Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Deliberately inducing the ire of Mitchell isn’t so much the problem; the trick is to neatly segue it into an illusion of spontaneous wit so that the show doesn’t sag under the ponderous burden of an overcooked script. Everyone is aware that elements of panel shows are rehearsed, that’s not a problem; but what mustn’t protrude like a broken limb through saintly skin is that the rehearsed elements become predominant and overt. If a show is funny enough, or sewn together in such a way that the rehearsed elements don’t show through, then it’s possible for viewers to self-dissimulatingly assume it’s all made up on the spot.
Have I Got News For You has acerbically navigated this treacherous obstacle for almost 20 years, partly because of Merton’s brilliant improvised wit and the way Hislop loads his weekly bugbears into his gob in the same way nuclear devices are herded onto bombers, before dropping them all over the show with his crushing wrath.
Never Mind the Buzzcocks doesn’t succeed quite as well, largely because there are more limp comedy corpses to lug across the half-hour battlefield. The departed Simon Amstell’s reedy insults and Bill Bailey’s bewildered observations can only partially mask the mirthless impotence of the pop star du jour who delivers fed lines with all the comedic inflection of a deflating septic toenail.
While nothing quite so grotesque was on show here, Fern Britton and Ken Livingstone were passengers, and their quips so leaden that, even if they were off the cuff, they could shield the nation from nuclear attack. Stephen Mangan fared better, simply because he was able to use his thespian skills to appear inscrutable, and relished deceiving his opponents. He wrapped his truthful anecdote about how he won a prize for guessing the correct number of sweets in a car in wreaths of ineptitude, verbal fumbling and cunning misdirection to convince them he was lying.
But while that was admirable, Would I Lie To You? is essentially a comedy show, and the humour was best left to the three comedians present on the teams. Reginald D Hunter was his usual laconic self, gently mocking the presumed white middle-class ignorance of the ‘black community’ in his vain effort to pretend that the ‘D’ in his name stood for Delicious.
While Lee Mack and David Mitchell exchanged banter on Mack’s insistence of using the medium of mime to illustrate the heat of a cup of tea, as opposed to the more methodical, literal Mitchell. “If the tea is a ‘seven’, as you say, in centigrade then it’s cold; if it’s Fahrenheit then it’s solid!” And Mitchell switched on his hilarious outrage over Mack’s proposed truth about throwing a sausage roll off the Blackpool Tower, because it could hit the face of “a morbidly obese child”. But while the amusing show of anger may have been real, there is a sense of waiting for Mitchell to get annoyed, just like you knew in the Incredible Hulk that there would be one incident each episode that would turn Dr David Banner’s skin green and make his muscles expand as though they’d just collided with the inexorable Indian subcontinent.
And accordingly it was host Rob Brydon who jarred the most. Brydon is one of the masters of the comedy panel game, and perhaps it’s just that his role in Annually Retentive as a miserable, spiteful host behind the scenes who is polished and perky in front of the cameras, emitting an effusive flow of wisecracks that have been scripted earlier is just too close to his caricature here as pompous host. There was nothing wrong with the autocued script itself, it just felt as though it, and the rest of Brydon’s quips, had been arranged by a committee last Wednesday in the manner of Annually Retentive, and that infected the rest of the show like lithium leaking into an Oxfordshire stream from a rusting chemical plant dispelling the illusion of spontaneity that such shows rely upon.
Armstrong & Miller 2009/2010 BBC1 - A second and third series of the sketch show starring Ben Miller and Alexander Armstrong.
Ashes to Ashes 2010 BBC1 - Third and final series of the drama series set in 1983 and starring Philip Glenister.
Blue Murder 2009 ITV1 - Fifth series of the crime starring Caroline Quentin as an inspector who juggles her hectic home life with a police career. Guest stars include Mark Benton, Tina O’Brian and Anthony Flanagan.
