Square Eyes #9

Posted in TV
By Mansoor Iqbal on 15 Jun 2010

Listen. I know people like Gavin and Stacy. That’s all fine and good. And I suppose some people must find James Corden funny. I can’t get behind that really, but each to their own, right? I even know of one person who likes him because he’s fat. Bizarre, and about as misguided as his own pride in his obesity (eating lots of food is actually quite easy). But who was it who decided to give him a plum slot after England world cup games, essentially making him something of a national voice on football, and guaranteeing him massive viewing figures? I hope they regret it, because James Corden’s World Cup Live (ITV1) is an obnoxious beer fart of programme. And this from a man who recently wrote a column about how different he felt to ‘laddish’ football fans. So the way you’re dealing with that is through a half hour ingerland grunt, intersected with clips of you having fun man times with the England squad? Right. He even alluded to the ‘fight’ to put up England flags. Because of the immigrants right? Sigh. The choice of guests was slightly misguided too. Gordon Banks, sure, an asset to any ostensibly world cup themed show (so let’s ask him the same question twice in a row). But Cowell? Katy bleedin’ Perry? Really? One blatantly hates football, but dared to suggest that the England team ‘needed’ his song, and should play it before matches (I sicked a little in my mouth, I tried to swallow it but it made it worse, and I had to do more sick). The other might have worn some West Ham pants once, but actually managed to come across as vacuous on a programme where the choice of Corden as anchor might have been to stop it floating away. The whole thing feels like a horribly cynical ploy to further the big guy’s career. He’s not even got the charisma or credibility of Baddiel and Skinner. And if his horrible gurning face is the first thing we see after England are eliminated…well, ouch. Speaking of the World Cup, why are ITV so obsessed with slow motion? Seriously, a manager’s gesticulations and a player shouting something, probably swears, aren’t things I’ve ever wanted to closely analyse. The only feasible explanation, bar eroticism, is that the staff at ITV are secretly buying some time so they can watch some adverts. So eroticism then…

Shit. Dung. Faecal matter. Crap. Arse badgers. Good old fashioned poo. There are many words to describe the recent output of BBC3. It didn’t have to be this way though. The idea, essentially, was good. Free from the strictures and rigours of the BBC’s flagship channels, with all their obligations to Queen and country, and with its purported orientation towards youth, it promised to provide a platform for fresh, challenging programming, that otherwise ran the risk of being marginalised by 37 years of Last of the Summer Wine (or something). In theory, this is an ideal breeding ground for comedy. Certainly in its early years it provided the first televisual home to The Mighty Boosh and the towering genius of Monkey Dust. But it has since fallen on somewhat harder times. There’s a bit of a pilot season happening at the moment, yielding, amongst other things, Stanley Park. If Two Pints of Lager ate Skins, and then wiped its arse with The Inbetweeners this is what you might get (keeping up the theme). It’s not particularly laugh out loud funny, dark or surreal and, significantly, none of the characters seemed worthy of any emotional investment. It also felt distinctly cheap – not only because it looked a bit shy of financial investment but also because it is a brightly coloured toy for idiots. We’ll see if they pick it up, but I’m not sure if there’s room in the world for another ‘coming of age’ comedy drama thing. Enough about teenagers’ sex lives. Please. If something’s already funny in real life, it takes an unyielding commitment to restraint to make it funny in a card carrying comedy, and I don’t know how many people who aspire to write sitcoms can boast mastery of the fine art of subtlety.

Not content with punishing myself with pilots, I thought I’d have a go with something that had been green-lighted. Please step up Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show. The basic idea is commendable – give a young comic, Simon Brodkin in this case, a chance to do his own thing after he’s made a bit of a name for himself, see if he’s capable of taking the next step. So what’s your idea young man? You’re going to play a likeable scally with a comedy London accent (the eponymous Lee Nelson, who Brodkin has made his name playing) in a tracksuit who has somehow got a studio based show…which is going to be broken up by you playing some other characters…including a moustached man with a comedy foreign accent…oh…who’s going to break it to him? The stand-up bits are a bit poor really, and his character really doesn’t add much to it apart from his attire and his manner of speaking. The sketches vary in quality – one hinges on footballers being thick (ahem – if it’s funny in real life…) which I see grating after not too long. Actually, it’s already grating. Admittedly, one about a holiday rep is funny, but I can’t really see there being much scope for variation. Which I suppose goes for the whole thing, which again feels a bit budget. Brodkin’s gone up against some stiff opposition with this. Sacha Baron Cohen obviously, Steve Coogan, Chris Morris – you’ve got to be something special to compete with these geniuses of character driven comedy. Sadly, I’m not convinced Lee Nelson is even up to the standard of Al Murray’s pub landlord character. Brodkin, I suspect, could do better, but like BBC3, he needs to remember his target demographic isn’t comprised solely of idiots.

I have, however, recently started to feel quite fond of BBC4, which I feel has my best interests at heart. Perhaps it’s not the best channel for the hopper, who is, by nature, an impatient beast, never more than 3 minutes away from Sky Sports News. However, for the iPlayer user or, indeed, the ‘circler’ (rapidly nearing extinction), it is a dream come true. You can be safe in the knowledge that there’s always a cache of documentaries that are genuinely worth watching. Recently, I saw Nixon in the Den, a short hour, curated by David Reynolds, on a man who popular opinion tends to look unkindly upon. I say short, because it has to be taken at a run, so plentiful is the source material. I would’ve been happy to watch another hour. However the pace plays an important part by helping to keep it suitable for the lay person, and by extension, television – certainly not a medium for in depth study. Reynolds’ angle is also aimed squarely at the layperson, someone not aware of the more positive aspects of Nixon’s premiership. Of course, the bits when he goes wrong are still best though. However there was one major problem with the programme – Reynolds’ insistence on doing accents and voices. One simulated conversation between Nixon and Brezhnev is particularly excruciating, even if it was in the context of an old Soviet joke. So, I suppose academics and BBC3 have something in common: neither of them are as funny are they think they are.

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