Archive for the Television Category

Claudia Winkleman to host Film 2010

Posted in Film, Television with tags , , , on 29 March, 2010 by Ally

Today the BBC announced Claudia Winkleman will replace Jonathan Ross as host of Film 2010. Even for an ardent Wossy detractor, this does not strike me as A Good Thing. “Everyone has an opinion on film,” she states in the press release, ignoring the fact that some are more informed than others. Claudia Winkleman, while eminently likable, has no previous form in film criticism and apparently nothing more to guide her than gut instinct. That’s also true of the viewing public, but we expect our opinions to come from those more knowledgable than us.

This is merely speculation of course: Not just counting chickens before they’re hatched, but deciding said chickens will be shit. Nevertheless this wonky egg doesn’t fill me with confidence.

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Why do I watch the X Factor?

Posted in Music, Television with tags on 17 October, 2009 by Ally

There is a certain satisfaction in having your prejudices confirmed. Despite immense resentment and frustration, that satisfaction is what moves me to watch The X Factor. As a musician and music-lover, the programme goes against my fundamental beliefs about art and entertainment. Which is precisely why it’s unmissable.

Tonight my senses were once again assaulted by the boorishly loud audience and the murder of songs I couldn’t fucking stand in the first place. And if there is such a thing is a hate orgasm, John & Edward never fail to bring me to it. Not to mention the judges’ assertions that any of the acts even approached authenticity. Just thinking about it makes my fists clench, forcing me to type this article by stabbing wildly at my keyboard with a pen.

I refuse to call it car-crash television, because I respect crash victims’ privacy enough to avert my gaze. It’s more like pornography: Depressing, demeaning but shamefully compelling. But this I watch with my family.

That’s entertainment!

Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle

Posted in Television on 17 March, 2009 by Ally

Following the demise of This Morning With Richard Not Judy, Stewart Lee has been sadly absent from the airwaves for about ten years, despite a run of critically-acclaimed, exceedingly funny standup shows and DVD releases. Probably something to do with Jerry Springer: The Opera and the whole blasphemy thing. Anyway, last night he made a triumphant return to television with the first episode of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, a series of half-hour programs with a beautifully simply premise.

Every week I’m talking about different things, that’s how it works, you’ve seen television before.

It is essentially a standup show on television. He stands up, on a stage, in front of an appreciative audience in a real venue. And he talks. He says funny things. Funny, often cynical, sometimes cruel things. The theme of the first episode is Toilet Books, or celebrity hardbacks — admittedly an easy target, but one which gives Mr. Lee a small barrel full of annoying fish, and a massive gun with which to shoot them (a metaphor that would place me in his crosshairs, I’m sure). Highlights include an impression of Chris Moyles’ comatose friends, a scathing attack on the literary style of famous writing man Dan Brown, advice on buying Jeremy Clarkson books from Amazon, half-remembered Harry Potter titles (“Harry Potter and the Tree of Nothing”) and a glorious dismissal of Russell Brand’s My Booky Wook.

You can read Russell Brand’s autobiography and dismiss it as rubbish if you like. Or you can dismiss it as rubbish without reading it to save time, if you prefer.

The standup material is interspersed with brief sketches featuring such familiar faces as Kevin Eldon, Paul Putner and Simon Munnery. These were less successful — a few lingered too long on an idea with potential, while others were just wide of the mark. However, the sight of Stewart Lee waiting at traffic lights in his Comedy Vehicle did raise a smile, as did a scene where Dan Brown is reimagined as a surgeon delivering bad news.

The 75-year-old man died a painful death on the large green table. It was sad.

Despite the minor sketch-related setback, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle is still the funniest thing the BBC have delivered in a long while. I laughed so much, I could neither speak nor breathe afterwards. I highly recommend it for those of you with little regard for speech or breath.

Recommended reading:
Stewart Lee’s website
BBC iPlayer: Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (available in the UK for one week)

The Public Veneration of Mediocrity

Posted in Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on 17 November, 2008 by Ally

I have become increasingly disturbed by the current trend towards mediocrity on television. We the so-called public seem to derive more pleasure from the bland and incompetent than from the talented. The only dancing programme on terrestrial television is Strictly Come Dancing, a competition where John Sergeant is saved weekly by the public vote, thanks to the sheer novelty of seeing him dance badly. Each week he tries admirably, but he simply has no innate dancing ability. He appears as either Tweedledum or Tweedledee in a dinner jacket, galumphing gracelessly around the floor, his feet landing clumsily in something vaguely resembling rhythm while his professional partner desperately tries to divert attention away from him by flashing her legs from beneath a glittery pink dress. The judges practically pulsate with fury, urgently persuading the public to stop supporting this awkward goon at the expense of contestants who can actually dance. No such luck! Clearly their fun little strategy of including a few token “no-hopers” has backfired. This is the ninth week John Sergeant has been saved by the public vote, while the elegant and surprisingly adept Cherie Lunghi was voted off. This is precisely the kind of ill-considered voting that made Boris Johnson the Mayor of London. Well, perhaps not quite that irresponsible. But still, a new demographic must be considered — the “yeah, that’ll be a laugh” vote.

