Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire; never gets funnier than that title

It takes a very particular kind of mind to be disappointed when a TV character has two umlauts in his name and neither of them are sounded properly, but thät's höw I röll. Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire was something which I wanted to like, partly because it's really about time someone took the everliving piss out of fantasy in general, and partly because I enjoyed the splendid ridiculousness of a man who had - apparently - a flaming sword of fire. Probably made for him by the Ministry for Redundancy Ministry, I speculated, but it turns out that once they beat the title out of him, the writer who liked playing with words must have croaked from the ill-treatment, only to be replaced by the eight or nine guys who couldn't see a banana without thinking "Nyuk, nyuk, fellatio joke alert!"

There was a time when sex jokes had to be double entendres so that you could pretend that you hadn't meant at all to frighten the horses, and that you had no idea that people with filthy minds might put such a terrible interpretation on your innocent ruminations about cats or vegetable marrows or whatever. And then we all got veddy growed up and mature and such as, and it was briefly hilarious to have jokes which were single entendres. Well, I say hilarious, but I mean bearable. There's always an element of shock or surprise or the unexpected in a successful joke. Which means that repetition is generally death to humour. From time to time you get someone so talented that they can take a joke and chase it so hard and so far that the repetition itself becomes a successful joke. This talent is far rarer than comedians think it is, and so it comes to pass that Kröd Mändoon's actors found themselves trying to wring three hours worth of funny out of ten minutes worth of assorted gay panic and nympho jokes. I doubt anyone involved is going to remember it as their finest hour. I'd go so far as to say that I hope no-one involved is going to remember it as their finest hour, because we all deserve better than that, and they were all doing their best, in Hungary of all places, on the kind of budget you get when you're a joint UK-Canadian co-production for TV.

It's genuinely hard to think of a movie or TV show where mocking fantasy clichés has worked. The Princess Bride pulled it off, but then again The Princess Bride exists in a class of its own; there really is nothing else like it out there, either as a book or movie. It works partly because the writing is wonderful and comes from a real affection for the things it's gently mocking, but mostly because at every moment there's someone to root for; all the characters had a grandness to them, even though I'd happily pay extra even now for a print without Billy Crystal's Miracle Max. Well, it's not fair to expect Kröd Mändoon to be in that league, but it's a pity that the writers didn't think a bit more about why The Princess Bride or even Xena Warrior Princess worked as well as they did.

Because boring repetitive sex jokes to one side, the biggest problem in the show is that there's no-one to root for. Obviously you can't root for the villains, but the heroes are idiots. Kröd Mändoon himself is a mopey neurotic warrior leader with the attention span of cheese mould and the leadership skills of the recording secretary of a minor drama society. His sturdy band of heroes comprises a wizard whose cowardice slightly outweighs his utter ineptitude, a slave whose primary skill is shooting his own team by mistake with a minor in breaking things, a pagan warrior who's the only person in the whole thing who knows what she's doing and has any confidence in herself, but is depicted permanently as a slut, and - saving the worst for last - the gay lover of Kröd's former mentor, who's played as a swish stereotype so broad, it's probably offensive to stereotypes in general, let alone actual gay people. Collectively, they could be outwitted by a tree-stump, and someone must have thought that this was hilarious in its own right. 

Rather than pitting them against a tree-stump, the writers set them against Matt Lucas, here playing Eddie Izzard playing Blackadder. I recently watched Eddie Izzard playing a comedy villain in Bullet in the Face, which was kind of terrible, but had the crazy courage to run with every lunatic idea that crossed its writers' minds for just long enough to shock you before finding something even worse and shocking you with that instead. God knows it wasn't good, but it never got samey. Izzard hung around the edges as one of the two primary Big Bads, alternating between chewing the scenery and telling everyone how good it tasted. Matt Lucas was obviously going for the same vibe as corrupt Governor Dongalore, but since the character was written as a rubbishy poltroon with no redeeming features, the script didn't do him any favours. It's rarely a good sign when the most dignified performance in a show is coming from John Rhys-Davies, a lovely actor who specialises in loveably gruff hamminess. When he showed up, things got noticeably better, at least until the script called for him to pose in a leather jockstrap for no particularly good reason. That's a hard image to square with dignity, even when the show's already taken a moment to linger on the sight of Matt Lucas strutting his stuff in a fur codpiece big enough to wallpaper some of the offices I've had to work in.

As is so often the case in shows with idiot villains and heroes, the one sane man in the whole proceeding is Dongalore's endlessly put-upon lackey Barnabas. Alexander McQueen plays him with a long-suffering dignity which is either very good acting or just the actor giving a completely honest reaction to the thought of what he's having to do make a crust this week.

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