One thing that often irks us is when infuriating broadsheet columnists – such as Damian Thompson of the Torygraph – have a bit of a pop at Twitter’s Stephen Fry. “He’s not as clever as he thinks he is!”, they’ll occasionally whinny, deftly stopping themselves just before they type “after all, I’m cleverer than him! Look, my parents sent me to this really expensive school, and I’ve got my own newspaper column, so why doesn’t everyone love me instead? Waaah”.
One of the reasons Fry is so disarming is that when it comes to programmes like ‘Stephen Fry In America’, you can’t help but feel that despite him being a really quite clever chap, he’s there to learn from all the new experiences and the new people just as much as he’s there to make a TV series and write a best-selling book. Now, we might be wrong in that assumption (it wouldn’t be the first time. After all, we’re idiots), but it’s his willingness to Get Involved that makes him likeable, while lots of other people would merely arrive at a set of assumptions that happen to keep in with their blinkered world view, despite there being plenty of evidence to the contrary if they moved from behind a desk. You know, like your Jan Moirs, Richard Littlejohns and Damian Thompsons of the world. Or us, as that’s what we’re doing in this very paragraph. But, as we’ve said, we cheerily admit we’re idiots.
Oh, and given Fry visited all fifty states for the making of the programme, why on earth was it only six episodes long? Come on, the BBC. It should at least have been a thirteen parter, though we’ll cut you some slack for not censoring a bit where the word “fuck” could clearly be seen in graffiti on an establishing shot in one episode’s 7pm BBC Two same-week repeat.
Completing a brace of affable factmongers, here’s Andrew Marr, and his History Of Modern Britain. Taking what could be called (by us, here, now) a surprisingly accessible look at Britain’s post-war history, the series saw Marr visiting not just the more obvious landmarks that shaped 21st Century Britain – the stock exchanges, or the dockyards – but also the unexpected – the spot on Harrowdown Hill where the body of Dr David Kelly was found, or revisiting that tiny London flat which sold for a fortune in the 1980s. It was this comprehensive approach which made the series so very compelling.
Now, no-one really likes to admit it. but is there anything finer in life than seeing someone who deserves it getting a great big bollocking? You might counter with “well, raising a child is a little bit more enjoyable than that, you cynical git”, but you’d be lying. Seeing someone else getting an industrial strength ticking-off is always fun, only in reality you have to be all “Oh, I should probably leave the room” and avoid-eye-contact-y.
Well, thanks to Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, you can see people getting loudly rebuked in the comfort of your own home. You can even rewind the best, loudest, bollockingest bits over and over again on your Sky+ box, imagining that you’re Gordon Ramsay, and that the luckless head chef represents everyone you’ve ever worked with, and yeah, who was it who mixed up the fax machine and the shredder for a year’s worth of invoices now, eh fucko? Eh? ANSWER ME! But then, that’d be taking things a little bit too far, and you should probably start seeing Dr Mayhew again.
Actually, of course, the main enjoyment from the show actually comes from seeing struggling restaurateurs manage to turn their businesses around, thanks to the helpful if sweary advice from Ramsay. It’s really quite uplifting seeing a small restaurant keep on the same staff, not need any additional investment, and still manage to make a silk purse from the mouldy old pigs ears at the back of the freezer, all because Ramsay reinvigorated a disenfranchised kitchen staff and added (or removed) a few dishes to the menu. Though admittedly, we only started watching it to see people getting shouted at.
You’d never guess just how hard it is to be so wonderfully stupid. This Canadian sitcom centred on the antics of Ron (played by Jeff Kassel) and Pete (played by Steve Markle taking on the human form of Tommy Scott from Space). What with both being dumb and shiftless, they make ends meet by becoming human guinea pigs for product testing facility Testico. Yep, ‘Testico’. That’s about the level – we’re talking Bottom meets Jackass basically, and that’s a good thing.
Each episode would centre on a single product being tested on the pair, and the subsequent consequences. So, one episode sees the pair take an experimental drug that temporarily removes their ability to feel pain. Ignoring all warnings from the doctors, as soon as they’re let out on the street, the pair decide to neck enough of the pills to keep them pain-free for a solid week. Ron instantly decides to become a low-rent daredevil, while Pete starts dating an attractive dominatrix who just loves guys with dangerously sturdy piercings ‘down there’. The rest of the episode basically writes itself, and unless you’ve a heart of solid stone, you’ll have cried laughing at least three times by the end of it.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the programme is the lengths the lead actors have to go to. For example, in one episode the luckless Pete messes up a prank involving an experimental solvent, and spends almost the entire episode with his face glued to Ron’s bare arse. And Ron certainly isn’t going to stop having regular sex with his new girlfriend after a minor setback like that. We think you’ll find that is proper “I-had-to-watch-it-through-my-fingers” comedy, folks.
Sadly, the show didn’t make it past the end of the first season (can’t imagine why), but we implore you to track down at least one episode of the show. While it’s very much the televisual equivalent of a greasy chicken kebab after a hard night’s drinking, it’s one of the best kept comedy secrets of the last decade.
And so, into the Top 50 we go. Join us again tomorrow (probably) for the next part of our increasingly fractured rundown.