Ah, there’s nothing like the seasonal glut of comfort television to really complete the brain melting effects of the festive period (meat! booze! fight!). And when I say there’s nothing like it, I mean thank feck we only have to lose a month of precious life a year to the dross that dominates the schedules over Christmas. And depressingly enough it’s probably during this period that we watch most idiot box. I blame late capitalism, maybe; it’s a seller’s marker and all that…
Anyway, the main rule of comfort is to keep it familiar. Upstairs, Downstairs is a remake of some programme that was on in the late 18th century. I’ve not seen the original, so was labouring under the misapprehension that it was actually a sitcom. It transpired it was a period drama, of the sort that it is designed to gently euthanize the elderly in a way that makes them think they’re still dancing the Charleston, with a brass sound track to disguise the accompanying flatulence. It is heavily stylised – albeit in a BBC type of way – as things set in the ‘30s must be, and proportionally devoid of any real substance (Mad Men did prove both are possible at the same time on TV, Fitzgerald in literature). There wasn’t enough plot for it to be enthralling, nor sophisticated enough characterisation to make it indicative of any obscure or even general human truths. Indeed the characters were of the garden ilk (cheeky East End knees-up loving lass, wise foreign man, a dichotomy of knowing mother-in-law/young hostess determined to do things her own way) and the class divide just seemed like a thing that was there, rather than a thing of further significance – shouldn’t be that hard to pull off in our own class divided age really. History plays a large part, but rather than being essential it just felt like the writers were making cursory references to things that had very little bearing on the actual events. At the end of the day, Upstairs, Downstairs is cream puff of a thing – it looks appetising but there’s nothing in it but rich aerated milk and empty calories.
Continuing the theme of non-threatening remakes, we have Just William, which in essence is a period drama for children. Again, I’ve never read the books, or seen any of the various TV adaptations – of which there a few. The reason for this was, even as a child in the 90s, it seemed just a bit too quaint to properly be interesting, especially when Batman: The Animated Series or Price Valiant could be on at any moment. Me and Little Brother would have cracked up at his antiquated japes. I feel kids today would feel much the same way – particularly as he’s supposed to be 11 and still has a massive aversion to girls (the views on the differing interests of boys and girls is a little cringeworthy too, in this day and age). Sure, it’s all too easy to look back longingly now and dismiss what Kids These Days are into as shallow IQ eroding guff, but it’s theirs, it’s what defines them as a generation. Nothing like the approval of crusties to make something seem like irrelevant crap. And that’s who this programme is really for, perhaps confirmed by a review appearing on the front page of Newspaper of Choice’s website. This is for an older generation, to look back and to reminisce about how much better things were then, what larks. In an age when Dennis the Menace has had to take to extreme sports in an attempt to keep the kids interested, I don’t see how this is going to interest anyone under the age of 300 – and without the memories to spur you on, this is no SpongeBob (i.e. kid’s show that’s got something for the adults) either.
Little Britain gets me riled up in a way that not much else can. To me, it is the alpha and omega of painful television. It both reflects (not in the characters, but in how low our standards have dropped) and perpetuates our society of idiots. So I was bloody terrified to see the Brothers Grim had put together a new sketch show, entitled Come Fly with Me. I was right to be afraid, and halfway through my neck was twitching, I had ground my teeth into a fine dust and was in the process of etching the likeness of the character select screen on Street Fighter II (original, not Turbo, yeah?) into my left eye. What a horrible sham of a programme. Now, a couple of entries back, I talked about Frankie Boyle. He says some things that, if you were to hear them devoid of context, could easily make you (quite rightly) cry ‘racist’, and possibly walk across the room in disgust/fear. But in context, his material is achingly funny – he’s established a persona for himself and his gross humour has served to exclude that strange crowd of moralisers who somewhat paradoxically can be the most prone to racism (The Mail, innit). Therefore he can do this. Lucas and Walliams cannot claim the same, and the race based caricatures on which Come Fly with Me is founded instead seem to fall into the uncomfortable category of ‘we’re all thinking it’ comfortable institutional racism. They’ve managed to do what Boyle never could, and have actually offended me, made all the worse by the fact that they forgot to put in the magic ingredient of funniness. Piss off you two. Piss off and die. And here’s hoping 2011 will start a little more pleasantly than 2010 finished.