Dina Recommends: Cabin Pressure

Hi!

As some of you might know, I’m not always up-to-date with the latest pop culture fads, or the hottest new things on the entertainment front. I don’t really play video games, I don’t watch a whole lot of movies or TV series, and I haven’t been following a lot of manga or anime series ever since I was fifteen and read all of Love Hina. (I have an… interesting relationship with Love Hina as a result of that, but that’s a story for another time.)

But this doesn’t mean I don’t have my moments. I have plenty of stories, movies, series and whatever that I’ll shamelessly fangirl over… but I notice that some of the things I end up fangirling over are things that not a lot of people I talk to have heard of. Oh, these series or whatever often have sizeable fanbases, with their own TV Tropes pages and everything, but they’re not really in the public eye the way, say, the Harry Potter books, or the Marvel movies. or Monty Python are. 

So I decided, why not dedicate the occasional journal post to talk about and make small reviews of some of these things? Maybe, if I fangirl a little, I can get a few more people curious about those very things… and maybe they’ll check them out. 

Anything is fair game for these reviews… I might talk about books, or movies, or comics, or podcasts, or TV shows, or whatever. It might be old things, or new things, it might be kiddie cartoons or hardcore fetish stories… there are only three criteria that a work must fulfill:


  1. It must be entertainment-related. 
  2. It must be something I unabashedly like. 
  3. It must be something I think MORE people should experience. 


So, with that out of the way, let’s begin!

For my first review, I decided to talk about the BBC radio sitcom, “Cabin Pressure.”



“Cabin Pressure” is a radio Britcom of 26 episodes (or 27, since the last one is a double episode), plus a Christmas special, and it’s about the life of the people at “MJN Air,” the world’s smallest airline, which consists of one single 16-seater plane. (“I don’t have an airline, I have one jet. You cannot put one jet in a line. If MJN Air is anything, it’s an air-dot.”) Four people work at MJN Air, and these four are also the main characters of the show:

  • Carolyn Knapp-Shappey (played by Stephanie Cole), the elderly and somewhat jerkish owner of the plane and of MJN Air.
  • Martin Crieff (played by Benedict Cumberbatch… yes, THAT Benedict Cumberbatch), the skilled, but inexperienced and rule-obsessed captain.
  • Douglas Richardson (played by Roger Allam), the experienced and intelligent, but reckless and sarcastic first officer and co-pilot. 
  • Arthur Shappey (played by series creator/writer John Finnemore), Carolyn’s overenthusiastic and incredibly stupid son who works as a steward.

Though there are a handful of recurring characters, the series focuses on these four and their struggles with difficult passengers, long flights, a plane that keeps breaking down at inconvenient moments, and of course with each other. Martin is always trying to prove himself in the eyes of everyone else, Douglas splits his time in roughly equal parts between making creative sarcasms and thinking up schemes to either benefit him or to get everyone out of the fix-of-the-week, Carolyn desperately tries to keep costs down at the expense of everything else, and Arthur seldom has a clue what’s going on.

But there is more to them than this. Carolyn isn’t JUST a mean old penny-pinching lady; she’s a divorcee with huge financial problems and who struggles to keep MJN afloat because even though she’s the owner of the world’s smallest and least-equipped airline, at least that’s better than being just a “little old lady.” Martin is a bit of a loser who struggles to be taken seriously, but never gives up because flying is his PASSION and being a pilot means more to him than anything. Douglas is an ex-alcoholic who was fired from his old job at “Air England” because he got into too many shenanigans. And Arthur…. Arthur is actually a total idiot, but he’s genuinely sweet and well-meaning. Over the 26 episodes, the characters actually do change and grow quite a bit.

Also, given that John Finnemore’s father was a pilot, and has helped out with technical expertise and details, the series is very technically accurate about usual procedures and common hazards and problems of the job… or at least people SAY it is, and since I know absolutely nothing about planes or piloting I’m just going to take their word for it. It certainly SOUNDS like it’s accurate.

The real charm of the series, however, it that it’s FUNNY. Since it’s a radio drama, everything stands and falls on the dialogue and the performances thereof… BBC radio comedies do in my experience tend to deliver here, but in “Cabin Pressure” the touch is magical. The writing is really sharp, and the actors deliver their lines perfectly. Especially Douglas’s creative sarcasms, delivered in a real deadpan voice by Roger Allam, frequently has me laughing out loud, but Arthur’s inane ramblings are often just as funny, partly because John Finnemore plays them with such earnest enthusiasm. The back-and-forth banter between the characters is a delight to listen to… since the majority of the episodes tend to take place during flights, much of the banter really comes from them trying to entertain themselves with weird conversations, silly word games or debates on the most ridiculous topics. Highlights include “Supervillain Celebrities” where they discuss which celebrities have names that sound like they beling to supervillains, and the ridiculous game where Douglas and Carolyn try to see who can go longest speaking only one-syllable words: 

Carolyn: Tea?
Douglas: No. Could I have…the one that is NOT tea?
Carolyn: “The one that is not tea”? Which one is that?
Douglas: You know what it is.
Carolyn: Beer? Oh, dear Doug, no, you can’t have beer.
Douglas: No, not beer.
Carolyn: Wine? No! No wine for you, my friend.
Douglas: I do not want wine. I want the hot drink made from a bean, which comes in types such as “Gold Blend.”
Carolyn: I think I know which one you mean, but I will need you to ask for it by name, just to be sure.
Douglas: …Fine. I will have tea.

In my humble opinion, “Cabin Pressure” is a brilliant, intelligent and hilarious show. Of course, not ALL the jokes hit perfectly, and it takes a couple of episodes before things really get into the groove, but that’s just to be expected.

Perhaps you balk at finding out that the show has been taped in front of a live audience so there is laughter involved… not a laugh TRACK; the laughter comes from genuine audience reactions, but I know a lot of people absolutely hate the “laugh track” type comedies… or perhaps, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the more cynical British sitcom format, that the characters are too flawed and that a lot of the unlikeable guest stars get away with bad behaviour. In which care you’re especially likely to feel that the show is a bit too mean to Martin (a bit of a Charlie Brown “loser” type character). But, if you like radio sitcoms, they don’t come much better than this.

There’s also a sequel series for YouTube done at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, called (appropriately enough) Cabin Fever. It features the ever-cheery Arthur (still played by John Finnemore) who’s in quarantine after making an abroad flight, and who to pass the time makes a Youtube vlog show, where he talks about his life and what the cast are up to after the series ended, makes up games to play in quarantine, arranges little contests and challenges for the viewers, contests for the viewers and learns to play the piano. It’s a cute show, with 26 eps of around 5-10 minutes each, and you can see it here… though it’s probably easiest to get into this if you’ve actually heard the radio show first.