So it has taken precisely 5 days for the eloquent and quite brilliant Charlie Brooker to return to the BBC, restore some faith and deliver his unique blend of acerbic, retro laden wit possibly proving that he is far better working on his own, in a darkened room, without carrying the weight of others far less talented than him. Last Thursday saw the first in the series of Brooker’s team effort ‘The 10 O’Clock Show’ on Channel 4 and tonight also at 10pm, saw the first of Brooker’s solo offering, ‘How TV Ruined Your Life’.
I have to say I was very disappointed with the C4 effort. I will stick with it, naturally as it will only get better, but it really felt like it did not know what it really was or wanted to be. David Mitchell, a talent in the same sphere as Brooker, came across as nervy and a little too snooty and dare I say weak when he had a short discussion with some bankers. Too short, too light, too prescribed. Jimmy Carr is always too prescribed and short. There is just something about him that does not quite work, he is almost trying too hard, dressing too sharp and in short (sorry) just one degree away from being an irritant. In contrast Charlie boy is tight, dry and cutting with some patches of profanity, which always seems natural and easy to him, and me. I suspect that Charles would make me laugh over a pint and James would be less, how do you say, immediately funny. But that is purely a suspicion mind you.
The rest of the show was filled with jagged edges. A cut away to a pre-recorded set piece sketch here and there, something about a ‘Holday in Tunisia’ (Jello Biafra would be proud of the nod) segwaying into some appallingly unfunny and hardly relevant spoof of the US news, fronted by the 4th quarter of the team, Lauren Laverne, who frankly looks and feels like she needs to get her TV ‘comedy’ sea legs on. Attempts to ‘get serious’ see Carr interviewing a serious and controversial (obviously) environmentalist called Bjorn, with young Jim pulling the same old faces to the audience who then dutifully laugh somewhat inappropriately bang on cue when the environmentalist talks about making clouds whiter. Is this a straight comedy or a simplistic spoof? Who knows, Carr cuts the man off mid sentence to shoe horn his playful gag about having Bjorn (back on the show) again. All terribly droll and yes, prescribed and predictable.
The show comes back to life, briefly when David runs his ‘Listen to Mitchell’ piece focused on Culture, Media and Sport Minsiter – Jeremy Hunt complete with the Radio 4 version of his name – and his call for more local news. Funny. The humour button stays engaged for a bit of Brooker doing a sort of Screenwipe live (good), but then lapses back again with Mitchell failing again in the interviewers chair. He loses the battle to a very capable David Willetts, with predictable jabs about the student fees, rounded off with David M answering his own questions and getting just a little bit emotional. David Frost he ain’t, Terry Wogan even? Well not quite, yet.
The show comes to a finale with a sort of ’roundtable’ piece which was just about OK. Ms Laverne continues to look disconnected, getting confused about Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls being MARRIED and in the Shadow Cabinet, which is not exactly earth shattering given they were MARRIED and in the Cabinet 6 months ago. What becomes obvious is that Jimmy seems to be more of a Tory than the others, although his idea to make bankers receive their bonuses live on TV is one of the more amusing utterances from him. That would be a good move. Mind you I have never trusted a man who has to laugh at his own jokes and clearly has taken his body language/hand movements straight out of the Blair/Cameron/Clegg handbook.
Verdict: David and Charlie would be better sticking to their own devices and Lauren was great on the Culture Show after she gave up singing. Jimmy Carr is a stand up comedian.
Thus it was reassuring when I invested half the time tonight at 10pm this time on BBC2. This was far more focused, using a lovely rack of public information films as the subject matter. Indeed, the semi legendary ‘British’ boxer, Joe Bugner appeared in one, the ‘Be Smart, Be Safe’ campaign and I am sure Charlie missed him completely. These films were from a more naive age, kids were not media savvy, and governments were certainly more patronising. Brilliant campaigns like ‘If you want to have fun and stay alive’ warned of the dangers of playing with scaffolding, flying kites or chucking Frisbees near overhead cables. Bliss.
We had a wonderful journey into the centre or back of the brain, literally, the Amygdala – which was all news to me. The politics of fear and terror were seen through the eyes of impressionable youth and lived out in those wonderful kids’ existentialist shows ‘Pipkins’ and ‘Orlov’, no wonder we are a creative race, the randomness of what we are brought up with is simply brilliant. We are hard wired to fear loud noises (bang) and sudden movements (falls) and TV plugs into those fears. Given that Crimewatch was launched on the BBC in 1984, one can’t help appreciating the wonderful irony.
Which rather begs the question, ‘what would public information films look like if they were made today’ Messrs Brooker and Mitchell, perhaps that would be the beginning of a beautiful relationship?