Monday, 29 March 2010

The Second Best Television Programme Of The 00s


Back in the 1980s, when we were tiny, Yes Minster always held a strange kind of fascination for us. BrokenTV’s dad used to love the show, so we got to watching it quite often, and while we couldn’t really understand many of the jokes, or even why the funny bits were meant to be funny, we couldn’t help but enjoy it. Maybe it was Nigel Hawthorne’s avuncular grin, recognising Mr Derek from the Basil Brush Show, or the funny facial expressions Paul Eddington would pull when something went awry. Maybe it was for the jokes we did get, along the lines of “they don’t care who’s Prime Minister, as long as she’s got big tits”. Whatever the reason, on re-watching the series as a grown-up (well, as close as we’ve come to growing up since then), the rest of the jigsaw clicks happily into place, and we can now appreciate it fully. It truly is one of the greatest comedy series in the history of television.

But, this isn’t about Yes, Minister. Well, in a way it is (Reader’s voice: “Bloody hell, make your mind up”), because had Jay and Lynn’s masterpiece continued to rumble on away from the cameras beyond 1988, it may well have evolved into The Thick Of It. In between, the Sir Humphreys would have been overthrown by an army of spinners in a bloodless coup some time in the mid-90s, who would indeed have continued to shape policy as they saw fit, only replacing about 40% of the former’s Machiavellian chicanery with shouting. The cosy, leather-upholstered smoky gentleman’s establishment policy hub would have been shaped into open-plan offices fenced with smoked glass and chrome. The rotary telephones and reams of paperwork would have made way for 3G, VOIP and IT ‘solutions’. However, the splutteringly hapless decision makers at the centre of it all would have remained pretty much the same; very little actual evolution has taken place between Jim Hacker MP and Hugh Abbott MP.

imageWe’d hope that everyone reading this is already familiar with the premise behind the series, so here is just the briefest of primers. For the first series, The Thick Of It followed Hugh Abbott, played by Chris Langham, a Member of Parliament for an unnamed British political party (see footnote), and Minister of the Department for Social Affairs. Hugh is aided by his advisors Glen Cullen (James Smith) and Olly Reeder (Chris Addison), as well as his Press Secretary Terri Coverley (Joanna Scanlan). Their main task throughout the series is to carry out their jobs under the wrathful gaze of Number Ten’s ferocious ‘policy enforcer’, Malcolm Tucker (played by the excellent Peter Capaldi), a walking volcano ready to explode with boundless fury, swearing and spittle should the need arise.

From the beginning, The Thick Of It proved to be a little different. For starters, given a budget with which to make a pilot episode, show creator Armando Iannucci managed to make three entire episodes. These were transmitted in May 2005 on BBC Four, and saw Hugh Abbott getting to grips with his new role while trying to stamp his somewhat bumbling authority on his new department. After the success of the tri-pilot, three more episodes were commissioned, recorded and broadcast, making up either a second series (as most episode guides have it), or completing the first series (as the DVD release of the show has it). These take place just as a cabinet reshuffle looms, causing Hugh to fight for his job, to avoid being used as a political pawn, and to avoid becoming embroiled in a number of minor scandals.

Despite the success of this first (or “first and second”) series, the programme itself was affected by a very real scandal, namely that lead actor Chris Langham had been charged by police with the possession of indecent images of children. With a new full series already planned, the team instead began work on two special episodes of the programme in which Hugh Abbott would not appear, the character supposedly holidaying in Australia as events unfolded. This allowed the focus of the series to shift to Malcolm Tucker, with the rest of the Department (since rechristened ‘the Department for Social Affairs and Citizenship) coming into play as they babysat Junior Minister for Immigration Ben Swain.

imageThe first of the two specials, “Rise Of The Nutters”, promoted as a Christmas special and aired in early January 2007, looked at rapidly spreading divisions inside the government, and also gave the viewers their first glance of The Opposition, chiefly DoSAC’s counterparts at the desperately modernising party, with their own policy enforcer Stewart Pearson displaying his own special brand of buzzword Tourettes. The second special, broadcast to coincide with Tony Blair stepping down as PM, followed six months later, but with events following on directly from the end of the first special. All events in the episode took place over a single night, following on from the PM’s resignation just prior to the beginning of the episode.

Chris Langham’s subsequent conviction for downloading indecent images of children in September of 2007 made him returning to the series pretty much untenable (though in the first of the specials, it seemed the door had been left open for his return, with a quick shot of a newspaper story revealing the headline “Where Is Hugh?”). Luckily for the future of the show, the success of the two specials proved that the series could easily carry on without the lead actor, which might not have been the case otherwise. After all, for the first six episodes, Hugh Abbott had been the hub of the programme, with Chris Langham winning a British Comedy Award for Best Comedy Actor in 2005, and the BAFTA for Best Comedy Performance in 2006. Without the central character, there may well have been concern that things might go a bit, well, ‘Green Green Grass’.

