Friday, 10 March 2017

POLITICS – dangerous but VERY interesting right now

Although I'm a Lefty (a libertarian one, mind), I do like Theresa May. She has very British teeth; a pleasing mix of yellow, grey and black. They are  so impressive she deserves a cameo role as a pop-up Brit on Family Guy.

More importantly, her smile has a worked a kind of magic in recent times as she's outlined bits of her Brexit strategy. In particular her elegant threat to get tough on trade if the EU doesn’t play nicely in negotiations has been accompanied by warning flashes of her fangs.

As for her recent shoulder-heaving guffaws during Prime Minister's Questions ... that was spectacular, and marked her out as a winner, frankly. 

Politics sure are interesting and entertaining just now – as well as scary. With Trump and all his ramifications, plus Brexit, it’s good to see the world’s two leading English-speaking nations causing such shock waves. And I must confess to having enjoyed all the discomfort and huffing and puffing of the snooty, and quite intolerant, left-liberal types in this country over what’s been happening to politics. 

Regarding President Trump, who knows what plotting is going on behind closed doors across the pond? Trump has colourfully, publicly and emphatically criticised the US intelligence agencies. Given his new job, that’s a potential game-changer.

But let’s ignore all the procedural stuff for now; all the claims and denials about Trump; his intemperate tweets; and his spats with various luvvies and the media. What will, sooner or later, finish him is the belief held by many sane, morally-upright and intelligent people in the USA that The Donald lacks the personal dignity and temperament to be President. It’s a view shared by many senior and experienced people in politics, the law, and the secret services.

Barack Obama has reminded millions of people in the recent past of just how important dignity, eloquence and personal grace are in a leader.

Having Trump as President is fraught with instability and danger, of course, especially with so much bubbling potential for armed conflict – on Europe’s Baltic borders, in the South China Sea and in the Middle East.

Just where is the world heading politically? It's an important question.

Politics is vital for the survival of humanity. Wild beasts can get by without politics, and so can angels, but mankind cannot. Politics stops us ripping each other apart – though it hasn’t exactly seemed like that in recent times.

How politics has traditionally worked in the West is by using various forms of representative liberal democracy to deliver freedom under the law within nations to citizens.

But, quite apart from the Trump effect, many people feel that model is no longer fit for purpose. We live in a globalised world made politically and socially dysfunctional by terrorism, a rise in tyrannical leaders, massive migration, rampant capitalism, growing inequalities and climate change.

On our own shores, we face great uncertainties in the Brexit negotiations. It will take more than the power of Theresa May’s smile to resolve everything. It isn’t even clear if the European Union will exist for much longer in its current forms and levels – if right-wingers do well in elections later this year within member nations.

Everywhere, the people, the voters, are unhappy. Not just with the old-fashioned system of ’democratic’ politics which allows each person just one tiny moment of freedom every few years to vote in elections. The rest of the time, certainly for most people in West, the way we live and work results in profound alienation. Why should most people be expected to travel to a workplace five-days-a-week just to survive? Why are we over-producing and over-consuming in such a way? Why are there so many street beggars and rough sleepers? 

I’m not sure what system exactly can replace the old politics but I feel we need to focus on: working for the common good; ensuring everyone gets enough cultural and family time; and recognising the essential dignity of all human beings across the world

The situation is so worrying that I’m considering making a modest contribution to getting us all out if this mess by founding a new political movement – the Humane, Intelligent, Libertarian Left (HILL). Anyone up for the ascent?

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Talentless telly luvvies, I'm on your case ...

Let me get this right. To be regarded as 'talent' on British TV, and get paid a fortune for it, you need to: wave your hands about and say 'amazing!' a lot; be thick (or pretend to like thick people); and have your teeth whitened. Err ... that's it!

Forgive me. I’ve been watching rather too much of the stuff in recent times, because I’ve been ill. Thinking about it, I’m surprised that staring at the telly for so long, with all its energy-sapping effects, didn’t finish me off.

