It’s December, and that means it’s time for AN UPDATE A DAY from your super soaraway BrokenTV, all the way up to Christmas Day. No matter how busy, drunk or lying unconscious in a ditch we are, there’ll be something new on this blog every day. And if you’re going to start something like that, why not start big? Time for:
BrokenTV has called in all of its staff, including all of the staff members who never seem to post any updates to the blog, a cherry picked team of top media players, alongside several major figures from the television industry. Together, they embarked on a week’s stay at a top secret Travelodge and spent a sixty-hour week locked in vitriolic negotiations about just what abbreviation we should be using for the decade that is about to splutter out. “The noughties” has never sounded quite right (indeed, it’s December 2009, and our spell checker still doesn’t recognise it), “the zeroes” sounds too American, and we can’t use “the 2000s” because that’ll leave us nothing to use when we pen our roundup of the century’s television in December 2099. Stay tuned for that, by the way, just ninety years from now. It’ll be a blast.
In the end, the panel settled for “The Oh-Ohs”. Of course, it’s the only decade this century to end with two zeroes, it’s quite catchy, and the panel felt that when uttered, the phrase successfully encapsulated the events of the preceding nine years and eleven months, what with the war, the terrorism and the economic strife and everything. So there you go. “The Oh-Ohs”.
Then we got the work experience kid to cobble together a list of the best hundred telly shows from the decade. We would have asked the panel for their input, but they wouldn’t stop going on about when they’d be allowed to see their families again. That was apart from Mark Lawson, who was desperate keen to stay and help. Of course, we’re not that desperate.
* A quick note on how we’re doing this: to keep things interesting, we’re only including television programmes which have started in the last decade. For example, don’t expect to see The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007) in there. On we go!
Ah, high concept television. While it could easily be annoying - imagine an edgy sketch show where the last line of every skit was "I see you've bought a new ladder" - it can often become second nature. For example, when Peep Show started, surely we weren't alone in thinking the entire first-person-view schtick would get timesome by about the third episode. And how wrong we all were, eh?
But this isn't about Peep Show, it’s about (to give the show its full title) ‘Frank Sidebottom’s Proper Telly Show in B/W, With Repeats In Colour’. As you might expect from the title, the first time each programme was broadcast, it was in monochrome, giving the (already pretty lo-fi) programme the feel of being captured on CCTV. When the same-week repeats rolled around, they were in full colour. An utterly pointless conceit, and as such one that we enjoyed seeing quite a lot.
Anyway, the programme itself. Anyone who stayed up too late too frequently in the early 1990s might remember Frank’s Fantastic Shed Show, a decidedly cheap yet cheerful affair going out on the wrong side of midnight on ITV. This is largely the same, but with about a fifth of the budget, meaning your enjoyment of the whole thing will hinge on whether you find Frank Sidebottom entertaining or not. We happen to think he’s endlessly entertaining, more so when the studio guests on ‘Proper Telly Show’ (yes, there were studio guests) didn’t know anything about him. David Soul, for example, clearly didn’t have the foggiest what was going on, and presumably spent most of his off-camera time pondering how long the sixth circle of hell had been in Manchester.
Notable mention: Frank Sidebottom, alongside Little Frank, also starred in Channel M’s overnight test card until the handover to Euronews. This meant the test card would appear as usual, only the centre was taken up by recordings of Frank improvising banter with his puppet alter ego. And best yet, no scary cloth clown in sight. (Second notable mention: We were delighted to notice that Frank appears in the US television commercial for FIFA 10, just the same as he does in the UK version.)
More hi-concept hi-jinkery, this time from the pen (and whatever implement people primarily use to direct things) of Peter “Chicken Lollies!” Baynham. I Am Not An Animal was the Triffic Films-animated tale of a group of highly pseudo-intelligent animals rescued from the laboratory of a vivisectionist, being forced to fend for themselves.
A top-drawer collection of voice artistes lent their voices to the show, including Steve Coogan, Kevin Eldon, Amerlia Bullmore, Julia Davies, Simon Pegg and Arthur Matthews, the latter as a rabbit bred specifically to provide telephone IT support. The main humour to be derived from the show is the relentlessly optimistic yet slightly bewildered nature of the main characters. On first being set free, finding themselves in a field of cows, paternalistic horse Peter remarks how they must be in “[a] weird giant nightclub with an uneven green dancefloor, which the overweight, naked clientele insist on eating”. Similar confusions ensue as our suburban menagerie find their own house, and (unwittingly) avoid capture from their former owners Vivi-Sec UK.
Many, if not all, of the topics should often have a default setting of “bullshit” in the minds of most reasonably thoughtful people, but that doesn’t stop it being an interesting, and useful programme. In an age where far too much television exploits people buying into the myths of “talking to the dead”, alternative medicine or crypto-zoology, it’s kind of comforting to see a programme roundly debunking such things – and showing their workings as they go. As well as swearing quite a lot.
As you might expect, it’s far from being a show for everyone. Penn and Teller’s libertarian viewpoints mean that left-wing prejudices are attacked as often as those from the right, so while Timmy Guardianreader might well lap up episodes focusing on creationism or so-called ‘family values’, he’d be spitting tofu with apoplectic rage at the episodes attacking environmental hysteria, recycling or PETA (well, not ‘apoplectic rage’ as such, but he might mutter something and scratch his beard angrily).
If we do have one problem with the show, it’s that the producers can occasionally be as prone to cherry-picking their ‘evidence’ as those they are attacking. An early episode looked at the ‘myth of secondhand smoke’, which Penn Gillette has since admitted had been misleading. And so would Teller if he hasn’t been in character, presumably.
Given it’s arguably the greatest revelation in communication since the invention of the printing press, it’s surprising there haven’t been many television documentaries taking a look at the history of the internet. Or possibly, given the way we’d said “the printing press” and not “television” in that sentence, not that surprising (because television allowed only a tiny proportion or people to put out their crackpot views to millions, whereas the printing press and internet allowed anyone with the necessary equipment to pump out their demented ideas without fear of censure, like what we’re doing now. If you were wondering).
It seems that for this decade, Download: The True Story Of The Internet is as comprehensive a retelling of the tale as we’re going to get. It’s not absolutely perfect – the slightly odd presentational style of host John Heileman can be a little offputting – but all credit to the producers for having the show helmed by a journalist who has been closely involved with the web from its early days, and he does know what he’s talking about. Just remember, if the show had been made in the UK, it’d probably be hosted by Iain Lee instead. So, think on.
The first episode of ‘Download…’ can be viewed in full on Google Video here.
Quite annoyingly, John Simm doesn’t seemed to have aged a single day over the last ten years. 2000’s Never Never was a two-part drama for Channel Four, written by Tony Marchant. It saw Simm playing John Parlour, a darkly charming loan shark, forever hovering around the residents of a sink estate with the promise of funding a Christmas their kids really deserve, and hey, something special for you as well. After a fashion, karma ends up taking its revenge on Parlour, putting him in a position where he needs to help of his former victims if he is to survive.
Very well written, and as good a performance as you’d expect from Simm, this is a nicely engrossing story that really ought to see an outing on More4.
Tune in tomorrow for shows 95-91! Or whatever the web equivalent of ‘tuning in’ is. Click in? Ah, you know what we mean.