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Monday 18 December 2017

Samberg, comedy cuckoo in the nest

RISING STAR JOINS THE NEW INVASION FROM THE US AS HE BAGS a ROLE IN BBC SITCOM, reports Pat Stacey

IT used to be that the presence of an American star in a British television series meant one of two things: either their career was on the slide back home, or the producers had one eye on selling the series to the US and wanted a bargain-price lead whose best days might be behind them, but who would still be recognisable to American viewers.

The trickle across the Atlantic from America to Britain has begun again, and this time it doesn't involve just has-beens and never-quite-weres in search of a quick buck.

Following a self-imposed exile from the ill-judged sitcom Joey, Matt Le Blanc -- who need never work again thanks to the money he earned from Friends -- is back with Episodes. Much of Episodes, a co-production between the BBC and Showtime, featuring Le Blanc as an exaggerated version of himself, is filmed where it's mostly set -- in Hollywood -- but its humour is as distinctly British as it is American.

Shirley MacLaine may be 73 now, but it was still big news when she joined the cast of the third series of Downton Abbey, following in the footsteps of fellow American Elizabeth Montgomery. And let's not forget David Soul.

And now another star, Andy Samberg, is on his way to Blighty. If you've never heard of Samberg, you will soon. For seven years he was part of the repertory company on Saturday Night Live, the legendary American sketch show that for 37 years has been propelling numerous performers to international stardom, among them Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Billy Crystal, Mike Myers and Tina Fey.

To a certain audience -- my 16-year-old daughter being one of them -- Samberg is already an idol. He's part of the musical comedy group The Lonely Island, whose satirical albums and hilarious, Emmy-winning SNL Digital Shorts have become something of a phenomenon.

He's also broken through in film, getting top billing as an inept stuntman in the daft but frequently very funny Hot Rod, and making appearances in a string of other movie comedies, including I Love You, Man and the animated hit Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

But what's causing the biggest buzz is Samberg's decision to take the title role in the BBC3 comedy series Cuckoo, which starts later this year. Helen Baxendale (Cold Feet) and The Inbetweeners' Greg Davies play parents who are horrified when their daughter returns from her gap year in America with a husband, a self-styled "spiritual ninja" (Samberg).

It's an offbeat, interesting move to make, and possibly a very smart one. There are dozens of ex SNL stars who have taken the quick route into coarse, juvenile comedy movies and promptly sunk without trace.

Samberg looks like he won't be among them. One to keep an eye on.

A CLASSIC RETURNS Dallas is back, at least in America (it's due here later this year). The cheesy cornerstone of the CBS network for most of the 80s, it now finds itself in the less salubrious surroundings of cable channel TNT.

The remnants of the original cast, including the 80-year-old Larry Hagman as JR and a mysteriously youthful-looking Linda Gray as his ex-wife Sue Ellen, are complemented by nubile newbies like Jordana Brewster (pictured left).

Frankly, why bother resurrecting it? Time has moved on. We're all more sophisticated. Back then, US TV gave us silly soap operas like Dallas, Dynasty and Knot's Landing, whereas now it gives us stuff like Desperate Housewives, Pan-Am and Revenge... oh, wait.

HOW IT WORKS Have you seen As Seen on TV? It's terrible, a bizarre cross between Points of View and Mailbag that lacks the wit of the first and the Arthur Murphy-fuelled wackiness of the second.

Bizarrely, I received a call a few weeks ago asking if I'd like to go on it and talk about my job. That's an interesting concept: a TV critic talking about reviewing TV programmes on a TV show he may one day review negatively. Just like I'm doing now.

I fear someone doesn't quite grasp how the rules of this poacher-and-gamekeeper thing works. And besides, nobody mentioned money!

UNBEATABLE An article on The Guardian newspaper's website this week posed the question of whether ITV or the BBC is providing the better coverage of Euro 2012.

What was most interesting about this was the large number of posts from readers in Britain saying the channel winning the TV battle hands down was RTE2. There's obviously some things at which you really will never beat the Irish.

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