– Take That: Progress Live
– Heston’s Fantastical Christmas
– BBC Breakfast
– Sunday Brunch
– Rod Stewart’s Christmas
– Dinner Date
– Mrs. Brown’s Boys
I scarcely watch television at all any more—at least not casually anyway. In fact, only really during the Christmas period does television suddenly become something of an exciting novelty to me. Come January, I typically find that I’ve more than had enough of it, concluding, as I do every year, that far too many programmes are only on television in the first place because they happen to be the cheapest way of filling a time slot.
Yet for that short period of time in December, I’m happy to watch it all—even BBC Breakfast. Christmas, after all, is that one time of the year where you invariably find yourself sat around the set with family. Almost more of a ritual than it is a legitimate form of entertainment, it’s a sure-fire way for the channels to reel in viewers with some truly half-arsed programming.
What delights were viewers served this Christmas? Christmas day saw the five main channels filling up the schedules with the usual epics like Gone with the Wind and Ben-Hur, which everybody has surely seen dozens of times before. Then what little time was left was devoted to depressing dramas, head-scratching comedies like Mrs. Brown’s Boys and the BBC’s obligatory airing of Shrek.
Not all of it was bad, of course; Room on the Broom was a nice surprise, as was Numb: Simon Amstell Live at the BBC—a revealing hour of thought-provoking stand-up that had much in common with the comedy of American Jewish comics like Woody Allen, Richard Lewis and Garry Shandling.
Generally, though, it was a poor Christmas for telly, especially given that the TV industry is one of the few industries that is able to benefit substantially from the on-going recession. They could, if they fancied, afford to invest in some decent programming, particularly during the festive period. But they don’t, and indeed they won’t, because they know that six million viewers, most of whom are too broke to go out for the evening, will tune into Splash! with Tom Daley.
God. I can’t watch this with him just standing there, bold as brass, like that. Does this boy even own clothes?
I mean, what is Splash! exactly? It’s a programme about a boy in a speedo teaching celebrities to dive. That’s it. Tom Daley’s Monkey Tennis. They obviously believed that that was enough to reel viewers in, and what’s worse is, they were right.
Take That: Progress Live
For thirteen years Take That have created an inoffensive soundtrack for average people to hoover the house to. They’re a favourite for those who find a Coldplay a little bit too out there: the quintessential group for those whose hobbies include buying things and being like everybody else.
Sure, it’s more than likely that most of their fans only own three albums, two of which are probably by Take That. But they know what they like, and what they like, it would seem, is spending an entire month’s wages on seeing Take That in concert, and then clapping their hands vacantly to every beat.
They like big props on stage and watching Jason Orange do a little breakdance. They especially like watching Robbie sing “Angels”, an anthem for people who usually don’t really like music. And they really like it when Gary Barlow’s eerily smooth face appears on the big screen.
But what they especially like are things that distract them from the music of Take That. Seemingly, they need big robot things on stage and a white man non-ironically rapping the words: “Go Jason! Go Jason! Go!” to truly enjoy the experience of being at a gig. But really this performance is less like a gig and more like some sort of bizarre corporate musical circus.
Heston’s Fantastical Christmas
In his latest series, anthropoid Lego man Heston Blumenthal sets out to make enormous food, but offers up very little explanation to why he’s decided to do so.
See, this isn’t a philanthropic venture like Jamie’s School Dinners; Heston just wants people to think that he’s a mad genius. He just wants people to scratch their heads and marvel at his peculiar dishes as if he were the star of 1960s children’s film—one with a title made up of invented adjectives like “contrabulous” and “fabtastic”.
The only problem is that Heston’s experiments are all completely stupid, and although he likes to give off the impression that what he’s doing is somewhat scientific, in reality, his dishes are anything but.
In tonight’s episode, for instance, we watch as he attempts to make the world’s biggest Christmas pudding: a pursuit that is somewhat complicated by the fact that Heston insists on being permanently wacky, by doing things like mixing the ingredients in a giant cement mixer.
There’s really no clear goal in Heston’s mind; he just wants to cook big things and if there’s some kind of meaning to this constantly evolving mess, then that’s a plus.