Fortunately for fans of top-drawer comedy, this was not the case, and 2010 saw the return of The Thick Of It, with long-time Iannucci collaborator Rebecca Front taking on the role of Nicola Murray MP, Hugh’s post-reshuffle replacement at DoSAC, in a very welcome eight-episode series. But, that didn’t take place in the 00s, so we’ll leave that for BrokenTV’s Top 100 TV Shows Of The 10s, coming your way in early 2020. Keep an eye out for that.

imageInstead, on to why we liked the bloody thing so very much. For much of the decade, fans of British comedy have had to put up with a lot of broadsheet handwringing over how “American comedy is so much smarter than ours”. “Why can’t we have a Curb Your Enthusiasm?” They’d holler (and hey, we did, Jack Dee’s Lead Balloon, so be careful what you wish for). Well, in The Thick Of It, British television got a series every bit as smart, possibly even smarter than the best HBO has to offer. Oh, and no, we’re not classifying Little Britain USA or their half of Extras as ‘the best HBO has to offer’.

Like Curb, the dialogue is partially improvised. Like Curb, it’s home to more Premier League-standard swearing than you could shake a Jerry Sadowitz at. Like Curb, you could justifiably feel a little bit self-satisfied about the fact you own all the DVD collections of it (providing you’re sickening comedy snob twonks like us). However, for our money, Thick just pips Curb in terms of all-round splendidness. While Curb delights in playing up the mundane until it becomes the most important thing in the world for the characters in the show, Thick does much the same, but looks at how these pointless things can somehow really matter, even if it’s only inside the heads of the real decision makers in charge of a nation. Larry David mistyping an email address might have led to a bollocking from Susie and a scornful glance from Cheryl, but in The Thick Of It it can lead to a potential end to a 40 year political career, the end of a lifelong friendship and the ritual humiliation of a blameless individual on a rolling news network. It’s the little differences like this which help make The Thick Of It our second-favourite television show of the decade people still haven’t fully agreed on a catchy nickname for.


FOOTNOTE: “Aah, but it’s clearly New Labour, isn’t it?” seems to be the assumption from anyone covering the series, as if they’ve uncracked some kind of clever code, but the name of the party is never actually revealed within the series itself. Neither is any clue given to the ideology of the party in power within the series. the policies mentioned within couldn’t be said to be left-wing, right-wing or centrist as we never get to see what they actually are. It’s only because the party in question is in power during the first decade of the 21st century that people seem to assume it’s dealing directly with Labour. Really, had the Conservatives won the 2005 general election, this series could just as easily have taken place without any real changes.

Indeed, the only real clues as to the parties involved come in the first of the two special episodes, where we see The Opposition for the first time. They are clearly a political party undergoing a transformation into a more modern, electable concern, reflecting the transformation of The Conservatives under Captain Airbrush. It could be said that even then, the identities of the parties involved are still not clear – any political leanings displayed by The Opposition are drowned in an a tsunami of buzzwords and flowcharts. The truth, such as it is, was finally uncovered in “Malcolm Tucker’s Election Briefing”, a series of articles for The Guardian written by TTOI pensmith Jesse Armstrong, in the guise of Malcolm Tucker. These took the form of rallying memorandums to party members in the run up to the 2010 General Election, and it’s here that Tucker is formally revealed as a New Labour man, with statements such as “they know the Tories are dipping. But we are still losing.”

Even then, it takes until the third of these ‘briefings’ before the word ‘Labour’ is used for the first time, with a section on Samantha Cameron’s pre-election babybump leading to Tucker commenting “The reality is – everyone here got a bit excited that the public had seen through Cameron. But we have to be very careful in terms of taking the parliamentary Labour party as a good barometer of what the British public think or feel about anything whatsoever.” And thus, a not especially mysterious mystery is solved. We could join Scotland Yard’s Really Obvious Crime Squad with analytical powers like that, you know. If it existed.

imageWATCH IT NOW ON: For series one and two (or, as the box it comes in claims, ‘Series One’), DVD. Plenty of places are selling it for less than seven of your Earth Pounds, so why not pick your favourite online store from here? For the specials, much the same – eight online stores sell the DVD for between £6.85 and £6.99.

Series three is due to be released on DVD next month, with the cheapest price currently being at CD Wow, where it can be yours for just £11.99. If you just can’t wait to re-watch it, the whole series is currently available on YouTube. Start from here, but don’t be surprised if the whole lot of them are removed as the proper DVD release approaches.


Friday, 26 March 2010

The Third Best Television Programme of the 00s

imageIt seems to be pretty much agreed upon that the first decade of the 21st century has been a bit of a golden age for US drama. Buoyed by the success of programmes like The Sopranos and Oz in the late 1990s, premium cable networks were more willing than ever to commission challenging grown-up fare, with programmes like Deadwood, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Breaking Bad and Mad Men proving to be hugely successful. These have also proved to make for a refreshing change from the increasingly flashy high-concept duffers like Flash Forward, or (and don’t pretend otherwise, you know we’re right) Heroes put out by the main networks clamouring for the next Lost. And yet, our favourite US drama of the decade has turned out to be a programme from a premium network. in this case Showtime, that could easily be dismissed as having a flashy novelty premise itself.

Based on novels from Jeff Lindsay, Dexter told the tale of Dexter Morgan, a blood splatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department, but who also happens to be… a serial killer. A further twist is added – Dexter only ever slays other murderers who have evaded justice, using his position to discover their identities or locations before the other employees of Miami Metro. So, he’s a kind of ‘cuddly serial killer’, if you will. Like Chucky.

