The Funny Ladies of British Comedy (review)

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Produced by Iowa Public Television, this compilation disc is pledge-drive fodder, the stuff your local PBS station airs — with constant interruption — when begging for your bucks. Not that constant interruption is fatal to this choppy special. Hosted by Penelope Keith (of the PBS staple Britcom To the Manor Born), this thoroughly inoffensive “tribute” to the comediennes of British TV and the characters they created feels exactly like the prepackaged TV snack food it is. There no question that the parade of talent here — Judi Dench in As Time Goes By, Patricia Routledge of Keeping Up Appearances, Dawn French of The Vicar of Dibley, Prunella Scales of Fawlty Towers, Mollie Sugden of Are You Being Served?, Felicity Kendal of Good Neighbours, and more — is exceptional, but the mini bios of the women are anemic, the clips of their work aren’t nearly numerous enough to satisfy, and the deconstruction of their work is all but useless (there is but the briefest mention of the expert timing and lack of fear farce requires; there is but the most cursory discussion of the battles of the sexes and the classes that is the typical stuff of Britcoms). The whole shebang is nothing but a two-hour advertisement for your local PBS station. Not that it pretends to be anything else.

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