The humble game of bingo may not appear to be the natural artistic muse for the screen but it is something of a pop culture mainstay. Its popularity with older people, for example, allows it to facilitate scenes in care homes or in more general depictions of the older generations socializing. Its simplicity also makes it easy to learn for people of all ages and gives the game a universality which translates easily onto film. Here, we take a look at its best uses on screen, which have got people talking.
Better Call Saul
Breaking Bad spin-off and prequel Better Call Saul has become a critical darling in its own right and successfully stepped out of the shadow of its predecessor; with https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/ even claiming it to be superior. The bingo scene takes place during titular character Jimmy McGill’s (aka Saul Goodman) foray into elder law which involves him spending time at a care home. Following a painful argument with his brother, Jimmy becomes increasingly frustrated as he reads successive numbers out all coming from section B, which forces him to confront simmering anger over his fraternal relationship. The scene culminates in a mini-meltdown over the state of his life in general; who knew bingo could be such an emotional rollercoaster?
Another spin-off, although with less dramatic chops, coming from the Jackass series, Bad Grandpa uses bingo for maximum comedic effect. Johnny Knoxville’s poorly behaved pensioner sits down amongst unsuspecting members of the public to partake in what seems to be a simple bingo game. The scene succeeds comedically in its juxtaposition of the gentle quietude of the bingo hall with Bad Grandpa’s outrageous behavior as he produces a margarita maker in the middle of the game. The delight on people’s faces when he suggests sharing the alcoholic drink around, however, certainly shows bingo players aren’t beyond having some fun and points to the strong social aspect of the game. Indeed, it is so fundamental to the game that online offerings like https://bingo.paddypower.com/ place a huge emphasis on chatroom elements to help replicate a similar sense of community. Whether you’ll come across any bad grandpas is another matter.
The League of Gentlemen
Another critical darling as rubber-stamped by https://www.rottentomatoes.com/, this surreal British comedy used the traditional bingo hall to touching effect in its most recent special episodes from 2017. The scene takes the form of a monologue from the perspective of Mark Gatiss’s bingo called Toddy. As the elderly Toddy reads each number out, he relates it back to his life gone by “26… never been kissed.” It slowly builds through to finally meeting the love of his life only to cruelly lose them from an infection “78… heaven’s gate.” It was a rare moment of pathos in a show filled with surreal humor and throwaway gags, with the grand old game of bingo at its heart.
Bingo has had incredible longevity and its continued use in TV and film highlights its status as a cultural touchstone. Its wide appeal and simplicity allows it to be the perfect foil for scenes involving mass numbers of people. Bingo has a genuine human element at its core which lends itself to the dramatic and comedic facets of film and TV alike.