Thursday, August 24

TV Will Eat Itself

Helen Parton finds plenty of food for thought on yesterday’s TV. Just avoid that yellow snow.

Rather like a gastronomic Coach Trip, Come Dine With Me (4:30pm, Channel 4) features just as odious a collection of characters but in a slightly less picturesque setting, unless you’re a particular fan of living rooms in the Midlands.

In the process, it does nonetheless go someway to sating the daytime TV viewer’s appetite as Countdown concludes and Richard and Judy await. For the uninitiated, five people (I think they’re strangers, but given the ructions between them, they quickly act like long lost friends)
cook for each other and rate each other’s dinner party and at the end of the week, one wins £1000.

Today it was the turn of Patsy, a jolly therapist who was determined to show off her West Indian cooking heritage. Tiger prawns, jerk chicken, ginger cake - so far, so yum. Her guests were Danny (nondescript Hollyoaks type good looking student); Kenny Rogers lookalike Graham, (according to Michelle that is, but presumably only if Kenny Rogers had fallen on hard times and was forced to play Phoenix Nights type working men’s clubs instead of crooning Islands in the Stream with my country and western aunt Dolly).

Michelle, another therapist, also caused huge offence to professional clown Julia when in the other day’s programme she rather astutely suggested Julia was barking and was using her humour and childlike demeanour to cover up a whole range of psychological ills. Politics and religion don’t even get a look in as conversational topics round this dinner table here.

This programme has attempted to steal different bits from the winning formulas of other shows – the bitchiness of the Weakest Link, the pointlessness of Deal or No Deal - and only succeeded in a corned beef hash of a show. The worst element is the double entendre laden voiceover, which makes the whole thing look like a low rent Terry and June. With no collapsing sunlounger gags in the title sequence either.

Bruce Parry and his team could have done with some Caribbean cuisine and weather to match in Blizzard: Race to The Pole (9pm, BBC2), an entirely pointless recreation of the Scott vs Amundsen race to the South Pole, but done in Greenland because, oh I forget, but it’s probably an equally tedious reason. Fresh from jumping over cows in Tribe, Parry returns with some intrepid pals to see how many fingers they can turn into frostbitten Alphabite-like stumps in some snow driven wasteland.

Unfortunately, just like Scott, they don’t pack enough food and underestimate how much weight they’ll lose, ditch their theodolite, an instrument I didn’t think existed outside of GCSE maths coursework, at a key moment, get lost and have to be airlifted out. Meanwhile the Norwegian team is miles ahead being pulled along by their trusty huskies, cracking jokes and chomping on biscuits and chocolate along the way. Sorry Bruce, but with that snack provision and your team taking a sh*t inside the tent, ‘cos it’s too cold outside, I know which group I’d rather have a tea break with.

Tuesday, August 22

The Cookies

The biggest TV event of the summer (apart from the World Cup and Love Island) goes out like a damp firwork with David Cook's annual Big Brother awards...

And so, having gone on at least ten days too long, BigBrother dawdled onto its predictable, Pete-winning conclusion. And to mark this memorable summer in which we learned not to laugh at Tourettes sufferers (for abit) – and because the final wasn’t particularly remarkable, aside from Nikki’s nervous breakdown on exit (suspicious that she somehow rallied enough to go“Where’s my best bits?” though, eh?) - we present to you the BB 2007 awards. Cue half-hearted trumpet fanfare.

The ‘One That Should Have Won’ award goes to… Aisleyne
Not because she was edited unfairly (though she was), not because she seems like a really nice girl with, as your mum might say, a good head on her shoulders (though she does), but because Grace hated her. And any right-thinking person can see that the best way to decide anything is to do exactly the opposite of what Grace would like, because Grace is – and this is no exaggeration – the worst person who ever lived. Like, ever. Yes, worse than Sezer. And you don’t want to be like Grace, do you? Thought not.

The ‘Hardest Done By’ award goes to… Sam
Goes in. Is incredibly lovely to everyone. Gets turfed out on her ear for ‘being too nice’. That’s the sort of people that go onto BB, Sam. You were better off out of it.

The ‘Left Too Early’ award goes to… Shahbaz
Shahbaz had the potential to be the best BB housemate ever. Seriously. It was like Lorraine Kelly trapped in the body of a middle-aged gay Scotsman. The way he pounced on everybody as they arrived, cooing “Oooohhhh, you’re sooooo looooovely, aren’t you?”while stroking their hair like a lonely granny desperate for affection was classic TV, though admittedly probably terrifying for everyone on the receiving end. And what more genius response is thereto an argument about food rationing than empty the contents of the fridge into the garden overnight, thus condemning everyone to a week’s starvation? Come the day that BB decide to stick a contestant from a past series into a new house mid-run, it has to be the‘Baz.

