Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
      ( 5/20/2008 07:10:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO GO BACK TO THE HUMDRUM DAYS OF HOUSEHOLD DRUDGERY?" The idea of comically placing pristine middle-class women in a grubby criminal milieu is one that clearly strikes chords on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, we've got Weeds, with its MILF weed dealing heroine Nancy Botwin; in England, it's the ladies of Little Stempington, home to the aptly titled Suburban Shootout.

An engagingly nasty Britcom that initially aired in the states (in, one suspects, significantly bowdlerized form) on the Oxygen network, Shootout has reportedly recently been purchased for Americanization by HBO. Having viewed all eight episodes of the original series' first season, courtesy of Acorn Media's spiffy one-disc DVD collection, I have to wonder if the American version will be able to successfully replicate its source's satiric outrageousness. To these Yankee ears, at least, there's something extra funny about hearing full-blown obscenity being spewed forth with an English accent. In the series' opener, for instance, there's a great scene where a geezerly grocer store attendant (Trevor Stuart) roundly cusses out a little lady for trying to snag a handicapped parking space. I'm just not sure it'll work as well coming out of an American mouth.

The British Shootout centers on Joyce Hazledine (Amelia Bullmore), a mousy bourgeois housewife whose hubby Jeremy (Ralph Ineson) has taken a job as a copper in the seemingly crime-free community of Little Stempington. Though the town looks remarkably clean and quiet (there's not a speck of graffiti to be seen on any of the buildings), the reason has nothing to do with good policework. The town, as Joyce soon learns to her dismay, is under the sway of two rival gangs of gun-toting hausfraus.

First group, led by the diva-esque Camilla Diamond (Anna Chancellor), is capable of giving Tony Soprano and his crew a run for the money: one of the first things we see 'em do is blow up the local Wicker Barn for not keeping up on protection payments. ("We'll bury you alive in matching wicker coffins next time you miss a payment!" she shouts to the store's fleeing owners.) Wicked Camilla quickly works to hook Joyce into her duplicitous business by framing her for the explosion; with this, she hopes to keep a finger on Joyce's policeman spouse.

On the other side is a trio of women led by Barbara DuPrez (Felicity Montagu), a more matronly but no less ruthless vigilante on the side of British bourgeois righteousness. Leader of the Little Stempington Wildlife Protection League (primarily devoted, one eventually learns, to keeping the lower classes out of her beloved little burb), Barbara strives to keep the town tag-free and combat Camilla's illicit schemes, the most recent of which involves dealing industrial strength estrogen patches to the community's pub crawlers. She guilt-trips Joyce into acting as a double agent, while ol' Jeremy doesn't have a clue about the dire deeds taking place all around him.

In Little Stempington, a simple afternoon tea can suddenly erupt in gunplay (after one such shootout, Barbara surveys the blood on the rug and cheerfully states, "It's Scotchgard protected!") and a Tupperware container is just as likely to contain a handgun as it is crisp leftovers. Poor Joyce quickly finds herself caught up in both gangs' battles. Before long, she's terrorizing local librarians and dealing with an oily continental drug dealer named Emil Lesoux. "I'm a drug dealer, dealing hard drugs," she says to herself as she kneels on the floor of her well-kept middle-class home, picking up her son's underwear. Yet even as she bemoans her lot, we also see her blossoming - growing less frumpy and put-upon - in her new role.

Aiding the two feuding gang leaders are a comic quartet of suburban women, the funniest of which are housewifey ditz Margaret Littlefair (Cathryn Bradshaw) and her evil mannish counterpart Lillian Gordon-Moore (Emma Kennedy). Frizzy haired Margaret is loyal to a fault and a comically bad shot with handguns, but it's the sinister Lillian who gets one of the funniest sequences in the first season when both she and Joyce test-drive the high-strength estrogen patches for Camilla at a botox party. Uncharacteristically cheerful, she babbles about moisturizing her trigger finger as Joyce gets progressively more wrecked on patches.

As with the equally amusing Weeds, the language and subject matter of Shootout are way beyond the cozy parameters of most sitcoms. There is no real effort on any of the principles' part to be a likable "identifiable" character and why should there be? Like the anti-heroines in another classic modern Britcom, Absolutely Fabulous, the women of Little Stempington are cheerfully unafraid to be as grotesque as the situation requires, all in the service of good, take-no-prisoners comedy - and a well-kept middle-class existence . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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