Sunday, 31 January 2010

BrokenTV’s THTSOT 00s: Numbers 12 and 11

A double update!

imageLittle-known media fact: Osbourne’s Big Book Of Lazy Television Commercial Stereotypes is referred to constantly by every advertising agency in the land. Sure, they’ll try and claim the book doesn’t even exist, and some idiot is making the whole thing up, but they’re lying, it does. In the book, there’s a chapter on “Advertising to Men”, which begins with a list of hackneyed and obvious male character traits. Not so the ‘creatives’ that we’ve come to know and love from hugely popular shows like The Persuasionists [SUB: please check] can avoid these clichés, you understand, it’s so they ensure as many as possible are crammed into every adverting spot they produce. The list is a handy time saver for them, as it gives them lots of extra time to go on YouTube, looking for ideas to steal.

Anyway, on the list, in between “Men always go to the pub in groups of three” and “Men are rubbish at everyday household tasks if their wife or girlfriend is watching” is the maxim that “Men place way too much importance on the sport called ‘football’”. Now, you may well scoff at that last one – a bit too banal, surely (not us, we are genuinely trying to watch Arsenal-Man United on our second monitor and Ghana-Egypt on TV at the same time as writing this), but BBC Two documentary series Frontline Football really does highlight the importance of The World’s Greatest Sport.

Frontline Football was a follow-up to 2004 BBC Four series Holidays In The Danger Zone, where BBC reporter and journalist Ben Anderson, along with Simon Reeve, visited nations such as North Korea, Iran, Libya, Cambodia, and assorted other dangerous locales. Frontline Football was presented by Anderson alone, with each of the four episodes looking at a single qualifying match for the 2006 World Cup, between one or more conflict-strewn nations. While two of the programmes saw Anderson travel with the teams themselves (DR Congo and Palestine), two followed the supporters of the teams involved (Colombia, and both sets of fans for the first meeting between Bosnia and Serbia since the war in Former Yugoslavia).

While the episodes following the supporters were hugely interesting, as you’d expect, the two episodes closely following the teams themselves were truly remarkable. The episode following the Palestine national team, and their build up to a match against Iraq, told of the struggle the players go through to even compete at a competitive level. With the few remaining patches of ground suitable for training likely to be bombed on a daily basis, and with the team unable to even train together because of travel restrictions, team organisers were left with a near insurmountable task to even complete their qualifying campaign at all. With many players barred from leaving the country – a problem made worse by the team’s ‘home’ matches taking place in Qatar due to security concerns – organisers resorted to advertising on the internet, seeking players with Palestine heritage from overseas. This leads to a team including players from Lebanon, Kuwait, Chile and beyond taking to the field in an empty stadium for the match, a team including Morad Fareed, a New York-based lawyer with Palestinian parents who pays all his own expenses, just for the chance of representing their country.

A fascinating story in itself, but it was the opening episode of the series that really sticks in our memory. This followed the “Democratic” Republic of Congo national team in their build-up to a vital qualifying match with South Africa. While most of the Congolese team were based in the war-torn country itself, living in impoverished conditions and fearful for the lives of themselves and their families, one team member, Lomana LuaLua was playing for Portsmouth in the Premiership, and had paid for their training equipment for his from his own pocket. The promise of possibly being spotted by a scout from a European club was enough to give the home-based players extra drive and incentive to perform, in the hope that they might soon be able to take their families to a new, safer life, and their cause was helped by the appointment of experienced French manager Claude LeRoy.

LeRoy was another interesting character in this tale – a one-time Cambridge United manager who looks uncannily like a Gallic doppelganger of Timothy Spall, he remained resolutely upbeat in the face of the many problems facing his team. One part of the documentary saw LeRoy convince the authorities that with no suitable training pitches in DR Congo itself, the team’s chances would be improved if they could travel to a training camp in France, allowing them to prepare for their must-win match against South Africa without distraction. All seemed to be going well, but at the conclusion of a training match against a local non-league side, two players promptly decided to do a runner – without any of their possessions, wearing only their kit and boots. The Congolese authorities back home were so incensed by this – LeRoy had promised them this wouldn’t happen – they demanded the remainder of the team return immediately, leaving the luckless LeRoy to pay the hotel bill with his own credit card.

A world away from the glossy, moneyed, high definition sponsored by Barclays Premier League, Frontline Football is a programme that can be enjoyed by even the most fervent soccersceptic. Indeed, throughout the entire series, there are only short scenes of football matches actually taking place. This is a documentary series showing the people involved in the sport, showing what they go through just to be able to take part in the sport, both as players, managers and supporters, and what they will go through to represent their nation.

While the series doesn’t seem to have been released on DVD, two episodes are available on YouTube and Google Video:

Palestine vs Iraq (YouTube, multipart)
Bosnia vs Serbia (YouTube, multipart) (Google Video, in one part)

 

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We'd argue that the biggest development in British television over the last decade has been the launch of BBC Four. Rising from the ashes of well-meaning but underperforming (and buried at the arse-end of the ‘documentaries’ section of the Sky Digital EPG where no-one would think of looking for it) BBC Knowledge, BBC Four has been, as you'll know, home to innumerable factual programmes of interest, but if the channel has a flagship documentary strand, it's Time Shift.

Whereas most documentary series take on more weighty subjects (take your pick: JFK, Nazis, sharks, how Nazi sharks plotted to kill JFK), Time Shift looks at the history of topics that haven't been covered dozens of times elsewhere. The history of the British pub, long-wiped BBC programmes, supermarkets, British computer games, Red Robbo, Nigel Kneale, Malcolm Muggeridge or Jack Rosenthal have all been given the Time Shift treatment. At the time of writing this, we're eagerly looking forward to a programme on cryptic crosswords. Cryptic crosswords! It's an hour long! That's a wonderful thing.

Slightly annoyingly, the strand seems to be undersold by the BBC of late. The BBC Four website no longer creates support pages for new Time Shift programmes, and many listings guides don't even mention which programmes carry the Time Shift branding, but it is still there, carrying on the good work, almost unseen, rarely promoted (the BBC website mentions the strand is now on it’s ninth series, though we don’t think we’ve ever seen it promoted as an actual series), always interesting. Long may it continue.

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Friday, 29 January 2010

BrokenTV’s THTSOT 00s: Slight Return

You remember our “Top 100 TV Shows Of The 00s”? You know, that never ending televisual breakdown that we’re still carrying out, currently scheduled to conclude some time in early November 2019? And how we said that Newswipe With Charlie Brooker was better than Screenwipe? Yeah. Well, it’s things like this that underline that decision:

Proof there, that we’re always right. Apart from when we come up with a list of the hundred greatest TV shows of the previous decade and accidentally forget to put Planet Earth in there. Whoops.

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BrokenTV’s THTSOT 00s: Number 13

imageSheer brilliant, demented, hilarious surrealism. Don’t see that on telly much nowadays, do you? It’s an industry that Britain used to lead the world in, what with Spine Millington’s Q, Monty Python, utterly brilliant yet criminally never released on VHS or DVD 70s LWT show End Of Part One, Alexei Sayle’s Stuff, Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out (and other non-Shooting Stars R&M vehicles), Attention Scum and Big Train. Since then, there has been very little, with the most recent example we can think of (aside from Look Around You, covered earlier in the list) being 2000’s Chris Morris vehicle Jam, which was slightly disappointing what with it lacking the monologues and general wooziness of its radio precursor. Since then, it seems commissioning editors have been too scared of surprising anyone to give anything even moderately strange a chance, with promising shows like Biffovision and MeeBOX strangled at birth.

imageMeanwhile, in a move sure to irk timesome buffoons who like to imagine Americans can’t “do irony”, American Cartoon Network spinoff Adult Swim have been commissioning some truly imaginative programming, none more deliciously demented than Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, from the minds behind the wonderful pseudo-cartoon Tom Goes To The Major. Here we’ve got a show that show creators Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim describe as a “nightmare vision of television”, but whereas Jam’s nightmare was one where you wake up to find an escaped mental patient tapping at your skull with a toffee hammer, …Awesome Show is more like waking up to find you live in a bouncy castle. That really is one of the worst analogies we’ve ever attempted.