All this does sound like the kind of concept a writer might blurt out off-the-cuff in a meeting with network executives, once all their actual ideas had been shot down (“Monkey Tennis?”), and indeed, when you try to explain how good the programme is to people completely unaware of it, you may tend to find yourself sounding like a bit of a berk. And yet, we found the show to be the finest drama series of the entire decade. (Reader’s voice: “What? So Battlestar Galactica isn’t on the list at all?”) No, it isn’t. Geek boy.

imageIt is a fascinating premise for a series – really, while a serial killer who despatches Very Bad People might appeal to the inner vigilante that lurks inside each of us, Dexter goes about his, well, hobby with such cold uncaring professionalism, having appointed himself judge, jury and executioner, it’s a brave move of the producers hoping the audience will really get behind him. Michael C Hall certainly puts in a brilliant performance as the central character, going through his daily life, interacting with his family, colleagues, girlfriend and her children with his emotions barely cranking up any higher than a ‘three’, seemingly spaced out for most of his day, his mind always seemingly elsewhere. It’s only when working on blood splatter analysis that he permits anyone to see his emotions on a ‘six’ or a ‘seven’, with the only people ever to really see Dexter at his most alive tending to be strapped down to a table, with about three minutes to live. As taught by his adoptive father, Dexter operates by a strict moral code which means such encounters are rare, and Hall acts out such scenes with an unsettlingly plausible relish.

This premise alone would soon become a little formulaic (insert your own 50,000 word thesis on television desensitising us all to gruesome violence here), were it not for the way Dexter strives to fit in a (seemingly) normal life around his nocturnal proclivities. He forms a relationship with Rita (Julie Benz), a single mother of two still recovering from life with a drug-crazed shitbag of a husband, at first with the sole intent of providing a smokescreen for his darker side, but before long Dexter is prepared to take steps outside of his strict moral code to protect them. And yet, as Dexter gets more and more caught up in his darker side, the viewer can see his relationship falter, as he tells Rita lie after lie in order to carry out his dark duties, pushing the one person who could ‘save’ him further away, and leaving the viewer feeling as frustratingly helpless as one of Dexter’s victims. Yikes.

imageThe show doesn’t centre entirely on Dexter, however. While it could be easy to surround Dex with an office full of one-dimensional conventional coppers, there are a number of entertainingly rounded personalities working at Miami Metro PD. First and foremost of which is Debra Morgan (played by the delightfully girl-next-doorish Jennifer Carpenter), Dexter’s younger foster sister, and  the only other person Dexter has truly cared about throughout his life. At the start of season one, Debs is a uniformed officer armed with a quick mind and foul mouth, but slightly lacking in self-confidence. By the end of the first season she is working as a Homicide Detective, working in the same department as her big brother Dex, and soon becomes a major player in the investigations carried out by the department.

Detective Angel Batista (David Zayas) is a troubled divorcee who works closely with Dexter on a number of cases, and who goes though a number of existential crises before finally settling down with another character we’re not going to name in case you’ve not seen the series yet. Lieutenant Maria LaGuerta (Lauren Vélez) holds sway over the department, a tough, determined senior officer who will often prove to be fiercely protective of her subordinates should the need arise. The comic foil for the department proves to be Vince Masuka (C.S. Lee), the department’s lead forensic investigator, meaning he works more closely with Dexter than anyone. Perhaps overcompensating for his diminutive stature, Vince plays up to the role of overtly heterosexual male, often preoccupied with making smutty comments at inappropriate moments, or trying to flirt disastrously with Debra. As might be expected, Vince’s awkward charm rarely seems to work with members of the opposite sex, and when faced with socially awkward situations, his lack of life experience becomes abundantly clear.

imageIt’s this combination of fully defined characters (and really, they are a lot more complex than our hamfisted descriptions here, plus we’ve only really covered about half of the main cast) that help the plot to flow so effortlessly around the events of each episode. Every season of Dexter broadly looks at one major case, and a shift in the life of Dexter himself. For example, the opening season sees the department try to track down a serial murderer who becomes known as ‘The Ice-Truck Killer’, as well as Dexter’s growing relationship with Rita. Often, this would lead to a fairly standard schedule for the episodes (i.e. episode 1. “There’s been a murder”, ep 2. “Oh, and another quite similar murder”, 3. “Hey, we’re getting a kind of pattern here”, 4. “Has anyone seen this ‘murderer’ guy?” 5. “We think we’ve got him!” 6. “No, it was the wrong guy”, 7. “Now we know who it is”, 8. “Ooh, nearly got him”, 9. “Oh no, he’s nearly got one of us”, 10, “Caught him, the end”), but Dexter (i.e. the show) is smarter than the average drama series. Much smarter.

Take a brilliant drama show like House. For most episodes, you know that someone will get really ill, the team will come up with about three incorrect diagnoses, and in the last ten minutes something slightly unexpected will happen so that House can save the day. It’s a bit ‘by the book’, but the enjoyment comes from the surrounding events of each episode, it’s as if the whole ‘medical drama’ thing is just a device to hang all the entertaining bits on. Similarly, an episode of Lost. You get to see a bit of someone’s back story, two big questions might be answered along the way, but along will come three new even bigger questions. Again, it doesn’t really matter, we knew what the destination would be, it was the journey that proved to be the most interesting part.

