Square Eyes #6

Posted in TV
By Mansoor Iqbal on 2 Mar 2010

Since the day David Mitchell awkwardly shuffled into our collective vision (and our hearts) as Peep Show’s Mark Corrigan he’s been carving a niche for himself so specific it makes Jerry Seinfeld look like a Renaissance man. I’m not going to hold this against him. In a world where I am constantly forced to look at orange people from reality TV bands who can’t quite remember which of the muscles in their face to contract in order to make something that bears some semblance to a human facial expression, there are too few intelligent and endearing middlebrow voices openly bewildered by a confusing world.

Mitchell’s incredulity is his stock in trade, his ideal position is as a panel guest – one who can be relied upon to have not heard the latest songs but can offset this with intelligence only perfunctorily veiled by the gawky exterior. His omnipresence in this role has earned him the right to have a shot at being Master of Ceremonies for BBC 2’s The Bubble (episode 2 iPlayer until 05/03), in which other famous panellists (very much the usual suspects) are temporarily isolated from the world before coming on the show and attempting to pick out real news stories from bogus ones. Sadly the BBC decided to ban its newsreaders from participating in the fakes, but for the most part an admirable job has been done on them. Some of the clips could make you believe that England plans to annex France, or that online bingo is now being offered as a university course at Oxford and Cambridge. Well, perhaps it is a little less obvious. It is always funny, what they come up with! The main issue however is Mitchell. He sounds uncomfortable right from the beginning. As he explains the concept of the show it almost sounds like he’s taking the piss out of it. The gameshow-esque formula seems to weigh heavily on him, and he seems to be pushing things along slightly too quickly. The strength of programs like Buzzcocks or Have I Got News for You is the constant threat of the format becoming derailed, leaving us with a sort of comedic anarchy, a threat that is here removed by Mitchell’s marshalling of the events. It’s only when the host has lost control in this way that they can fully get involved in the give and take of noble art of piss taking. Without these conditions however, the attempts by the guests or Mitchell himself to point of Mitchell’s inherent geeky character become laboured and may as well come along with winking and comedy horns for how nuanced they are. Given time, hopefully Mitchell can get into the same stride as Charlie Brooker, a man who he’d do well to look to for inspiration, but for now he’s very much a work in progress in terms of presenting.

The Day the Immigrants Left (BBC 1, iPlayer until 03/03), despite its dramatic title was not a happily ever after story penned by Nick Griffin, but a program that was attempting to look at the issues surrounding immigration and its effect on unemployment. The approach chosen was an odd one in that it seemed a little pointless; it was to simply give some British unemployed a crack at jobs done primarily by Eastern European immigrants in a town in Cambridgeshire, to prove they could do the jobs as well as the Poles and Lithuanians. Surprisingly the employers were not coy whatsoever about saying that they believed, in many cases, the immigrants were better workers, and had a stronger work ethic. The other big surprise was, despite this being for only two days, and in front of the BBC cameras, the employers were proved, to an extent, right. The amount of no shows was impressive, and the slovenly attitudes and inability to take the mildest criticism of others was bewildering, surely they could at least pretend for the cameras? Depressingly, what was less of surprise was the bigotry on display by some of the Brits, who seem to be labouring under the impression there’s some sort of conspiracy to keep them out of work in favour of immigrants. You can somehow see the twisted logic employed, but it doesn’t make them any less repulsive.

So, my other half was out of the house the other day, so I flicked over to 5 to see if I could catch me some soft porn, which is actually the least embarrassing reason I can think of to be watching 5 if there isn’t any football on (even then I’ve come pretty close to putting it on mute and turning the radio on, but I’m saving that for the day when I have a moustache and spend my days eating Scotch eggs and pork pies, quietly farting into my plush sofa while occasionally shouting abuse at whatever denomination of people have most enraged me that day). Anyway, the soft porn has long gone, leaving us with, well, Ian Wright. But, during my short porn-less stay, I noticed that they were running a program called Archer (C5, episodes 1 and 2 Demand Five for however long stuff stays on Demand Five) that struck me as being reminiscent of the now defunct Adult Swim classic Frisky Dingo. The latter show was a thing of beauty, astute in its observations of popular culture and merciless in its satire, and packed with satisfying violent slapstick and absurdity, the sort that is so hard to weight correctly. Archer seems to be slightly inclined towards the latter tendencies, and its satire slightly more lightweight and generic, serving up a mixture of office humour and action movie clichés allowed by its setting in the world of espionage. It is, however, laugh out loud funny, and the rich and brash lead man is up there with Xander Crews. If you’re a fan of Adult Swim and such like it’s definitely worth a look. Don’t expect anything too clever, and wave goodbye to good taste. You won’t be needing it.

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