Judge Kristin Munson once tried getting her hamster to wear feety pajamas, but he wouldn't take off his Spider-Man Underoos.
Sal: Promise me you'll kill me if I ever relent and join the Guild.
If there was such a thing as a tea cozy for the soul, it would look a lot like Clatterford.
Jennifer Saunders' latest series plays more like a half-hour drama than one of the madcap Britcoms she's known for…and that's not a bad thing. Where Absolutely Fabulous was sharp, shallow, and uproarious, Clatterford is soft, light, and warm. The laughs might not come as fast or as frequently as in a traditional sitcom, but it is a funny, feel-good show and a spiritual successor to shows like Ballykissangel. It's a shame about the bare bones DVD treatment.
Facts of the Case
The small town of Clatterford St. Mary is full of local color. Unfortunately, most of it belongs to the Ladies' Guild. Nurse Sal Vine (Sue Johnston, Waking the Dead) and her salty friend Tip (Pauline McLynn, Father Ted) have done their best to stay far away from the group, until Sal loses her husband and her job in the same week. Suddenly, the Guild seems like the place Sal should be escaping to rather than from.
Clatterford: The Complete Season One contains 6 episodes plus the 2006 Christmas Special.
• "Christmas Special"
At its most basic, Clatterfordis a rural comedy, full of sheep, farmers, and meddling middle-aged women. While most shows in this vein are crammed so full of quaint country characters that you can't see the forest for the tweed, Clatterford takes the human approach. The series feels like one continuous story rambling across six episodes with the comedy flowing organically from the conversations and situations. It's like real life, only more polite.
The plots are airy and will dissolve from your memory like a Guild confection on your tongue, but a show that reunites Jennifer Saunders with comedy partners Dawn French (The Vicar of Dibley) and AbFab's Joanna Lumley, then adds a heaping helping of the best actresses that British television has to offer, who needs complicated storylines? The characters they create are what make this series shine and the show is smart enough to have us laugh with them instead of at them.
Country comedies traditionally make their leads a newcomer so the viewer can identify with the fish out of water situation and get an intro to the 'wacky' characters these poor norms have to put up with. Instead, local gal Sal is the heart of the program and the affection she has for her patients make them real people instead of character types. Mentally ill Rosie is childlike and lovely, as long as she's taking the pills that keep her alternate personality at bay, and clingy counselor Kate is just incredibly lonely; there's even a dose of humanity for the short-tempered vicar. Chances are you have at least one of these people is in your life, if not your family, and it's nice to see them on screen.
Despite the comfort food feel, Season One is not all fuzzy hamsters in feety pajamas. Spouses die, parents head off to hospice, families fight, and feelings get hurt…more than enough salt to balance the sweet. What makes the show a feel-good program is the way the ladies gather round to support each other and the other locals in a way that's funny and relatable, even if we've never milked a cow or baked a pie.
Jam and Jerusalem, as aired in Britain, was in HD and the transfer to standard DVD is so good that you can count every blade of grass on the watercolor landscape. The menu music may sound tinny and lopsided but the stereo on the programs works perfectly. The only drawbacks this set has lies in its extras. It's fantastic that the Christmas special is part of the season and not a separate purchase (Looking at you The Office UK) but there's nothing else to justify the two-disc format.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You'd think an ensemble cast whose collective filmographies could span the Channel would justify a bios section, but you'd be wrong. In addition to the shows I've already mentioned, you might recognize actors from Cold Feet, Peep Show, Born and Bred, The Royle Family, Green Wing, One Foot in the Grave, Bridget Jones' Diary, andFrench and Saunders. There are a lot of familiar faces on Clatterfordand the average viewer is not an IMDb junkie, so why no cast section?
Another problem is the chapter selection. Every menu is set up to look like the inside of a country cottage and the scene selection is a fancy picture frame that's angled away from the screen. Unless you're two feet from your TV you're going to have a hard time picking out your place.
Fans are going to be let down by the sparse extras, but the set is still worth having. There's enough story and scenery to satisfy lovers of such PBS fare as Monarch of the Glen and Ballykissangel and offbeat humor aplenty. If you're looking for a cozy night in front of the TV and like character-driven sitcoms with a subtle touch then you can't go wrong with Clatterford: Season 1.
BBC Video is guilty of messing up the recipe. The ladies Guild, however, is free to go. Pass the cream cakes, would you dear?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• Christmas Special
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