Little Crackers II

Despite a couple of unpalatable things about Sky TV, most notably its major shareholder and the barely disguised editorial slant of some of its news coverage, beneath the surface there are a number of good things including, its excellent production and coverage of sport; its dedicated arts channel; its import of quality programmes including Boardwalk Empire, Modern Family and Romanzo Criminale; and currently, its investment in new British comedy.

Arguably it is the least the viewer could expect for excessive monthly bills on top of an hour of its flagship drama being interrupted and extended by five commercial breaks, plus movie channels where the continuity announcer deliberately talks at the start of the credits. But, it is welcome, and Sky One showed the way with its comedy shorts ‘Little Crackers’ in 2010, the Chekov comedy dramas on Sky Arts in 2011, and the commissioning of a number of new home-grown sitcoms recently.

The second set of Little Crackers follows the same format as its predecessor: an eleven minute short comedy-drama that relates back to past experiences. They span all ages, with Barbra Windsor’s opening episode about growing pains starring Sally Hawkins in a ‘Shine on Harvey Moon’ like setting in a post-war era, to the modern day shaggy/dangerous-dog story from Alan Davies.

With production companies including Baby Cow and Tiger Aspects, there are strong casts throughout and crossover performances, with Davies also in Sheridan Smith’s tale (who herself had a cameo in Davies’ story), which shows how she became a confident entertainer at such a young age. That was due to Country & Western loving parents, and music also brings Jane Horrocks’ younger self to life thanks to Leo Sayer as well as being central to Harry Hill’s typically non-liner take in the form of a Jimi Hendrix doll.

Jack Whitehall, who earlier in 2010 showed his acting prowess in ‘Fresh Meat’, also acts in his co-written comedy of an effeminate boy who, amongst other things, uses his playstation as a table for his dolls tea party. Meanwhile, John Bishop’s gives us the confessions of a young cuddly-toy door-to-door salesman in Runcorn 1979, who idolises Kenny Dalglish, back when his hero’s feet were quick in the box, rather than exposed as being made of clay thanks to his recent misjudgement over Luis Suarez.

A constant in Little Crackers are the excellent child actors, and that is particularly true in a couple of the stories that stuck to the Christmas theme, including Johnny Vegas’ short which he wrote and directed about his young alter-ego forced into being Santa, and also the stylish piece Sanjeev Baskar also wrote and directed about another Christmas spent with extended family enlivened in its telling by The Beat, The Smiths, Star Wars, Raiders of The Lost Ark, a bit of choreography and some good graphics.

And in the 11 little crackers shown in 2011, there are a couple of real gems.

Sally Lindsey nails the excitement of Top of The Pops in the early eighties, nuns who taught at Catholic Schools, the glamour of London and the institutionalised selection processes within schools, with an entertaining story that takes us into the legendary and iconic BBC TV Centre (that will soon be no more because of a move to Salford).

And perhaps best of the lot is a film by the excellent stand-up comedian Shappi Koshandri. With a brilliant soundtrack from the eighties, she is takes us back to a childhood where her younger incarnation is a brilliantly funny child that does Thatcher impressions to entertain her family’s friends, in-between fending off bailiffs and coping with a school life where she is not appreciated. Meanwhile, her characters’ imagination is really sparked by the common champion of the time, Tucker Jenkings. Using Grange Hill’s memorable opening credits (cartoon strip style and theme tune shared with ‘Give Us a Clue’), the actual Mrs McCluskey and an actor playing the young Todd Carty, her references are spot on, and the whole 11 minutes are a pleasure to watch.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be; in Little Crackers it is better than the countdowns with talking heads who are promoted to recall times gone by for shows that have tended to fill seasonal schedules in recent years. Instead, it is well produced light comedy drama.