Category Archives: Television

Ten Oh Clock

The prequel to Iain Lee and Daisy Donovan’s 11 O’Clock Show launched last night on Channel 4. It was the… er… 10 O’Clock Show, and it came upon us in a fiery blaze of publicity. Part of this was because Channel/More 4 had just reduced its order of the US’s The Daily Show to one episode per week, and people were angry, dammit – probably 80,000 of them, as those were the ratings – but Channelmorefour execs had cushioned the blow by saying that The 10 O’Clock Show would offer a similar mix of comedy, news, and searing political analysis.

Channel 4 was basically on a hiding to nothing here. After all, The Daily Show had years to build up a format, yet rather than soft-launching a British alternative and allowing its audience to grow organically, 4 went all-out on the social media front to make The 10 O’Clock Show a real TV event. Part of this strategy doubtless had to do with the high-profile pedigree of those involved: namely Charlie Brooker, Jimmy Carr, Lauren Laverne and David Mitchell. Such a line-up immediately raised expectations.

If you’ve read other reviews of the show, you’ve doubtless encountered the tedious grumblings of people who have no fucking idea how difficult it is to write the first episode of anything – particularly something that has to be topical and live.

Naturally, though, there were teething troubles. Yes, Lauren Laverne was wasted, and the comedy sketch she was involved in with ‘Doug Stanhope’ (Brooker-nepotism in action) plain didn’t work. Jimmy Carr’s Tunisia sketch wasn’t quite funny enough to justify inclusion either (and judging by his expression while delivering the material, he knew that, too). But such things are to be expected this early in a show’s run. David Mitchell was the undisputed star of proceedings – he was very funny in his political diatribes, and even allowed interviewee David Willetts (the Higher Education Minister) enough time to speak. True, the political tone of the show was maybe a little bit unbalanced, but it was funny and I’m sure that a tiny course correction wouldn’t kill the flow of things.

Charlie Brooker carried on with his Screen/Newswipe persona (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), as well as having a pre-recorded report about Sarah Palin that wouldn’t have looked out of place in either of those shows, but aside from his continually baffling haircut, he seemed totally suited to this kind of programme. He’s a perfect fit.

The ingredients are all there for this show to be amazing. What needs to be finessed slightly is the tone, which isn’t quite consistent enough… yet. The role that Lauren Laverne occupies also needs to be more defined, and there’s an ever-present danger that the show will start to resemble a Sixth Form Debating Society with a bigger budget.

Despite the shakedown issues, though, I’m confident that over the next few weeks it’ll establish its own identity and become one of those water cooler shows that everyone will be talking about. I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode. Overall, I thought it was a very promising start.

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Fails

Laughing at other people’s misfortune has been big business for a while. ITV’s look-at-the-guy-falling-over-athon, You’ve Been Framed, has been running in one form or another since 1990, and now that the beyond tedious studio sections have finally been excised due to the presence of Harry Hill on voiceover duties, it’s almost watchable when in a drunken stupor. Never quite recapturing the glory days when it was novel to watch people running into trees in dodgy home video footage, it is at least past the nadir of the godawful Lisa Riley years. I remember once trying to fake a video with a few of my friends – nothing elaborate, just a bit of ‘spontaneous’ falling-over. We didn’t send it in. I seem to remember that the fee the show paid for clips was £250 at its launch 20 years ago. It’s still £250 now. Cheapskates.

You’ve Been Framed, though, suffers from being on ITV in the early evening, which means that the level of the participants’ suffering is usually pretty tame. Someone being punched in the balls by a toddler is about as violent as it gets. I’ve always thought that an edgier version (maybe called You’ve Been Maimed) is the way forward. I’m not talking about people dying or being seriously injured or anything, merely the kind of hijinks that would send ITV’s lawyers running away screaming, just in case anyone copied the crazy stunts that went wrong.

This is where Failblog comes in. I first encountered it due to a random Youtube link that was sent to me, and, not being a regular viewer, it always seems fresh to me whenever a new ‘best of’ compilation goes up. Failblog is, as the name implies, concerned with showing pictures and video of people trying things and failing miserably, with suitably humorous results. Being on the internet, it doesn’t have to obey strict broadcasting guidelines. As such, at times it’s more brutal (and funnier) than Harry Hill can manage. The video below is a relatively mild compilation of fails, and it’s all good-natured, but you get the idea. There are shedloads more on Youtube, and on the site itself.

