Thursday, 27 November 2008

Christmas tv

We're coming up to the time of year when the telly suddenly becomes important. Not, to be frank, because the content is super brilliant, but because you're too stuffed to move, drunk at 3pm and at least staring at the box beats talking to some relative you can't stand.

And there is the small point of this country TOTALLY SHUTTING DOWN for the festive period. You have to watch the telly as everything else is shut. In London's zany Docklands where I live, most pubs shut at 4pm on Christmas Eve and don't reopen for days and days and days. Some even stay shut 'til after New Year.

I see the tourists in the hotel near where I live wandering around puzzled on Christmas Day - you can imagine, "come to London for Christmas, the British do it better than everyone else!"... and then they spend Xmas Day wandering around empty streets and wondering why they can't get a drink or buy a pie.

Anyhoo. Pluses and minuses of seasonal telly:-

This can tick both boxes - the My Family Xmas special (an hour of Zoe Thingy and Whojaflip Lindsay shouting in a 1970's sitcom stylee? No way) isn't circled in my festive Radio Times... on the other hand, The Royal Family coming back certainly is.

Usually the longer timeframe isn't a help for the sitcom - half an hour is perfect - but occasionally it works. The British public certainly thought so with Only Fools and Horses - my personal view was that it wasn't funny originally, had some bits that were quite funny in the middle, and then became too sentimental to be funny at the end.

Yes oh beloved American telly, I'm looking at you. As they can't say Christmas without offending someone, they say 'holidays', personified in the bizarre Coca-Cola ads with the jingle 'the holidays are coming'. Coca-Cola, of course, invented the modern image of Santa Claus yet can't say Christmas. Tsk.

As US TV basically shuts down over Xmas - people watch a parade on Xmas Day then football then... er, more football, and then go shopping or to the movies over the holidays, totally ignoring the box - their festive telly is usually, to be frank, shite. Even peerless Will and Grace, and Simpsons had crap Xmas episodes. Although South Park did excel with Mr Hanky The Christmas Poo. High-dilly-ho, neighbours!

It's not as if I want a festive Newsnight with Paxo dressed as Santa and the lady presenters as elves (now there's sexism for you) but the news disappears over Christmas, shunted around and cut in length. I don't like that. Although with things being so bleak it might be a plus point this year...

My sub-gnat attention span means I normally get twitchy after 20 minutes watching a movie, but at Xmas there's not much else to do, so I end up sitting through ENTIRE films without being drunk. I know people whine that because of DVD and Sky all the Xmas films are old, but I don't care. They're better than the new ones.

I've got a theory that repeats channel Dave must be shitting itself wirh excitement when Xmas approaches. They can go in the attic and get the boxes of tapes of Xmas episodes down for a few weeks, so the episodes of QI and Top Gear they show on a loop have only been on a few hundred times instead of the eighty-eleven gabillion times the standard ones have.

The best bit of Xmas telly for me is on this day. It usually all goes back to normal. Yay.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Comedy capers

Another one of my occasional forays into the hilarious world of tv comedy - all inspired by the return of my favouritist sitcom The IT Crowd on Friday, and the lovely Harry Hill's TV Burp being back too.

Both are such likeable shows - was it in the profile of Harry in the Guardian at the weekend that the word 'daft' was used to describe him? It fits both shows perfectly -they're silly and lovely and funny and daft. On my recent flight to the US I watched the episode of IT Crowd where Chris Morris kills himself. I was in bits...

It's actually really hard to do daft. Father Ted, another top Graham Linehan shows, was stunningly daft. (His blog has good things on it - go there - clicky herey) But what else? Morecambe and Wise, obviously, but I'm struggling to think of anything recently.

The comedy of embarrassment and cruelty, from The Office to Fonejacker is what da yung kidz seem to like. Hmmm. Cringing as Mr Gervais puts his foot in it yet again, to me, is just that - cringing. Yes it's amusing, I may even crack a smile. But it's not boom-boom funny joke haha time.

(Note to self: write comedy show called Boom Boom Funny Joke Haha Time)

Listening to someone doing crank calls, no matter how well done, reminds me of Noel Edmond's Radio 1 Breakfast Show. As in being cold, wet, twelve and wishing he'd shut the fuck up and play some music.