Collision 2009 ITV - Five-part drama focusing on the lives of five accident victims starring Douglas Henshall, Paul McGann, Claire Rushbrook and Phil Davis
Criminal Justice 2009 BBC1 - Return of the drama that focusing on one case and follows the procedures of the Criminal Justice system. The second series stars Maxine Peake as a woman accused of stabbing her high profile husband.
Doc Martin 2009 ITV - Fourth series of the comedy drama starring Martin Clunes.
Emma 2009 BBC1 - New adaptation of the Jane Austin Novel starring Michael Gambon, Johnny Lee Miller, Tamsin Greig, and Robert Bathurst.
Fat Families 2010 Sky1- Six-part documentary series that sees fitness expert Steve Miller moving into the homes of different families in an attempt to help them lose weight.
The Fixer 2009 ITV1 - Second series of the hitman drama starring Andrew Buchan, Tamzin Outhwaite, Peter Mullan and Jody Latham. Opening with a 2-part episode.
Gavin & Stacey 2009 BBC1 - Third and final series of the comedy series written by Ruth Jones and James Corden that sees the couple set up home in Barry Island.
In Treatment 2009 Sky Arts - US drama series starring Gabriel Byrne as psychoanalyst Paul Weston.
The Inbetweeners 2010 E4 - Third series of the teen comedy.
Joanna Lumley: Catwoman 2009 ITV - The actress learns more about cats in a 2-part documentary.
Just Dance 2010 Sky1 - Eight-part dance competition with the winner crowned by a public vote.
Ladies of Letters 2010 ITV3 - A second 10-part series of the lighthearted comedy drama starring Anne Reid and Maureen Lipman.
Land Girls 2009 BBC1 - Five-part period drama commemorating the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War airing in BBC daytime. The drama follows the lives and loves of four girls away from home, striving to do their bit for Britain in the Women's Land Army. Starring Mark Benton, Christine Bottomley, Jo Woodcock and Nathaniel Parker.
Marple - 2009 - ITV - Julia McKenzie takes over the role in two Agatha Christie adaptations entitled Pocket Full of Rye and Murder Is Easy. Guest stars include Prunella Scales, Helen Baxendale, Ben Miles, Matthew Macfadyen, Ralf Little, Steve Pemberton, ,Jemma Redgrave, Hugo Speer, and the late Wendy Richard.
Misfits 2009 E4 - Comedy about a group of teen superheroes. Including Party-girl Alisha who can send people into a sexual frenzy with just one touch and painfully shy nerd Simon who can make himself invisible.
Mistresses 2010 BBC1 - Third and final series of the drama starring Sarah Parish tying up the loose ends of the second series in 4 installments.
Moving On 2010 BBC1 - Second run of the daytime drama from Jimmy Mcgovern consisting of ten hour long episodes.
Murderland 2009 ITV1 - 3-part thriller that tells a traumatic murder story through the eyes of three central characters. Starring Robbie Coltrane, Sharon Small and David Westhead.
Outbreak 2009 ITV - Documentary Marking the 70th anniversary of the start of World War Two, Outbreak tells the story, hour by hour, of September 3rd, 1939, the day that Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. Famous Brits with vivid recollections of the day, including Dame Vera Lynn, Lord Richard Attenborough, Tony Benn, George Cole, Betty Driver and Sir Peter Blake recall how they heard the news that the country was going to war and how they were affected by the dramatic change in the country’s circumstances.
Piers Morgan’s Life Stories 2009 ITV1 - The Britain’s got Talent judge interviews more celebrities including Gerri Halliwell.
Robson Green’s Wild Swimming Adventure *WORKING TITLE* 2009 ITV - The actor tours the waterways of Britain.
The Seasons 2009 ITV - Nature series hosted by Alan Titchmarsh.
The Thick of It 2009 BBC4/BBC2 - Third series of the political sattire series starring Peter Capaldi and produced by Armando Iannucci.
Vampire Diaries 2010 ITV2 - US series about a family of Vampires.