In short, T&EAS, GJ! is utterly unlike anything ever seen on US television before. Some shows in the past have skirted with surrealism, with possibly the finest examples being Police Squad and Mr. Show, but both kept to the structural blueprints of sitcom and sketch show respectively. Tim and Eric take their show in any direction they feel like – some episodes contain recognisable sketches, spoof adverts, news reports, fake public access shows, while some concentrate on a single idea for the entire show. Occasionally, Tim and Eric barely appear in an episode at all.

We should probably point out that when we say ‘sketches’, don’t expect a standard ‘premise’, ‘situation’, and ‘punchline’ here. A sketch could be a VHS recording of a talent show, where a frightened man-boy with chapped lips sings unenthusiastically while his brother dances in the background. A bed salesman called Pall Willeaux starts a pitch in what – haha! – looks like it’s going to be a spoof of awkwardly poor local TV commercials, only for him to spiral into a nightmare where he’s a living zombie tearing limbs from people while howling about his missing son. A segment of a running sketch could easily end with one of the characters suddenly turning into a toad.

imageimageMuch of this is done with superbly slick video editing, so if you think a scene has just ended, the final second of it might loop for half a minute, drum beats are added, and the whole scene transforms into a pounding techno track. Now, we’re not qualified to actually make this statement, but we actually suspect that both Tim and Eric are somehow the bastard lovechildren of Spike Milligan, Kenny Everett and George Gorsz, who is a Dadaist artist we’ve just looked up on Wikipedia so that we might seem clever by crowbarring in a reference to Dadaism.

Not a single minute is wasted, and it’s a show where each episode still seems fresh even after several viewings. Indeed, despite being in a throwaway slot on a minor cable network, it’s able to attract a more than respectable roster of guest stars, with the likes of John C. Reilly, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Zach Galifianakis, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Cera, Bob Odenkirk (who is also the show’s producer), Elisha Cuthbert and “Weird Al” Tankovic all making appearances.

imageAnnoyingly, what with Bravo having ditched its nightly Adult Swim UK strand to make room for a billion episodes of When Imported Clip Shows Cost Us Bugger All, there’s no way to watch it on British TV, but you can dip into clips from the show at the Adult Swim UK website. Meanwhile, only the first series of the four is available on Region 2 DVD over here right now, though happily it can be found as cheaply as £6.85 right now. For the later seasons, you’ll have to pick up the imported region one sets, or indulge in the dark arts of the internet. Ah, go on. Have a clip:

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Thursday, 28 January 2010

BrokenTV’s THTSOT 00s: Number 14

imageSometimes, revelations can creep up and completely donkey-punch you straight in the brain. For example, you’re playing Guitar Hero, frenzied fingers becoming at one with the funny shapes moving down the screen as the sound of Silversun Pickups spills out of your TV speakers. You’re heading on course for a perfect score, when suddenly your brain switches to ‘default’, where it’s confused by the concept of playing a videogame using a guitar-shaped controller, bewildered by what the funny shapes could possibly mean, and flummoxed by the very concept of ‘colours’. By the time you’ve composed yourself and worked out which button is ‘red’ (and what ‘red’ is), the crowd are booing, and your subconscious is softly weeping at the fact this actually matters to you.

Similarly, and this might not surprise anyone after that first paragraph, there’s the notion of watching an episode of Peep Show only for it to suddenly hit you. Shit, you’re somehow both Mark and Jeremy, the heroes (and rarely has the word been used so inaccurately) of Peep Show. You display the general levels of spoddiness, self-doubt and raw sex appeal in David Mitchell’s Mark, and the dress sense, intelligence and work ethic in Robert Webb’s Jeremy. And by ‘you’, we mean ‘us’. If we were the sort of blog that used emoticons, we’d use a sad smiley face right here (and then we’d fret about whether people understood we’re actually being ‘ironic’ here).

It’s a mystifying beast, is Peep Show. It’s a sitcom it seems everyone we know watches, yet until the most recent series it failed to get more than 1.5 million viewers per episode. Indeed, it wasn’t until the sixth series that the programme appeared in Channel Four’s weekly top thirty ratings for the second time ever (in that time, the execrable Bo Selecta! made the top thirty ratings on ten occasions). It’s not just lacklustre ratings that make it such a welcome surprise Peep Show has lasted so long, but also the high-concept approach of every single shot being filmed from a character’s point-of-view. Given the fact the programme was getting recommissioned at all, we can’t imagine that many people would object if this had been phased out with each passing series – after all, it necessitates filming each scene more than once, from each character’s POV – but it has been a constant throughout every one of the 36 episodes to date.

Similarly, there’s the way the viewer can hear the thoughts of Mark and Jeremy throughout the series, but only from Mark and Jeremy. Other shows (by which we mean Scrubs, and JD’s internal monologue) played with the format a little, meaning we’d sometimes be let in on the thoughts of others, but in Peep Show, the concept is utterly rigid, and we’d say, all the better for it.

The same applies to the plotting. At the start of each episode, you just know everything is going to work out badly for the central pairing. Peep Show is an hugely bleak show – each opportunity for happiness is dangled in front of the El Dude brothers, only for their poor handling of minor external factors to ensure that they’ll remain miserable, unfulfilled, and stuck together at the end. And yet, you can’t really feel Mark and Jeremy are being treated cruelly by the writers – each of them are usually painfully responsible for their own downfalls, even to the extreme that when Sophie agrees to marry Mark, he realises that he doesn’t love her after all, but will have to go through with it, out of politeness. Really, what could be more perfectly British than that?

Indeed, as the band (who we’re sure would be Mark’s favourite) They Might Be Giants wonderfully put it: “Nobody ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful. Everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful.” Possibly you could claim Peep Show is merely pathos by numbers, but who cares? Peep Show is brilliant, and in an age where any half-decent British sitcom ends after the second series because the writers claim they want it to go down in history like Fawlty Towers did (i.e. they’ve run out of ideas), it’s great to have a brilliant sitcom able to go on for so long. Some may feel the standard of the show has dropped over the last few series, but we’d disagree, saying recent episodes like ‘The Party’, ‘Jeremy at JLB’ or ‘Burgling’ are up there with the finest of the early years.

All in all, not bad work for a show originally conceived as a combination of Beavis and Butt-head, and the largely-forgotten Nation217/Paramount/Channel Four show Flipside TV. Yes, really.

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Tuesday, 26 January 2010

BrokenTV’s THTSOT 00s: Number 15

imageMaybe it’s just our Flag Of Saint David-tinted monocle, but it seems like for much of last decade, when it came to regionally produced or commissioned programmes going out nationally on the BBC, the majority of big hitters have been from BBC Wales. Alongside Doctor Who and Torchwood, shows such as Life On Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Casanova, Merlin and Being Human have had the BBC Wales Cymru badge stamped somewhere on their end credits. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, it was BBC Scotland who’d produced a higher proportion of the most enjoyable regionally-sourced or produced shows to hit the network, with shows like Naked Video, Film [Year], Rab C Nesbitt, The High Life, Bad Boys (post-Brush Strokes pre-cleaning product shill vehicle for Karl Howman, ah, you remember it), I Lovett, Athletico “Scotlard” Partick, and City Lights jostling for space in the Radio Times, to name but the ones we can remember.

By the mid 00s, despite the sterling work of BBC Scotland’s Comedy Unit, it seemed like very few networked BBC shows were coming from the land of deepfried bagpipes, the occasional edition of Only An Excuse slipping onto BBC Two aside (“’Ere, Dave! ‘Oo the fuck  are Sir David Murray and Chick Young? When are they going to take the piss out of David Beckham?”). Maybe it was all the self-satisfied middle-Englanders who’d written to Points Of View, smarmily pointing out that they’d needed bring up page 888 whenever they’d tried to watch Rab C Nesbitt, that caused the shift in policy.

imageAnyone south of Hadrian’s Wall taking the trouble to explore the outer reaches of their Sky Digital EPG for episodes of Chewin’ The Fat (or even those who caught its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances on BBC Two) will know just how much of a shame that is, with it being a largely enjoyable, accessible and amusing sketch show. The standout characters of the series proved to be mischievous pensioners Jack and Victor, who proved they were very much – ho ho! - Still Game, despite their advanced years (Reader’s voice: “Yeah, enough of the continuity-announcer wit, thank you”). The characters had actually started out in a stage play (called Still Game), with the pair, alongside pal Winston, stranded in Victor’s flat due to a broken lift, while Jack and Victor would later put in great little Statler and Waldorf-style turns taking the piss out of the acts in Scottish pop mockumentary ‘Och Around The Clock’, whilst sat watching the show on Victor’s telly.