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Baby Swap

No doubt you’ve heard about the little spot of bother that Eastenders has got into over the past week or so. The BBC1 soap’s cot-death-with-added-baby-swap storyline has got viewers into a bit of a lather. Whipped up by the press as only they know how, there have been complaints to Ofcom in record numbers for the programme. Producers initially stood by the storyline and issued a robust defence of the idea, but eventually, following the exceptional amount of pressure put upon them – including the revelation that Samantha Womack (nee Janus) had resigned from the show, supposedly after her worries about the baby swap were ignored – they bowed to the inevitable and announced that the plotline would be shortened. Apparently it’ll all be over by the end of April, with a HAPPY ENDING.

Chalk one up for democracy, then! Viewer power! Or maybe not. For now, we’ll ignore the media’s spinny spin spin which involved cranking up the heat after they first scented blood. There’s an interesting quote I want to focus on, from an Eastenders source who talked to the Daily Mirror and told them: “It is important that we listen to viewers, because it is their soap after all.”

As a writer, I don’t agree. It’s not the viewers’ soap, any more than the Harry Potter series belonged to Rowling’s readers. They’re involved, sure, riding the rollercoaster of emotions – but they’re the ones strapped into the cars, not in the control booth pushing the levers. You see, writing is – necessarily – a selfish game. Extrapolating out from the quote, it seems that a backlash can now result in a storyline being changed regardless of its merits. I personally think that the baby swap plotline is ill-advised and more than a little bit unrealistic and silly, but that doesn’t mean I think that the viewers should be the ones who decide what does and doesn’t happen in the programme. Creativity is about a vision, whether it’s one person’s (in the case of a novel) or a collaboration (in the case of a soap opera). Behind the scenes, a team of writers are beavering away on the storylines, planning character arcs months in advance. To my mind, they’re the ones who should be making the story decisions, not the viewers. Whenever viewers say what they want to happen, it’s usually bollocks, which is why they don’t write the show. Viewers will want Kat and Alfie to always stay together, for the bad guys to always lose, for the good guys to always win. The job of the people in charge is usually to make that as difficult as possible. It’s what drama is. As soon as viewers start controlling television output, you’ll lose all the surprise (actually, there’s a whole other blog entry here about the business of soap spoilers, but I believe I will postpone), as well as the risk-taking. You’ll end up designing by committee rather than thinking about what’s best creatively. Hell, a lot of television already does this.

Leaving this big issue aside, though, I have to say that I’m a little bit suspicious about the whole “giving the viewers what they want” thing on this occasion. Samantha Womack is apparently leaving in May. Initial reports suggested that the baby swap plot was set to carry on all year, and that it’s now going to end early because of the complaints. Oh really? So… what: the writers were planning to carry on with it for 6 months after the character directly responsible for the incident left the show? Not having all those furtive glances and long looks to camera? What were they going to do? Parachute her in for a couple of episodes at Christmas to wrap it all up? Unlikely. Stretching it out may have been their original plan before Womack resigned, but surely after she announced her intention to leave, everything would have been building towards a rather bloody obvious exit storyline – that her character is found out as having swapped the babies and has to leave Albert Square as a result.

So I’m calling bullshit on this from a story point of view. It seems far more likely to me that this was the plan all along after Womack resigned, and now it’s feeding happily into a PR coup for the show. Think about it: massive ratings for the original swap, the soap in the news for weeks on end, and then the viewers feeling like they’ve made a difference, that they’ve captured their show back from the nasty writer men. It’s not only the media who can spin a good story. Eastenders writers do it for 4 episodes every week.

Shenanigans.

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The One Direction Chronicles

OK, lads. Let’s go over tonight’s performance (and every other fucking performance in the whole series).

Yeah, Liam, you sing the first four lines, right? And then the next four.

Onto Harry. You sing the next bit, yeah. And the next bit.

