Thursday, 23 August 2018

Hmmm ... not half bad - C4's Hang Ups

It's not often I see anything to raise even a wry smile on Channel 4.

C4's schedule is crammed with awful home-grown rubbish for thick people - such as Bake Off (nicked from the Beeb), Hollyoaks, Come Dine With Me, and endless repeats of US sitcoms.

But Hang Ups is not half bad. It's well cast and well acted.

It's about a stressed and relatively new therapist, Dr Richard Pitt (Stephen Mangan), who's trying to cover his debts by offering counselling sessions by video link to various people who are crazy in the coconuts. 

Best (i.e. most darkly entertaining) of Richard's clients is a hard man Neil Quinn (played by Steve Oram) to whom the therapist owes a lorra lorra money.

Mangan carries the show with entertaining displays of his character's stressful life, personal dysfunctionality and VERY irritating family.

This sitcom has a most whizzy pace, which is at first distracting, but ultimately adds to the dark comedic charm on offer throughout.

There are plenty of outrageous sexual references - good, and commendably British, of course! - and the best of those are delivered in a deadpan way by Richard E. Grant, who is the therapist to our therapist protagonist, played so expressively by Mangan.

It's a comedy that says something quite profound about the breakdown of social and family relationships in our contemporary, digitally obsessed society. Well, we might as well laugh - as our world is clearly heading for Hell in handcart.

Hang Ups,  which is also co-written by Mangan, is an adapted version of an US comedy TV show called Web Therapy. I haven't seen the US original, but I've heard the British version is much better - and somehow I have no difficulty in believing that.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Macron & Trump – they got it so wrong!

The Macron / Trump thing that played out on TV news over the past few days is not what it seems.

Predictably, it was from the start misreported by the networks who always make the mistake, editorially, of speaking to filmed images in their reporting. 

No, dummies! Actually, you don’t have to report things that way just because it’s television. Paradoxically, in this sort of story, wise words and news analysis are far more important than images.

Trump’s and Macron’s bromance antics in front of camera were very obviously insincere – certainly on the part of Macron, who is intelligent, compared to Trump, who’s as thick as pig shit.

But even Trump was playing a game – not with any finesse, of course.

The political establishment in Trump’s own country can’t abide him, for the very good reason that he totally lacks the grace, intelligence, and dignity desirable though in recent decades not always present –  in a President of the United States.

So, the POTUS, rather childishly, used this state visit to show the swamp of Washington that at least one other national leader (apart from Kim Jon-un) has respect for him. And clearly, more than respect ... love.  

That was the unsubtle message. And Macron was, superficially at least, prepared to reciprocate all those undignified hands-on signs of affection that Trump lavished on him.

Now, I know there were as a background to this state visit quite a lot of opportunities to be seized for geopolitical posing and positioning in what is now, frankly, a very volatile world.

But I don’t think those opportunities will lead to anything – because all intelligent observers will (following initial sniggering) have been disgusted by the tackiness of the displays put on by both men. 

The games Trump and Macron played for the TV cameras are not right or fitting for national leaders. In the long term, they will both lose because of their antics.  

And while Macron did do well to keep a straight face as the chump that is Trump chuntered on inarticulately during their speeches at the White House on Tuesday, frankly those scenes will not sit comfortably with the French people or the international community.

Trump is clearly a narcissist of the most vulgar variety, and I have long suspected that, for all his waffle about democracy and liberty, Macron is also a narcissist, albeit of a rather subtle variety.

I’m going to end this posting with a link to a very good American satire about Trump, by the New York-based comedian Randy Rainbow. In this, Mr Rainbow (his real name, apparently!) lambasts Trump to great effect.

The piece includes the line, addressed to Trump: “You are a grabby, braggadocious creep-o.” The musical routine takes a while to get started but it is hilarious and performed with an arch campness of a high British rather than American standard. Enjoy, and at the same time, be afraid …

Monday, 2 April 2018

Mel & Sue's Generation Game - TV for thick people

There's obviously been some insider bitching going on at the BBC about how awful the new series is of The Generation Game.

