Goodness Gracious Me (Series 1) Review
Goodness Gracious Me started life as a radio sketch comedy show, starring Meera Syal, Kulvinder Ghir, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Nina Wadia. It ran from 1996 to 1998, which spanned three short series. The radio show was the first light entertainment show to have been paid for by BBC Television – the radio run was always seen as an extended pilot before bringing the concept to television where it could find a wider audience. The first series of the television show was aired between the second and third radio series – so for a while the show existed separately on both mediums.
Immediate irony is displayed by the title and theme of the show, taken from a 1960 Peter Sellers cod-Indian novelty song – in fact the original title proposed for the show was 'Peter Sellers is Dead', perhaps a good thing that they changed it, as the title harks back to an earlier era while the show is decidedly modern and up-to-date. That said, it's a comedy sketch show – so we're treated each week to a series of sketches and the occasional musical number. Each sketch takes us into a new scenario, new characters and as such the quality is a little inconsistent with some sketches noticeably better than others. However, comedy is very much in the eyes and ears of the beholder and I'm sure the sketches I loved the most and which made me laugh out loud (something which rarely happens) are undoubtedly the very same sketches that other people feel very ambivalent towards and vice versa. One thing's for sure – the cast are amazingly talented at swapping between characters and appearing as different types and ages.
Of course, the very thing that makes Goodness Gracious Me stand out as different is perhaps the one thing that shouldn't – that the focus is ethnic and the core cast are Asians. This is still unusual in modern television, but this series proved that there is no reason a show with a mostly Asian cast and many Asian references in its humour cannot extend to and find support from the mainstream. As these shows become less and less niche in their audiences and targets, the less we'll classify them as 'ethnic' comedy, instead of just British comedy. That being said, the references here are decidedly Asian and British. The writers take stereotypes and recreate them from their understanding – leading to some hilarious moments. One of my favourite sketches shows a group in India going to an English restaurant and acting very much like stereotypical lager louts in an Indian in the UK.
Some of the characters make repeat appearances through the episodes, but there are also plenty of new characters each week. Some of the regulars include the Bhangramuffins, Smeeta Smitten Showbiz Kitten, the 'I can make that' mother, the Kapoors (pronounced 'Cooper'), the guru, and the 'I can get you that' uncle. Goodness Gracious Me has created characters that will live on in the public psyche, another testament to the success of the comedy that has been created here. Personally, I didn't like the musical numbers as much as the sketches, but they were very cleverly written and well-performed – I think they just detracted from the flow for me.
For factual information's sake let's point out here that this DVD contains the six episodes that make up the first television series of Goodness Gracious Me, and that each episode is half an hour long – as you might expect from a comedy sketch show.
The transfer is adequate and presented in 4:3 format. This is a real shame as the extra features prove there is a widescreen version of the show extant and which could have been made available. The picture quality is pretty much what I expected considering this is a television show. There is a slight bit of grain and some softness and pixelation in certain scenes, though it doesn't appear throughout and doesn't ruin the show.
The sound is 2.0 as you would expect for a TV show on DVD, and it works well. There is no real need for extra funkiness in the sound department so what we have is perfectly functional.
The main menu is colourful and has a nice ethnic touch to it, showing animated scenes from the show while playing the catchy theme tune in the background – and in a way that scrolls well. There is the option to select each of the individual episodes (or to play all six of them back-to-back) directly from this screen, which is useful as it becomes the de facto chapter selection menu for this disc.
Episode access thus taken care of, there is also a handy 'Character Selection' menu, which lets you watch all of the sketches with your favourite characters in as a series of specific clips collected from the six episodes. There are seven choices here: 'The Kapoors', 'Bhangramuffins', 'Check Please', 'Smeeta Smitten', 'Mr Everything Comes from India', 'Mrs I Can Make it at Home', and 'Guru Mahareshi Yogi'. If your favourite character is not among these, however, you'll have to find all of their scenes the usual way – by watching the show in its entirety. But still, it's a nice feature and does include many of the more-popular recurring characters.
Moving on to the actual 'Bonus Features' menu, we find another way of choosing video clips is the 'Song Selection' option. As the name suggests, it allows you to hop straight to individual comedy songs within the various episodes. I myself didn't make a lot of use of this special feature as the songs were far from being my favourite aspect of the programme, but it was nonetheless a thoughtful addition on the part of the team who put together this DVD.
While on the subject of the extras in general, it has to be noted that there are no subtitles provided for this disc at all. If you are hard of hearing or simply like to watch your DVDs with subtitles switched on (I met someone recently who does this for all DVDs!), unfortunately this really isn't the DVD for you.
The next feature is a documentary that lasts just over half an hour. It's taken from the Goodness Gracious Me evening that the BBC broadcast and follows the performers on their 1999 UK tour. It's intended to be a witty mockumentary in the style of This Is Spinal Tap and so on, but it doesn't quite succeed in terms of either cleverness or comedy. (Mostly, the 'off-the-cuff' interviews and behind the scenes footage is far too stagey to take seriously, even though it evinces the odd laugh or smile.) There is a great deal of theatre footage, which is almost always a scene from the TV show performed on stage. Nothing wrong with that, but I felt myself wishing each time that they had chosen a new sketch – that is, one that isn't already found in the six TV episodes on this disc – so I would get to see something I hadn't seen before. Having said that, I'd still rather have this documentary on the DVD than not!
Tacked onto the end of the documentary are other random pieces that the BBC shot for the Goodness Gracious Me night. The first of these is the grand final from the 'Search for the GGM Superfan', which is quite sweet. The second clip is the winner of the 'Most Popular Sketch' vote, voted on by the BBC audience. (See if you can guess which sketch won while watching the DVD.) I personally would have liked to see these two small features given their own headings, or perhaps the section called 'Documentary' instead named 'BBC Goodness Gracious Me Night Segments', but that's a very small quibble and only important for those who get confused as easily as me! Interestingly enough, the documentary and associated pieces are presented in 16:9 widescreen – another reminder that perhaps the BBC could have given us the entire series in 16:9 rather than the 4:3 aspect ratio. Ah well, a small disappointment again.
The final extra is just under 15 minutes of out-takes and bloopers, most of which are bona fide bloopers and thus are pretty funny. It's nice to get an insight into the cast's spontaneous horseplay – an aspect in which the documentary is sadly lacking. But all in all a good set of features for a television series like this.
I'm a big fan of TV shows on DVD, and am generally content when a quality small show like this sees a release that includes the entire series as well as a few decent special features (generally, whatever the studio could find lying around). Obviously, Goodness Gracious Me is no exception. It's funny and clever and well put-together. The characters recur just often enough to become instantly recognisable and well-loved... but without the jokes wearing thin. The extras are an added bonus that round out the series and add real value to the DVD. The lack of subtitles and 16:9 transfer are disappointments in what is essentially a very nice package.