Right lads, ALL SING THE CHORUS. Zain, you can have a “Wooo wo wo wo wooooo” moment, but just on one word, OK? One word, no more. Pretend you’re Christina Aguilera without the tits.

Right, Liam again. Then Harry again. Then the big chorus. Then the key change – give it all you’ve got, fellas. Remember it’s a note higher – yes, I’m looking at you, Zain, you always get it wrong. Alright… alright, Zainy, you can do one more “wooo wo wo wo woooo” if you absolutely have to.

No, Louis. No, Niall. We’ve talked about this. You’re not allowed to sing on your own. But maybe… er… next week.

And please, please, please – no harmonies. I don’t think we could take it.

(EDIT: When I publish a post, WordPress’s clever algorithims suggest a link that they think could appeal to the people who’ve read this entry. Brilliantly, the recommended post this time is entitled “Karaoke”.)

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Tramadol Nights

As a fan of Frankie Boyle’s work on Mock The Week, I was looking forward to his new show on Channel 4, Tramadol Nights. Unfortunately I was rather disappointed with last night’s first episode – doubly so as I very loosely know one of the writers.

According to Channel 4, the show would feature “viscerally talented” Frankie picking apart “all aspects of modern life.” Yet what the programme is actually about is crass, sub-sixth form humour, the likes of which we’ve all heard before and is now well past its sell-by date – at least in this form. Stuff like jokes about Susan Boyle being mentally ill, and John Leslie being a rapist. Gay-bashing. Catholic priests all being paedophiles. Really new and edgy, eh?

More importantly, the show was nowhere near as funny as it thought it was. At times it resembled intentional Ofcom-baiting: just plain nasty for the sake of it. The Green Mile spoof sketch was a case in point. A black man rapes someone to “cure” them, and the woman ends up loving it? Please. A few people on the Internet seem to confuse this kind of thing with boundary-pushing and challenging taboos, but offending people intentionally for no reason other than to cause controversy for the sake of it, is anything but innovative. The Knight Rider sketch had a nice premise (where Michael Knight is a schizophrenic junkie who thinks his car is talking to him), but it was way too long and terribly paced.

There was one good bit, though: Untitled Street, an imaginary BBC soap featuring characters so bland and inoffensive that even their faces are blank. It was a properly good satirical idea, and the only sketch which didn’t rely on crude humour and f-bombs. Sadly, the follow-up later in the show where one of the cast members was interviewed, relied on the same old swears fallback to get a laugh, so I’m wondering whether the first sketch was just a fluke.

The interesting thing about the backlash against the show since its transmission last night – which has been pretty vicious – is that it isn’t just the usual so-called “PC brigade”, who you might expect to be outraged by the content, who have slated it. Tramadol Nights disappointed many fans of Boyle, including myself, who thought it was going to be controversial but (and here’s the key point) bloody funny along with it. I also have to say that after all the criticism he faced after Mock The Week for recycling the same gags on tour, for him to now have his own show (and presumably be paid a fair sum for doing it) and choose to recycle his stand-up tour material yet again, smacks of laziness.

And speaking of laziness: “fatherfucker”? Seriously? South Park was unclefuckering back in 2001, with far better results.

Tramadol Nights did have a few good lines within the general unpleasantness, but overall I really wasn’t impressed and it has to go down as one of the misfires of the year when it comes to television. My message to Frankie is that I don’t mind offensive comedy in the slightest, but you have to make it funny first.

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Waissel And The Media

You know what? I’m actually starting to feel a little bit sorry for Katie Waissel, this year’s X Factor hate figure. In this evening’s results show she once again ended up in the bottom two (the third time she’s faced the sing-off) along with can’t-even-spell-her-own-name TreyC, but while on previous occasions she produced a barnstorming final performance to be saved by the judges, tonight she effectively had a mental breakdown in the middle of the song. Not only did she forget the words, but she ended up sitting down on the stage, pleading “please don’t give up on me” over and over again. Even though the song’s lyrics leant themselves to this improvisation, it was really uncomfortable to watch.

