Growing Old Disgracefully with Ford Kiernan & Greg Hemphill in 'Still Game'.
A honest, good, subversive mainstream comedy. 'Still Game' is BBC Scotland's prize that's beginning to make great waves in England on BBC 2. On it's 5th Series already (since 2002 a new series each year, each typically on six half-hour shows), the last couple have gathered a following that take it beyond any potential filler treatment it may have initially been intended to have. The BBC now show us English the new episodes down here whilst still fresh off the press (pretty much), but older series are now set for R2 UK DVD release.
What's it about? A group of old folk getting up to all kinds of things you wouldn't expect of them. Sounds familiar? There's the deception, you see - there's lot's in here you won't see anywhere else in a hurry, its a great blend of unusual, subversive comedy in a mainstream guise. Yep, it's mainstream, and it's taboo-breaking hidden within that palatable front - lovely. Jack and Victor are the two life-long friends at the centre (played by writers Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill with great skill and joy) of an enjoyable series of dodgy day- (and night-) time activities, lots of trouble, drinking, swearing, law-breaking, black-market activities - whatever you can imagine they shouldn't be getting up to, well, they're going to do it. And then some...
I don't know how older, ageing people are treated generally within other cultures. Someone did say recently that at least the way in which British and American people portrayed the elderly in Comedy was fundamentally different. In American, utter loonies. In England, something similar, but just not quite the
Truth be told, I don't think there's any one way they're portrayed or that's it's at all simple, but one thing does seem certain around here, there's a general illusion about old people. Yes, as with all generations, there's a function, a necessity almost in daily life, to making sure one generation or age group doesn't quite realise they'll soon be part of another - and there's an amnesia that comes with age that we weren't ever part of a younger age group either.
The biggest guilty party seem to be the elderly themselves, desperate to be seen as whiter-than-white, holier-than-thou, sin-free perveyors of the nuggets you'll not see if you're younger than the automatic wisdom giver that is your 65th Birthday (or 60th is you're female). Yep, the age of retirement, the moment you climb your personal mountain and site cross-legged, praying, contemplating, wearing your own robes and preaching to the masses below.
Shame, because it's not the reality of things at all, I don't think so anyway, and Hemphill and Kiernan seem to agree. All that stress over progress, that desire to be seen to be acting your age, the inability to effectively talk between generations, it all comes from illusions that sit strongly in most peoples minds. Alternatively, you could just realise you're a human being, and then you could crack open the beers, chase the ladies, gamble, swear, get up to all kinds of mischief, stumble through your days farcically and probably use that illusion of wisdom or automatic respect to get away with whatever takes your fancy... like Jack and Victor (and most of their friends) do.
All sounds a little heavy doesn't it? Well, there's a purpose to it, because the key pleasure in 'Still Game' is the idea that old folk don't (or shouldn't, as a result really of that spurious belief) behave badly. They're just like anyone, in that they have a need for fun, but they also realise their days are passing, that they've simply aged and not really changed. No need to put them down for this, you can progress all you like, in all the various ways possible, but the honesty of a simple life that doesn't necessarily lead to that kind of obvious intellectual (so-called, or at leat potentially pretentious) progression - the life spend in hard industry or any kind of mundane, functional, practical job - is one that need not sit with the illusions that all need to face constant change.
Sure, they're wise, mature in their own way, but the key to the fun is breaking the illusion (or using it ironically) that progress is automatic, simply comes with age, and then you just need to enjoy the great stuff they get up to. Not too prone to shock at their own ageing also, there's a very sophisticated blend of happenings going on here, with a cast of characters all fulfilling both stereotypes and seeming to break them simultaneously.
Little victories. That's the aim, the simple pleasures, the small treats, the mini adventures. Jack and Victor fill their days with making more of the mundane pension-bound existence they're tied to. A lot of imagination, a little alcohol, some strangely youthful behavior with other folk seen hanging around housing estates during daylight hours. It's all there, mixing the generations, breaking the barriers and the preconceptions.
Damn funny, very easy to watch and relatively commercial in feel (truth be told) but also has a great guilty pleasure feel, a cheeky and intentionally rude or childish edge to a dignified life, it's oddly subversive through and through. No straight-out seeking of laughs at all turns, the show loves to add acknowledgement of the precious nature of old age, so there's pathos and drama, some sentimentality, and gives the writers and main stars Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill great chance to live their old age way before they get there - yes, the great irony in the show is the mixed-ages of the cast, the chance to grow old disgracefully way before their time.
Making it to a 5th series already, the last couple making a transfer from the regular home of Scotland (its origin, a spin-off from sketch show 'Chewin the Fat') to England's screens. It's a rarity that hasn't happened often, with a regional comedy managing to chime with an audience it simply isn't aimed at or made for, and it's not for some years that Scotland has had such a high-rating show or one that has appeared down here in England. The following is growing, and now the earlier series are coming along on R2 UK DVD (as well as the very recent ones) there's some great stuff to catch-up on.
Seriously, despite all out love of the obvious subversive and strange films or TV, a good comedy that breaks some taboos and manages to do it with a great sense of fun is a nice change that's not too far removed from my more intentionally odd stuff. Educational, funny, not too consistantly dour or academically-dry.
'Still Game' Official Website at BBC Scotland, includes streaming clips and more (and check YouTube too for some also).
'Still Game' Series 1 on R2 UK DVD at Amazon.co.uk
'Still Game' Series 2 on R2 UK DVD at Amazon.co.uk
'Still Game' Series 3 on R2 UK DVD at Amazon.co.uk
'Still Game' Series 4 on R2 UK DVD at Amazon.co.uk