Right, now compared to those, Dexter is a bit like having a bag thrown over your head, being bundled into a boot, but having a surprisingly comfortable journey and you end up at Alton Towers or Disneyland. By which we mean, at the start of each episode you have absolutely no idea what is about to happen, all you really know for sure is that it’s going to be tremendously exciting and rewarding, and you very probably will be surprised by the ending.

And that’s pretty much why we love it so very bloody much. Just when you think you know what is about to happen, you’re spun around and shoved headfirst into an unexpected (but, with hindsight, wholly logical) plot twist. And, just to keep you on your toes, sometimes the obvious thing does happen, just when you were expecting it not to. It’s all a bit like being on a rollercoaster that is different each time you ride it, only with lots of blood and a bald Korean forensics guy making lots of  titty jokes. In short: absolutely marvellous.

imageCriticisms of the show? Because you just know we’ve got to end on a relative downer, it’s what we do. Well, such is its finery, the only real complaint we’d have is the way each episode begins with the same lengthy quite-clever-first-time-you-see-it-less-so-the-fortieth title sequence where Dexter gets ready for work in a way that looks sinister but isn’t. We’d much rather it were kept shorter, leaving extra time for more swearing from Debra or smut from Vince, or even just letting us soak in a few extra ‘Previously on…’ moments from the preceding episode.

It was also a bit of a shame the way ITV managed to bollocks up their handling of the show in the UK. Despite being on at 11pm on Friday nights on ITV1, the ITV schedulers decided to run the main-network-friendly neutered version of the series, saving the ‘proper’ cuss-strewn, bloodier version for later in the week on ITV4. As a result, the impact of what is an enjoyably uncompromising show was limited, and the ITV audience never really took to it. A real shame, Dexter deserves to be remembered as fondly as dramatic big hitters like The Sopranos, but it seems destined to remain a cult hit hidden away on the FX channel and the DVD box set aisle of HMV.


Watch it now on: DVD. Seasons one and two can both be picked up for under £13 from, as well as in your local HMV or supermarket, we expect. The best price we can find for season three is at CD Wow, where it’s yours for £21.49, though you might prefer to do things properly and just buy the full set of seasons one to three for £39.99 from Play. Season four has yet to be released on DVD, which is a shame as it’s the best of the lot, but expect to see it soon.


Thursday, 18 March 2010

BrokenTV’s Pop Pocket: Hot Chip

We’ve been too busy emulating Bernard Black from the Black Books episode where he was locked out of his shop, and had to find ways to keep himself warm and entertained on the streets of London overnight, today. If you replace “locked out of his shop” with “waited for our car speakers to be replaced”, and “streets of London” for the less exciting “nondescript industrial estate in the middle of nowhere”. Oh, plus designing a logo for a top secret forthcoming project. But anyway, that means we’ve had no time today in which to pen our missive on why What’s The Problem (With Anne Robinson) was the third best television programme of the 00s just yet. Oops, what a giveaway. So here’s a pop video to tide you SOBs* over until we do it.

(*Actually, why is that phrase expressed like that? The full version is ‘sons of bitches’, so surely a more correct abbreviation would be ‘SsOBs’? And what about any females you’d be including in that group? What about them, eh? Gabbo really didn’t think things through.)

It’s the new Hot Chip video, directed by noted Twitterer @Serafinowicz, and while it might initially seem to be a straight copy of the promo for Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine’s “Let’s Get Tattoos”, it isn’t. So, enjoy, and try to ignore that the embedded video probably looks a bit odd because we've messed up resizing it to fit the blog template properly.



Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Fourth Best Television Programme of the 00s

Prett-ay, prett-ay, prett-ay good.


In his 1997 book “Facts and Fancies”, Armando Iannucci told the fictional tale of fifty-two year old electrician Peter Manion. Manion was a man who had volunteered to undergo a pioneering neurosurgery, placing a microchip containing a selection of songs into his brain, with an appropriate tune to be played for each moment throughout the remainder of his days. His overall stress levels reduced, he went on to lead a blissful, if fictional, life.

If such a practice were to become reality (or even mandatory), we'd suggest that the incidental music from Curb Your Enthusiasm made the implant playlist. This way, should tempers rise in any  situation, be it inconsequential or monumental, the sounds of Luciano Michelini’s “Frolic” or Franco Micalizzi’s “The Puzzle” would slide into the minds of the participants, and everyone would chuckle at the thought of Larry David getting het up about the sleeves on pullovers and such. Tempers would cool, foreheads would be jovially slapped by their owners, and warring factions would realise the futility of getting all het up about the minutiae of modern life.

image For anyone who hasn’t watched the series, here’s a lazily constructed nutshell: it’s essentially One Foot In The Grave, only with more swearing, sunnier backdrops and more dry New York Jewish wit. Larry David plays Larry David, a reflection of his real self in an only slightly distorted funhouse mirror. The delightful Cheryl Hines plays Cheryl David, Larry’s wife (we avoid using the adjective ‘long-suffering’, in case you expect slightly less of the show as a result). Jeff Garlin and Susie Essman appear as the Greene’s, Larry’s agent and his ferociously short-fused wife, best pals to the Davids.