The ‘Funniest Moment’ award goes to… Lea
No, really. Lea scoops the award for this followingexchange way back on the first night.
“Hi, Lea, I’m Sezer.”
“What, like the salad?”
Admittedly, that’s the joke we’d all have made as well. But having clearly expected to hear the words “what, like the emperor?”, the momentary look of anguish that passed over Ratboy’s face was the undisputed highlight of the series.

The ‘Why Do Channel 4 Keep Putting These People In?’ award goes to… Imogen
She just sat and stared into space. For twelve weeks! Every year there’s someone like this. For pity’s sake, C4, you could have put in anyone at all, and every single series there’s someone who’s the televisual equivalent of beige wallpaper. No more, please.

The ‘Fastest Metabolism’ award goes to… Glyn
Glyn did little other than eat (and fart) for thirteen weeks, yet when he left was even more pipe cleaner-esque than when he arrived. How in blazes did he do that? Give this man a diet segment on GMTV, pronto.

The ‘Chat-Up Line Of The Series’ award goes to… Spiral
“She’s got an arse like a loaf of bread and I just want a slice.” There’s some sort of genius in that, there really is.

And finally,

The ‘They’ll Understand In Court If YouStick A Knife In ‘Em’ award goes to…Grace
Or Nikki. Or Sezer, or Lisa or Mikey. Any reasonable jury would let you off. (NB: this is not a legal guarantee.)
Religiously twisted

Mark Lewis finds a frightening tale of brainwashing and evil

Look, I’m as twisted as the next guy. I can think of nothing sweeter than starting a cult and fleecing my chump followers for all they’ve got. If they’re wealthy Hollywood chumps then all the better. Beard-sporting Polygamy is not for me, but give me the all the cash from your next – I don’t know – Mission Impossible movie and I’ll be off with Nicole Kidman in my spaceship faster than you can forget Look Who’s Talking. I mean, let’s face it, if a billion of this planet’s six billion people are wrong, then a certain 2006-year-old miracle worker is the finest cult leader of all time.

Even so, no matter how many times I watch the Monty Python Classic, I’m pretty sure Brian never advocates child abuse…

This is the starting point from where the comedy of cartoon cultism and real twisted religious exploitation depart.

Christianity has been implicated in horrendous betrayals: The widespread protection of paedophile priests leaves an indelible scar on the conscience of the Catholic church. But in Cutting Edge: Cult Killer (Monday, Channel 4, 9pm) we witness the most egregious abuse of Christianity possible.

The documentary opens with the suicide video diary of a terrifyingly matter-of-fact 30-year-old man. ‘I hope I don’t fuck up and blow my fucking nose off or something,’ he jokes while cradling a gun. Later, he will calmy take us through an assortment of tools he would use to torture an elderly lady: A hunting knife. A soldering iron. A drill.

The woman was a confidante of the man’s hated mother who knew, he believed, where he could find her. Two days after the video recording, he and the woman would both be dead.

His name is Rick. He has been raised as the heir to The Family. It is a cult founded by charismatic gospel preacher, David Berg (pictured), the terrifying limits of whose ‘free love’ philosophy we are given a clue to early on. ‘Fuck,’ he says. ‘You all know what that means don’t you? Except the kids. And our kids are so smart even they know what it means.’

Rick was the ‘smartest’ of all. He was used as a tool to promote a 'new paradigm' of childhood sexuality. At five, he and his sister were encouraged to have sex with each other and the ageing Berg. The children were the stars of a book written by his mother, employing the chilling comic strip art still so beloved of right wing evangelists, only with sexually explicit images of children, rather than natural disasters smiting unbelievers. By 12 he was having sex with his own mother, Karen Zerby (one of Berg’s Hookers for Jesus and the current leader of the cult), and was the poster boy of what had become an institutionalised paedophile ring of hundreds.

Worst of all, it was all done in the name of Jesus.

By contrast, the men accused of wanting to attack planes bound for the US, in the name of Allah, seem almost tame. A typically sober account of the state of Muslim assimilation in Britain on Newsnight (every night, 10.30pm, BBC2) wasn’t nearly as sobering as the thought of all the terrible things done in the name of religion.

Wednesday, August 16

How very immature...

Richey Nash regresses mentally as Westwood's goons show him how to pimp his ride and Kate Humble shows him beaver

Jay’s a tubby longhaired guy in a blue bandana with a skanky little goatee and fronts Cornish rock band Sin City. He drives an old hearse that’s held together with sellotape, and if it’s raining you need an umbrella to make sitting in the passenger seat bearable. If corpses had a choice they wouldn’t be caught dead in it.

Luckily he’s got Pimp My Ride UK (Channel 5, 6.30pm), starring middle-aged patois-spouting idiot DJ Tim Westwood (pictured, pictured and pikchad y'all).

It started with Jay showing Westwood his car, pampering the presenter’s ego by saying he uses the tinny stereo to listen to Westwood. Sorry Tim, he doesn’t. No self-respecting rock fan listens to Westwood. Come to think of it, no self-respecting human being listens to Westwood.