In fact, during one moment of the show, Heston scraps the pudding idea entirely and decides—like all Channel 4 cooking programmes do—to make viewers feel slightly guilty about not eating the most revolting parts of an animal. In this case we have to hear how great the head of a pig tastes, as Heston mashes one up and turns it into an edible Christmas bauble.
“It’s much better,” he says, slapping his tongue against the top of his mouth, “than a bit of dry turkey.”
So who’s going to consume all of this food then? Some very deserving white middle-class people who have to work on Christmas day. What’s left, we’re told, goes to a homeless shelter.
However, regrettably, we don’t get to see that bit—even though watching the homeless feast on a pudding that’s the size of mini van would have been much more heart-warming and in keeping with the spirit of Christmas.
Instead, we’re treated to a suitably ridiculous finale, with Heston standing in a giant snow globe, all dressed up, as the surrounding room slowly fills with hungry bodies. And while people look on in excitement, Heston strikes a completely preposterous pose that seems to say: “Look everyone. I’m bloody mad me!”
The problem is, I’m not sure that Heston’s quite as bloody mad as Channel 4 think he is.
After years of obscurity, sport has finally gone mainstream, and its transformation hasn’t gone unnoticed by BBC Breakfast, who couldn’t be happier about it.
It’s been a great year for the practically unheard of pastime. What used to be confined to a short, ten-minute segment at the end of the news, the Breakfast presenters keep insisting, has become something much more: something of huge commercial value—a physical pursuit that, without irony, is endorsed exclusively by fast food corporations.
Always the underdog, it’s great that sport has climbed the ranks and gained the recognition it deserves. There’s even a programme on later called “Football Focus”, which merely a year ago would have, I suspect, been called “Literary Focus”.
The presenters don’t usually look as if they’re modelling the default face in the “Create Your Own Character” mode of a video game, or as if their faces have been superimposed onto other people’s bodies. I’m not sure what’s going on in this picture.
Apparently Something for the Weekend was axed back in March, but has since been resurrected on Channel 4 as Sunday Brunch: the same programme, undeniably, but minus Louise Redknapp as its co-host.
With awkwardness seemingly being the key to Something for the Weekend’s appeal, it’s nice to see that Channel 4 haven’t tampered with the show’s blueprint too much. Host Tim Lovejoy is as a thorny as ever, constantly wearing the look of a man who’s wondering what he’s having for tea later, and maintaining a straight face whenever a guest cracks a joke.
He’s also, it would seem, quite keen on referring to various food items as if they exist within a fictitious monarchy: macadamia nuts, he insists, are the king of nuts; cheddar is the king of cheese; tuna is the king of fish. In fact, he seems hugely disinterested in anything that isn’t the majesty of its respective food group, including today’s quests.
On today’s show we watch chef Simon Rimmer prepare a vegetarian nut roast, which judging from Tim’s lukewarm reaction to it, is not the king of roasts. Then Simon whisks up some goose fat gravy, because veggies can still eat liquid meat, can’t they? And meanwhile, Ballykissangel star Stephen Tompkinson pops in to talk about Wild at Heart, a series that apparently wasn’t cancelled after its first series, but has, in fact, now been on television for eight years.
We’ll just have to see if Sunday Brunch can last that long.
Rod Stewart’s Christmas
Ooh, everyone likes a bit of Rod, don’t they? Or so ITV seem to think. Frankly, I could take or leave him, and after watching him prance about a stage looking like Donald Trump fighting a gale force wind, I’m more than leaning towards leaving him.
This is Rod Stewart’s Christmas, a show in which Rod essentially plugs his half-arsed Christmas album by performing it live at Stirling Castle, along with a few surprise guests, including St. Christmas himself, Michael Bublé!
It’s an easy gig for Rod, admittedly, but it’s difficult not to admire his slightly embarrassing enthusiasm. He’s clearly having a fun time, and irrespective of what you think of him, it’s hard to not get at least a little swept up in the atmosphere of it all. Plus, after a few drinks, these Christmas classics (“White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland” included) make for a less than awful soundtrack to an evening around the telly.
