Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The festival for morons that is British TV

A phrase that crops up in the excellent novel ‘A Prayer For Owen Meany’ by John Irving says it all - ‘made for television’.

'Made for television' ... it's not compliment. It's a withering remark by Owen Meany to sum up what he feels about TV output – that it's dull, feeble-brained and insensitive to the finer aspects of human experience.

Now, last night (Tue 15 July 2014), was one of those rare evenings I’d decided to stay home, so I thought I’d watch telly for a change. But the schedule on Tuesday was pisspoor. Sorry, that's the only word for it.  

A quick look at the TV guide offered up so much crap …

ITV1 had Alan Titchmarsh messing around in a garden in the charmless town of Runcorn. No! A thousand times, no! Frankly, I've only to read the name 'Alan Titchmarsh' and I feel starved of oxygen.

ITV1 had more torture later – the actor Robson Green having a look around Northumberland.  I decided to pass on that. It would be similar to a programme I endured a couple of weeks ago – some old time-server from That’s Life showing us round the Isle of Man. He was assisted by an offensively over-animated arm-waving fetishist called Bettany Hughes. What planet is she from?  

Surely there was something I could watch on mainstream telly on Tuesday night? John Bishop’s Australia on BBC1 perhaps? No thanks. Emphatically, no thanks. Don’t find him funny at all. I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than watch him.

I’m just  not interested in these endless vanity travel shows created for showbiz fluffheads that TV uses to pad out its schedules.

I’ve already suffered Joanna Lumley and Caroline Quentin gushing their way through such ghastly formats. Caroline Quentin, frankly, has spoiled Cornwall for me.

As for Sarah Millican on BBC2. Hmmmm. A comedian who isn’t remotely funny. How does that work, clueless TV bosses?

Well, Sarah’s been given a kind of chat-style show, unimaginatively titled The Sarah Millican Television Programme in which she apparently interviews other charmless TV presenters, such as Chris Bloody Packham. Arrrrghh!  There is no end to tedium of contemporary British telly.

Could Channel 4 rescue Tuesday night? No, seemingly not. On offer is Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA. Yes, of course it was a repeat. Even if it was new you know you'll have seen it all before. Total boredom.

Anything on C5 then? Well there's another vanity project for another bland entertainer … The Dog Rescuers with Alan Davies,  followed by the Festival for Morons that is Big Brother.

No, no, no, no ... to it all. It’s all so “made for television”. It's lazy and clearly aimed at thick people.

I decided I would rather sit in the garden instead and watch my geraniums in the westering sun, a glass of red wine in my hand.

So that’s exactly what I did on Tuesday. I couldn’t even be arsed to watch the Family Guy repeats – though actually FG is one of the few brave offerings on TV; take a bow Seth MacFarlane, I wish we had a British version of you.

Friday, 30 May 2014

A 'top' soap that reeks of DESPERATION!

There'll be no Coronation Street on ITV1 tonight, because the schedule's stuffed with a friendly England v Peru football game  complete with the usual rushed, rubbishy commentary from Adrian Chiles and co as an opener for the World Cup.

Traditionally Corrie fans get upset when football pushes the soap out, but I suspect many of them tonight will be relieved to have a rest from all the artificial sweat and tension of recent weeks.

Tina is in hospital on life-support in a standard soap cliché scene, and Peter Barlow is desperate for a drink, no doubt. ZZZzzzzz.

Now we have those other TV chestnuts to get through ... who was responsible for her death? (Apparently it was Rob, but I couldn't be arsed to watch the Tuesday episode which revealed that.) Next, will the correct killer be bought to justice?

Honestly, who bloody cares? I suspect the actors themselves find it hilarious than anyone can take such overwritten bollocks can seriously.

Now, Corrie bosses are doubtless crowing that viewing figures are up for recent episodes, the ones where Tina planned to run away with Peter Barlow to somewhere down south, where she could get her teeth whitened more regularly.

I think some 10 million have watched those episodes, but actually that's well down on Corrie's viewing figures some 25 years ago, when it regularly pulled in more than 20 million viewers per episode without having to resort to tram crashes and silly murders.

Now, I'm not saying that the Street should be solely about ordinary people doing ordinary things there would be no drama in that, and that is not what drama is about.  

But the producers do need to be less desperate in the plotting and the rush to make everything that happens so anxious and knife-edgey. It just doesn't work.

What this vintage soap needs to get back to is fine script-writing, which builds character, humour and the sort of street-wise philosophy that we who live in the North of England recognise a strong and life-affirming part of daily existence.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Yes, aliens, come and shake us up a bit!

The world has gone a bit dull, with its bitter local wars and international versions of TV crap such as ‘Masterchef’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.

I think we need extraterrestrials to land and shake things up.

Now, the question of whether there is intelligent non-human life ‘out there’ is often mocked. Sensible folk reckons it's merely the obsession of sci-fi nerds and demented conspiracy theorists.

But actually, this is the biggest question facing humanity – and actually the subject of serious debate and study by (among others) physicists, philosophers and theologians.

The visitors to Earth won’t – in all probability – be like those American B-movie monsters, or like the Cadbury’s Smash tinpot space aliens from the memorable British TV ads.