“It ain’t gangster. It ain’t a good look,” was Westwood’s verdict on the car. And he’d know about bad taste, dressed in a black, white and red stripey polo shirt that mad old sailors at Cowes Week might think about rejecting on the grounds of public decency.

Westwood then took the hearse to mechanics that aren’t nearly as entertaining as the crew in the American version. Then again, if you want charisma, you don’t look in Kwik Fit. But they started working on big plans for what to do with Jay's car.

“Jay and his mates can watch films on one of the biggest TVs you’ve ever seen… in the back of a car,” said the audiovisual expert. What? One of the biggest TVs they’ve ever seen in the back of a car? Bigger than the 14” model they drive back and forth from uni? Hot diggity dang that’s exciting!

But they did their stuff and in the end the hearse looked like the best way to ruin a funeral. God only knows what subliminal message an undertaker would be trying to send out if they turned up in a white hearse with huge flames down the side.

Inside was a ‘VIP lounge’ made of MDF, with purple and black leather upholstery, and a cinema with a DVD player. The way they built up the DVD player you’d think it’s one of the most exclusive gadgets in the world. Come on guys... they sell DVD players in Asda nowadays.

In the back the 'ceiling' was decorated with photos of classic rock stars including Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss and, err, Westwood. At least Jay seemed to like it, but I don’t trust his opinion seeing as at this point he’d got a head full of embarrassing dreadlocks. Still, the embarrassment of them faded into the background as we watched the obscene spectacle of Westwood in a white and green lumberjack shirt playing inflatable guitar.

“Show my boy some respect,” said Westwood. I don't think so. Why should I respect anyone in a car that marks itself out as a target for thieves? I’m sure some carjacker will enjoy watching films on one of the biggest TVs they’ve ever seen… in the back of a car.

“I think people are going to take our band more serious,” said Jay. What? In a white Ghostbusters hearse? The only way they'll begin to take you 'more serious' is if you find another hearse and stick your musical career in a big box in the back of it.

In need of serious viewing I switched to The One Show (BBC1, 6.55pm) to see journeymen presenters Adrian Chiles and Nadia Sawalha doing a link for a piece by Kate Humble. Dressed in a green shirt as usual, Humble was looking for beavers. Snigger. It had all the makings of a hilarious five minutes including sentences like:

“I have to wait until night time for the beavers to come out.”

“For these beavers there’s no escape: it’s a two-pronged attack.”

“Not everyone wants a beaver in their back yard.”

I want a beaver in the back yard, but my girlfriend’s very stubborn. Snigger. The last time I tried ogling a beaver through binoculars I got a restraining order. Double snigger. Oh come on, I’m a simple man, but Humble’s broadcast left me satisfied as she showed off a very hairy specimen. Triple snigger.

After that hilarity Chiles and Sawalha handed over to a broadcast about hen parties in Cardiff. I switched channels: I’d seen quite enough beaver for one night. That wasn't my decision, though. It was my girlfriend's, after all those childish water-dwelling animal jokes. Damn it!

Tuesday, August 15

Hopelessly flawed

Rachel Calton sees Monday night's TV offering the untempting alternative between poor and unlikeable

I think my bank manager and Channel 4 are colluded against me. It all started with my 'tick box' financial review. For the ‘do I plan to be unemployed in the future’ box, I picked ‘no’, just in case, if pensions and benefits do run out, they start dishing it out to the most deserving (not the ones who tick the ‘yes I plan to be unemployed and potentially become a benefit fraudster’ box). Regardless, my ‘adviser’ ploughed on, explaining the need for a private pension fund; as state pensions will have dried up by the time I retire, (this was turning into the ‘I will work, play and pay but never see any of my taxes again’ box) so I finished the review and hoped that a bottle of wine and a night in front of the box would make it all better.

Tuning into Dispatches (Channel 4, 8pm), which uncovered the method by which private companies refinance pfi's, turning them into multimillion pound earners, then squabble over the measly slice of profits they may or may not put back into the public hospital/school/rail track they have just profited from, and will continue to profit from, was never going to go down well. Especially when one lot of accounts was dragged up, to find how monies earned had been distributed to subsidiary projects and off shore accounts, evading the higher tax brackets.

People in the city are catching on fast. Pfi buildings, big earners, are a very attractive option for shareholders. Not such good news for tax payers. Dispatches flags up a £230m project, done through a pfi, that will have an end cost to the taxpayer, of more like £950m, just through the cost of borrowing, renting and project management.

But, hey, this isn’t rocket science, these are private companies, there to serve their shareholders, but pfi's are supposed to be a ‘partnership’ right?

The buildings go up quickly, money that would never have been available is readily stumped up, and you can have hospitals and schools off the ground in the time a public body might have finished making the tea to discuss the best way forward for the project.

