Monday, 4 July 2011

When TV Critics Don’t Even Watch The Show They’re Reviewing


Move over The Guardian’s Sam Wollaston, there’s a new contender in town for “Britain’s most clueless television critic”. It’s the endlessly thumpable Kevin O’Sullivan of the Sunday Mirror, who it seems really wanted to write a piece slagging off ITV’s new weekend output, and wasn’t about to let piffling things like “the truth” get in the way:


Now, unless you’re writing something for the Daily Mail or Daily Express, both places where “You must NOT admit to ever enjoying anything involving Jonathan Ross” is on page five of the employee handbook, we’d say it’s pretty bloody impossible not to be hugely entertained by Penn and Teller: Fool Us. Assuming you’ve actually watched it and not, say, half-read a one-paragraph press release detailing the content of the show about a month ago.

As many will know, what Fool Us actually contains is a variety of fresh, entertaining and innovative magicians who through years of practice and performance deserve to perform in front of a primetime TV audience, every single one of which pulls off their trickery absolutely flawlessly. Best of all, far from Penn and Teller merely “gawping at nonentities”, the duo (who, you may remember, spent much of their 1994 Channel 4 series “The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller” tearing the British magic establishment a new one) display unabashed delight at seeing the acts perform. At one point during Piff The Magic Dragon’s performance (pictured above), Teller was laughing so hard he was actually jumping up and down on his chair with glee.

Far from the confrontational style the pair display in their US cable series Bullshit!, Penn & Teller remain refreshingly uncynical from start to end, instantly preferable to the “while I enjoyed it, I have to slag off your performance because I’m trying to be the next Simon Cowell” kind of judging you might find elsewhere. No spurious phone votes (and we’ll ignore the “what colour was the red flag Teller was waving?” premium rate competitions, as that’s how ITV have to pay for things now). Even the one part of the show where a bit of ‘edge’ could have been inserted, having Penn & Teller (well, Penn) explain to everyone explicitly how each trick was done, has been ignored, allowing the acts the chance to carrying on performing the debunked illusion in their act. While that might seem a bit annoying in practice, with the people who know all about a thing you don’t talking about it in terms you don’t really understand, any annoyance is diluted by it all being done for the right reasons.

And, as anyone who actually watched the show instead of overhearing someone talking about it then slagging it off in your Sunday Mirror column will know, Penn and Teller actually do perform magic, which serves as the finale to each and every episode.

Still, maybe it’s just that Kevin O’Sullivan has much higher standards than blogchimps bashing away haphazardly at their keyboards like us. Maybe he has to needlessly diss even the more entertaining programmes using lazily fibpacked rhetoric so that when he does really get behind a television programme, you know it’s going to be as brilliant as discovering a filmed but never previously shown episode of Alan Bleasdale’s GBH, or all those previously wiped episodes of Dad’s Army turning up in a previously jammed drawer of Mark Thompson’s desk. Just what calibre of televisual entertainment gets the O’Sullivan thumbs pointing skywards?


Oh. Right. Okay.


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