The number of tabloid stories that have been circulating about Waissel since Cheryl Cole chose to pick her for her final three (later four, with the wildcards) over Gamu have been pretty ridiculous. Who knows how many are actually true? There was a kiss-and-tell article about her relationship with Michael Sophocles from The Apprentice, and various pieces about her ruthless ambition and how far she’ll go (and has gone) to get fame.

Well, now she has it. But I don’t think that it’s quite what she had in mind. Her family (again, if you believe the newspapers) have been encouraging her to quit the show, but she’s decided to carry on. Despite the fact that I think she does herself no favours by seeming more than a little bit fake, and that she’s in no way the most talented singer in the competition, I do respect her for sticking to her guns when the media and no small amount of the public are dead set on vilifying her.

Katie’s breakdown, and the subsequent wimp-out by Cheryl who refused to choose which of her two acts she wanted to send home (TreyC was eventually eliminated by majority vote), will no doubt fuel yet more controversy in the newspapers and further negative articles about Waissel. It’s easy to see tonight’s result as another piece of “evidence” that she’s being kept in simply because X Factor bosses allegedly bought out her recording contract in the States in order for her to participate in the show (yet another story that we still don’t know for sure is true). It fits what people see as a pattern, and it’s only going to make things worse.

But the continual sniping is starting to resemble bullying to me, and while Katie Waissel is far from my cup of tea, I don’t think she’s really done much to deserve it. This is a young woman’s life that’s in danger of being ruined by the circling vultures of the tabloids. And the public is, as usual, falling for it hook, line and sinker. Judging by Katie’s breakdown this evening in front of over fifteen million viewers, the way the media is covering the show this year, and directly influencing public opinion in the process, is irresponsible to say the least.

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Argos For The Win

I’m going to be without a telly until next Monday. Even though I’m away this weekend and so wouldn’t have been able to use one anyway, it still seems like an awful long time to have a great big void in the middle of my games room.

My telly had a problem: something was wrong with its video processor, which meant that fast movement was causing the picture to blur excessively no matter what mode it was in. For videogames, this meant that moving the camera left or right became a smear-fest. All of a sudden, every lead character was a drunk. Static scenes and scenes with little panning movement still looked fine, but I needed the problem fixed. So let me give you all a good piece of advice – hold onto your receipt.

Until I looked high and low for it without success, I would have put my house on the receipt being in a certain place. I can even remember putting it there. But of course, this being my life, the one receipt I needed to find had decided to go walkabout, never to be seen again. And so the call centre wars began. My wife rang up Samsung, the manufacturers of the TV to ask what they could do. All I wanted was an engineer to be called out. But Samsung was about as helpful as a fireman this Bonfire Night. It made no difference that the telly was only manufactured last July (and bought by me last December), they wouldn’t do anything at all without a receipt, and their Indian call centre staff wouldn’t deviate one iota from their scripts. Clearly the Sale of Goods act doesn’t exist – Samsung deeming it acceptable for a TV to develop problems within one and a quarter years of its date of manufacture. Ludicrous.

The retailer I bought the telly from – Argos – initially had the same response, requiring a receipt to do anything. But following a second battle with Samsung, after which my wife had to be made many cups of tea as the call was so frustrating, a lady from Argos took pity on us and agreed to look for the transaction. Lesson number two – never pay for anything expensive in cash. Without a card payment, it’s very difficult for a company to find your purchase record. But luckily there was only one TV of the particular type and price sold at that particular store on Boxing Day, and so this was deemed enough evidence that I did in fact buy it from them. Having directly contacted the store in question, the lady from Argos customer services arranged for me to return the TV and be given a gift voucher to the value of the original purchase, for me to spend on a new one.

So that’s what I did, and the new model is being delivered in a week’s time. This time, I’m framing the bloody receipt. And since it has to be delivered (with a small charge added for that), I got to make a card payment too, just as added proof in case anything goes wrong again. I really can’t fault Argos, who went above and beyond the call of duty to keep me happy. I’d definitely recommend buying from them. The less said about Samsung and their pisspoor customer service, though, the better. Frustratingly, as it’s still best in its price bracket, my new telly is the 2010 model of the one that went wrong. But if I need help in the future, I know who I won’t be counting on.

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