It is just that watching the government go on a pfi spending spree, accumulating in £billion deficits, might explain why my state pension may not be coming through.

Oh, and lawyers get filthy rich off writing up the contracts too.

Dispatches did not pick a difficult subject to rile me with. When corporate companies operate through issued statements, while whistle blowers are willing to give the whole insider story, of how they tried to channel staff and economic resources into front line services, whilst private companies ‘sweat’ contracts for profit, a strong picture is painted for you.

I expected the same from Cutting Edge: Pram Faces (Channel 4, 9pm). Having watched how the government likes to squander money, lets follow it up by seeing what two single mums are flitting it away on, say, Tango, cigarettes and scratch cards perhaps?…

Actually, this was the video diaries of two spirited, proud, 20/21 year old girls, opening up about their real feelings about their situation, and in one case, determining to change things around through the documentary.

After Dispatches, watching one single mother stretch a meagre budget amongst herself and her two children, whilst supporting her alcoholic mother, musing over her absentee father and ex-boyfriend, seemed nothing short of heroic. Luckily for Pram Faces across the country, these Exeter girls were a far cry from Vicky Pollard, although, while kids Cody and Harlen are with father Liam, and Abby and Ala are on a night out, trying to avoid ex boyfriend Ian, there is a real life Shameless element to it all: not so well scripted, but with the same zesty, and ultimately likeable characters.

It's difficult to imagine seeing sharp-suited, pfi-profiteers, or their Whitehall mates as characters at all. Let alone likeable ones.

Monday, August 14

Every dog has its day

Alastair O'Dell finds troubling echoes of Britain's maccabre Victorian past in the edits of television's weekend light entertainment

I don’t believe that its possible to visit Blackpool Pleasure Beach without feeling that its faded Victorian grandeur is gloriously out of step with any remotely modern idea of pleasure. Despite an almighty roller-coaster, efforts to breath life back into the place seemed doomed to failure. Its destiny is surely in surly stag weekends and there is fuck all that anyone can do about it.

The sad fact is that everything, especially in that most ephemeral world of entertainment, has its day. The thing that separates reality television from Blackpool, despite similar levels of vulgarity, is that the men behind the shows know it and behind the scenes they are squirming like Peter Stringfellow's leather trouser gusset. Love Island, Celebrity Wrestling, and just about anything else ITV tries its battered hand at these days, have proved to be unmitigated disasters and cracks have emerged even the most bankable varieties.

The aspect that originally endeared reality television to UK audiences– that one can achieve something without talent, work or even luck – is being steadily eroded by producers. Take ITVs X Factor (Saturday 8pm). Once the frivolity of the early rounds – laughing at the desperation of delusional and idiotic people – the central business gets under way: cheap yet invaluable publicity for this year’s next big thing.

No one seems to mind that it’s a fraudulent meritocracy. The presence of a smattering of unintelligible Northerners – however aesthetically similar to Johnny Vegas – do not remove the fundamental principles behind chart-topping success. Think the biggest ever successes of Girls Aloud and Will Young, and last year’s winner Shayne Ward. The obvious elephant in the room for my argument, is of course Michelle McManus, but once the fans had stopped patting themselves on the back for being so nice, what the fuck happened to her?

But I get ahead of myself. Saturday provided an invitation to reminisce about the heady days of last year, with such talents as everybody’s favourite 34-year-old Moroccan ex-goat herder Chico. A man who has been variously described as ‘weirdly entertaining’ by pantomime villain Simon Cowell, ‘fabulously crazy’ by Widow Twanky Sharon Osborne and as ‘The biggest waste of space on television’, accurately, by the ever-sympathetic Sun.

But what a lovely and novel idea to allow the public to have a say in the success of an artist by allowing a public vote! Now, I may be missing something, but how does this differ from the old fashioned way of buying a record, apart from the punter not actually receiving anything for their money? One can only imagine the record industry execs chomping on their cigars, busting their corsets, trying to hold in their laughter while accusing the file sharing community of theft.

However, if The X Factor betrays the concept of reality TV by featuring people with genuine talent, the daddy of them all, Big Brother (Channel 4, E4, all the 4s, all the time), has kept the candle burning very, very brightly. Here the producers have simply embraced anarchy, but with little potential for a further series. The big spectacle this weekend was the blossoming romance between the guy with ‘hilarious’ disability Tourettes and a vile WAG-wannabee, uttering sweet nothings like a love scene from Beavis and Butthead.

In the light of BB-swindlegate, the level of screaming, bawling and hollering seem all the more ludicrous. The chief punishment for losing a vote now seems to be a night out collecting freebies (like Lea’s supposedly free Beckham-priced haircut). The only housemates not currently in the house are the ones that may imminently become inmates of a rather different kind.

