the shuffle during ‘SNL’s second ‘golden age’ behind the likes of Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Farley.

His film work hasn’t necessarily been warmly received by critics, but naturally, I love it. Yes, even ‘Joe Dirt’. Spade’s home though, seems to be on the small screen. After ‘SNL’ and ‘Just Shoot Me’, he joined the cast of ‘8 Simple Rules’ following the sad death of the legendary John Ritter, who was the real star of that show anyway.

Given ‘8 Simple Rules’ more family-oriented tone, Spade didn’t really seem the right sort of fit for the show, ‘Just Shoot Me’ allowed him to be himself effectively, whereas with ‘8 Simple Rules’, I always felt like he had to tone himself down.

When ‘8 Simple Rules’ finally hit the can, Spade went to comedy central to host ‘The Showbiz Show with David Spade’, which saw him do what he does best; sarcastically make fun of celebrities. ‘The Showbiz Show’ ended in 2007, which brings us neatly on to…

‘Rules of Engagement’…

…A lovely little show and one of the only stereotypical ‘classic’ formula sitcoms I actually go out of my way to watch. It may have a laugh track, which I’ve never really been a fan of, but hey if a show’s actually funny I don’t need telling when to laugh.

‘Rules of Engagement’ follows the lives and relationships of ‘older’ married couple Jeff and Audrey, newly engaged ‘younger’ couple Adam and Jennifer and their perpetually single friend Russell, your cookie-cutter Spade character.

While my unadulterated Spade bias led me to the show initially, it isn’t what has kept me watching.

Patrick Warburton, one of those guys whose voice and/or face you’ll know but won’t be able to place, is completely at home as the chauvinistic Jeff (even if he will always be David Puddy to me.)

The scenes between the three male leads in the diner they hang out in are arguably when the show is at it’s strongest. All three have an undeniable chemistry together and their banter and put-downs are razor sharp. The show benefits from sharing a number of writers with the uber-successful ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’.

Former ‘Grounded for Life’ (another show I could write an entire feature on) star Megyn Price is also well cast as Jeff’s put upon wife Audrey. ‘Rules…’ has also helped resurrect the major crush I had on Price during ‘Grounded’s heyday.

Initially brought in as a mid-season replacement, the fact that ‘Rules of Engagement’ has managed to be renewed for a third season, especially after the Writer’s Guild strike disrupted so much of season 2, is testament to the show’s quality.

A note-perfect cast and snappy writing make ‘Rules of Engagement’ one of TV’s hidden gems. See for yourself Mondays @ 9.30pm on Paramount Comedy 1.

Season 3 premieres in the States on Monday March 2nd at 9.30pm on CBS

Other Tele-visual Musings This Week:

- Over on ‘24’ this week nostalgia soon turned to worry for me. Seeing Jack, Tony and Bill storming Dubaku’s lair warmed the cockles, but later seeing Tony being separated from Jack and the gang made me worried that now producers have got their reaction from Tony’s return, they’re going to push him onto the sidelines while that awful Agent Walker continues to be featured so prominently. I don’t know what it is about her but I just can’t warm to her freckly face.

- ‘Heroes’ has returned in the States and according to reports they’ve killed off the incredibly irritating Daphne. ‘Heroes’ has a pretty poor track record on introducing new characters, but as with ‘Lost’ and the disaster that was the tail section survivors; they aren’t afraid to admit a mistake and kill them off, which you have to admire.

The return of Heroes to UK screens is imminent, I quite enjoyed the first half of season 3 so here’s hoping that this ‘Fugitives’ chapter can sustain the show’s current upswing in quality.

Be sure to check in with TV or not TV next weekend for a BRIT Awards Special…


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