The characters proved to be popular enough to warrant their own spin-off series, if annoyingly it was shown only on BBC One Scotland. With writer-performers Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan given room to breathe more life into the other elderly residents of Craiglang, and to conjure up all manner of enjoyable japery with them, it became an huge hit North of the Border, with the opening episode of series three viewed by more than 1.5 million people, reportedly making it the most watched BBC comedy in Scotland of all time, clocking up a 47% viewing share. With the show attracting such a phenomenal audience in Scotland (the only BBC region showing it at the time, remember), a few episodes from the early seasons were thrown onto national BBC Two. The episodes, seemingly picked at random from the series run, went out on Saturday nights just after repeats of Have I Got News For You, as opposed to a more recognised sitcom slot, suggesting it might be a case of “oh, we tried it nationally, but it didn’t pick up the viewers. Not to worry”.

Luckily, sense prevailed, and from series four onwards Still Game has been broadcast nationally, this time in a more reasonable Comedy Zone slots, and it proved to be as popular as you would hope. Looking at MediaGuardian’s overnight figures for the first few episodes of series five, the antics of Jack and Victor regularly outperformed shows from household names Steve Coogan and Catherine Tate. The numbers for 10th July 2006 show Still Game attracting 2.3 million viewers, an increase of 600,000 from the previous week, putting it 300,000 ahead of The Catherine Tate Show, and some 700,000 ahead of Coogan’s Saxondale.

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Yeah, we know guys. We didn’t think Saxondale was that bad either.

It’s not hard to see why Still Game proved such a hit throughout the UK, either. While we can only guess as to the reasons why it took so long for the show to be broadcast nationally – presumably besuited idiots panicked that a show about pensioners wouldn’t play well with the hip young gunslingers in that 25-34 demographic – it’s a quite wonderfully written show, packed with characters who are properly lovable-despite-their-foibles, and it’s performed excellently. We’re tempted to say “it’s like a non-shit Last Of The Summer Wine”, but that would merely be damning it with faint praise. Instead, we’ll go as far as to say that were the show being broadcast in the 1970s, in primetime, and with the fruitier language toned down, it could honestly have been right up there with Steptoe & Son, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, Reginald Perrin and Porridge in the collective hearts of the nation. Aye, really.

If you’ve not seen the show before, several full episodes are knocking around on video streaming sites. While this doesn’t give you the option of sitting down to watch “just one episode” on DVD, only to somehow find it’s three hours later and you’ve just sat through an entire series, you do get to enjoy the proper theme music from The Cuban Boys, as opposed to the slightly annoying library music used on the DVD versions. Here’s the first episode of Still Game in full, but if you’ve any sense make sure you pick up the full DVD box set, containing every single episode plus all the Christmas and Hogmanay specials can be bagged for under £22 from Amazon.

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Thursday, 21 January 2010

NEW! From NBC and CBS Games!

talkshowherosmall[1]

Click for the full-size version.

 

Notes: made with the assistance of F4C Design’s DVD Case Template and Trekkie313’s Microphone png at Deviant Art, the Nightmare Hero font, Appledaily Action News’ report on ‘Showdown at NBC’, and too much bloody spare time.

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An Official Announcement From BrokenTV HQ

 

imageThis blog is officially supporting Team Conan. Partly because the whole affair makes it feel a little bit like The Larry Sanders Show never actually finished, just that Conan O’Brien took over the role of the titular chat show host.

If you get the chance, we’d implore you to check out his last few shows (and we’re using the word ‘last’ in two senses of the word, by the looks of it). Try to avoid the annoying half-hour version of the show pumped out on CNBC on Sky, it’s worth proxying yourself up to watch it on Hulu, or whatever other web-based trickery you deem fit. In this age of people on telly being so bloody nice about each other, it’s refreshing when the gloves really come off, even if they do so partly for the column inches and increased attention it brings. If you’re not quite sure what the thundering flip we’re banging on about, here’s a helpful round up of the situation, courtesy of Hong Kong’s demented CGI news service Appledaily:

 

Proper telly website Gawker.tv have been rounding up the events from each evening’s late night shows over in the US of America, and they make interesting viewing. Monday night’s shows saw Leno try to put over an earnest summary of What Really Happened, which prompted Letterman to pop up on CBS an hour later, and put over his… slightly less Jay-centric views on how those events transpired. Conan popped up on NBC at around the same time, focusing his freckled vitriol on the NBC suits responsible for the whole affair.

The events of Tuesday night’s shows saw much the same happen. More personal barbs from Dave, who was famously pipped to the post-Carson Tonight Show chair by Leno back in 1992. More entertaining banter from Conan was going out at the same time on NBC, with O’Brien referring to NBC execs as “brainless sons of goats”, but in Spanish so he wouldn’t contravene his contract. Leno tried to smooth over the whole affair by… slamming the same NBC executives who want to give him The Tonight Show again, while tossing in a few digs at Letterman’s recent sex scandal. In short, it’s “hand your dignity in at the door” time over on the late night chat shows.

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Meanwhile, the League One-standard hosts were desperately lobbing verbal pots and pans at Leno, with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel doing all they can to get noticed. We could probably sum the whole thing up by putting the whole thing in the following political nutshell, doing our best to ignore the “best before 2008” sticker affixed to it:

Conan O’Brien is Barack Obama – younger, popular with The People, yet lots of rich people in suits don’t seem to be too fond of him for whatever twisted reason. Jay Leno is John McCain – older, not that popular, but lots of very wealthy powerful people want to see him at the head table. David Letterman is Crazy Joe Biden – a bit zany, a bit prone to gaffes, but experienced enough, and mystifyingly popular in many circles. Jimmies Fallon and Kimmel are both Sarah Palin – desperately shouting anything controversial in a bid to get noticed. And Carson Daly is probably Ross Perot, because we didn’t really expect the analogy to get this far.

The person escaping with the most credit from all this? Blog hero Craig Ferguson, who aside from occasional verbal jabs has vowed to keep silent on the whole topic. He opened Tuesday night’s show with the following words (bottom clip on this page, if you want to see it, and the rest of his nice little monologue, for yourself) :

“Yep! What a surprise, it’s another middle-aged white guy on late night who gets paid too much for doing bugger all!”

 

Update

Conan ramped things up impressively on Wednesday night’s show, having employed a brilliant new tactic – coming up with tremendously expensive skits that aren’t especially funny. He opened the batting by introducing a new comedy character - “the Bugatti Veyron Mouse”. That’s the most expensive road car in production, dressed up as a mouse, for no reason. And, just to add to the experience, the whole thing is introduced with the original master recording of The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction playing out in the background. As Conan puts it, “does it add anything whatsoever to this comedy bit? No, it doesn’t! Is it crazy expensive to play on the air, not to mention the rights to re-air this clip on the internet? Hell, yes!”. Total price tag for a single comedy bit: $1.5million.

image As before, Gawker have full clips of all last night’s interesting bits, including Adam Sandler quoting his manager’s opinion that NBC are “nothing but cunts”, online here. Oh, and Letterman and Leno continued to make deeply personal insults about each other, if you want to see that.

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A Largely Pointless Chart, And Celebrity Big Brother Around The World. Also, The Big Brother That Never Was

[Note: This is one of those updates we’re a bit disappointed with. However, there is quite an interesting bit right at the end, so if you start to get bored, skip along there instead.]

When we started the already fairly pointless process of tracking the word counts of the Wikipedia entries for people taking part in Celebrity Big Brother a few years ago, the pseudo-joke was that by putting the whole thing into a chart it would therefore be rendered comprehensible to men, in essence turning the whole thing into a de facto league table. Back then, CBB was still considered interesting enough for the size of Wikipedia entry for each participant to swell on a daily basis, as their important daily events were added.

This year: well, we’re halfway through the final series of CBB (as marked by an entertaining team talk from Barry Fry), so here’s a chart showing how much of a career highlight it is for those involved:

image The bars in blue are the size of each contestant’s Wikipedia entry at the end of last month. The figure in red reflects the size now. Here’s what it tells us in handy bullet-point form.