Perhaps the BB house only serves to disprove the theory outlined in C4’s earlier programme What Makes Us Human? (Saturday, 8pm) a program on genetics that was inexplicably not presented by the schoolmasterly Dr Robert Winston. In it, the rather more dapper Dr Armand Leroi explained that what separates us from monkeys is our genetic code. He illustrated the point with the decidedly unfunny disability that afflicts the ‘chuas’ or ‘rat people’ of Pakistan, a brain-shrinking and disfiguring affliction that proved a favourite of the Victorian freak show scene. Maybe we have not changed so much after all.

Thursday, August 10

Bring 'em back

David Davies wants too see a televival of some of the best bloody programmes ever. Ever!

The demise of TOTP has been well lamented by Helen Parton. In the wake of the wake, I am here to lighten the mood a little. The beeb has killed some proper institutions over the last few years, TV shows as old as TV itself, and admittedly in some cases, twice as dusty. Still, there is nothing a bit of spit and polish won't fix. Here is me playing advocate for some facelifts the likes of which even Joan Rivers would shy away from.

Byker Grove: bring back Ant and Dec. Each episode will involve a paintball-related incident, preferably with Ant or Dec getting a face full of semi-toxic Dulux dog killers. Broadcast after the watershed, to glowing reviews. The Times calls it, '...the funniest thing since PJ and Duncan's acting.'

Davina: [distant laughter].

Grandstand: the BBC has lost the rights to show any sporting event that happens more than once every four years, so coverage will be of Bill and Charlie's game of 2p football down the Nag's Head. Commentary would come from Saint and Greavsie, with anchorman Jim Bowen presiding over events.

Robot Wars: get rid of the robots, and the wars, and make a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the social lives of these people. Think how exciting a blow by blow account of their latest epic game of Warhammer would be, or the adolescent thrill of watching Derek and his son Gilbert from Milton Keynes completing Kingdom Of Big Castles on their overclocked PC.

This Is Your Life: scrap Michael Aspel, the human equivalent of cous cous, and bring in Jimmy Saville, a man who's seen more action than a Viet Cong ladyboy. Guests would be inconsequential, as the entire show would be devoted to Saville recollecting stories of when he was in the back of a taxi with the Beatles and Ringo said something hilarious.

Tomorrow's World: hire Louis Theroux and make it weird. His gentle brand of grilling would encourage scientists around the world to explain just how digital radio has managed to remain revolutionary for close to a decade, why the M25 is still classed as a motorway instead of a car-powered shitstorm, and why the Ark Of The Covenant on Dan Cruickshank's Around The World In 80 Treasures had a Yale lock.

Top Of The Pops: hosted by Melvyn Bragg and returned to it's classic Thursday night slot, each show would start, 'It's Thursday, it's 7.30, it's Top Of The Pops, but where does the term 7.30 come from, did the Mayans use it, and will my hair combust in this studio lighting?'

Come on Auntie. You have shown with Top Gear and Doctor Who that reviving supposedly dead formats is something you can be good at, if you devote the resources to them and have the gall to market them as well as you did. I for one hope that Top Of The Pops is simply on holiday, whether it returns with Melvyn Bragg as host or not. It's called Daddy Cool, kids.

Wednesday, August 9

They’d be better off at home

Helen Parton watches the Britain’s athletes perform as dandily as our interior designers

Hard day at work? Feel you can’t go on? Forget pouring yourself a large drink or shouting at your spouse, just tune into some coverage of the European Athletics Championships (On When I Get Home, BBC1). It’s really quite cathartic watching dozens of people busting a gut for no discernable purpose other than beating someone from a neighbouring country in the 10,000metres or the hammer.

Naturally, the Brits were useless, the trackside commentator at one point praising some hapless heptathlete for a ‘commendable’ seventh place. Apart from that is one ginger haired lad who looked a bit like a Gaelic version of Glyn from Big Brother who got a silver in the long jump - surely the easiest field event ever (or maybe that’s because as a tall person you just had to fling yourself vaguely in the direction of the sandpit to do reasonably well at it on sports day).

His victory started a spat in the commentary box between Brendan Foster and Steve Cram after Foster went on about how Ginger lad’s grandfather was one of the greatest ever Newcastle United players in manner of a rambling Dad anecdote. Cue a Motty vs Lawro; enthusiasm vs bitterness moment of commentator discomfort. I think Foster and Cram should just settle WHO IS THE MOST NORTH EASTERN once and for all by who can down the most Newcastle Brown Ale, who can go the most time without a coat in a gale, who can utter ‘Doooooooooont, Craig dooooooooon’t man’ in the most defiantly heterosexual manner. Or whatever it is they do to fill the time up there.

