Square Eyes #8

Posted in TV
By Mansoor Iqbal on 19 May 2010

Kids eh? I’ve often thought the best thing about them is the certainty that you could beat (most of) them in a fight. After watching the first instalment of Junior Apprentice (BBC1) I’m convinced that some of the contestants are long overdue a beating. What a depressing bunch of deluded little shits. The format of the show hasn’t changed from the grownup version. Showing off, telling on each other, gross exaggeration; these are amongst the worst traits of childish behaviour, and if the ‘adults’ on The Apprentice can’t rise above it, it’s no surprise these teenagers can’t. Nonetheless it’s still horrible to watch, and hard not to cringe at Alan Sugar’s desperation to be called ‘Lord Sugar’. Big man. Maybe it’s just that business is a world that suits horrible people. Indeed, the kids who had already enjoyed the most success in business were the least likeable, perhaps compounded by the vague aroma of privilege in the air. Horrible as it is, it would be snobbish to deny that it is compelling viewing, even if you’re only watching it to see young people fail. I’m pretty sure this is the point of a programme like this, which is a bit wrong really, when you think about it. The format is certainly not designed to find the best businesspeople; the one who was already the most successful got the Sugar finger (deservedly). And you know what? I was pretty happy about it.

Scarface (the Pacino version) is easily one of the most enjoyable films ever made. It might have serious ambitions, but the result is hilarious. Despite this, the romanticised image of the crime lord permeates your imagination, and even the most dour middle-class straight-and-narrow merchant (i.e. me) harbours a secret desire to rise to the top of the organised crime ladder. Obviously Scarface isn’t alone in this, but the delicious 80s excess it portrays makes it especially mesmerising. My Father, Pablo Escobar (More4), promised to feed this fascination, as even Tony Montana couldn’t hold a candle to Escobar. As the title suggests, the documentary is made up of interviews with Escobar junior (although he’s changed his name) talking about his father. However it’s not just him, it’s also the sons of two politicians (one a president in the making) whose lives were cut short as a result of angering Escobar. The documentary is good, detailing Escobar’s life from both history’s and his family’s points of view, and offering a glance at the roots (or at least the lower trunk) of Columbia’s problems with cocaine. Maybe in the post Sopranos age the idea of a criminal as a family man isn’t such a jarring one, but at the same time a tape of Escobar singing songs and telling stories to his kids provides one of the best moments of the programme. Saying that though, his son pulls no punches; the family man image isn’t overplayed and the glamour lasts about five minutes. The tone is fittingly dark throughout. Running parallel to Escobar’s story is that of his son apologising to the assassinated politicians’ sons. Although these conversations do err on the side of corny, they do help to reinforce the de-glamorisation of a life of crime. Overall, a pretty decent piece of work – affecting and watchable, if occasionally trite. It put me off a life of crime. For nearly a whole day.

Autism seems to be a topic that holds a special fascination for us. I can think of few other conditions that have received as much media attention. The BBC is having something of an autism season at the moment. A couple of weeks back a programme called Autistic Driving School was on, which I thought was quite good, particularly as it let the people with autism do the talking. This meant it avoided the pitfall of being patronising. Driving seemed a good topic too; it allowed us to see the challenges of being autistic but at the same time demonstrated that what people with autism are capable of. At the end of it, I actually felt I’d learnt something. I’m not sure if I can say the same thing about Autistic Superstar (BBC3) though, which left me a little confused. On the one hand, it seems like a good thing to give people who are often excluded from such things the chance to demonstrate their talents. On the other hand it was really hard to tell if some of the participants were enjoying it. The amount of times one of them ran away crying leaves that one open to debate. The whole reality show format of trying to put on a show in a short space of time didn’t sit well with me either. It all felt a little cruel and voyeuristic rather than edifying or empowering. Tension was being forced where there was no need for it, as if only tension could move our cold dead desensitised hearts. There is also a massive danger of ghettoising the kids who were definitely up for it (the musicians). I concede I might be wrong on this one, but it felt clumsy and patronising to me, not just to the participants, but also to the viewers.

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