Sky Valentine Shorts | TV review by Steve Bennett

Sky Valentine Shorts

Note: This review is from 2017

TV review by Steve Bennett

Sky has today released a new batch of romantic-themed comedy shorts in time for Valentine's Day. Here's our review:

Mr Swallow

Mr Swallow Nick Mohammed's prissy, self-absorbed alter ego makes a successful transfer from stage to TV, by the simple ruse of setting his Valentine short backstage with his amateur theatre group, who are here staging their version of Romeo & Juliet.

It features the usual ensemble of hapless thespians: David Elms as Mr Goldsworth, trying to take it all seriously, perpetually frustrated by Mr Swallow's petty distractions, and Keiran Hodgson as the cheerfully earnest Jonathan, chipper while treated like a doormat.

The team is tight, and there's good supply of idiotically funny lines from Mr Swallow, whose self-centred, short-attention-span character is as compelling as always. His limited horizons make him strangely endearing, despite being so clearly an irritating creation. And of all today's shorts, this feels the most like a teaser for a longer episode. Let's hope show.

Liam Williams

Liam Williams's short is one of the strongest of the batch, being based on his disdainful rejection of all manner of modern bullshit. He plays to type as a grumpy, isolated man of infectious loneliness, as his best mate hilariously points out, who is reluctantly dragged into the dating scene.

But in this reality everyone now has a coach for such liaisons, vacuous corporate hipsters who spout dubious, over-complicated advice. These characters personify just about every bit of superficial lifestyle quackery out there, and William's contempt is palpable throughout his taut, funny and attitude-laden script.

Watch out too for some Demetriou on Demetriou tension as siblings Jamie and Natasha play the rival dating coaches, treating romance like a sport with winners and losers.

Midnight Beast

One of the more disappointing of the selection, Midnight Beast's Grease parody starts promisingly enough, with a good-looking spoof of the Fifties American high school aesthetic and jokes about actors far too old to pull off being teenagers. Especially Angelos Epithemiou creator Dan Renton Skinner.

But the bulk of the short is the one-joke Summer Nights spoof, in which the John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John characters describe their encounter in filthy detail. Or at least they would, had it not been decided to bleeped out most the lyrics, from 'dick' upwards, the joke being the filth in the viewer's imagination. Like the rest of the song - a musically accurate parody – the censorship is funny once, but quickly diminishes.

Desiree Burch

Co-star Ekow Quartey channels Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's Titus Andromedon, as the flamboyant gay best friend of American comedian Desiree Burch's lead character in this short. Together they hatch a scheme to grift free stuff out of restaurants by pretending to be boyfriend and girlfriend, proposing on Valentine's Day.

The performances are great, but the script over-wordy with not enough to grip beyond the initial premise, and even the short running time feels like a stretch.

Anna Mann

Anna Mann Colin Hoult's ostentatiously self-centred theatrical alter-ego Anna Mann naturally dominates any situation, so it's a smart move to have her impose herself on a couple trying to enjoy a romantic meal. The spark has long gone out of their moribund marriage, and Mann's irrepressibly flamboyant 'seize the moment' attitude could be enough to reignite it. Or destroy it.

Mann's a loveable monster, and this TV outing captures her stage intensity well, her raging ego and over-the-top behaviour wonderfully silly. There's even a brief moment of poignancy… not that it's allowed to linger too long amid the camp commotion she causes.

Paul Tonkinson and Rosie Cavaliero

Paul Tonkinson and Rosie Cavaliero's Valentine's short is the most true-to-life of the bunch, appropriately enough since Tonks is a stand-up who's built a career on minute observations of family life, both in his own set and as a writer for Michael McIntyre. And it's good to see an assured older hand among all the much-tipped up-and-comers commissioned for this season.

They play a couple who check into a hotel with his wife to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary for a night of romance away from the kids. He's even bought an expensive bottle of wine of significant vintage to kick off their passion. And therein lies the problem: he can't get it open.

His struggles with the errant cork range from trying inventive solutions to a Fawlty-like frustration at an inanimate object, showing Tonkinson's often-overlooked skills as a physical comedian. The short doesn't quite have a satisfying payoff, but the journey provides a very funny portrait of middle-aged irritation.

Paul G. Raymond

SilcoxThis may be billed as the Valentine short from Paul G. Raymond, of sketch duo In Cahoots, but it's so very clearly Mark Silcox's show. He plays Raymond's dad, a widower reluctantly persuaded to sign up to Tinder to seek new love, despite his naivety and misgivings.

It's a brilliant showcase for Silcox's exquisitely deadpan persona, a modest – dare we say boring – man, unwilling to take on modern life on anything but his own, quiet terms.

Raymond's script is strong – and again, flecked with poignancy when needed – and he clearly has excellent chemistry with both his on-screen dad and Alexander Jeremy as his best mate, the dense but enthusiastic would-be personal trainer. It all adds up to a rather wonderful little short.

• The Sky Valentines Shorts are available now on Catch Up and on Sky Go.a

Review date: 8 Feb 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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