The north was also well represented in Home (BBC2, 8pm) a programme, which made a valiant effort at demystifying the world of interior design. Usually the subject is either massively devalued in Changing Rooms style shenanigans or put on too much of a pedestal in snippets on the Culture Show, (presented by the truly hateful Marcus Fairs of Icon magazine, whose name people rarely utter without an invective preceding it). Tonight’s show focussed on the living room, from the leopard print affair of the Reed family of Warrington to the fantastic Versailles-like world of gilt and chandeliers the Nelens of Blackburn had (I’d be well up for marrying into that family by the way, if only so I could possess a rhyming name in manner of Rolan Bolan or Zowie Bowie).

I could have done without Aida Allos or however she spells it, a horrid Chelsea Harbour dwelling decorator type, who had the unnerving accent of a bored Eastern bloc call girl, cooing over a seven grand lamp, and in the process giving the whole country the wrong idea of what happens, ‘down theeeeere, in that there London wi’ them fancy London types’. Old Sloane Nina Campbell was a delight though – part bossy Brown Owl, part mad aunt, all coated in self-assured poshness, dispensing practical advice about cushions, lampshades, curtains and the like. I’ve met her too – she’s just as likeable in real life.

Product designer Ron Arad was all TV reviewer friendly soundbite ‘if you can’t design a chair that’s comfortable, then go and study dentistry’ while the Scottish duo behind cult wallpaper firm Timorous Beasties were a cooler, indie-er version of fellow countrymen Colin and Justin, though they probably wouldn’t thank me for saying it. Home probably tried to cram in a bit too much into one show but whether interiors are an amateur passion or part of your professional life, you wouldn’t have gone disappointed.

Tuesday, August 8

Mosqued Messages

Big Brian Yates sees hope in Channel 4's dispatches on multi-cultural Britain

Dispatches: What Muslims Want, (Channel 4, 9.00) didn’t seem at all sure what it wanted to be. The title thudded onto the screen in bold, square letters, followed by close-ups of police machine guns, all accompanied by a conspiracy-thriller soundtrack.. This was going to be menacing stuff! Then we had young Muslims in arty street scenes filmed through moving bus windows and shots of mosques juxtaposed with tower blocks at interesting angles. But mostly we got Jon Snow talking to a lot of Muslims about how they see life in England today, with Snow proposing that a new generation of Muslims feel less British and more radical than their parents’ generation and that integration has come to a standstill.

This was offered as a frightening prospect, but most of the young people Snow spoke to were thoughtful, balanced and unthreatening. Yes, he also spoke to some dim-wits who thought that 9.11 was an American conspiracy and that like, you know, kind of thing, and to a young graphic designer who saw Allah’s will in the fact that he had accepted a free state education before turning to Islam and who refused to denounce the 7.7 bombers. This discussion was interrupted by a passer-by, also a Muslim, who took the hypocrite to task and insisted that Muslims living in England should adhere to English law!

The bulk of the programme featured a series of speakers explaining why they preferred not to integrate into a society where binge-drinking is expected of teenagers, criminals are not seen to be punished, children do as they please and women’s bodies are perceived as commodities. Unfortunately, what might have been a meaningful debate never materalised as Snow declined to probe into why one girl chose to speak through a veil or how another had met discrimination at the hands of the police. He also seemed fairly na├»ve in accepting that women didn’t feel oppressed within Islam because two or three middle-class women said so. I suspect that bullied wives and sisters who can’t speak English may lack the Big Brother urge to appear on national television and bare their souls!

In the end, this programme didn’t make for an hour of riveting television: the real truth of C4’s survey lay in its liberal sprinkling of statistics, which we could have absorbed from a good newspaper in five minutes. But seeing and hearing these young English sons and daughters of immigrants offered food for thought and some cause for optimism: a lot of what they reject in English society is fairly objectionable; their confidence in rejecting shows that our multi-cultural society hasn’t completely failed.

Saturday, August 5

Pops Goes The Greatest Music Show on Planet Earth

It’s the end for TOTP. Sod the kids, Helen Parton thinks its salvation lies with fifty quid man.

I was not just sad to see the demise of TOTP (last EVER episode Sunday 7:30pm, BBC2) but also mystified as to how this could happen, given how popular both live and recorded music are at the moment. You can barely move for a festival or party in some park every weekend during the summer and downloading tracks seems to be third only to accessing porn and researching family ancestry (one of them almost always a cover for the other eh covert historians?) in terms of ways to waste time on the web. Considering TOTP managed to weather the storm of the late 80s/early 90s when the charts were dominated by brilliant, but largely faceless early house music, I can’t understand why there’s no prime time terrestrial TV market for the plethora of photogenic pop, indie, rock and rap outfits of today.

I am wholeheartedly with those who would happily have left erstwhile TOTP head honcho Andi Peters locked in the broom cupboard with Edd the Duck creatively inserted. Unfortunately that footage wasn’t available, nor it seems was that of the Rolling Stones performing on the first ever episode. Nice one Beeb. But we did have Jimmy Savile, blinged up as he always has been since before the invention of bling, doing the valedictory presenting duties.