Meanwhile the only music show on prime time terrestrial television is The X Factor, a sickening (and sickeningly compelling) glorified karaoke competition. Each week contestants perform songs of a different theme — disco, Mariah Carey, funeral dirges and so forth. In terms of record sales it is the most influential music show in Britain. The Michael Jackson evening was cited as responsible for drastically boosting sales of Jackon’s latest compilation. The US equivalent, American Idol managed to land Jeff Buckley at the top of the iTunes chart after one contestant performed a Buckley-styled version of Leonard Cohen’s ubiquitous Hallelujah. How can this be? How can a televised Open Mic Night inspire such a retail frenzy? And how can there be no room on the schedules for genuine music? If you want to see professional musicians playing live music with some degree of skill and accuracy, you have to stay up late and watch Later with Jools Holland. And that’s shite too.

It used to be that people were impressed by displays of talent and skill. During the Great Depression people were uplifted and entertained by Fred Astaire’s dazzling footwork and Groucho Marx’s lightning-fast repartee. Now we have another recession from which to distract ourselves, and our idea of entertainment is to complain in droves about tasteless prank calls —  whilst simultaneously demonstrating our own lumbering lapse of taste and judgement by voting for inept dancers, interminably bland singers and bumbling mayoral candidates.

Introduction of the Day: Only Connect

Posted in Of the Day, Television with tags , , , , , , on 10 November, 2008 by Ally

Victoria Coren’s introduction to this week’s edition of Only Connect made me laugh heartily indeed. Allow me to share it with you:

Hello and welcome to Only Connect; the quiz that tests not just knowledge but more importantly lateral thinking — That ability to switch lanes suddenly in the middle of a mental journey, without ploughing into a milk float and scattering yoghurt all over the tarmac of logic.

TV of the Day: Only Connect

Posted in Of the Day, Television with tags , , , , , , , on 14 October, 2008 by Ally

Heartbreaker of the day: Victoria Coren

BBC4’s latest highbrow (read: impossible) game show is Only Connect, broadcast on Monday evenings and hosted by the… by Victoria Coren. I was going to precede her name with an adjective of some sort, but I feared picking an appropriate one would leave me paddling doe-eyed into the choppy seas of admiration and, let’s face it, nerdy schoolboy lust. So, just “Victoria Coren” it is. I’m not happy about it, but I’ll have to go along with it. Ich nichten lichten

Anyway, the theme of Only Connect is lateral thinking. Although mostly it’s so dumbfoundingly difficult it leaves me literal-blinking. The first round is (deceptively) simple enough. Two teams take turns to find the link between four seemingly disparate clues – be they words, numbers, phrases or pictures. These clues are often rather reminiscent of the kind of cryptic crossword that makes you swear never to buy that fucking newspaper ever again!! And to make matters worse, they are only given the first clue automatically. The following ones are then revealed at the team’s request, and the fewer clues they use to guess the connection, the more points they receive. For example; bowl / cistern / brook / beagle. They all end with the names of birds, see? Tricksy ain’t it…

The second round involves identifying the fourth item in a sequence, the points again decreasing as the teams request more clues. For example; shoe / horse / rider… (Even I got this one, amazingly enough. It was “battle”. For want of a nail the shoe was lost and so forth.) Then there’s THE WALL, in which the teams arrange a grid of sixteen items into their respective groups of four. Points are awarded for arranging the groups correctly and identifying the connections. The frustrating thing about it is that certain items could fit into multiple categories: Does Marlowe mean Kit or Philip, so does it go with the playwrights or the fictional detectives? Is pound a measurement, a coin or a cake? Will our heroes escape unharmed in time for next week’s adventure? Is there a God? (Probably not.)

I love Only Connect, as it’s one of the few quizzes that doesn’t have me screaming answers at the television. I am often genuinely impressed by the contestants’ feats of lateral thinking. And if I ever do find a connection from my own tiny mind, I can enjoy that overwhelming sense of smugness that comes with being proven right. And the whole thing is hosted with great wit and charm by the endlessly attractive, intelligent and altogether wonderful… Stop. It’s all hosted by Victoria Coren who is good.

God On Trial

Posted in Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on 4 September, 2008 by Ally

Last night BBC2 screened God on Trial, a new TV play by Frank Cottrell Boyce. It is the story of a group of Auschwitz prisoners who hold a rabbinical court to accuse God of breaking the covenant and abandoning the Jewish people. It could easily have been sensationalist, but in the hands of Boyce the arguments for both sides were compelling, and I never felt like I was being manipulated as a viewer. The beauty is that although the court does make a decision, the real conclusion is the personal reaction of the viewers.

In a barrack in Auschwitz concentration camp, the prisoners are called for a medical inspection. They do not know the criteria by which they will be judged, but those that fail the inspection will be killed to make room for new arrivals. However, the new arrivals are a day early thanks to the increased efficiency of the German railway system. Those waiting to die are faced by the people that will sleep in their beds the next night. Under these horrific circumstances, one man suggests they prosecute God for the abandonment of the Jewish people. Three judges are chosen, all rabbis, and the cases for both sides are presented. Continue reading