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Saturday, 3 December 2005

Three Men In a Boat, BBC2

Tuesday 3 December 2005
Did we like it?
As a gentle exercise in observing how incompetent three middle aged men – Dara O’Briain, Griff Rhys Jones and Rory McGrath – are at enjoying the simple pleasures of life it was most illuminating.
What was good about it?
• Dara O’Briain was the most likeable of the three boatmen. And his bickering with the obnoxious Antony Worrall Thompson was a spectacle. Even before the trio had docked at the end of Worrall Thompson’s obnoxiously large garden, which backed on to the Thames, they were concocting and allocating false compliments to bestow upon the obnoxious chef and his obnoxious garden. Dara even found time to deride the emblem of the psychological worthlessness of the wealthy – topiary – as the obnoxious chef had part of his hedge cut into the shape of an elephant.
• Dara’s comment that he would “rather have my tongue lashed to a goat than sing the Eton Boating Song” as their skiff was rowed past that bastion of esoteric elitism.
• Griff’s Englishman abroad body. His face and neck looked like they’d been recently reclaimed from the shield of St George after his duel with the dragon, while his body is so pale it’s used by Arctic explorers to symbolise the shade of snow which it’s safe to melt and drink on their water purity charts.
• The inept efforts to set up the tents. Rory eventually had to ask the director for assistance.
• The glorious scenery as the skiff glided along the Thames.
• Loli the dog fending off Griff’s attempts to pet her.
• When Rory and Dara had a go on a rowing simulation machine in Henley, the automated erotic female voice shouting encouragement sounded as though it had been sampled from a porn movie.
• Dara and Rory declining to shift from the delights of the Bull Inn as Griff frantically prepared their evening meal alone on an island. When the drunken pair summond up the courage to tell Griff they wouldn’t be coming back as “it is too dark to row”, Griff hung up and muttered curses and oaths damning them late into the night.

What was bad about it?
• It was merely a slot in what seemed to be a conspiracy over many channels of “Middle-aged Futility Evening”. The notion of three middle-aged men rowing down the Thames is, in essence, utterly pointless, and seemed to be a televisual revelation for men of a certain age to give up on life as futile pursuits was all they could look forward to in later life. Over on Sky Sports 1, Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson were condemned to the futility of trying to keep up with the much younger Jose Mourinho, while Woody Allen was forced to reflect that he would never match films like Annie Hall in an interview with Jonathan Ross.
• But the most dreadful gauge of middle-aged obsolescence was that ginger-tinged human litmus paper Mick Hucknall who was in concert on BBC1 from Cuba, whose impoverished citizens may have resisted the evils of capitalism for half-a-century but crumbled before mind-drainingly limp commercial pop. Anyone of any age, from eight to 18 to 38 to 88 should be regularly screened, like porn stars are for Aids, for the early signs of mental obsolescence through being forced to listen to Simply Red. And if there is the slightest quiver of pleasure during Fairground or Holding Back The Years then they are cast out from vibrant society and marked as a pariah through the coerced donning of slippers at all times and a pipe jammed between their jaws. Rory McGrath would fail such a test.
• The way in which the narrative was appended in the edit room, often for very suspect reasons. It was one thing, if a little insipid, to affix canine whining to the film when Loli the dog refused to get on the boat. However, it was quite another thing, as the trio rowed away from the houseboat recording studio of Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour, to dump on the narrative, as if natural conversation, Griff enquiring when Gilmour’s new CD was being released. “March, I think,” the remarkably well informed Rory replied in the most naked instance of product placement since the last show of I’m Alan Partridge and Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out, which were both spoofs of such greedy behaviour.
• And when they strolled into Gilmour’s garden after docking, Rory warned: “I suspect this is something completely illegal that we’re doing.” Meanwhile, a stationary BBC camera positioned deep in Gilmour’s garden tracked their “trespass” with a lingering panning shot.
• Rory McGrath’s tedious knowledge of ornithology.
• As the boat was rowed out from Kingston-upon-Thames and through the towns of Berkshire, it resembled Dante’s descent into Hell.

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