A happy trawl through music television memory lane ensued – my favourite bits included a slightly dumpy Madonna doing Like A Virgin, an orthodontically challenged Bowie doing Staaaaaar Man and Beyonce doing that wonderful wiggly arse thing. The BBC has a habit of not knowing what it’s got till it’s gone (and yes that IS meant to be a bit of an homage to Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell fans) such as shoving John Peel unto an untenably late radio slot until his untimely demise.

The end of TOTP has been blamed on the fact that today’s kids aren’t interested in it anymore. Bollocks to today’s kids I say. Leave them to their swapping of STDs and imbibing of crystal meth (possibly simultaneously) and let’s reclaim it for the kids of the 70s and 80s who’ve grown into retro-obsessed adults. Let’s put TOTP back on Thursdays, let’s show the whole of the top 40 and let’s have balloons and dancing competitions. Let’s have Adam and Joe presenting – they haven’t had a good TV gig in years and they’d be great. Fifty quid man, and woman, have the most music spending power anyway, so why should TOTP be at the mercy of the corner shop bothering, be-hoodied chavs?

Let’s not go down the whole Guilty Pleasures/nostalgia route though, because TOTP needs to retain its place as an outlet for great pop – as somehow I can’t see Jools Holland welcoming Girls Aloud, Pussy Cat Dolls and Nelly Furtado into his boogie woogie jamming session with the folky, world musos (though the thought of Youssou N Dour duetting with Cheryl Tweedy or possibly Jethro Tull and that-one-what-looks-a-bit-like Nancy Dell Olio-out-of PCD fills me with immense joy). Just remember to leave room in the audience for all those three-wheeled buggies.

Thursday, August 3

Tasty satire

Thursday night's TV served up a delightful comedy lunch with a crispy business entree says Mark Lewis

A wholemeal bready finish to BBC2’s comedy sandwich last night came from Time Trumpet (BBC2, 10pm). Or Armando Iannucci’s Time Trumpet as it is unerringly known. The half hour show, whose conceit is that it’s set 25 years from now and looks back at events today, is the latest mind-son of the Italian sounding Scots satirist.

Iannucci occasionally turns into one of his own beautifully observed caricatures. The, ahem, visiting emeritus of comedy of Oxford University, who seems to have become more self-regarding than a wealthy Frenchman, used to appear fairly regularly in the talking heads retromentaries he so accurately mocks. Even so, the most TV-literate comedian of the last twenty years has impeccable form with, amongst others, I’m Alan Partridge, The Thick of It, and most gloriously The Day Today.

For TV comedy nerds like me, Time Trumpet’s odes to the latter were pleasantly apparent: The unneccesarily elaborate graphics of the opening sequence, the absurd Charlotte Church-vomiting-herself-inside-out news story, and the just plain random silliness of shrinking Newsnight’s Martha Kearny. But mostly the savage piss-take of contemporary TV obsessions.

Talking heads being asked for soundbites on video clips they have just watched was the funniest and most accurate, our obsession with plastic surgery was also eloquently done with David Beckham’s surgery to stitch a vagina to his arm, and reality shows were given a going over with a mock up of a stupid pitch on the Dragon’s Den.

Earlier that night we had already discovered how stupid the pitches can actually be, for there was a welcome return for the Dragon’s Den (BBC2, 8pm) where idiots ask bastards for cash for inventions which probably don’t work. One chap had invented a water-free egg boiler which didn’t work. He got £85,000 and was told it would sell kasquillians. Some other poor schmo went in there with a genius invention which prevented baths from overflowing. The bastards all liked it but tried to mug him for 40% of his company. Thankfully he turned them down.

Chief amongst the bastards is Duncan Bannatyne, who, in the series and a bit he’s been in the dragon’s chair, has never invested more than a snide remark. The man turns up, slags off, picks up his fee and pisses off.

Even so Dragon’s Den is the BA Barracas of reality TV. It’s bad, it’s black, it’s covered in jewellery, and it pities the fool that goes in there with ideas which are anything but bankers.

I think even Bannatyne would invest in Rob Brydon right now. He’s so cheeky and scampish, with such a koochy little face, he could be the Andrex dog (which incidentally, he was, with his irrististible Welsh voiceover). He’s back in fish out of water (or Brit in Australia) sitcom, Supernova, (BBC2, 9.30pm) which itself is back for a second series. Brydon’s the BBC’s equivalent of Channel 4’s Gordon Ramsey. He did Marion and Geoff, he did some film or other with Alan partridge, he’s in Annually Retentive. He’s an absolute banker. Supernova’s not much good. But at least it’s not Channel 4 where Brydon would have been given his own interminable food-based variety show.

And following, as it does, a repeat of Extras (BBC2, 9pm), it makes a bland, if harmless, filling for an otherwise well tasty comedy sandwich.