Fifteen years ago that mocking ditty encapsulated ITV’s hapless efforts to validate and elevate the mediocrity of the second tier of English football into some sort of addictive gladiatorial spectacle that would enrapture and entertain, doing so through the declining brows of Iain St John and Jimmy Greaves, who would, as FF deliciously exaggerate, ignore absolutely the existence of a higher division like a corporal who thinks he’s in charge of an army.
And while the BBC isn’t quite grovelling in the same befouled trough as ITV in 1994 – after all, it still retains the Premiership highlights – then the boot is firmly on the other foot now.
But the other foot now, more so than back then, is encased in a Sky boot, a granite monstrosity that the gods once used to stamp out heretical civilisations, crushing the ornate marble edifices and gleaming architecture leaving only a dim impression of a scornful Australian megalomaniac in its wake. Domestically speaking at least, ITV isn’t even a foot anymore; it’s now more akin to a livid stump that used to steer an active limb but that now only suffers the periodic crimson blush of the FA Cup that it shared with the late Setanta.
Setanta’s demise is relevant to the BBC’s coverage of the Championship because it, more than anything, illustrated that the public’s ostensibly inexhaustible gluttony for football, any football, had been sated. Only a few folk outside fans of Bolton and Wigan could tolerate a match that was absent of the ‘glamour’ of the odiously named ‘Big Four’ and made up a large proportion of Seanta’s inventory, and so the company struggled to reach the necessary subscribers, and capitulated utterly when it lost the rights to half of its games.
Leaving aside the fact that, as an altruistic gesture, men who salivate in lap dancing clubs should be summarily sterilised, it was rather akin to trying to seduce the grunting oafs with writhing squealing pigs and cattle with shuddering udders rather than the brazen strippers they’re used to.
A similar blight afflicts the Championship and the rest of the lower leagues. These matches can be entertaining but aside from the most fervent fans, few people can withstand such an inundation of the sport. Newcastle’s goal by Damien Duff was heralded like the second coming, “a moment of Premiership quality” amid the mire of blasted, shell-shocked players staggering about the alien surroundings of a lower division like people emerging from a tube station after a Blitzkrieg.
Oddly, in such strange environs, there was some comfort from the analysis of Mark Lawrenson. He’s rather like a chronic back condition you have learned to live with rather than forlornly try and ignore, and have gradually come to accept his querulous banalities in the knowledge that he will never, ever change.
The analysis in the studio was pitiful, not least because of the scant time afforded. While we often drown in the stodgy build-up of Sky’s ‘Super Sunday’ presentations, compounded by the irredeemably appalling soundtrack, 10 minutes wasn’t long enough, and at the end barely had the goals been replayed than Gary was being harried by Old Father Time to wrap up else he cut into the sacred Total Wipe Out (It’s A Knockout for people with ‘water coolers’ for brains).
Although such an abbreviation may have been a blessing given the inanity of Messrs Shearer and Dixon, each was equally as insubstantial and inconsequential as the residual background radiation that still lingers around Christmas Island; a distant, wordless chatter.
At the root of this is one of the Ten Commandments of football broadcasting: Thou Shalt Endeavour To Offend No One. This results in bland insights; players who, unless they’re foreign, “will be disappointed with that”, not rubbish; and an overbearing will not to utter any comment that could be perceived as a slight against a side.
One team, of course, is far, far more sensitive to these imagined insults to such an extent that we, even in our little corner of the internet, dare not mention their name else they will boil euphorically in their own indignation. But every team has their own boorish jeerleaders.
In the past, such vitriol was marginalised to the occasional chorus of “Jimmy Hill is a wanker”; but at least Hill had an opinion – which in those days stretched beyond an eternal echo for former professionals to become referees. Now any view that could incur the illiterate wrath of a messageboard is neutered and chopped up into burnished, plasticised soundbites that would clog up the bargain bins of the English language were such things for sale, or starve on street corners dressed in grimy, unwashed clothes wearing an expression that speaks of mystification of why they’ve even been born.