I don't need any persuading. Even by the abysmally low standards of TV light entertainment, the launch show on Sunday (1 April) was utter crap.

Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins are both unconvincing as they try to chummy up with the contestants. This pair have made a very good living out of being condescending to ordinary people (including viewers) in recent years.

Perkins is smugness personified. There is a bit more human warmth to Giedroyc - but neither is a good communicator.

This first show was over-cheery and fatuous in tone from the opening 'game', which was basically a silly pottery-making scenario, featuring the over-rated Johnny Vegas, who's clearly a MUCH better potter than he is a comedian or comedy actor.

And, oh, when the contestants had to handle wet clay to make a handle for a teapot, goodness me, didn't it look like they were stroking a wet penis?!

Well, that might have been funny - but not with Mel and Sue pulling their annoying arch faces, and Johnny Vegas tittering away in the background.

And anyway, the pottery thing with Vegas had been done before - on The Generation Game in 2005. How unimaginative to start a new series of an old format with a repeated feature.

Next up in the 'new' show was a Bollywood-style dance troupe. Great movers they were, but it was simply patronising to expect overweight and middle aged contestants to replicate those sort of routines.

But, hey, that's what contemporary TV is all about - making fun of ordinary people who've paid their TV licences. 

Well that, and paying mediocrities such as Mel and Sue way too much money.

Also, I couldn't see the point on having two 'celebrity guests' on the new show. Some speccy geek from a boring panel show was one. The other was Lorraine Kelly.

I used to have a lot of time for Lorraine, but as her daytime ITV show reveals, she's now all too happy to take the money for being regarded as 'TV talent'. She uses her airtime to big up the unimportant things in life - such as ageing pop stars, other light entertainment fluffheads and endless fashion shite. 

There is very little genuine talent among the industry's perceived pool of 'TV talent'.

There is much that is damaging to contemporary society in the output of mainstream TV. In shamelessly catering for what it considers to be its brain-dead viewers, television is, sadly, making more and more people very, very stupid indeed.

And frankly, that dynamic is causing serious damage to the proper transmission of human identity in a country where, anyway,  education and moral training are failing alarmingly fast.

I intend to challenge the practices and programme content of TV.

Someone needs to do that ... and change the game for the sake of future generations. 

Watch this space.

Monday, 19 March 2018

It really was ... The Greatest!

Its not often I go to see a play, but I’m a happier and more reflective man for having experienced ‘The Greatest’ at the Oran Mor in Glasgow.

It’s a drama rammed with sharp, jokey dialogue, but it also makes you think seriously about life – about being an outsider (even when young) and about what ageing brings in this era of care homes.

As the title suggests, it’s also about Muhammad Ali, and a visit he made to Scotland in the 1960s.

As we watch a friendship develop between a resident of the care home, Jimmy (Billy MacBain) and the slightly truculent but likeable young blogger Orwell (Rebekah Lumsden), a strange and pleasing story emerges of how Jimmy as a young man had knocked out Muhammad Ali before a wee sparring session got a chance to start.

Ali didn't even have time to pick up his gloves all those years ago when Jimmy – overcome with delight at meeting his hero – decked the world champ! Young Jimmy got slapped around a bit for doing that, but I guess it was worth it.

This play’s written by Alan Muir, a good friend of mine. I used to work with him when we were reporters for the same newspaper in Scotland 20-odd years ago. Even back then I recognised his very strong writing talent, his observational skill and distinct, every-present humour.

But, believe me, this write-up of mine is no puff-piece to boost a pal’s developing career as a writer.

I really, really enjoyed Alan’s play, which was deftly directed by Ron Bain. Its short run to packed houses at the Oran Mor has now finished but there are hopes of staging it elsewhere – perhaps as a part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

I laughed out loud throughout, cried once, and was given to rueful reflection at some very moving scenes. Towards the end, a sad bit was quickly followed by some neat, vulgar wit. That’s good for me; I’m a big fan of sadness and vulgarity.