  • In the cases of Vinnie, Sov, Sisqo, Stephen, Stephanie and Heidi, it’s made pretty much no difference.
  • Alex, Basshunter and Nicola have seen a marked increase, but mainly because they’d only had modest Wiki-reputations to start with.
  • Dane has somehow become less notable since entering the house, which is probably a fair reflection of his time there.
  • Katia still doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, but she does now have three whole sentences of her own on the page for Celebrity Big Brother 2010 (UK).

In summary, that’s that sketch buggered, then. So instead, how about a quick look at how celebrity-based versions of Big Brother have done around the world? Have they been anywhere near as popular as the British version once was? Are any of them still popular? And more interestingly, has anyone we’ve heard of taken part in any of them?

AUSTRALIA

imageYEAR(s): 2002 only.

WHO WE’D HAVE LIKED TAKE PART: Kylie, Shaun Micallef, Mark Little.

WHO ACTUALLY TOOK PART: Dylan Lewis (TV presenter), Jay Laga-aia (Actor), Kyle Sandilands (Radio host), Sara-Marie Fedele (former contestant on Big Brother Australia), Gabby Milgate (Comedian), Kimberley Cooper (from Home and Away), Adriana Xenides (Ex-quiz hostess), Warwick Capper (Ex-AFL player), Imogen Bailey (Model and singer), Anthony Mundine (Sportsman), Vanessa Wagner (Drag queen), Red Symons (Radio host).

HOW MANY OF THOSE HAVE WE HEARD OF?: Zero from twelve.

HOW MANY OF THOSE DON’T HAVE WIKIPEDIA PAGES?: Two from twelve.

HOW INTERESTING WAS IT?: Well, clearly we can only speculate in this section, but as it was dumped after a single series, probably not interesting enough. However, Warwick Capper was “removed from the house for exposing himself to female housemates”, which is certainly more exciting than Lady Sov only washing her own plate.

BULGARIA

image YEAR(s): 2006, 2007, 2009.

WHO WE’D HAVE LIKED TAKE PART: Hristo Stoichkov, Great Uncle Bulgaria From The Wombles.

WHO ACTUALLY TOOK PART:

Series 1: Dicho (singer), Dim Dukov (TV host), Galya "KariZma" (singer), Galya Litova (model), Kiril Vulchev (businesswoman), Konstantin (singer), LiLana (singer), Liubomir Milchev (writer), Mitio (the best Google can come up with is “self-proclaimed sex hedonist”, but that might be about someone else), Raina (singer), Vesela Neynski (singer), Violeta (model) and Danaya (tiny child).

Series 2: Azis (singer), DesiSlava (singer), Hristina (wife of former Big Brother winner), Kalin Velyov (musician), Katerina Evro (actress), Maggi Jelyazkova (model), Niki (husband of Azis), Petya Pavlova (singer), Rosica Noveva (hotel keeper), Tihomir (former Big Brother contestant), Veneta Raykova (TV host), Veselin Danov (ex-politician) and Zdravko (former Big Brother contestant).

Series 3: TWENTY-SEVEN OF ‘EM. Antonia Petrova, Anya Pencheva, Bojidara Bakalova, Dacho, Deo, Emil Koshlukov, Gala, Ico Hazarta, Ivaila Bakalova, Kristiana Vulcheva, Maria Grozdeva, Milko Kalaidjiev, Petya Dikova, Sasha Antunovic, Sofi Marinova, Todor Slavkov, Ustata, Andrey Slabakov, Azis, Diyana Lyubenova, Georgi Mamalev, Kamelia, Lyubo Ganev, Preslava, Rumen Lukanov and Teodora Stefanova. We're going to guess they're all singers and former Big Brother contestants.

HOW MANY OF THOSE HAVE WE HEARD OF?: Of the fifty-two people involved, er, zero.

HOW MANY OF THOSE DON’T HAVE WIKIPEDIA PAGES?: It’s easier to point out those that do. Of those with pages on the English language version of Wikipedia, five of the people in that list have their own page, one of whom – Sasha Antunovic is a Serbian footballer, so we might have seen him in Football Manager. Which is, y’know, something.

HOW INTERESTING WAS IT?: Interesting enough to last for three series, and enough for the third series to see a huge number of participants (though nine of them are listed as ‘guest housemates’). The third series saw appearances from Rumen Lukanov, host of the Bulgarian version of Deal Or No Deal, and Teodora Stefanova, who is Silvio Berlusconi’s personal astrologer, and who you’ve have thought could have warned the Italian premier about, well, you know. The clip we’ve seen of the show on YouTube reveals their house is almost exactly the same as the Celebrity Big Brother house generally is over here.

CROATIA

image YEAR(s): 2008 only.

WHO WE’D HAVE LIKED TAKE PART: Igor Biscan, former Liverpool FC midfielder and unintentional comedian.

WHO ACTUALLY TOOK PART: People called Danijela, Marina, Iva, Ivica, Neven, Marko, Salome, and Sandi.

HOW MANY OF THOSE HAVE WE HEARD OF?: Zero from eight, though as we don’t know their last names, we might be missing out.

HOW MANY OF THOSE DON’T HAVE WIKIPEDIA PAGES?: All of them, as far as we can tell.

HOW INTERESTING WAS IT?: So unpopular it finished a week early. Presumably they didn’t just switch the cameras off and leave the remaining contestants to fend for themselves for the last seven days, though doing so might have been fun.

INDIA

image YEAR(s): 2006, 2008, 2009.

WHO WE’D HAVE LIKED TAKE PART: Shilpa Shetty from Celebrity Big Brother UK 6, the two hosts from excellent Indian World Cup 2006 preview show lighted based on Fantasy Football Duniya Goal Hai, Samantha Fox (who of course used to be really famous in India).

WHO ACTUALLY TOOK PART: In India, there isn’t really a ‘non-celeb’ version of Big Brother, just this which combines famous people and ‘regular’ people  (or, as the producers of the show have it, ‘newsmakers’).

Series 1: Rahul Roy, Carol Gracias, Ravi Kissen, Rakhi Sawant , Amit Sadh, Roopali Ganguly, Baba Sehgal, Ragini Shetty, Deepak Tijori, Anupama Verma, Aryan Vaid, Kashmira Shah, Deepak Parashar, Bobby Darling and Salil Ankola. No info on what each of them does on the Wiki page.

Series 2 (hosted by Shilpa Shetty, of course): Ahsaan Qureshi (stand-up comedian), Alina Wadiwala (non-celebrity), Ashutosh Kaushik (Reality show winner), Debojit Saha (singer, Diana Hayden (former Miss World), Jade Goody (former Big Brother UK contestant), Ketaki Dave (actress), Monica Bedi (actress and ex-wife of underworld don Abu Salem), Payal Rohatgi (actress), Rahul Mahajan (son of politician Pramod Mahajan, Raja Choudhary (ex-husband of actress Shweta Tiwari), Sambhavana Seth (dancer), Sanjay Nirupam (politician), Zulfi Syed (actor and model).

Series 3: Vindu Dara Singh (actor), Poonam Dhillon (actress), Ismail Darbar (musician), Sherlyn Chopra (model,  singer and actress), Kamal Rashid Khan (actor and writer), Bhakhtiyaar M Irani (actor), Tanaaz B Irani (actress), Aditi Govitrikar (model, actress and physician), Jaya Sawant (mother of Bollywood actress Jaya Sawant), Shamita Shetty (actress, and sister of CBB6 (UK) winner Shilpa), Claudia Ciesla (German model), Rohit Verma (Fashion Designer), Raju Srivastav (comedian), Vinod Kambli (model), Pravesh Rana (former cricketer).

HOW MANY OF THOSE HAVE WE HEARD OF?: One of them, and we’ve heard of the sister of another one of them, and the host of the second series, so there’s something. Mind you, those last two are both the same person.

HOW MANY OF THOSE DON’T HAVE WIKIPEDIA PAGES?: Very few – we can’t tell for the first series, but from the second and third only Sambhavana Seth and Jaya Sawant don’t have their own page.