Many other members of the recurring cast play modestly distorted versions of themselves, including Richard Lewis, Ted Danson or Wanda Sykes, alongside less frequently spotted guest stars such as Rob Reiner, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael York, Martin Scorsese, Mel Brooks, or Ben Stiller. However, the initial lure of the show (for us) was that Curb includes turns from a post-Seinfeld Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander both joining Larry (at various points in the series) in a quest to repeat the success of The Greatest American Sitcom Of All Time (a title we’ve awarded it). And yet, it turns out that their involvement (alongside Michael Richards and Jerry Seinfeld, as the show went on) turned out to be a sideshow compared to the marvellous goings on inside the mind of Larry.

It’s the contents of Larry’s brain that make Curb so utterly enthralling. If you’re not paying attention properly, you might dismiss the programme as a wealthy, successful US comic complaining about everything, but Larry is deeper than that. It’s not that Larry is grumpy, or that he has declared war on etiquette, but that he has his own rigidly defined set of expectations, and he generally won’t budge from them. He just won’t Let Things Go. To celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary, Larry insists Cheryl comply with a pre-marriage promise that she’d allow him to cheat on her, once and once only, after their first decade of wedlock. When a shop owner asks Larry to hand back a pullover he’d tried for size so that it can be folded ‘properly’, Larry’s insistence that he can fold the garment perfectly adequately himself soon escalates into him being banned from the store. And yet, while few could see themselves taking a similar stance in those situations, there is always some kind of skewed logic to Larry’s actions, which adds to the overall amusement factor.

imageHis obduracy aside, Larry is frequently capable of both selfless and selfish acts. So, while one episode may see him resolve a minor sun-cream related misunderstanding by taking an entire special needs group out for a meal, another may see him save himself a trip to the florists by stealing flowers from a roadside memorial. There is always a sense of Larry living his life by the standards he, not society, has set for himself. In what might well be the series finest half-hour, Larry is caught in traffic while trying to make a baseball match. Spotting that the carpool lane is moving much more quickly, Larry doesn’t just sneak into the carpool lane and risk the chance of a fine, he hires a prostitute to accompany him on his journey. She gets paid, he gets to the match on time, and it’s not as if he’s paying to have sex with her – it’ll all logical.

All in all, Curb hangs together brilliantly, with the top quality writing, superb performances and measured direction all combining to produce  a reliably entertaining situation comedy.


The Fifth Best Television Programme of the 00s

Baffy-waffy-bim-bam! We’re back!


Much like competitive diving, some television programmes really deserve to be scored by the difficulty level the programme makers have set for themselves. In the case of TV Burp, there are numerous obstacles between ‘it’ and ‘being really good’ – it’s on ITV, for starters. It’s (after a fashion) broadcast in a primetime slot on Saturday nights. It stars a comedian who, before TV Burp, was critically acclaimed but had only previously been popular with a relatively small, cultish audience. As it covers television programmes broadcast in the week running up to each recording, it has to be written, rehearsed and recorded on a quick turnaround basis, meaning each fresh week begins with a completely blank script. As chronic sufferers of writer’s block ourselves (Reader’s Voice: “No, really?”), we’ve huge admiration for that.

Indeed, we’re fans of making life difficult for ourselves here at BrokenTV. In order to finally write this update to the rundown we’ve just gone and posted ourselves the key to the padlock that we’ve just this second [CLICK] used to chain ourselves to the computer desk. That means we can’t move from here until the postman delivers the key in the morning, so we’ll have to get this entry written. So, there you… hang on, how are we going to get to the letterbox if we’re chained to the… OH CRAP. Anyway, Harry Hill.

image Fiiiiiiiii….

Normally, when anyone good moves to ITV, things go wrong. The Goodies, Jack Dee, Phil Cool, the FA Cup, everything always seems a little bit… well, watered down. (Oh, we could have made a joke about The Boat Race there, never mind.) And, when Mr Harry made the move in 2001, as far as we can remember, it looked like his new material might well go the same way.

A pilot of TV Burp arrived in December 2001, and was pretty good fun, with it poking fun at telly in the way we’ve since come to love, and including the only TV Burp interview section, where Harry quizzed Wellard from EastEnders (i.e. someone dressed as a six-foot-tall German shepherd dog). And then, for a long time… nothing. It seemed Harry had been left in a lay-by somewhere by ITV and forgotten about, as it took a whole year for there to be a full, six episode series of TV Burp. Even then, it was shoved quietly out of the way where nobody would see it, in a midweek post-late-night-news slot. Quite why it needed to be there, when the show never contained any adult content whatsoever* is a question for the ages.

(*Save, of course, for the episode which ended with Al Murray as the voice of God, bellowing “DON’T FUCK WITH ME” and killing someone, which was disappointingly out of character for the show. Series three it was, in case you want to check.)

image …iiiii….

And, it seemed for a while, that might be it for TV Burp. Now, both IMDB and Wikipedia are a bit sketchy on this (“Wikipedia entry in ‘might not be accurate’ shocker”), but as far as we remember, the first series of TV Burp was followed by “The All-New Harry Hill Show”, just a few months later. “All-New…” was similar to his excellent Channel Four series, only with a bigger budget, and less of the charm. Having one scary ventriloquist’s dummy in your show as Controller Of Channel Four is tremendously funny (all together now, “WHY DO THEY STARE?”), but a recurring sketch with a bunch of them just didn’t really work. The show wasn’t a notable success, and certainly wasn’t helped by being scheduled against the second series of 24, then still hugely popular and running on BBC Two in the same Sunday night slot.