Overall though, ‘The Greatest’ was simply very uplifting – as was marked by the big standing ovation it received.

When the show finished I made a point of telling Billy McBain how much I’d enjoyed his performance. I’ve only done that sort of thing twice before – once to Babs Windsor in a pub in Soho, London, and another time to Lesley Joseph in a pub in Liverpool. I was quite sober when I spoke to Billy - but I was very, very drunk when  I expressed my admiration to Babs and Lesley. All three actors, it must be said, responded with good grace and charm. Babs even kissed me!

After the show finished in Glasgow, I trundled off with Alan Muir and my other friends, and we drank like journalists. A perfect evening.  

Monday, 9 October 2017

Arrrgh! Stop being jokey and cheerful, Sky News

I'm not enjoying Sky News as much as I used to - and I think the main reason is the expectation on news anchors to display their 'personalities'.

Particularly vexatious to my spirit is Sarah-Jane Mee. Hmmm ... if ever a name was designed for the rather narcissistic world of TV, eh?

In real life (and come ON! - telly is NOT real life) Sarah-Jane is a nice human being and a good journalist, I'm told. I can accept that.

But my point is that her on-screen persona is too bubbly, too cheerful; it detracts from the news, rather than communicating it clearly and giving some heft and appropriate colour to what is happening in our troubled world. The same can be said for many of her colleagues at Sky.

I've never worked in television, but I am a craft-trained and professionally-qualified NEWSPAPER journalist. I object to the way TV news expects women to be ... blonde, glamorous and chirruping away. As a feminist myself, I do not like to see that, and I don't think women should go along with it.

Regardless of gender, most of the Sky News reporters and presenters seem skilled. They recognise a news story, and don't spoil it too much by speaking words that must always match or 'speak to' the filmed images. I guess they're trained to do that rather too much; unnecessarily, in my view.

But even some of the male news presenters are too much into projecting humour, nearly always unsuccessfully. Some can't resist flirting with the studio guests and smiling archly at the camera in a smug way. Urgh ... stop it!

I think what makes TV news presenters behave in such a way is that they wrongly think that they have achieved a special status by being on the telly, being a 'TV star'.

They are deluded. Being on the TV is rather naff, frankly.

As for the newspaper reviewers, Sky News has some terrible umm-ing and errrr-ing ones. Only recently, I watched some dork from the Huff Post honking away, and a 'news editor' from some silly 'think tank' crapping on in a most annoying American accent.

And Sky News will keep inviting 'jourrnalists' from the Daily Express to be on-screen pundits. What?! No proper journalist takes the Express seriously any more. It's a joke.

I'm seriously thinking of offering myself to Sky News as a new gob-on-stick for the nightly paper reviews.

Well, at least I'm a real journalist ... and I'm eloquent.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

UNtelevision - the show no-one dared make

Even back in 1990, I could tell that British TV was becoming ever blander, and turning its viewers' brains to mush.

So with my friend, Diane, I decided to do something about it. We created this pitch (below) for a new and very different kind of telly show, and sent it off to commissioning editors at Channel 4, and (I think) BBC2.

We hoped our idea would be picked up and the show would get made. At the time, I was the 'outspoken' TV critic for ITV's ORACLE Teletext service. Sadly, our idea for a show called UNtelevision never got turned into reality. 

Instead UK telly continued its decline into cultural cack and moron fodder such as X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, and endless dumb-ass cookery shows.

Shame. But do read our pitch below for UNtelevision. It should raise a few titters. And maybe such a show will get made one day. One day ... 

Introducing … UNtelevision

UNtelevision is the TV show for people who hate TV. Probably Britain’s biggest minority.

UNtelevision is TV with a sneering face. Two sneering faces, actually.

UNtelevision scorns tricksy graphics and fancy camera work. To be honest, it doesn’t much care for the visual at all. But it is well-written.