I know I bang on about it but there's nothing quite like a really good proper normal sitcom, a one with a studio audience (real laughter!), filmed on tape (warm, bright pictures, not nasty, filmy reality!) with jokes (one-liners! catchphrases!) and a few simple story threads designed simply to be funny (no character development at all!) and make you laugh (out loud!)

As for t'other sitcoms on air, I watched Outnumbered, the second series (I think) of that sitcom with improvising kids in it, and it was rather meh. The child actors weren't as child actor-like as usual in a sitcom but it was all just too generic for me. I started to watch that thing with Jack Dee in it playing a grumpy twat (quite a stretch!) but switched off after a while as it seemed not to have any jokes in it.

My bestest tv news of the week was that Will and Grace twosome Jack and Karen might make a sitcom together. Please, if anyone involved from US tv is reading this (yeah, right) just LEAVE THE CHARACTERS AS THEY WERE - don't make them run a little cafe together, or put them in a motor-home, or have them married in some hilarious fake relationship... just have them being campy-queeny-idiot-man and bitchy-stupid-squeaky-rich woman. Hire Rosario back too, stick in some bland-but-pretty heteros and you've got a winner.

Well, you haven't got anything, nothing is guaranteed - hire back the same writers, producers, get a good slot, not be on against anything else that's a massive hit, and you've got a slight chance of being Frasier replacing Cheers (best characters, great writing) instead of Joey replacing Friends (worst character, OK writing).

Right, off to watch Charlie Brooker's Screenburn. He's not daft in any way - he's the anti-daft - and his spin on telly is the opposite of Mr Hill's, but it's a great show. Yay the telly!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


Hello, and I'm back from the USA, refreshed, relaxed and re... erm, re-somethinged. Was in West Hollywood [very posh, walkable, hot'n'sunny], drove to Vegas [dull drive], stayed in Vegas [hot'n'sunny, posh hotel, odd place] then drove to Santa Monica [duller drive] and stayed there [sunny if not that hot, ok if very expensive hotel, nice town]

I watched a lot of tv, as ever, but the election obviously somewhat dominated the box. And thanks to a two-hour flight delay - the only time that sentence has probably ever been typed - I got to watch Obama win live in LAX. The lounge in the airport was full of Aussies and Brits, being a BA/Qantas one, but we whooped it up anyway. I shared a bottle of champers with Eric Idle, my one-and-only 'sleb spot in LA (he was off to Barcelona to see Spamalot in Spanish... apparently spam is schpam in Spanish. I had to ask). Oh, and there was music supremo Quincy Jones on the way out. And, allegedly, Peter Andre and KatieJordanPrice, in LA. I didn't see them but there was a fuss and they were at the LA Ivy that we'd just walked past (and thought looked skanky)

OK, telly telly telly. Some random US election tv-type notes:-

Now obviously we don't get these in the UK and they are extraordinary. The proper presidential ones are sort-of OK - they tend to be straightforward and end with the candidate's picture and them saying "I'm Barack Obama and I endorsed this message", so you know it's from them.

So McCain's were all about Obama being inexperienced, divisive and useless (95% of the running time) and McCain in a uniform being a hero (5%). Obama's were all about McCain being Bush's best mate and useless (50%) and Obama actually talking about policies (50%).

So far, so fair enough.

But then there are the ones funded by the parties. The Republican National Committee ran ads saying Obama was a commie socialist who was best mates with a terrorist preacher. They were hideous, with scary music and comedy scary voiceover, like a spoof more than a real, proper ad.

The Democrats ran ones looking like impartial tax advice - go to this website (which is properly independent, I'll give them that) and type in your details and they'll tell you who gives you the most in tax cuts. And, funnily enough, it was Obama - unless you're Warren Buffet or (ironically) Oprah Winfrey. A small tagline revealed who funded the ad. A few took the piss out of Sarah Palin - but, come on, who wouldn't? - but they seemed fairly genuine.

California is, apparently, safe for the Democrats (despite Governator Arnie) so there weren't that many ads for Obama or McCain there. In Nevada, a alleged swing state, they filled every break. All the time. It was a blizzard.

But there were plenty more political ads. Vote for this Governor. Elect this judge (I think the one I saw on a billboard on the way to Nevada might have had some misplaced name recognition - Elect Judge Judey. That's John Judey, but his first name wasn't in big type...)

