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Diana Rigg shines in sketch comedy both good and bad
This was a short-lived sketch comedy series starring Diana Rigg. Each episode consists of three sketches (or short films) of about 10 minutes each. The longer length allows for greater plot development, and sometimes more depth of character and themes than sketches typically have.
Almost every sketch features different writers and supporting actors. The sketches run the gamut of plots, and a lot of them are "two-handers" (just Rigg and one co-star). The only constant is the presence of Rigg. She's one of the great actresses of our time, and here she shows her extraordinary range and comic skill as she disappears into a wide assortment of roles, from lovelorn spinsters, to middle class housewives, to a homely but spirited powder room attendant. Helping her do this are the terrific hair and wardrobe crew.
The writing is hit and miss--probably 50% is at least okay, or even great, while the rest is not. Besides a few clunkers, other sketches that are middling (rather than outright bad) feel worse because the 10-minute running time drags them out. Writer Roy Clarke ("Keeping Up Appearances") surprisingly contributed a snoozer, though Rigg is right on target as an airheaded American starlet. Magazine editor Tina Brown even wrote a sketch, but it's incoherent. Later, John Cleese is wasted as a hypochondriac who lives with equally loud Rigg in a hovel.
On the plus side, Bob Larbey (best known for "As Time Goes By") and John Esmonde (who wrote "The Good Life" with Larbey) wrote one of the best sketches, "Mea Culpa", in which Rigg plays (apparently) a nun who tells a sympathetic man her absurd life story while riding a mountain tram. Also excellent all round is the spoof "Wonderful Woman" by Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais. It co-stars the great Bob Hoskins, who didn't realize his cockney wife was a superhero--a job that can clash with domestic life!
"Little Things...Parking" by Michael Sadler is a first-rate short film about an arguing couple. As the title indicates, it derives humor from an everyday problem, while adding just the right touch of silliness. The characters actually return later in the series, to much worse effect. Elsewhere, the plot of "Celluloid Dreams" by Neil Shand went over my head, but it's full of sharp banter, the type heard in classic Hollywood comedies. As an uptight reporter, Rigg goes through an amusing transformation to get a scoop, and an unrecognizable George Baker offers solid support as her co-worker.
At times difficult to get through, Three Piece Suite nonetheless deserves higher than the low rating it holds as of this writing. And I'm giving it an extra star on account of Rigg's outstanding acting.
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