PICK OF THE DAY: BABY IT'S COLD OUTSIDE: FREEZING: BBC2, 10PM
The pilot for this modern comedy, shown as part of BBC4's Tight Spot season last year, was such a hit that it was commissioned for a longer run, and is now being shown in three parts (starting with a repeat of the pilot) over consecutive nights.
Elizabeth McGovern is an American Oscar-nominated actress now struggling to get parts, her British husband Matt (Hugh Bonneville) has just lost his book-editing job, while their best friend, agent Leon (Tom Hollander), is desperate to hang on to his clients. They discover there's no colder place than the outskirts of celebrity when you're no longer hot.
We're in familiar Curb Your Enthusiasm territory here, where real-life characters meld seamlessly into an increasingly surreal fiction: Elizabeth is played by American Oscar-nominated Elizabeth McGovern, who married a Brit (Freezing director Simon Curtis, natch) and, as with Curb , it's a spot-on dissection of the world those involved inhabit.
The plotlines aren't important, as they function merely as devices to set up the next vanity to be scorned. There are star turns aplenty - Joely Richardson and Richard E Grant tonight, Tim McInnerny and James Fox tomorrow, and Alex Kingston on Friday - but the stand-out star is Hollander as Leon, a grasping, selfish egomaniac who creates havoc wherever he goes, never more so than when he moves in with Elizabeth and Matt in episode two.
Writer James Wood hilariously skewers so many targets - self-obsessed luvvies, disingenuous media types, pretentious foodies, charlatan TV 'experts', to name but a few - that one fears he might never eat lunch in this town again. Indeed, I suspect some scores were being settled - to great comedic effect - by both writer and cast. And Freezing is stuffed so full of gags that you might want to record it while you're watching and replay it immediately to catch the jokes drowned out by your loud laughter. A gem.
Tonight's episode of this tremendous three-part comedy is the best of the series, with an exquisitely odious performance from Tim McInnerny as the man described as television's most overpaid historian. "I've got a team of eight researchers in a basement in Euston who write it all for me," he boasts. "Do you really think I have the time or the inclination to write my own books any more? I do TV now." When the angst-prone husband and wife (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) invite him over in the hope of getting work, it turns into the dinner party from hell - exacerbated by the presence of Tom Hollander's loud, rude, needy and strangely endearing theatrical agent. There is an exaggerated accuracy to this fabulous comedy that makes it simultaneously horrific and joyful to watch.
Please don't give me nightmares, Kirsty;
"...Thankfully, there was something good on the box: the opening part of the comedy of middle-aged metropolitan manners, Freezing (don't miss parts two and three tonight and tomorrow).
Hugh Bonneville is foiled, failing, fortysomething ex-publisher Matthew. One-time Hollywood leading lady Elizabeth McGovern plays Matthew's equally-thwarted wife, a one-time Hollywood leading lady called Elizabeth McGovern.
Uneasily contemplating life on the media scrapheap, the unemployed duo somehow still have enough ackers to live in swanky Knightsbridge in a dreamy house, lunching in exclusive bistros and forever bumping into such gilded media scrap-merchants as Richard E Grant and Alan Yentob.
Yes, yes, yes, Freezing is very Londoncentric media-in-jokey, owing its cosiness to the fact that Elizabeth McGovern is in real life married to Freezing's director, Simon Curtis. But that doesn't make it any less funny.
For one thing, there can rarely have been a more monstrously-hilarious sitcom character than bullying, amoral and oddly vulnerable Leon, shoutily declaimed by Tom Hollander. Leon is a showbiz agent who loathes his clients as heartily as he hypes their meagre talents.
For another thing, there's Hugh Bonneville, his doughy face a pained study in exasperation, disappointment and despair, along with a permanent fear of exposure and social death.
Best of all, Freezing creates a witty commentary on the plusses and minuses of marriage from knowing gags about the cliched bathos of Holby City and sly digs at cultural philistinism. Freezing: in its own coolly understated way, it's a hot ticket.
Cold comfort in Medialand
For some time, we have had a deep and consuming envy for American comedies. At its healthiest it manifests itself as a smarting admiration: we know we did certain classics well - The Good Life, Fawlty Towers, The Office - but we know that the Americans have really, since Seinfeld, whupped our asses and there is much ground to make up. We know, not so deep in our hearts, that Three Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps (episode 1,738 and counting...) is not going to do the job. You know what? We should just have a go at doing Seinfeld ourselves. Bloody Curb Your Enthusiasm. Yeah, we can do it, thought the creators of Freezing (BBC Two), and set it in residential Medialand - it looks like Chiswick, although the well-known starry caff Julies in Holland Park seems to be in walking distance.