Happily, ITV dismissed the failure of The All-New Harry Hill Show (so widely known, IMDB doesn’t even list Harry Hill as being in it: and allowed Harry and his team to continue with TV Burp, which was performing very impressively for the timeslot. Indeed, soon the show was moved to Saturday evenings, albeit in a pre-6pm slot normally reserved for US imports. This proved to be the making of the show. March 2006 saw the programme sneak into ITV’s weekly top thirty ratings for the first time (23rd on the list, with 4.7million viewers, statophiles), and it was to be a more than regular habit for BARB diarists since then. Before long, the programme was comfortably the UK’s most-watched comedy programme (though not, as The Guardian once misquoted us as saying, ‘Britain’s most watched non-soap’. We forgive you, The Guardian, please mention us again, we could do with the visitors). Yes, that’s right, a primetime ITV comedy show becoming the most popular comedy programme in the UK. Starring the bloke from those old First Direct adverts, too.

Since then, TV Burp has grown and grown in popularity. It has become so popular that, for the most recent series, ITV have been putting out a next-day repeat of the show, on ITV1, in primetime. Astonishingly, the repeat is almost as widely watched as the first broadcast – at the time of writing this, the most recent BARB viewing figures are for the week ending the 7th of March 2010. The Saturday night broadcast of TV Burp received 5.26 million viewers. The Sunday night repeat of TV Burp received 4.5 million viewers. That’s a total figure of a quite staggering 9.76 million viewers. That number again in bold: 9.76 million viewers. That’s not a one-off, either – the episode at the start of February 2010 was watched by an aggregate of 10.99 million people (7.35m on Saturday, 3.64m on Sunday).. To put that into perspective, the most-watched broadcast of EastEnders that week attracted 10.77 million viewers. Indeed, the only programme more popular than TV Burp that week was perpetual ratings behemoth Coronation Street.


So, it’s official. TV Burp actually is the UK’s most watched non-soap. The Guardian weren’t wrong when they quoted us after all, they were just three years early. In an age where people perpetually bang on about how “telly isn’t as good as it used to be”, and “why don’t we have any old-school entertainers on telly any more?”, it can be, and we do. Nudging ELEVEN MILLION VIEWERS in this post-digital age of having lots to do with our leisure time instead of watching television, especially for a family-friendly comedy show, is a monumentally huge figure. Even Doctor Who only gets that many viewers at Christmas. And, it’s on ITV – their next biggest entertainment ‘star’ is Piers fucking Morgan! Bloody heck!

Oh, and it does help that TV Burp is relentlessly piss funny. But that goes without saying, everyone knows that already.


Monday, 8 March 2010

It’s BrokenTV’s Pop Pocket!

Yeah, we know we’re not meant to be a music blog, but this is really good. It’s the (edited) video for the new Babybird single, directed by Johnny Depp (you know, him off Benny & Joon). It’s a great video, and hey, an utterly brilliant song too, packed with all the swirling wordplay we’ve come to associate with Stephen Jones and his special songwriting pen.

One of the things we really like about Stephen Jones is the way that for every commercially viable move he makes, he deliberately shoots himself in the foot. “You’re Gorgeous” was a huge success with people who didn’t pick up on the actual theme of the song? Make sure the lead single from the following album is one of the grimmest pop songs ever to be pressed into twin CD singles (Bad Old Man, possibly the only song to get daytime airplay on Radio 1 that contains the word ‘paedophile’). Got a Hollywood A-lister to make his directorial debut shooting one of your pop videos? Ensure there’s no way it’ll get shown uncut on the vast majority of music video channels.

We dedicate this update to all the people who liked "You’re Gorgeous”, went and bought a copy of “Ugly Beautiful”, and were unable to listen to it beyond the demented magnificence of King Bing.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Radio Times, December 2010

A lot of people seem to be agreeing with us on the whole “Mark Thompson hacking off the BBC’s minority interest limbs” affair, going by the way the blog’s hit counter has gone up over the last few days. That’s a bit of a shame in a way, because we’ve completely changed our minds now. Like many of you, we’d assumed that closing BBC 6 Music and the BBC Asian Network in order to get a few more hours of drama on Sunday nights was a daft move. That was before we saw a leaked copy of the Christmas Radio Times for December 2010. The things that the BBC have in store for us are so special, they just couldn’t wait to tell us all about it, apparently.

Well, that and it looks like the Radio Times may have been flogged to another publisher by then, and if News International or Associated Newspapers get their paws on it, the listings for the BBC channels each day will be accompanied by a stock photograph of a big steaming poo. So they wanted an honest listings guide at the printers as soon as possible.

But don’t take our word for it – here’s a scan of the Christmas Day listings, coming just nine and a half months from now. (Click for a bigger, more readable version. And don’t tell us about any spelling mistakes, it took ages.)


Ah, bet you thought you’d never see another lame attempt to copy TV Go Home, didn’t you? How very wrong you were.


Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The BBC Cuts: Thundering Idiocy Special (2)

Another aspect of the BBC cuts announced today is that, as expected, BBC Worldwide is likely to lose control of magazines such as Top Gear and the Radio Times. Of course, we remember the days when BBC Worldwide used to announce new projects frequently, no matter whether they’d be profitable or not. One such example we can EXCLUSIVELY reveal here.