HOW INTERESTING WAS IT?: Aside from the events surrounding Jade, rather interesting indeed. In series one, contestant Salil was ordered by the Mumbai High Court to leave the house or face criminal charges, as his contract with Balaji Telefilms prevented him from participating in shows made by other production houses. Later in the series, evicted housemate Kashmira was allowed back into the house, but had to live there without any of the other housemates actually noticing, which we imagine would have been fun. Near the end of series two, after complaints about measly food rations,  the remaining housemates escaped from the house en masse, resulting in plenty of pleading from producers before they all returned. For series three, a live bear was introduced to the house for the entire second half of the series (a lie. Nothing exciting seems to have happened in series three).

 

FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLICS (“Veiliki Brat VIP”)

image YEAR(s): 2007 only.

WHO WE’D HAVE LIKED TAKE PART: Anyone we’ve heard of. We’re regretting all this now. We’ve have hoped Bob Carolgees might have popped up on Celebrity Big Brother New Zealand or something, but most countries likely to have played host to esoteric figures from British light entertainment have selfishly neglected to have Celebrity versions of their Big Brothers. Way to ruin our fun, The Commonwealth. Come on, give us a footballer we’ve heard of, and we can draw a line under all of this.

WHO ACTUALLY TOOK PART: Marta Keler (Actress), Peda D'Boy (Pop singer), Olja Karleuša (Folk singer), Saša Curcic (Retired footballer), Danijela Vranješ (Actress), Big Lale (Illusionist), Emina Hamzabegovic (Model), Danijel Alibabic (Pop singer), Goga Sekulic (Folk singer), Ognjen Ivanovic (Model), Zorica Jocic Šujica (Painter), Dragan "Maca" Marinkovic (Actor), Aleksandar Jovanovic (Journalist).

HOW MANY OF THOSE HAVE WE HEARD OF?: One! Saša Curcic used to play for Bolton, Villa and Palace, of course. And he won it, so good for him.

HOW MANY OF THOSE DON’T HAVE WIKIPEDIA PAGES?: Marta, Danijela, Big, Emina, Ognjen and Zorica all have the dreaded Wikipedia red links.

HOW INTERESTING WAS IT?: Probably about as interesting as this update has turned out to be (i.e. not very).

SO, WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?

Well, it’s that the Celebrity Big Brother format hasn’t really taken off anywhere, with the possible exception of India. Going by Wikipedia’s page on the show around the world, Big Brother is popular in almost 70 countries, yet just over a quarter of them have spawned celebrity spin-offs. Even then, very few have lasted for longer than a single series.

In a way, we should probably have looked at the format in general around the world, which would have given us a reason to look into the tale of Big Brother Arabia. This was a 2004 version of the show, filmed in Bahrain and broadcast throughout the Arab world. After a barrage of complaints over the show featuring six men and six women living together in one area – despite them only being able to meet in the kitchen and garden – the plug was pulled after just eleven days, before the first eviction could even take place. This led to the show producers having to enter the house in order to interrupt proceedings, and tell the housemates that the jig was effectively up.

imageThere’s a Dutch documentary from 2004 about the launch and subsequent cancellation of Big Brother Arabia that can be watched here (click on the ‘Video’ links on the right). Most of the dialogue is in English, and from what we’ve seen so far makes for an interesting tale on modern and traditional values clashing in the increasingly puritanical Arab world. For the most part, the Big Brother show itself is done very respectfully and in keeping with traditional Arabic values – most of the time the sexes are kept apart, the cameras viewing the women-only parts of the house were monitored by female camera operators only, there were separate prayer rooms and a call to prayer was announced five times per day. There was even an appropriately Arabic tinge given to the remix of Paul Oakenfold’s BBUK theme tune used to open the show.

imageThe announcement itself comes as a peaceful protest forms outside the Big Brother house, with the contestants initially excited at what they think is a new exciting twist. As the realisation dawns that their fame is to be very short-lived, faces drop, and the Big Brother house is emptied.

image A bit of a BBC Four way to end a rather muddled Big Brother update, there.

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BrokenTV’s THTSOT 00s: Number 16

image 
As the bafflingly popular multiple shitgasm that is the [Genre] Movie series proves, parody is very difficult to do successfully for anything longer than, ooh, about four minutes. This is especially true when the thing you’re cocking a whimsical snook at is pretty much a self-parody anyway, like modern horror movies, or in this case, Fox News. Luckily for us, where David “Airplane Top Secret Naked Gun BASEketball” Zucker set about buggering up his legacy by taking on the task of Scary Movies three and four, along with Superhero Movie and, very probably the worst film we have ever sat through, Michael Moore Movie, Stephen Colbert has succeeded magnificently. Despite his on-screen persona largely being an extended caricature of Fox News’ “personality pundits”, most directly head gobshite Bill O’Reilly, Colbert has managed to keep his satirical plates spinning for well over 500 episodes (or plates) to date, with a remarkably high hit rate. Or, if we’re keeping an already ill-judged analogy going, “a remarkably low smashed plate rate”.

A former correspondent on The Daily Show (which would be even higher in this rundown were it not for the pesky fact it started in 1996), Colbert plays an egocentric conservative political pundit given his own current affairs show, and has described his character as “a well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot”. Where the workload on The Daily Show is shared in part between Jon Stewart and the Daily Show team of ‘reporters’, there are only very occasional scenes where The Colbert Report doesn’t feature Stephen Colbert. It’s generally all him, for about one hundred half-hour episodes per year (yes, and his team of writers coming up with things for him to say, but still).

One of the best things about The Colbert Report is that, while we suspect the targets of his satire would love his show to be unpopular with those they deem “true Americans” – a situation highlighted by the time Bill O’Reilly appeared on The Daily Show and remarked with weary disdain “I hear you’ve got some French guy making fun of me”, or indeed when O’Reilly was shoved into the guest slot on Colbert’s show in order to plug one of his books, and put in a clearly unimpressed performance. However, when Colbert spent a week in June 2009 recording USO shows in Iraq for serving US troops (“Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando”), he received a truly rapturous welcome from the servicemen and women present, even if his subtle nod to Bob Hope’s USO shows from the 1940s onwards – walking on stage with a golf club – might not have been recognised by all present. His Iraq shows also included specially recorded inserts from Presidents Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton and Bush Sr, along with John McCain, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin – possibly because some of them were fearful of being seen to ‘snub our brave troops’, but their contributions certainly seemed genuine enough.

For anyone reading this in the UK who hasn’t yet had the opportunity of watching The Colbert Report, we’d say the “Operation Iraqi Stephen” episodes are a good place to start – as far removed from his regular episodes as possible, but a good way of getting into his humour if you don’t usually keep up with events in the US, and proof indeed that when done really well, political satire can be appreciated by both sides of the ideological fence. Sadly, if you are in the UK, you’ll need to resort to getting your Colbert fix through illicit means – while FX stopped broadcasting the show over here in May 2009, and it has yet to find another channel here, yet trying to watch it over the web at ColbertNation.com merely results in a message telling Britannia-based Colbert fans that the streaming shows aren’t available here, because FX UK have the rights to it. Problem is - this hasn’t been the case for almost eight months. Our tip: while you could just use Ultrasurf to try and trick ColbertNation into thinking you’re American, it’s much easier to nab the show from a torrent site or Rapidshare forum. But, to keep it ethical, press pause after watching twelve minutes of it, and imagine a few adverts for turning gold into cash and personal injury lawyers, so it’d be more like Colbert is still on FX UK after all.

If there is a down side to all this, it’s that Fox News have a new cheerleader for knuckleheads: Glenn Beck, with whom we’re sure you’re all aware. All the same, we would like to point out just how apt it is that when Beck is delivering a monologue at his desk, the section of his animated ‘logo’ visible over his right shoulder resembles – appropriately enough – a warning symbol for a big red arse pumping out a load of foul guff. Maybe the Daily Show team will feel the need to lampoon Beck as well, but the problem is, short of showing a comically fat man rolling around a studio in a big nappy, burbling “I done a poo, and it’s just like what the liberal media has done to this great country” every thirty seconds before holding up a picture of the World Trade Center and bursting into tears as a finale, we don’t think it’s even possible.

 

[UPDATE: As vigilant commentgoer Adam kindly points out, you can buy The Colbert Report legally in the UK, by paying iTunes £1.89 per episode, or £9.99 for fifteen of them. We do think that’s a little expensive seeing as American Colbert-likers also get the free, streaming, ad-supported version so cruelly denied to us.]

