Photo: ‘Hard Cell’
Female comedians are my favorite; especially those I can look up to. There is a myriad of examples that I could list for you, beginning with the talented Phoebe Waller-Bridge to the hilarious Maria Bamford. As someone who is also female, and aspiring to be a comedian and writer myself, I find many female comedians to be inspirational and be utter role models to me. With this said, whenever I see a successful female comedian starring (alongside writing and directing) as the lead in a film or series, my heart entirely skips a beat.
This aspect is especially amplified in my soul when it comes to the film/series is all about the comedian in question. More specifically, examples of this involve ‘Fleabag’ and ‘Broad City’. These shows have been known to be loved by many and named to be critically acclaimed, and they’ve done so much to impact audiences. But, what if all these elements of a series were written and directed by a beloved female comedian combined with said comedian starring as not one… not two… but six versions of herself? And not just any female comedian, the lovely and comedic English actress Catherine Tate.
Sounds wild and odd, I know.
However, this outward concept is brought to us by Netflix with their new mockumentary series ‘Hard Cell’; which has high promise for itself in the comedy world, having rather elegant and charming humor to keep any viewer entertained.
A Musical Cell Within A Women’s Prison
‘Hard Cell’ features an intriguing plot, which follows Laura Willis (Catherine Tate), a women’s prison governor, with the belief that putting on a prison-wide musical for all the inmates will ultimately better their behaviors and lives in the long run—as opposed to the traditional (and rather harsher) tactics. The musical Laura has chosen for the inmates is ‘West Side Story’; directed by an ex-soap opera star, Cheryl Fergison (played by Fergison herself). This overall prompts Laura to hire a documentary crew to come and film the prison’s journey into pulling it all off.
The first episode of the series is only just a smidge of the charming content you’ll get to experience with the initial season. Everything starts as though it’s your typical run-of-the-mill mocumentary, with cinematic interview shots mixed in with shaky hand-held camera work; only having a small amount of the characters fully introduced. The jokes from just the first few scenes alone seem to be flying out at the audience left and right, which isn’t all too bad when you take into account the pacing of the plot of each episode as well. The jokes are quite oddly elegant in this sense and make the whole atmosphere of ‘Hard Cell’ feel overall campy.
Storytelling-wise, the series does show more promise with the hopes of a second season. In the first season, there are a few moments where the before-mentioned jokes remain on the lines of being campy, yet sometimes awkward as well. However, this also fits the nervous atmosphere of ‘Hard Cell’ as well; so this mainly may be the style of the show itself. Regardless, the plot and pacing of the story feel promising and wonderfully campy, and growth can certainly show itself in future episodes to come.
A Hard Cell Encased With Tough Women
As I mentioned above, the characters in the show are only slowly introduced–simply only getting a brief overview of who they are based on first impressions alone. This format fits well when trying to fit in all of the characters, on top of all six characters played by Catherine Tate. The personalities of the ensemble of characters complement each other; similarities to the complementing characters within ‘Orange Is the New Black’ are reminiscent. I also adore how Cheryl Fergison fits into the main story as well as the one directing the inmates in their rendition of ‘West Side Story’; as being someone known as a soap opera star from the BBC show ‘EastEnders’, she plays this sitcom role pretty impressively.
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In terms of all the roles Catherine Tate portrays in the series, they are pretty similar yet different in their ways as well. Besides playing the prison’s governor, Tate also plays prisoners Ange (a newbie to the prison), Ros (a veteran prisoner), Big Viv (a homicidal prisoner), Anne Marie (an ex-con), and Omar (a guard who overlooks the prisoners). Since Catherine Tate has been within the UK comedy world for quite some time, along with acting later in the U.S. version of ‘The Office’ and season 4 of ‘Doctor Who’, Tate is no stranger to having a credible acting filmography. Admittedly, ‘Hard Cell’ doesn’t seem to be her strongest role (or rather, roles); but as I mentioned before, this doesn’t mean they can’t improve in the future.
The cinematography has an interesting combination of techniques as well. It mixes itself with traditional, cinematic camerawork that suits more “serious” documentaries; alongside the classic mockumentary hand-held camerawork. It’s playful how the characters interact with the camera as well; even if there are some points where it seems odd that the camera would be placed there.
Ultimately, with a series that focuses entirely on a varying set of characters (that could easily be distinguished from each other), the character growth is optimistic for the future with a great foundation overall.
All Lights Out
It’s apparent that through all the awkward yet elegant comedy, the variety of characters, and the previously known talents of Catherine Tate and Cheryl Fergison, ‘Hard Cell’ is the next best and binge-able series to keep an eye out for. It needs to somewhat find its footing fully, but with where it is now it has a lot of potential to it. I am a sucker for awkward comedy, especially British comedy, so if you’re also a sucker for said elements then ‘Hard Cell’ is certainly the next series to engross yourself into.
Overall, ‘Hard Cell’ is a great addition to the mockumentary series world; and there may be some aspects of the series that may pull some audiences back from wanting to watch it (such as some jokes not landing as well as they could), it’s definitely worth giving the new Netflix show a shot. And, Catherine Tate’s finely-aged comedy will keep you completely enchanted.
Cinematography: Greg Duffield | Editor: Ed Coltman | Director(s): James Kayler, Catherine Tate | Writer(s): Alex Carter, Catherine Tate, Niky Wardley | Producers: Jennie Fava, Gary Matsell, Kristian Smith
By Leah Donato
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