Sky won’t be worried, largely because it is sprawling organism insensitive to pain, but also because today, the ‘real stuff’ starts as Manchester United and Chelsea parade in a meaningless match that will send many football fans into a state of blissful oblivion, liberated of the nasty, unclean trenches of the lower leagues, something that the BBC will find impossible to remedy.
Save money on banking charges, cut motoring costs, economise on upholstery – a new industry has erupted from the dormant crater caused by the deafening collapse of the economy, one which, ironically, is based on identical capitalist principles.
Of course people have been losing their jobs since Og the caveman’s fur company was driven out of business by the extinction of the mammoth, but it’s only when enough people (or potential customers) are crippled by financial misery that such an industry can germinate from a sapling into a might oak. And the recession is one such catalyst for this growth.
Economy Gastronomy sees Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett venture into the radioactive wilderness of Britain’s careless spenders, and pick out those who have suffered a recent irreversible fiscal mishap to help them to prune their expenditure to a level they can sustain through their hardship.
The most shocking thing about Allegra and Paul is that they are pleasant human beings – witty without being banal, helpful without being patronising. They race through the recipes that can aid, in this episode, the Colton family in such a fashion as to emphasise the low cost but also to make the meals look appetising; tasty enough to look up detailed instructions on the website that is frequently flagged. Perhaps the reason for their pleasing charisma is that they aren’t ‘celebrity’ chefs, just chefs.
This invigorating alteration from the atrophying norm of egocentric ogres stirring their pudding bowls in such a frenzy that they whip up the same inescapable gravitational pull of a black hole is, on the face of it, a good thing.
However, on the other hand, the fact that Allegra and Paul aren’t celebrity chefs indicates that the elite ‘celebrity’ stormtroopers of the culinary invasion of television have done their work. They have altered the common perception of TV cookery as an intolerable novelty to something as everyday as a post box; and after the stormtroopers have spearheaded the colonisation of commonsense, the footsoldiers like Allegra and Paul can mop up any pocket of resistance to the dogmatic way of the spoon.
But the duo’s mission to further drown the schedules in a miasma of cookery and quaintness is undone by children. While adults can be surreptitiously acquiesced into a cowed state of awe by any chef instructing them how to prepare food, even something as absurd as Rick Stein exhibiting how to marinade Richard Madeley’s legs in Chris Moyles verbal gruel, children are very different, and far more obdurate to the facile coercion of chefs, celebrity or otherwise, which undermines Allegra and Paul’s philosophy.
Nine-year-old James Colton turned his nose up at mushrooms, a perfectly reasonable response given that to put a single specimen of that foul fungus in your mouth is the equivalent of dripping a typically acidic Dorothy Parker aphorism into your eye.
And his mum, the endearing Isabelle, prepared some chocolate biscuits with the ingredient of coffee, a substance so repulsive that we’d join Socrates in swallowing the hemlock rather than risk our taste buds downing tools in protest at processing that effluent brew before skulking round our gums and sporadically scrawling graffiti on our teeth. Cooking on a limited budget means a more limited menu, one that’s likely to lead to unhappiness because of the lack of consensus, and more probable than not, the unhappiness will emanate from a child.
And this is where Economy Gastronomy falls down compared to the rest of the invasion force; it allows dissent rather than crushing every outspoken voice under a caterpillar tread of Gordon Ramsay’s leathery bark, Antony Worrall Thompson’s abrasive garrotte whine or Jamie Oliver’s earnest cockney consternation.
It is bad enough that the new menus take the family many more hours to prepare, thus manacling them to the chopping board for a longer period, but also the instinctive contrariness of children will lead to adolescent malcontent. And, as any parent knows, an unhappy child is far easier to handle than even the most devastating financial disaster. Some pockets of resistance will be more difficult to erase than others.
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