1997. BBC Worldwide decided it was to make a move into the lucrative world of videogames. After all, the original Sony PlayStation was really taking off, and PlayStation titles using the BBC’s biggest properties would surely be a massive hit.

Sadly, the first title, based on one of BBC Two’s leading figures at the time, and a certain interview on a flagship news programme, only saw a limited release. The title was soon being pulled from the shelves after a lawsuit was swiftly filed by Namco’s legal department. We’ve got some EXCLUSIVE shots of the game for you here, see if you can work out why it was pulled.




The BBC Cuts: Thundering Idiocy Special

So, we’re sitting at our PC, cobbling together another half-arsed picture-based update to the blog, because it’s easier than writing stuff. Firstly, we notice that MTV2, once a brilliant music channel playing an eclectic range of music videos, from a variety of genres, that couldn’t be seen anywhere else, has been rebranded as “MTV Rocks”. So, twelve years of innovative programming (well, about five years of it before switching to an endless stream of Coldplay, The Zutons and Kings Of Leon, but still), don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out.

And then came even worse news, that the ‘leaked’ BBC cuts as published in The Times a few days ago, that the BBC claimed weren’t necessarily the contents of the final report, are all true. BBC 6Music and the BBC Asian Network are to close. The BBC’s online presence is to be reduced by 50% (because, as everyone knows, this whole ‘internet’ thing turned out to be a fleeting fad that everyone soon got bored with. CD-ROM is where it’s at). But hey, there’ll be a concentration on ‘quality programming’ elsewhere.

We could trot through the largely obvious reasons why it’s a bad idea closing two radio stations that provide a service not available from anyone else for much of the country. 6Music is the only radio station we can listen to without wanting to smash furniture. Earlier on we saw someone on Twitter lazily dismiss the station as “radio for people who think their taste in music is better than everyone else’s”, but then that’s one of the great things about music. It’s very easy for there to be a near-universal opinion of a film, television show or videogame. Schindler’s List is inarguably better than Date Movie. The Sopranos is better than Balls Of Steel. Fallout 3 is better than Superman 64. But while The White Stripes are more popular than, say, Elbow, are they better? Are they worse? You probably have your own personal feeling about whether they are or not, but there wouldn’t be much of a consensus, unless you’re counting “I’ve never heard of Elbow” as an option.

When it comes to music, everyone with an ounce of sense thinks that they have the best taste in music out of everyone they know. That’s kind of the whole point, that the music you like forms a connection with you, no matter if you prefer Sonic Youth, U2, Lady Gaga or JLS. While you could comfortably expect to hear U2, Lady Gaga or JLS at least once an hour on the vast majority of radio stations, the only place you’re going to hear Pavement,  Sly & Robbie, Teenage Fanclub, Pixies, Funkadelic, The Chemical Brothers, Nat King Cole and The Big Pink in the same morning is on 6Music. While we don’t listen to the Asian Network, the same principle applies there. Sure, in major metropolitan areas you’ve got stations like XFM or Sunrise Radio catering to people who could be listening to 6Music or the Asian Network, but they aren’t available nationwide. Not everyone lives in big cities, yet people out in the sticks can have diverse tastes too.

image “But they didn’t have that many listeners!”

Because they were only on DAB radio, a platform which has turned out to be a massive white elephant. It’s practically unworkable in a car stereo without having to keep retuning, portable digital radio players have a battery life about as long as your average Napalm Death track, the mooted “CD quality” sound turned out to be about the same as a badly encoded 128kbps MP3, and few people ever had a reason to make the switch. Had the Asian Network and 6Music been added to FM, they would have had many more listeners.

Out of curiosity, we’ve just taken a glance at the iTunes top hundred podcasts, to see how many BBC shows are there. Here’s our report, each show’s position in the chart is in brackets.

Radio 1:
Best of Chris Moyles (4)
Scott Mills Daily (19)
Radio 1 Mini Mix (37)
Zane Lowe's Hottest Records (45)
Radio 1 Chart Show (58)

Radio 2:
Jonathan Ross (15)
Weekend Wogan (16)
Chris Evans (33)

Radio 3:

Radio 4:
Friday Night Comedy (1)
A History Of The World in 100 Objects (2)
Desert Island Discs (7)
In Our Time (23)
The Archers (30)
Start The Week (41)
From Our Own Correspondent (48)
Food Programme (57)
Great Lives (60)
Woman's Hour (64)
Costing The Earth (78)
Best of Today (90)
Money Box (91)
The Bottom Line (99)
The Film Programme (100)

5 Live:
The Danny Baker Show (34)
Richard Bacon (36)
606 Phone-In (55)

6 Music:
Adam & Joe (25)
Collins & Herring (26)
Jon Richardson (42)
Jon Holmes (75)

And, because this is us, here’s a chart summarising all that. We’ve got the beta of Office 2010, you know.

image So, while Radio 4’s podcasts are way, way out in front, 6Music holds up hugely well. Despite having a fraction of the listener base, it has more popular podcasts than Radio 2 and Five Live, with even Radio 1 is only slightly ahead. A second chart accounting for the popularity of each podcast gives similar results.

image Now, iTunes don’t make actual podcast subscriber numbers available, but these numbers suggest that a much larger proportion of 6Music’s listeners like the output so much they’ll actively track down recordings of their favourite shows. Or, just maybe, a lot of people want to listen to 6Music, but their lack of a DAB radio limits the chances of them doing so, meaning they nab the podcasts instead. Either way, it’s looking like 6 Music has a sizable listener base after all, even if few of them are RAJAR diarists.

