The line between staying fresh and abandoning your strengths is very fine. In the case of one 10 O’Clock Live host there may not have been any strengths to start with, but Kevin Bridges is sadly walking away from his talents and onto the beaten track.
10 O’Clock Live (Episode 2, available on 4oD until Fri 16 Mar 2012)
10 O’Clock Live is Channel 4’s supergroup offering. The concept is a solid one, bringing together a group of individually famous, left-leaning comedians to discuss politics and current affairs in a humorous light. Unfortunately, the delivery doesn’t quite live up to the expectation. Lauren Laverne fills the presenting role, which seems natural given her Culture Show experience and other TV work. However, nothing she has regularly done before has been live, and she clearly struggles with the show’s format. A slight quiver in her voice evokes images of classroom presentations, and the battle between memorisation and autocue is clear to see. This is not to say she does her job badly, but the tension it causes her makes her lines come out in a very Newsround style, with an unchanging, pseudo-quizzical, raised pitch dominating the delivery. This being the case, it’s a tremendous shame that Laverne’s intro is followed by Jimmy Carr’s weekly news one-liners. To say Carr is the weak link in the show is a massive understatement, akin to suggesting that a cricket bat to the teeth is only a little less enjoyable than eating ice cream. His ‘famed’ punch line quips follow one of two approaches, being either whimsical wordplays or unabashed insults. It is difficult to say which he worse at, but it’s clear that he lacks the vocabulary of Tim Vine and the dark imagination of Frankie Boyle. At this point I should also talk about Carr’s mid-show sketches, but some atrocities are better left undiscussed.
Fortunately, after this drivel subsides, the 10 O’Clock heavyweights come into action. Charlie Brooker’s segments follow a very similar pattern to his Newswipe series (which is by no means a bad thing), focusing on dissecting the news media more than the news itself. Brooker is followed by David Mitchell, who tends to be tasked with the more mature pieces involving guests. His natural intellect is strongly on show in a Falklands debate with George Galloway and Hugo Rifkind, blending easy humour with razor-sharp interjections which you don’t (as I sometimes didn’t) have to agree with to appreciate. There is, then, a clear gulf in talent between the two sides of this show. Any doubts about this can quickly be dispelled by observing the freestyle discussion between sections. Laverne is left stammering, trying to assert her authority as the presenter, whilst Carr pitifully tries to pitch in at the same level as Brooker and Mitchell. This latter farce too often culminates in horrible awkward silences, as poor Jimmy’s mates clench their teeth to stop themselves from laying into him with full force. Ultimately, the whole thing comes out feeling disjointed and slightly unnatural, which is a shame for what is otherwise a genuinely entertaining show. 10 O’Clock live is certainly not to be avoided, but it might be wise to keep the mute button close to hand.
Kevin Bridges: What’s the Story? (Episode 2, available on BBC iPlayer until Wed 21 Mar 2012)
Kevin Bridges is a good comedian. He’s not the best wordsmith or the deepest explorer of the human condition, but he has a solid observational base that goes beyond that of most arena stand-ups. Why, then, he chose to make What’s the Story? is a genuine mystery. It seems that at a high point in his early career, when he is nationally recognised but not yet too ubiquitous to be infuriating, Bridges has made a conscious decision to move towards the mainstream. The show’s premise is that it will involve Bridges exploring and explaining the inspirations and stories behind his jokes. At no point does this happen. Instead, the show is a sort of Dave Gorman-esque presentation of boring follow-ups to a few innocuous, fairly funny jokes from his stand-up shows. The first of these comes from a gag he did about how Glasgow tourism campaigns should show the real Glasgow, featuring an apprentice joiner named Wee Mental Davy. It was a good joke and could have remained so, but for no reason at all he decides to make the concept real and actually goes to a joinery class and holds auditions. The idea is so strange that Bridges himself doesn’t know what approach to take, causing him to revert to a sort of paternal, Secret Millionaire, charity tone. A quick bonding session ensues with the young candidates, leaving you wondering if you changed channel to a wholesome American camping show. The piece then culminates with a billboard for the real Glasgow being revealed, and the result is bemusingly dull and not even remotely funny.
The show continues in this manner, with the next lead being a recurring Bridges theme of using Leamington Spa as an example of a stereotypically English, middle-class town. The inevitable gig he does in Leamington at the climax of this piece is noticeably weak and nervy, as the purposeless premise must have added a great deal of extra pressure. The only high point comes from a very short discussion with fellow above-average comedian Micky Flanagan, in which they discuss accents. It never gets very deep, but it’s a welcome break from the jarring futility of the rest of the show. I think Kevin Bridges is naturally funny and a genuinely likeable guy so this pains me to say, but What’s the Story? is the most boring thing I’ve watched in a long time. Reality TV and all the other usual hate targets may be worse affronts to humanity, but at least they are what they are. This isn’t anything – just mysterious dross that leaves you feeling like you’ve just had a very grey, unmemorable dream.