But I think their arrival might well result in our ‘small potato’ world becoming more interesting  …

Monday, 7 October 2013

BBC R4’s Today programme – it’s so yesterday!

I’ve recently stopped buying a national newspaper each day. The main reason is that I’m not remotely interested in any of the things that Miley Cyrus, Sharon Osbourne, and Simon Cowell say or do.

From now on I'll be restricting my reading in print to the following journals – The Economist, New Scientist, Private Eye and The Catholic Herald, where you find some of the best and most intelligent writing and analysis. My daily news intake I will get online in future.

Similarly, I’m about to change habit of the past 30 years and stop listening to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme each morning. I’m just not any more sufficiently interested in its main ingredients …Westminister politics, middle class “humour” and the literary pontificating of James Naughtie.

I think Naughtie is off to offer his tedious insights in the Scottish referendum on independence soon. I won’t be listening to that, either. And while the Today programme’s new presenter Mishal Husain is actually rather good, her presence is not enough to save the show as a daily part of my life, Monday to Saturdays.

Take this morning’s offering from Today (Monday 7 October 2013). It was especially bad at the tail end. Shaun Keaveny made what was supposed to be a wry, amusing plea for the Glastonbury music festival to be switched from being a summer to a winter event.

The “peg” for that item was the likely move of the Qatar football Word Cup 2022 from a summer event to a winter one. Pathetic. Almost as pathetic as the main test for standing up a news story on BBC Radio 4, namely – “errr, has it been in The Guardian?”

Keaveny’s piece made me cringe. It was pisspoor colour-writing – formulaic and predictable. It even included a suck-up reference to John Humphries, which Humphries wisely chose not to respond to.

The only thing that the Today programme is good at these days is crashing the pips.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Father Figure - spectacularly unfunny

The BBC – so easy to despise in so many ways – does at least have a reputation for making good TV sitcoms … or did have.

One thinks back to Steptoe and Son, Dad’s Army, Black Adder, Till Death Us Do Part and, more recently, Outnumbered.

But the latest offering, Father Figure, starting on BBC1, last night, was simply awful.

A self-penned sitcom by Irish comedian Jason Byrne, it’s about a chaotic family – err, that’s it, basically. 

There were some terrible visual gags with cooking material and foodstuffs being split and smeared. I sat po-faced through those.

And we got the old chestnut of a person (played by Father Ted’s Pauline McLynn) wearing headphones and therefore not hearing what someone is saying to her. When she takes off the headphone, she tells the guy speaking to her that there’s no need to shout. Sigh.

And this show has a very annoying track of canned laughter – which only makes it seem more tragic.

Byrne “stars” as a hapless father with a boozy and somewhat stroppy wife. 

I think the main “situation” last night was Tom’s messy, slapsticky, attempts to cook a meal for his neighbours, who were uptight in a Central Casting sort of way.

Does the Beeb have any quality control in place at all? 

Not amused.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Why does the BBC drop for NGO and charity puff pieces?

The greatest pests and destroyers of good feeling in our world are the overbearing NGOs and 'guilt-trip-to-you-sir' charidees.

They waste millions of your donations on spurious campaigns, the launching of logos to big up their own corporate brands, paying massive salaries to PR pygmies before handing what's left to corrupt officials in Third World countries.

Hey, it needs saying!

And, of course, the BBC - and particulalry the news on BBC Radio 4's Today programme - drop for all the bleeding heart liberal crap spouted by NGOs and charities.

Why does the Beeb do that? Are its "journalists" not properly trained; never told the difference between genuine news and puff-copy?

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

What’s this? Funny sitcoms on ITV?!

I had a curiously old-fashioned evening last night, watching sitcoms on ITV1 in real time.

They weren’t half bad either - considering ITV’s lamentable history with sitcoms.

Yes, the new shows, ‘Vicious’ and ‘The Job Lot’, were much better than ITV offerings of yesteryear, such as ‘On The Buses’ and ‘Love Thy Neighbour’.

First of the new shows, ‘Vicious’, has quality actors Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi playing two long-term, elderly lovers with a penchant for putting each other down and trading OTT insults.

Frances de la Tour – a sitcom star herself in ‘Rising Damp’ (one of only two good sitcoms ITV ever produced; the other was ‘Shelley’ starring Hywel Bennett) – plays something of a vamp in ‘Vicious’ and is a good foil to Jacobi and McKellen, the principal characters.

There were lots of sharp lines last night; including McKellen as a struggling actor bigging himself up by shouting: “And I got to murder a prostitute in Coronation Street!”

This elderly-flavoured and elegantly camp sitcom was followed by ‘The Job Lot’ – a brand new one set in a humdrum midlands JobCentre, and quite topical at this time of benefit reforms. Russell Tovey – and actor much-used by trendy BBC3 in recent years and famous for his bizarre sticky-out ears – is one of the lead characters.

But best character in ‘The Job Lot’ is the neurotic centre manager, played by Sarah Hadland, who has the unnerving habit of mentioning personal dysfunctions such as her “self-harming” and “night terrors” at inopportune moments.

All in all, good stuff from ITV1.

And these two sitcoms, watched back-to-back, certainly beat dull old Crimewatch on BBC1 in the same timeslot.