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Sunday, 17 January 2010

BrokenTV’s THTSOT 00s: Number 17

imageThe Showbiz Set was a wonderful look back through the golden age of British television, the bitter battle between the BBC and ITV. and the footsoldiers on either side. Starting with the launch of ITV in 1955 and ending with the death of Eric Morecambe in 1984, the series looked at a age when The Tom Jones Show could be trumpeted into Britain's living rooms as being part of "a £20million contract", as that be taken as an amazing thing, rather than merely causing a lot of frothing at the mouth and bilious comments on message boards. The fact that the £20million figure had been completely invented by Lew Grade just before meeting the press only made moments like that all the more interesting.

Much more than just your average delve into the archives, The Showbiz Set played host to a brilliant depth of knowledge, with much of the show being made up of new interviews with entertainment legends like Bob Monkhouse, Ned Sherrin, Denis Norden, Ray Galton, Alan Simpson, Barry Cryer, Sir Bill Cotton, Bruce Forsyth or Ronnie Corbett, alongside TV historians and off-screen employees of the main broadcasters, coupled with archive interview footage of figures all the way from Hugh Carleton Greene to Mary Whitehouse. In short, throw a dart into any copy of the TV Times from the sixties or seventies, and there's a 70% chance the name it'd hit was involved in this programme, providing they're not dead or an advert for P&O Ferries.

As might be expected from the names contained within, it didn't restrict itself to the more obvious topics - as much time was spent covering Gilbert Harding, Eddie Braben and Simon Dee as on Benny Hill. It also took in the fortunes of the stars once they fell from the limelight, such as Barry Cryer's tale of how Tommy Trindler went from being the most famous face of ITV's early years to pottering about as a warm-up act, purely because he wanted nothing more than to remain in showbusiness. The less glamorous side of things was given due prominence in general, with Babs Windsor, Max Bygraves and nightclub owner Johnny Gold reflecting on how faces from the London underworld were as likely to turn up to cabaret nights as talent-spotters from ATV, and how, with the 1950s being the decade before pop music exploded, it was the showbiz set who pre-empted their lifestyle. As Denis Norden brilliantly puts it, "fucking did not start in 1963, despite what Philip Larkin might have said."

Even for hardbitten TV spods like us, the series threw up a hefty barrowful of information we hadn't previously been aware of. For instance, Lionel Blair and the marvellous Bob Monkhouse remarked on the times they'd (individually) visited drug-fuelled orgies at Diana Dors’ place. Meanwhile, the BBC's most famous face of the era, Gilbert Harding, a quick-witted blustery colonel type, struggled to balance his homosexuality - in an age when it was still illegal in Britain - with being the most famous man in the country.

There are come glaring omissions. The medium of radio barely gets a look in, and the programme claims Steptoe & Son was the first hugely popular sitcom in the UK, clumsily forgetting to mention Glaton and Simpson's previous offering, featuring a certain Anthony H from East Cheam. However, if the more well-worn tales are to be left out in favour of interesting revelations, such as John Lennon spiking Jimmy Tarbuck's drink with speed, or Mary Whitehouse being able to fund the NTA with money she'd won in a court settlement with the Daily Mail, which had published a comment from Ned Sherrin suggesting (in a roundabout way) her previous job was as a 'lady of the night', then all the better.

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Friday, 15 January 2010

BrokenTV’s THTSOT 00s: Number 18

imageBleakness. Bleakness, modest living and a creeping sense of ennui offset by bouts of bloody-minded misanthropy. Not just the central tenets of our day to day life, but also the hallmarks of many great British situation comedies – Rising Damp, Hancock, Filthy, Rich & Catflap, take your pick. These days, what with your field removed video and establishing-shots-of-outside-the-building-with-one-eye-on-getting-your-series-flogged-to-a-US-cable-network, it’s not something you see quite as often, but it’s something 15 Storeys High had in spades.

Span out of a Radio 4 series that tellingly started out as “15 Minutes Of Misery”, the series centres on Vince, played by Sean “Pretty Much Incapable Of Not Being Funny” Lock, and Errol, played by Benedict “MED-I-BOT” Wong, two wasters sharing a grim council flat somewhere in London. Vince is the owner of the flat, a perpetually grumpy swimming instructor who hates physical contact, dislikes pretty much everyone who isn’t him, and is willing to post unwanted olives back to a pizza delivery firm. Errol is his lodger, a downbeat yet relatively optimistic Northerner, able to amuse himself by peeling away stray bits of wallpaper, and whose idea of fast living is ordering a Snoopy-shaped telephone from a catalogue. The action, such as it is, is offset by nice little glimpses into the lives of the other residents of the tower block. These range from the mundane (a woman who phones up people she’d had a bad dream about to check they’re okay, or a man desperately trying to unwrap a blank E180 before a film starts on telly), to the slightly-less-mundane (a divorced dad crams a pony into his flat to try and impress his daughter, a dumped boyfriend tries to win back his love by repeated punching a wall as hard as he can in anger).

As might be expected from a sitcom written by Sean Lock (alongside Martin Trenaman and Mark Lamarr, the latter under his real name of Mark Jones, which there’s nothing wrong with), the writing is of a tremendously high quality throughout, wringing out every last bit of humour from everyday situations. We’ve been loath to bung in quotes  from the shows in the list thus far, but we’re prepared to let it slide for this, just so we can dip into an exchange from a scene where Vince tries to haggle up the price of the sofa he’s selling to a burly woman from a local minicab firm:

“That’s not bargaining, you middle-class ponce!”

“I’m not middle class!”

“’Course you are – you haven’t even got your telly on!”

“I was reading a book!”

“Gotcha!”

“Well, when I say ‘book’, I mean ‘car manual’...”

There are many more marvellous moments we could quote from here (but won’t), though it’s worth pointing out that many of them are soundtracked wonderfully too. What might possibly be the slowest chase scene ever broadcast – Vince hobbling on a fractured ankle after a woman pushing a sofa in order to recover his supermarket loyalty card – is accompanied by The Propellerheads’ bombastic “Bang On”. In a later episode, a scene where Vince and an unusual vicar cause mayhem for a group of Hare Krishnas plays to the tune of France Gall’s “Ne Sois Pas Si Bete”. The show also takes in different camera styles as circumstance dictates – Vince’s flashbacks to previous traumas (some real, some borrowed from the anecdotes of others) are often shown with a film effect (not on actual film – hey, BBC Choice budget here), while the duo wandering around various London landmarks in search of an old man is recorded on camcorder. It’s like the use of different paper stocks in The Rutland Dirty Weekend or The Goodies Disaster Movie books, but on telly.

Commendably, little of the plot is merely extrapolated from Lock’s stand-up set, but where he has done just that, we get what might be the finest episode of the entire series. “The Holiday” sees Vince take off on holiday to “wherever takes off at half-one and costs fifty quid”. This gives Lock a chance to spin out his brilliant routine about being snubbed on over-sold flights despite having a valid ticket, leading to splendid exchanges like this between Vince and an airline check-in clerk: VINCE -  “…but I did it on purpose, to make a point… [turns to rest of passengers, hoping for vociferous support] …didn’t I? [No reaction from other passengers] Are you all Finnish? [turns back to check-in clerk] Typical Finns, never get involved...” CHECK-IN CLERK: “Sir, *I* am Finnish!” VINCE: “You’re not typical, you can’t shut up.”

Sadly, what with BBC Choice transmogrifying into BBC Three, and 15 Storeys High not being centred around a bunch of twentysomething housemates who love lager and swearing, the programme didn’t make it past just two series, despite having the scope to go on for much longer, especially as it came before Lock’s increased profile off the back of 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Live At The Apollo and TV Heaven, Telly Hell. It certainly didn’t help that when the show did make it to BBC Two, it was at a midnight-bothering slot on Sundays, which if it had a name, would be BBC Two’s “Comedy Shows We Desperately Regret Commissioning Zone”. A shame, but at least we’ve got twelve episodes of low-budget gold, all of which are available in a reasonably priced DVD boxset, or if you want to dip your toes into it first, on YouTube.

