Friday, March 25, 2011

Calder on Air: 10 O'Clock Live, 2012 and Mrs Brown's Boys

My column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Satirical selection

I grew up on tales of how Private Eye and That Was the Week That Was brought down Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas Home. And there were times during the last years of Tony Blair’s government when it seemed that Rory Bremner was the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. In retrospect, that may have had more to with the limited effectiveness of the real opposition parties than with the bite of his satire, but for a while his style of political comedy swept all before it.

If 10 O’Clock Live (Channel 4) is anything to go by, that era has long past; certainly, the show will not have Ed Miliband looking nervously over his shoulder. In part this is the fault of its presenters. Lauren Laverne is pleasingly sparky, but is not clear her talents are suited to this sort of programme. Charlie Brooker is a welcome presence, but he has been doing far more interesting things elsewhere of late. In its best moments his recent series How TV Ruined Your Life suggested that he has it in him to become a new Adam Curtis.

But Jimmy Carr and David Mitchell? They have been on every panel show screened for the last five years. I doubt if either has been home during that period: each must have a sleeping back rolled up somewhere behind a studio sofa so that they can be on hand in case Phill Jupitus drops out of a show at the last minute.

Carr just isn’t that funny, which is a problem when you are a comedian, while Mitchell is a good example of what logicians call the Stephen Fry Fallacy. This is best defined as the belief that if someone sounds like an Oxbridge don and dresses like an Oxbridge don then they must be a great intellectual.

Mitchell’s limitations were made clear when he interviewed Nigel Farage. When the programme was first put together, the producers no doubt imagined Mitchell ripping apart the likes of the UKIP leader with his mighty intellect. As it turned out, he was unable to lay a glove on him and Farage and his pubby bonhomie rather thrived on the format. Come to think of it, he was funnier than Jimmy Carr.

The real problem with 10 O’clock Live, however, is not the presenter but its lack of purpose. Bremner, Bird and Fortune had at its heart a moral outrage at Blair’s war with Iraq and the comedy flowed from that. 10 O’Clock Live, by contrast, is just four people turning up to to try hard to be funny about the week’s news.

Were they for or against action in Libya? It was hard to say. Which side were the presenters on in their studio debate on health warnings of packaging? I doubt if they knew themselves.

2012 (Channel 4) is another attempt at satire, this time dealing with the London Olympics, and it ought to have been celebrating. Its first episode was concerned with a ridiculously complex clock that was designed to count down the hours until the Games begin. A few days later the real Olympic clock that had just been set up in Trafalgar Square broke down.

A victory for satire? Not quite. While fun, 2012 is far too polite to bite anybody. So much so that Sebastian Coe was willing to appear in it. In allowing this it made itself the Official Satirist of the London Games. The viewer was reminded of the toe-curling occasion when Mrs Thatcher insisted upon starring in a specially written Yes Minister sketch.

Finally, do try to catch an episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys (BBC1). It’s not that it is good: it’s that it is bad. Unbelievably bad. When they come to compile lists of the worst programmes ever, it will feature prominently. And you will be able to say that you saw it.

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