So, why make the cuts? After all, the £6million per year it costs to run 6Music isn’t much – that would only get you six hours of TV drama. And each year 6Music break innumerate new bands, and gives lots of musical styles their only national outlet. We suspect it’s because the BBC needs to be seen making sweeping cuts now, that that the incoming Tory government (ick) won’t swing the axe around as much once they’re in charge, especially as they’re now close buddies with Rupert Murdoch again. And while the cuts could easily have been made elsewhere – delayering middle management, reduced spend on national promotion, dangling Graham Norton upside down and seeing how much change falls out of his pocket – making big headline cuts like this can easily be put into a simple bullet point form that even Sun and Daily Mail readers can understand.

Speaking of whom, how about we raise our overall rage levels by taking a glance at what “the silent majority” (i.e. the screeching far-right minority) over at Mail Online are saying? How about we kick off with a thundering cunt called Dave?

image Ah, that old chestnut. “Sure, Sky might cost £480 per year for sod all original content, and have ad breaks every twelve minutes, but it’s a choice. The BBC is a stealth tax!!!1” Except, this is no longer a fucking argument. For the first time ever, it’s quite possible to (legally) watch TV programmes without having to pay the licence fee. You can buy television sets without a TV tuner inside – indeed, you could use a TV set only capable of receiving analogue terrestrial broadcasts given the big switch-off. Once you’ve got a TV incapable of receiving broadcasts, and therefore making you exempt from the big evil communist stealth tax, you can pop out and buy an Xbox 360, a subscription to Xbox Live Gold, and a subscription to Sky Player. Plus, you can watch as many DVDs as you like. Additionally, you can hook up a net-connected PC to most new TV sets, and use that to view streaming content from ITV, Channel Four and Five. You could even naughtily use BBC iPlayer on there, because even though you’d legally need a TV licence to do so, who’d know, eh? Sock it to the man!

“Oh, and where can I get a TV set without a TV tuner?”, you might be saying. Well, they are available, but they aren’t on sale in many places. And why? Because not many people want to buy them, what with the vast, vast majority of people being perfectly happy paying for a TV licence, and the free market system providing supply to where the demand is. Do you see?


“And now on BBC One, it’s time for the Ten O'clock News, with Fiona Bruce and The Reanimated Corpse Of Uncle Joe Stalin.”


imageLadies and gentlemen, we present to you Knucklescraping Cunt Of The Year 2010 awards! This award is usually handed out at the end of the year, but the judges felt that there was no point waiting any longer after these comments. And it’s only March!

And the winner is… well done KEV. Your inability to notice someone else had made the same point as you a little further down the page tipped it in your favour. Take a little time off from tutting to yourself every time you see a non-white face on your television screen (which, admit it, isn’t as often as you’d like, is it Kev? What with the overwhelming majority of people on the BBC being infuriatingly white just like you. But they’re only doing that to hide the fact the BBC actually hates white British people like you, the crafty gay Marxist gits), and pat yourself on your “No Surrender To The IRA” tattooed back.

image Aah, so now Jonathan “Wossy! See What I’ve Cleverly Done There, Eh? Yeah, Take That Wossy. Hang On, He Calls Himself That Because He’s Able To Make Self-Effacing Jokes? Yeah, Well He Would With All That Stealth Tax Money Of Mine” Ross has gone, the new celebrity piñata for Daily Mail readers is Chiles. And “his co-host”. Which one, Lee Dixon or Martin Keown?

image Ha ha! Well done, Hammy. And yeah, I, er, expect the pips signifying each hour will bloody be swapped for the call to prayer noise instead or sumfink. Innit. Etc. And only radios that have a special minaret attachment will be able to pick up BBC channels, from 2011 onwards. You fucking dolt.

imageUh-oh, here comes a challenger for Kev’s Knucklescraping Cunt Of The Year award. We might need a chalkboard to explain all this to you ‘Jillox’ (ooh, can’t call it a ‘blackboard’ any more can we, Jillox? Can’t say that, can you? You can’t drink ‘black’ coffee any more, can you? It has to be ‘Hex Colour #00000 Coffee’ now, hasn’t it?). Here’s how it works – you pay your licence fee, and there’s a pretty decent chance you’ll get a load of programmes you like. Say, Match Of The Day, CountryFile, or EastEnders. But get this, Asian people living in the UK pay for their TV licences too! And if they don’t like the programmes you like, they still have to pay the full amount, too! Even if they only want to watch their own funny channels in the high numbers on Sky – they might not even want to watch anything on the BBC at all! In fact, one of the things specifically put together for them by the BBC, is now getting closed down by the BBC! You know, like it said in the article you’re commenting on! Crazy world, isn’t it?

Though in your case, and I’ve just phoned the BBC Trust to check, it seems that due to an administrative error every single penny you’ve ever spent on TV licences has been given to gay Muslim asylum seekers. Oh man!

image Indeed. The savings should be pumped into a brand new statoin called BBC Edyookayshun.


Blog Archive

Popular Posts


Blog Archive