We're not singing anymore

Never mind the World Cup. It's the hooligans at the BBC's commisioning department who should be tackled, says Alex Grose

Sad as it may be, I’m a bit of a veteran of hooligan TV. From the films ID and The firm to more recent movie drivel and the raft of hooligan programmes offered up to us around the World Cup including Danny ‘Bit of a tasty little firm these lot’ Dyer on Bravo. This subject has been well and truly covered. But the BBC had been noticeably quiet on the subject.

In Hooligans – A Panorama Special (BBC1, 9pm) my hopes lay in the "Panorama" part of the title. What slant would they take? What revelation would we be treated to? Nothing. Pure and simple. Due to clever undercover cameras they managed to hit us with the outstanding journalistic gems that a gang of drunk English louts are not pleasant, need good policing and aren’t overly PC. At least we know we’re getting pure quality for every pound of license money…..

Five or ten years ago a programme like this may have made an impact, a quick glimpse at a world that people had heard about but never seen. Donal MacIntyre’s expose springs to mind as an example of how well this subject can be handled. We’ve seen it before.

Maybe a more fitting title would have been "Policing around the World Cup", but would that satisfy the me-too ratings whore the BBC seems to be becoming? Overall a real shame. I didn’t expect this with my first review but I’m struggling to find anything positive.

So, maybe I’d treat myself to a bit of Big Brother (Channel 4, all the time, will it ever end?) for some more intelligent debate…? A naked Welshman burping and farting in the bath. Not my night was it.

Tuesday, August 1

Afternoon cringe

Gareth Crew rushes home into the loving and wobbly arms of TV’s favourite couple

It’s a mixed blessing living seven miles from work. Those lie-ins are handy, and if you’re lucky and the wind’s blowing in the right direction, you can get home to watch TV by 5pm. Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, it would be if you didn’t have just the four original channels to watch.

So, looking through the Daily Express, what’s on? Newsround on BBC 1. No. They use the word ‘Loads’ too often. Weakest Link repeats on BBC 2? No chance. However, you can guess what series it is by looking at the tautness of Robinson’s Skeletor-type cheekbones. Channel 3 as my Nan calls it, and it’s The Price is Right with Squeaky Joe. No thanks. So what’s left? Ah, Smug and Shakey, otherwise better known as Richard and Judy (Channel 4, 5pm Monday-Friday). Let’s look at this.

The heatwave has gone! Thank god. Richard has got rid of the T-Shirts and is back in a suit. Judy, bless her wobbly wrists, is dressed in older rich-woman type clothes – I detect a hint of Boden (and a whiff of Gin). We’re through the looking glass here, for us workers it’s a chance to either: reminisce about what it was like when Pot Noodles were the greatest food of all time, and you read The Sun ironically, or it’s a dark reminder of the coming days in an old people’s home, and all you have to look forward to is those two and skin on your cups of tea so thick, you can pick it up and eat it.

So what’s on the show that launched 1,000 wretches in this reporter’s stomach? Hungry men prefer fat women, Jodie Marsh went out with someone who’s now a murderer and Richard Wilson, plugging a play. Oh, we’re in for a treat here!

So, first item: Hungry men prefer fat women. Some University or other has researched hard. Boffins, looking for ways to improve society, and putting their PhD’s to good use, have worked out that the hungrier the man is, the fatter they prefer their women. So, in true R & J style, they did their own experiment, which involved starving some lads and getting them to look over pictures of ladies. Apparently the theory was proved right. I saw the graph that Richard produced. I don’t agree. Cue TV debate with Civil servant and a lady who was, in the words of Heat, painfully thin.

This is where R & J excel. Now, dear readers, I’d imagine that you would know that the point of an interview is to extract some knowledge or information from the interviewee that is relevant to the subject matter? You’d think, wouldn’t you? Not for our two favourite former-journalists. It’s time to indulge, make it up as they go along and bicker. This ain’t a Mike Leigh film kids.

It was the same with Richard Wilson. I don’t believe it, but they put up a One Foot In The Grave clip. The first question from Richard was directly linked to the clip. Oh how I prayed that Wilson would reinact that excellent scene from Father Ted and get him in a headlock. Sadly not. Wilson was talking about a play. Richard then started talking about that Sound of Music show on Saturday. Relevant.

I skipped over Jodie Marsh. She deserves it. What I would like to say is that her tan and tits are as spectacularly abhorrent as ever.

Fortunately the fantastic segment saved the show: You Say, We Pay. The premise is simply brilliant. You describe the picture and if the idiots get it right, you get a grand each time. It was saved as the person tonight was an older chap from Manchester. And the first person to describe was Trevor McDonald. He described him in a fairly racist way, but Richard and Judy got it straight away – I knew there was a reason why they wrote for the Express!!

Now being more wound up than when I left work, I sighed with relief as the greatest show ever made was round the corner, The Simpsons. Halloween Special 3? Oh for Sky Plus!