Speaking to Rod in between songs—and doing so while exhibiting all the charisma of a beige coaster—is Holly Willoughby, who’s apparently the complete antithesis of the phrase “a face for radio”. Rather than suffering from an unsightly face, Holly instead bears the less commercially hindering burden of having no real defining characteristics.
Her chats with Rod are nail-bitingly awkward, to say the least. However, the programme itself isn’t entirely unpleasant, and it is Christmassy, I’ll give it that. The same can hardly be said for much else in the Christmas schedule this year.
Every year it’s always the same in ‘Stenders: the same downtrodden East London bastards conspiring to murder one another, the same hashed out storylines. Things always start off fairly amicably in Bastard Square, the characters all crammed around a table cracking jokes, going “WHEY!” and generally being irritatingly loud. But then it all kicks off: the absurd whispering and the foghorn bellows. It mirrors the dynamics of a Pixies song—but not a very good one.
This Christmas is, of course, no exception. As far as I can work out, Kat’s had an affair with some loathsome shit whose brother is Max Branning, the programme’s former villain, but who is now surprisingly well-liked, even by his ex-wife, who I’m pretty sure buried him alive only a couple of years ago. Now, though, quite bizarrely, the couple are talking about getting remarried.
Max is also pretty furious at his adulterous brother, who ends up dying on Christmas day, much to the joy of practically everyone in the square. It’s actually quite a satisfying conclusion, as I won’t be watching it again until next Christmas. I’m sure I won’t miss much.
Dinner Date. It’s Come Dine with Me, but with awkward, emotionally sore divorcées. At least that’s how I imagine it was pitched. This particular episode features a socially inept building surveyor named Phil, a man with all the smoothness of Moe Syzlak from The Simpsons.
Traveling back to the 1950s, three women have to cook meals for Phil and then he has to pick his favourite. There are some jokes and there are some smiles, but ultimately, behind the eyes of these middle-aged divorcées, you can tell that they’re not entirely comfortable with dating.
There’s not much to talk about, which is seemingly why Phil keeps coming out with things like: “Yeah, I love animals me. My Dog—he pretty much comes everywhere with me. Except on dates, obviously. He don’t come on dates with me.”
But there is some chemistry.
“I’m a bit of a singer,” Phil’s date says.
“Oh, right,” Phil replies.
“Yeah. I won the karaoke on the cruise.”
“Really?” Phil says, with some enthusiasm. “That’s—wow. I love cruises me.”
“Yeah. We’ve got so much in common, haven’t we?”
Then Phil has to pick his women. All three of his dates have to dress up, but only one lucky lady will be going out with him. The two less fortunate bints are given ready meals that they have to prepare and eat at home—something they’re probably, as single divorcées, quite used to.
It’s not as funny as Come Dine with Me, but then, because its participants generally aren’t totally detestable, it’s also not as irritating.
Mrs. Brown’s Boys
Seinfeld went down like a lead balloon when it aired on the BBC, who put it on at 11pm, thus guaranteeing that it never received the audience that it obviously deserved. A similar thing happened to The Larry Sanders Show, and Sean Lock’s 15 Storeys High, too, which was moved around the schedule so that viewers had to actively seek it out each week.
And yet Mrs. Brown’s Boys, inexplicably, has been promoted ad nauseum by the BBC, despite the unmissable fact that it’s shockingly terrible. It’s like It’s Garry Shandling’s Show without the wit and self-awareness, or Father Ted if Father Ted was the worst programme ever made.
However, as horrible as Mrs. Brown Boys is, its fans, judging from the DVD sales, more than outnumber its critics. People think that it’s brilliant; in fact, it’s even won awards, which is presumably why the BBC are airing a two-part Christmas special of it this year.
Initially, I had planned to talk about both parts for the purposes of this little Christmas diary, but I can’t bear to sit through part two, so a little mention of what happened in episode one will have to do. Not that much happened. The entire episode was based around the idea of Mrs. Brown wanting to play the virgin Mary in the church nativity play, a one joke premise that depends on viewers finding the idea of man in a dress intrinsically funny.