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Thursday, 14 January 2010

Good Old Fashioned Satire, Like What HIGNFY Used To Make

No update to the top 100 today – we got distracted by Liverpool trying to do just enough to sneak through with a slender lead only to bugger it up late on, for about the tenth time this season. Instead here’s a link to MyDavidCameron.com, which does nothing but display spoof versions of ‘that’ Conservative Party poster, and as such displays a harder satirical edge than anything on TV since The Friday Night Armistice was shunted off our screens about ten years ago. Yes, we are aware of Rory Bremners.

image Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Another thing we’ve been doing today is watch the first series of Have I Got News For You. While it had a horribly wrong-sounding opening theme tune, the team captains still needed to be introduced each episode, the Triffic Films title sequence was practically done with felt-tips, Angus Deayton had an incredibly 1990 haircut, Ian Hislop looks more than ever like Billy the Quizboy from The Venture Brothers, and the whole thing did have a slight air of a non-broadcast pilot, it’s interesting to see again. While the show hadn’t yet got up to speed (though it would by the second series), there’s still enough verve on show to make it enjoyable, such as the way Hislop spits out some barbed comments about certain MPs, and the way Paul Merton does actual proper funny jokes.

Happily, there are an absolute shedload of full episodes rattling around on YouTube. Slightly less happily, most of them are from recent seasons (or if you prefer, HIGNFY: The Pulling Faces And Laughing At YouTube Clip Years). One thing we love about the first series of the show is the way the BBC One schedulers thought it’d make good daytime filler around the time of the 2002 World Cup Finals. A strange enough decision on its own, but when you add the fact no-one seemed bothered about checking the content of these episodes, and the fact that they contain quite a lot of expletives, you’ve got the sort of brilliant scheduling risk you just don’t get nowadays. We clearly remember episode two going out at around noon, leaving in the numerous uses of the words “pigshit” and “bullshit”, alongside Paul answering the missing words round question “I MADE THATCHER [BLANK}, BOASTS NIGEL”, with the word “swallow” to explosive laughter.

Here’s a sample episode:

More can be found by going to YouTube and searching for “HIGNFY 1990”, “…1991” and so on.

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Tuesday, 12 January 2010

BrokenTV’s THTSOT 00s: Number 19

 

imageWhile it might sound like a Stateside remake of Shameless at first glance, those unfortunate enough not to be familiar with My Name Is Earl might be surprised to discover that it’s the finest example of the ‘feelgood’ (hngh) sitcom to come out of the USA over the last ten years. Set in fictitious midwestern town Camden County, the show follows Earl J. Hickey (Jason “Mallrats” Lee), a small-time crook with an uncanny habit of blinking whenever having his photo taken, who undergoes an epiphany after being hit by a car seconds after winning $100,000 on an instant lottery ticket. Upon his recovery, Earl compiles a list of every misdeed he has ever committed, and vows to perform a suitably fitting good deed for each person he’d wronged, in the belief that karma (first experienced taking the human form of Carson Daly) will reward him.

Aided by his dimbulb brother Randy (Ethan “Also Mallrats” Suplee), each episode follows Earl as he concentrates on a righting single wrong from his list, usually getting into a number of hugely entertaining scrapes along the way, often involving Earl’s white trash ex-wife Joy and her second husband Darnell “Crabman” Turner (Jaime Pressly and Eddie Steeples, who are both majestic in their roles) and motel maid Catalina (Nadine Velazquez). If all that weren’t enough, there’s an extra dollop of entertainment to be gleaned from the assembled residents of Camden County itself. With the Camden folk added to the mix, My Name Is Earl proves to be a show with the greatest sense of a community sharing an overall sensibility not seen since the golden era of Springfield. Wikipedia actually contains a page of minor recurring characters within the show, currently running to twenty-three characters – and that’s not including celebrity guest one-off townsfolk like Juliette Lewis, Jane Seymour, Roseanne Barr, Christian Slater, John Waters or Danny Glover.

A resolutely blue-collar berg, the population of Camden County might as well be living on the Lost island, for all the influence the greater world has on them – it’s a place where throwing empty beer cans at each other in the street is considered a hobby, and the entire town treats its occasional appearances on Cops as a cause for celebration. The people of Camden County each have their own interesting character traits, from Didi the one-legged girl in the donut shop (who Earl stole a car from, just after telling her he loved her), Willie the one-eyed mailman (who became monocular thanks to shrapnel from Joy’s smashing of Earl’s Def Leppard picture), local African immigrant Nescobar-A-Lop-Lop, Mr Turtle (a turtle), to Tim Stack, Camden County’s only celebrity, now a lonely alcoholic who wanders the streets still dressed as his character from Son Of The Beach (who, in reality, did star in Son Of The Beach, not to mention brilliant 90s Stringer spoof NightStand, and who is a sometime writer on My Name Is Earl).

The lengths Earl goes to in order to atone for his past really add to the show’s enjoyment. One first-season episode has Earl discovering he once forgot to pay tax on the wages he’d earned from an old part-time job. Upon trying to pay it back through official channels, the government clerks he contacts aren’t interested, so he takes to more unorthodox measures to repay his debt. A later episode sees Earl fly the French exchange student he’d bullied as a child back to the USA, only for him not to have remained as docile as Earl would have suspected. My Name Is Earl also sees a welcome return to that grand old tradition: the two male leads innocently sharing the same bed, with the banter therein often matching that of Eric, Ernie, Stan and Ollie (though we’re loath to pad out the word count by throwing a load of quotes at these entries – go watch some episodes of it instead).

One point - if you are going to catch up on the series, try to avoid the repeats on E4 if you can. Despite them going out after 7pm, a lot of really quite tame lines are clumsily hacked out of the show by the E4 Thought Cops (example: the flashback scene where Catalina is being packed into a crate so she can sneak into the USA. As the crate is sealed, she is passed a bunch of bananas for sustenance and a newspaper. "It's too dark to read in here!" she yells, only to receive the reply "it's not for reading". A subtle toilet paper gag that you might even have heard in a slightly edgy kid's movie, only the reply is shoddily cut from the E4 broadcasts. See also the episode where Juliette Lewis co-stars, playing a bail bondswoman looking for a fight with Joy – the fight starts, almost immediately ends, Joy appears in Earl’s car within a split-second, and the pair have driven away, with jarring jump cuts all over the place. This sort of thing happens about three times per episode, and can normally be spotted when the action cuts to a character at the end of a scene, they say or do nothing for half a second, and the scene ends. It's annoying, as MNIE is the kind of show incapable of going more than twenty seconds without something funny occurring, and when anything moderately contentious happens, it's almost always entirely without malice. Get the DVDs instead, which let you see My Name Is Earl is it’s full, unexpurgated majesty.

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Monday, 11 January 2010

Celebrity Big Brother TrendMining (Day 7)

Well, if the betting community are anywhere near the money, it’s farewell to Katia:

image Slight recovery after she ditched Basshunter. As for the other nominees:

image Heidi slips from the 40s to 60, not a big shock.

image While Sov should definitely be safe. We really ought to have laid off our bet while it was at 6.2.

This might well be the last TrendMining update until the weekend. Even by our standards, they are a bit dull. And yes, that’s us calling a chart-based update ‘dull’. Cripes.

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BrokenTV’s THTSOT 00s: Number 20