UNtelevision is basic. It doesn’t pose and it doesn’t offer a platform to poseurs. It despises most rock stars and all showbiz fluff-heads. It does not accept the premise that someone (however thick they might be) is a ‘celebrity’ ... just because they’ve appeared regularly on the telly!

So just what is UNtelevison?
It’s a weekly show, presented by Sam Brady and Diane McD, who aren’t exactly strangers to British TV but who feel it is suffering from terminal blandness.

Sam and Diane are young(ish), bitter and twisted. You’d be if you’d had their lives.

UNtelevision is anchored in their untidy ‘front parlour’. Their introductory chat on each show sets just the right tone of cynicism. These are the regular features of UNtelevision …

· GREEN – “live” from an endangered ancient wood in Sydenham, Sarf London, including a weekly visit to the home of Darren, Britain’s last surviving forest fairy. His mind, like his habitat, is heavily polluted.

· ISLINGTON BISTRO – we join Upper Street’s Sancerre set, who tell of the pain of inner city living in Thatcher’s Britain.

· YOU GOTTA HEAR THIS – an old fart insists you stay long enough to hear his all-time favourite LP track.

· TURN OFF – poisonous TV reviews by Sam and Diane.

· I WISH – the show’s totally straight and serious bit. Live from Wigan, from the traditional wish-making statue in the town’s park. Each week a notable person publicly makes a wish and explains why in a simple and moving ceremony.

· SHUT UP, SU POLLARD – the ultimate game show. Who can shut this woman up?

· Also, these occasional features – GET SEXY! …. NOT RICHARD AND JUDY … VALERIE SINGLETON SPEAKS.

For more Information contact Sam Brady (landline numbers supplied, no longer operable).

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Nothing is easy just now …

The fearful, heart-stopping image of smoke-shrouded burning tower against the blue summer sky in London; then tragedy, deep emotions, grief, community solidarity, and unbidden acts of kindness.

Then thoughts of social injustice, and justifiable anger, mixed in with huge stress and worry for the people caught up in the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Then irresponsible, opportunistic posturing by mainstream politicians (including Jeremy Corbyn and London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan).

Plus, what appeared to be an appalling lack of pastoral skill and human dignity from our Prime Minister Theresa May on her first visit to the scene.

Also, a lack of leadership and co-ordination, leading to chaos on the ground – where officials ought to have been providing constant reassurance, guidance, attention and care from the start of this tragedy.

And after all that came a very shouty demo, plus some depressing demonstrations of corporate blandness and ineffective PR training by emergency services spokespeople.

There are big questions to be answered about the tower’s recent cosmetic revamp. Why no sprinklers?  Were the fire alarms adequate? Why only one stairwell in and out? And the exterior cladding?  Did that help spread the inferno?

Of course, now we have a relentless targeting of the besieged Theresa May. She was under so much pressure already, with Brexit negotiations starting and her election gaffes.

A Christian pastor said he saw tears in her eyes when she talked, during a hastily-arranged private meeting at 10 Downing Street, to some of the victims of the fire.

So, were May’s tears those of compassion for people affected by the blaze? Or was she weeping for her own woes, as she faces widespread scorn and hatred among the public and the media, and the prospect of being forced from office by Machiavellian schemers in her government.

Perhaps both …

Nothing is easy in our country just now, but something is certainly wrong when a housing tower for poor and struggling people goes up in flames with such loss of life – and amid such opulence in the wealthiest borough in the mother city of the biggest empire in the history of our world.

I was glad to see the Queen struck the right healing note in her statement in which she drew attention to “a very sombre national mood”.

Referencing the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London as well as the Grenfell Tower fire, she said: “I have been profoundly struck by the immediate inclination of people throughout the country to offer comfort and support to those in desperate need.

“Put to the test, the United Kingdom has been resolute in the face of adversity. United in our sadness, we are equally determined, without fear or favour, to support all those rebuilding their lives so horribly affected by injury and loss.”

Amen to that, Your Majesty. Let’s say it again. Amen.