California was awash with votes on propositions, the most famous being the anti-gay marriage one. The supporters of the make-marriage-hetro-only thing were outrageous, saying the scouts would be shut down, churches would lose charitable status and kids would be taught gay stuff in schools if the proposition was rejected. The gay marriage lot tried not to mention gayness at all and talk about fairness and equality and don't meddle with the constitution - and even Arnie was in favour, by the way, so it wasn't just a Democrat thing.

I'll not grumble about how it passed and that. Grrr.

In California there were thirty other propositions, from local county ones (a fireman saying vote for Proposition L as we'll get a new fire engine in Santa Monica) to the state ones. So you'd sit through four minutes of ads - on any channel - and they'd all be vote this, vote that. Very odd for a Brit, and, incidentally, somewhat lucky for the local tv stations helping them offset the obviously severe recession they're in.

(Selfish note: yay their recession! Lots of sales and even cheaper clothes! Empty shops!)

The only other ads were for huge, massive pickup trucks that no-one wants any more. $10,000 off! Cashback! Free gas for a year!

Again, totally different here. Hardly any effort to be impartial on the cable networks at all. You watch a network, or a presenter on a network, that you like and agree with. And they slant the news to fit what you want to hear. Simple.

You tuned into MSNBC and their new highest-rated presenter is a socialist lesbian who ripped the piss out of McCain and Palin continuously. She doesn't like Obama much either, to be fair, as he's not radical enough. But from showing Obama speeches in full and cutting McCain off after five minutes, to the tone of the questions and content of the bulletins, this was totally pro-Obama.

Fox News, I hasten to add, was the opposite - although they did provide the best liberal bit with their shouty presenter Shepard Smith asking Joe The Plumber why he thought Obama meant 'death to Israel', with the somewhat ignorant yet cocky plumber saying 'that's for me to know', and Mr Smith turning to camera, shaking his head, reading out a line from the McCain campaign about how Joe is a great representative of their views, sighing, then saying that Obama is a friend of Israel and 'things are just scary sometimes'. That was as funny as it was unexpected - the rest of the coverage was as pro-McCain as MSNBC was pro-Obama.

CNN sat in the middle a bit, depending on who was presenting. Lou Dobbs, who's been there since it started, had a diatribe against Bush that was astonishing, calling him discredited, useless and 'a stain on this fine country's character'. Now most Americans would agree but it was very odd seeing a newcaster suddenly rip into a politician. Like Huw Edwards calling Blair a twunt.

The networks were more balanced, but they sold half an hour of airtime to Obama (apart from, oddly, ABC) and replaced their dramas and sitcoms with his rather well-made programme (full of policies again, not just hot air). It rated so well NBC joked they'd ask him to fill it every week if he didn't get elected.

The airport was tuned to CNN, which I'm overjoyed about, as we got to see their high-tech news stuff. All through the campaign John King On The Magic Wall was my favourite thing. This man knew every bit of data in the history of American elections, like Peter Snow used to be but a billion times cleverer, and he had this great interactive screen he could tap, stroke, expand and contract.

On election night he could call up any election result from the last twenty years and compare the voting so far with previously. Incredibly useful (and hugely expensive I'd think).

I won't mention the holograms as everyone else has.... well, err, um... oh God, I can't ignore them. They had holograms!!!!1!!!! Everyone hooted with laughter as presenter Wolf Blitzer (still love the name) was joined "veeeah hologram" by people. They even made them fuzzy with outlines, like R2D2's Princess Leia out of Star Wars in 1977. I wanted Wolf to stick his hand through the reporter lady from Chicago or make her fly across to the Magic Wall and start eating the swing states.

Have a butchers here

Sadly this did not occur. My wishes might have been slightly affected by the repeated topping up of my champers by Mr Idle.

Why would anyone sit and watch David Dimblebum in a tiny studio on the BBC when you could have Wolf, holograms and Magic Walls?

All the networks were very cautious about saying things in advance (last time President Kerry seemed likely early on) so they just projected results where it was obvious and kept schtum when there was some doubt. Every network and lots of newspapers put into one big exit poll which turned out to be very accurate indeed, so they all kinda knew Obama had won but couldn't say so as some states were still voting.

Still, at 11pm Eastern Time, when California and the other West Coast states closed their polls, the 'CNN PROJECTION' sting played for the final time and then... well, it's history, innit. Have a look, go on, it never gets tired...

Obama wins