After a slight delay for having to work out why our PC was performing about as smoothly as an overclocked Spectrum +2A (now fixed), into the top twenty we gallop.
imageNow, when it comes to the drama shows that are on this list, we do have a habit of cooing coquettishly over shows where the events within each episode come as a surprise. House, quite unlike the other dramas you’ll see here, defiantly refuses to do that.
Here’s the plot of an average episode of House. Character you’ve never seem before is carrying out an activity, normally something slightly out of the ordinary, like kickboxing, chasing a criminal, piloting an airliner full of kittens onto an iceberg after a catastrophic engine failure or, occasionally, standing next to someone else doing those things in a token nod to challenging our expectations. Cue a CGI zoom into their innards, to show the audience in stultifying detail something horrid going splashingly wrong with their inside parts. Then, the director will usually switch to a Point Of View shot of their vision going a bit fuzzy, wobbling about a bit, then hitting the ground, leaving us seeing little but the ankles of concerned onlookers rushing around while shouting “oh my God, call 911!” (unless it’s the airline pilot we’d mentioned, in which case there’d probably be a lot of playing with wool and mewling for milk in the background). Cut to titles.
After the opening credits (accompanied by Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ if you’re watching a US broadcast of the show, a piece of library music vaguely similar to it if you’re not), we’ll find ourselves at Princeton‑Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey, where Doctor Gregory House and his team of underlings are looking at the unlucky patient’s symptoms, hastily scribbled onto a whiteboard by House. They’ll assume they know what it is immediately, they’ll try the blindingly obvious cure, and it won’t work. They’ll realise that has ruled out the most likely diagnosis, someone will chirp up with “if the patient reacted like that to Madeupothol, then it can only be Fictionalitis”. They’ll treat Fictionalitis, and the patient will get even sicker, and either almost die, or be accused of faking the whole thing. Then Dr House will insult everyone, do something unconventional like fart on some scalpels to prevent surgery for taking place, and save the day. The end, apart from all the bits where the personal relationships between the main characters progress at a glacial pace, in amongst all the wandering around talking about medicine and sarcasm.
Sounds crap, doesn’t it? Well, you’re wrong. What are you, an idiot? It’s actually brilliant. We’ve just done a tremendous disservice to the writers of the show, with our aren’t-we-clever-and-cynical little synopsis up there, and not because we didn’t include the bits where the doctors break into the patients house to see if they’ve got E-coli growing under their bed. and while the above plot does account for a great deal of many House episodes, it’s the greater story arcs we’re interested in. The first couple of seasons tend to meander along under their own steam, with House’s relentlessly grumpy treatment of his colleagues accounting for most of the sub-plots. From season three onwards, things get more interesting, with House recovering from his disability, sacking everyone, performing a demented season-long talent show (an ‘X-Ray Factor’ if you will. Oh, please yourselves) in order to find their replacements, going mad, taking up cooking, and so on.
It’s the later seasons that make House that bit more special. As least for the BrokenTV team, the sheer bewilderment of Hugh “Ninety-Two Years Old And I've Never Had Oral Sex” Laurie playing the lead in a hugely popular US drama series was enough to keep us watching for a couple of years, just for the sheer novelty. After all, he’d only just appeared in ITV1 flop Fortysomething over here, and all that he’d really done ‘over there’ was play tiny roles in Family Guy (English Bar Patron, the episode where the local bar became a British pub), Friends (Sarcastic Airline Passenger Sat Next To Jennifer Aniston, in one of the terrible ‘London’ episodes) and 101 Dalmatians (the bad guy who wasn’t Mark Williams), alongside a bigger role in kids movie Stuart Little. To see him become the focal point of (what would become) the most popular television show in the world, is something even a malarial madman couldn’t have imagined six years ago. After watching him in House for a few episodes, you soon realise that his global esteem is quite genuinely deserved – Laurie is utterly brilliant as Dr House. Laurie is complemented superbly by his co-players, most notably Lisa Edelstein as his long suffering boss Dr Lisa Cuddy, and Robert Sean Leonard as his even longer suffering best chum Dr Wilson (who are only ever addressed by House as “Cuddy” and “Wilson” respectively), though the actors playing his henchquacks also deserve credit.
It’s very rare we’ll actually find ourselves genuinely loving a phenomenally, globally popular television programme. Partly because we’re such contrary bastards, but partly because for a programme to appeal to such a wide-ranging selection of people of vastly differing backgrounds, it must surely be cutting some artistic corners somewhere, in order to appeal to as many territories as possible. House manages not to do that, it’s as unashamedly clever as you could ever hope a show from Fox to be, and while it hasn’t really taken off here (a situation not helped by it being buried in the digital wastelands of Hallmark , Five and Sky One), in countries around the world, it is colossal. For example, in France, where the show airs on TF1, it regularly attracts audiences of over ten million – that’s a drama show dubbed into French from its original language, as popular there as Doctor Who is here. Or, if you’d prefer, the original Swedish version of Wallander being bigger than Coronation Street. What with the French enjoying a reputation for enjoying hard-hitting, intelligent drama (at least in our blinkered Francophile heads), that’s a pretty damn good endorsement right there. Yay House.
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Friday, 8 January 2010

Today’s Exciting Combined Top 100 and Celebrity Big Brother Blog Update

No, hang on, not ‘exciting’. ‘Disappointing’, that’s what we meant.

BrokenTV’s THTSOT 00s

Didn’t get time to update this today. Sorry. Probably expect more on Sunday.

Celebrity Big Brother 2010 TrendMining

While this is a lot easier to write, nothing interesting happened on tonight’s show. Ivana Trump entered the house, which means all of Tim “OMFG WUT TEH IRONYS” Westwood’s Tweeting about him being the secret addition to the house was a red herring, and Lady Sov’s odds are still shrinking…

image…which is good news for our prospective £160 (which we could cash in for a guaranteed £15 profit RIGHT NOW, but won’t). Other than that, meh.

So, instead, in amongst all the “get a brilliant loan that will, like, totally save your life APR 2356% We’ll probably end up repossessing your house, telly, car and grandparents just phone this number now!!!” commercials and “cash in all that useless gold now and we’ll give you an absolutely laughably tiny fraction of the actual value of it visit our website now“ commercials on daytime Channel Four (hey, they had a Sean Connery film on), we saw this:

Not a spoof. It’s a real thing. A real, actual thing. Actually advertised on telly. Proper telly, not just on Sky Sports News. The people behind it – and admittedly it’s probably one of those things where it’s piggybacking on an already existing bingo website by way of redirecting hits to (“The URL in that advert, which we’re not directly mentioning here lest we accidentally improve their Google ranking” – Ed) – are expecting to turn a profit off the back of it.

When we saw this, we couldn’t help but feel that we’d wandered into a parallel universe. Why would the involvement of someone whose last major television project – Cheggers Plays Pop – just about remained in the national consciousness around the time our main interest was getting the shiny Liverpool badge for our Football ’85 sticker album, be fronting a project like this? Even if it were NoelEdmondsBingo.com, we’d just about understand it, but this? This?

Did we miss a compulsory national meeting? Can we expect to see PhilbinBingo.com and MikeSmittySmithBingo.com appearing on our screens in the next week or so too? Right now, we really can’t rule anything out.

image Hang on… WHAT VIDEOGAME HAS ACTUALLY EXISTED FOR MORE THAN A YEAR?

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Thursday, 7 January 2010

Celebrity Big Brother 2010 TrendMining (Day 5)

So, Basshunter did something quite nice (refusing to pour sand on another housemate’s bed in order to make Stephanie slightly more comfortable), got punished, and chose Lady Sov to share his punishment. Which turned out to be spending the night in a locked room, containing one bed, and a Basshunter song on an eternal loop.

Lady Sov was – with more than a little justification – a ‘bit’ displeased by this turn of events, not least because Basshunter acted like a smug berk throughout. Presumably he was relishing the thought that one of his singles being played on a loop to about four million viewers might well see him flog a few thousand iTunes downloads of it. But, what has that done to our charts?

image This, for one. His odds lengthened slightly, meaning that his initial noble (if probably calculated) act was more than cancelled out by his cooing “why not join me in bed… I don’t bite!” to a clearly not-interested Lady Sov, who’d chosen to try sleeping in a drawer instead. How did Lady Sov do over the course of tonight’s highlights?

image Her odds shortened from 9.8 to 8.2. If nothing else, it’d be brilliant if her sleeping in a drawer turned out to be a reference to the Seinfeld episode where Kramer takes in some Japanese guests. Unlikely, but brilliant.

Other movements in the betting:

imageThe odds on Heidi winning continue to tumble, with her having fell from 60 to 21 within 25 hours. She’s still favourite to be booted out first, though.

image Alex is getting more unpopular by the day.

image As is Dane.

image And Stephen Baldwin continues to bugger up his early promise, by spending the entirety of the highlights show (and going by the reaction of the other housemates, this isn’t just selective editing on Endemol’s part) boring people about his ‘faith’, yet again. It’s actually making for some skin-crawlingly awkward television. Tonight’s treats included his trotting out of the creationist mantra “if we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?”, which is what creationists like to say in the vain hope no-one will point out all the physical, actual real evidence of evolution. Also, excellently, he proved the bible is empirical fact by telling Alex that non-believers like him only believe in oxygen because some bloke told him it exists, then hoped Alex wouldn’t point out any of  the physical, actual real proof that oxygen does exists, because, like, du-uh. Alex didn’t, by the way, but we’re guessing that was more out of politeness than from having his world view shaken to its very core.

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