Freezing couldn't want so desperately to be smart if it was the kid in class with his hand up, barely containing himself from spouting the right answer. You want to like it, it's a home-grown approximation of the kind of snappy, showbiz navel-gazing comedies that have become instant classics in recent years. Early reviews were adulatory.
Freezing features Hugh Bonneville as Matt, a publisher who has left his big bad firm to write a grand novel. Except Matt still seems to do a bit of freelance agenting as well. He's married to a waspish, rather than shrewish, Hollywood actress who's downsized to horrible, grey England. She's called Elizabeth, and just to blur all the clever-clogsiness even further she is played by Elizabeth McGovern, a real-life Hollywood actress who's downsized to England.
McGovern is great fun, silently screaming "Where the hell am I?" She grouchily turns up the heating while balking from taking a role in Holby City. It is beneath her, she knows that, and she tries to get a part in the new Vincent Gallo movie. But Gallo is famously edgy and porny, and she's soon committing, airily, to a visceral incest flick. Gallo goes for a younger actress and there's a wonderful moment where "Elizabeth" loses it with her LA agent, then wearily adds to tell Vincent that she looks forward to working with him in the future. By the end there she is, walking with fixed smile through the corridors of Holby, a cameo patient with a bad face rash.
Matt is supposed to be anti-hero in the vein of Larry David's Larry in Curb Your Enthusiasm. But he's not bitter enough. He's a bit lackadaisical and endearing. He hasn't put enough of a foot wrong yet. He gets a kid to read a stupid sci-fi manuscript because he doesn't understand sci-fi, and later must submerge his contempt for the novel's young Turk (jerk) author.
The monster in the midst is Tom Hollander, as Leon, Elizabeth's agent, a brilliantly foul-mouthed wretch who screams abuse, and indeed just screams (even if it is to say good morning); a braying swirl of ego and mania. Hollander wrote a very funny piece in The Spectator about the agent upon whom he has based this grotesque (look it up at www.spectator.co.uk) and he is clearly having a ball, chewing, then chewing some more, any bit of scenery or passing cyclist.
And yet, Freezing feels forced somehow, not entirely confident in its intended malevolence. Maybe a braver bitterness will emerge, but it reminded me that the wonderful Sensitive Skin, which shares its cerebral wellspring, mined its melancholic tone from the outset - and so far Freezing is faltering, not sure if it's a media satire or domestic comedy, dark or light, cuddly or coruscating. Hollander's toxicity - like Ari's in Entourage - may well become the show-stealing reason to keep watching over the next two nights.
Warmth of comedy in a cold climate
Freezing is a gentle, well-written comedy with some interesting performances which is in danger of being overlooked, especially as it's scheduled over three consecutive nights. Originally a pilot episode in BBC Four's Tight Spot season, it's back for more.
Hugh Bonneville and American actress Elizabeth McGovern star as publisher Matt and his wife, the American actress Elizabeth McGovern. She has given up living in Los Angeles for freezing London to be with the man she loves.
But the obvious film roles and the opportunities are no longer coming her way, especially as she is now in her 40s. Matt too has been replaced by a younger model in the publishing house where he has been for 15 years. Now they are both at home looking for work. Elizabeth - despite her Oscar nomination in her youth - is finding it difficult to even get an audition. Matt resorts to accepting tip-offs from his former assistant, Stephen (Ben Miles), now in charge of the office.
Freezing has some interesting things to say about living in a foreign land and also about relationships. The writing is sharp and well-observed. Especially good is Tom Hollander, who plays Matt's best friend and Elizabeth's agent, Leon. He is an abrasive, brutal, ferocious agent and a vulnerable and lonely man - a beautifully balanced performance. He gets the bulk of the good lines - like his attempt to persuade Elizabeth that a role in Holby City would be good for her. "It's about a woman who decides to kill her husband after he is injured in an industrial accident with a kebab machine. And she has an allergy to horse hair." When Elizabeth tells him she's up for a possible film role he reassures her: "I'll keep the scratchy Holby woman on hold..."
When Elizabeth arrives on the Holby set she tells the director that she's been "practising my allergy acting". There are some cameo roles from Richard E Grant and Joely Richardson to add another touch of glamour and the whole programme - which put me in mind of Jack Dee's Lead Balloon - is delightful to watch.
It's nice to see projects like this being developed. Producer and director is Simon Curtis (Mr Elizabeth McGovern - the man she gave up living in Hollywood for) which gives it a ring of truth.
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