Category Archives: TV

#oneaday 35: Cooking the classes

I have not done my homework for weeks, just look at my #oneaday performance – we are on day 62 of 2011 and I am posting my 35th blog – so I am almost 50% behind the curve.  I think the phrase would be ‘could try harder’. Maybe I need to go back to school, in seach of further learning and inspiration.

Maybe though there is more than one  major crisis in the TV production industry. Or at least there seems to be. Whoever decided to try and fuse a popular chef who happens to have a very deep a social conscience, some famous people with brains or sporting prowess, some drop out 16 year olds without any GCSE’s and an allegedly failing teaching system probably thought the result would be enlightening,  a good idea even.  Certainly whoever green lit the concept at Channel 4 was either suffering from delusion or hubris or a bit of both.

Jamie Oliver has done many, many great things and I have the utmost respect for him. He is a one man force of nature. Whether it’s creating fast proper food, training 16 year old drop outs to be chefs or indeed putting some magic into the gastronomic production in schools and communities trying to help stop some becoming 16 year old drop outs, he has always fought against the endemic status quo.

However, last night ‘Jamie’s Dream School’ was the equivalent of cold cuts with your Frosties. The concept was simple, in more ways than one.

Take a heap of kids from various backgrounds, but mainly working class, who had left school at 16 without any qualifications. Then take a variety of well known and it has to be said purveyors of excellence in their respective fields and ask them to inspire said kids, and sort of teach them at the same time. Good concept eh? In the process prove that all students need inspiration and if they get that inspiration from teachers, they may well actually engage and learn and then get some qualifications and be good citizens.

Seems fair enough. From my own childhood I experienced good, bad and ugly teachers and one or two excellent ones who genuinely inspired me to learn and achieve. Indeed I still keep in touch with one such excellent teacher today, 30 years after leaving school.

But this is TV. It feels like teaching and learning don’t really make great TV, a bit like video games, i.e you have to be in it to get it, so to speak. So the producers have to use all sorts of visual aids and stunts to keep the viewer interested or at least they think they are keeping the viewer interested.

So we see a bit of indiscipline, sparked by David Starkey adopting a quasi 1950’s approach to teaching. More Jimmy Edwards than Robert Donat and all frankly contrived and somewhat embarrassing all round.  Cue ‘the kids’ leaving class and cries of ‘disrespec’ it’s rank out of orda’. Rolf Harris is there to teach art, and unsurprisingly got mashed by the sheer weight of numbers. Robert Winston, a trained surgeon, but advocate of science (good man) tries to get the interest of his class first by dissecting large mice or rats and then goes for the jugular by dissecting a pig complete with guts and entrails being chucked around hastened by a circular saw. Cue ‘the kids’ leaving class again and this time chucking their own guts up. Dame Ellen Macarthur stuck to her core subject, and got kids aboard her yacht and got their concentration, which one must assume is down to their being no signal for their mobile phones and it being somewhat dangerous in the Solent.

All in all the whole programme was predictable and frankly trite. Celebrity culture seems to allow for citizens to get some kind of warped kudos from being trite and often stupid. I would like to know what the budget for this series actually was, but whilst I do feel that Channel 4’s output has been getting steadily worse, let’s say lacking in inspiration, I would urge all of you to seek out and invest 5 hours of your life to watch ‘The Promise’ also broadcast and commissioned by Channel 4. That really was truly inspirational work of televisual art touching both my heart and mind in a profound way whilst also educating me on the issues surrounding the Middle East.

Check out The Promise on 4OD

Maybe Jamie could buy a ticket to Hebron or Gaza and use his considerable talents and diplomatic nature to help solve that little problem. They have tried everything else, so what have they or we got to lose?

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#oneaday 25: Sex discrimination and film awards

So today is the day that The King’s Speech could mop up a fair few BAFTAs and leave the deserving Social Network in it’s wake, at least until the Oscars next month. But the real question for me is why are there still categories that are sexually determined? Why do we have ‘Best Actor’ and ‘Best Actress’ in this day and age? Surely these categories are relics of another age? We don’t have ‘Best Male Director’ we have simply ‘Best Director’ so why bother with ‘actor’ and ‘actress’?

Is it that these categories go back to the days of inequality amongst the sexes, especially in the film industry. The fact was all the jobs were done by men and women only took acting and not technical or craft roles outside costume and make up. Surely now it is the time for all film awards to focus on the ‘best’ in class and ditch the sexual demarcation? Could they, the Academies, do the decent thing and make the changes and bring themselves up to date soon please?

Having said all of that, I still think Colin Firth will pip Natalie Portman to the ‘Best Person Portraying Someone Else’ BAFTA tonight. But in the interests of old fashioned forced equality, Natalie will win her category and Colin will win his one and everyone will put their hands together.

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#oneaday23: The Holey Trinity – is it a just Mexican stand off?

As our means of collecting and accessing information becomes faster and more comprehensive and the role of the traditional media becomes both questioned and strained, so the dynamics within the media challenge their very existence and importance.  We begin to see a backlash by the media against the media, especially  in Britain where it is a national habit to ‘build ’em up and knock ’em down’. Sometimes the backlash is serious, at other times somewhat more facile. The increasingly open nature of debate means we are seeing the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ becoming more prevalent , which can be a very good thing and sometimes a little more dangerous. This is nothing new, when people are put down, their natural instinct is to rise up. Think 1789 Paris for example. But the crowd is not always right. A couple of weeks back, two prominent presenters on Sky TV lost their jobs, one voluntarily and one without any choice. The ‘crowd’ was right to pronounce their abhorrence and the broadcaster took neccessary action.

But another broadcaster decided not to take action when 3 of their star presenters made racist and insulting comments about Mexicans on their Sunday evening episode of ‘Top Gear’. I did not see the episode, I gave up with Top Gear at the end of the last series, as it seemed to become far too cliched and actually quite boring, like many of these ‘familiar family favourites’ ultimately become. But I have since seen the clips on YouTube and on the national  news since, and it confirmed one thing that Top Gear is actually quite smug, full of itself and ultimately actually boring. The presenters are talented enough, but seeem to believe that they can do what they want, when they want and say what they want about whoever they want. In short they have believed in their own publicity and that is always a sad thing to witness. I am actually not really that bothered what these boys say, my main issue is one of consistency. If they had directed their ‘humour’ at women would there have been the same mute approach from our national broadcaster or indeed the ‘crowd’ in general?

Indeed, is it a decision or lack of it, dictated to by sheer commercial principle? Sky could afford to dispose of Messrs Gray and Keys, both reported to be on salaries of £1.3M per annum, as there are many more who could fill their football boots. But could the BBC afford to dispense wholesale with the Top Gear  triumvirate ? This series generates a massive amount of cash for BBC Worldwide and removing the holy trinity of Clarkson, Hammond and May would leave a massive hole in their P&L. I actually would not want to see anyone lose their job, but maybe the BBC should have a word in their shell like. Given the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross episode, there is some track record here. If nothing else, it will give those who write Top Gear a kick up the arse of those Marlboro style cowboy booted, denimed clad legged presenters. Indeed Mr Clarkson stated that ‘it is impossible to be funny without offending someone’. I am not sure I completely agree with that. Mind you,  it may just make the show get back to its roots and bcome more interesting and less predictable.

Dear BBC – please restore our faith in your ability to make genuinely funny programmes.  We can but hope

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#oneaday 22: How many hands have we got?

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?

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