An author I greatly admire, John Irving, rightly satirised the medium in his superb novel A Prayer for Owen Meany. One of its characters dies in front of the TV; she’s found in the morning with her cold thumb stuck on the remote-control button that’s relentlessly roaming the channels. She’s died in a hopeless search for something good to watch.

Irving comments: “At the time, in 1989, it seemed a fairly unusual way to die. Nowadays, I suspect, more and more people are dropping off that way. And we’re still looking for something good on television. We won’t find it. There is precious little on TV that can keep us awake or alive.”

In my former life as a TV critic (as Sam Brady on ITV’s ORACLE and Teletext services), I struggled to take seriously anything I watched. And I found myself despising all the luvvies and jackass presenters I met at launches.

The one question I longed to put to the TV actors I met was this: So, you dress up and pretend to be other people for a living; now where is the dignity in that? But, of course, that’s not how the industry works. I guess I wasn’t cut out to be a TV critic – but my attitude didn’t half give my reviews an edge, and the readers seemed to love them.
Back then, in the ‘90s, I regarded television as a huge and sinful waste of creative energy. I still do. I’m mystified by the success of things like Strictly – camp tosh which encourages physical narcissism. Likewise, X Factor, with all its gormless caterwauling karaoke monkeys. As for Ninja Warrior UK, oh pur-lease!

The undoubted ratings success of the Great British Bake-Off was something I couldn’t really fathom. The show was harmless enough, I guess, but hardly exciting or about anything important. It’s main problem for me was Sue Perkins and her incredible innate smugness. I find her, and lots of other successful presenters, to be vexatious to my spirit, frankly.

There are new versions of trash formats coming up, apparently. Gary Barlow looking for boys to be in a musical, for instance. Arrgghh! And The Voice is back – this time on ITV. My reaction to the new series is SWF (so f***ing what!) – I won’t watch, whichever channel ‘poaches’ it.

Then there are programmes where adults simply behave like kids; whooping and cheering and having tantrums, such as on Celebrity Big Brother. The only celebrity I recognised on the current show is Angie Best, and only because I once took her for lunch to interview her, and found her to be quite charmless.

Of course, television is greatly expanded now, with masses of digital choice; catch-up stuff and all. But very little of that appeals to me. Certainly, Game of Thrones is a turn-off.

Sci-fi and the supernatural are genres particularly poorly served by contemporary TV. Doctor Who has lost the plot. Seriously, it’s plots are now incoherent. As for The OA on Netflix, it’s bonkers.

So, is there anything I will watch? Yes, I quite like Sky News, though not when Kay Burley is presenting or reporting.

I love Family Guy. Its creator, the American Seth MacFarlane, is a genius. I’m a big fan of the Gimme, Gimme, Gimme repeats. And I’m very much looking forward to watching the new series of Not Going Out. Otherwise, I’m very much in favour of going out.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

C4's catastrophic attempt at comedy

It’s no surprise that TV commissioning bosses are  utterly out of touch, but really, how can anyone find Channel 4’s nasty sitcom Catastrophe even remotely funny?

Everything that could be wrong is wrong. It's poorly and coarsely written and badly acted by two very unappealing principal players, Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney.

The episode shown on Tuesday 3 November 2015 was sexually explicit – but not in a clever or funny way; rather in a cold and de-sensitised manner. It made me despair about humanity, quite apart from reinforcing my view that the TV ‘creative’ community in Britain exists in a giant, delusional grove of self-adulation.

This was the ep that had new mum Sharon (confusingly, the lead actors and the principal characters in this cackfest of a comedy share the same forenames) become disillusioned with the company of new mums in her local area – sneeringly so with one new mum in particular.

Having said that, almost everything the character of Sharon says or does involves sneering. It's really unattractive.

Elsewhere in the ep I watched – and I won’t be viewing any more –  Sharon’s fella Rob had some new woman at his office come on to him sexually. That was all a bit overdone and obvious.

But the most offensive and least funny bit was the scene when Rob got verbally nasty with a new mum who had given the cold shoulder to Sharon. That was misogynistic. Very nasty.

Listen up, telly bosses; the very best sitcoms say something redeeming about human beings, but for Catastrophe that’s not even on the agenda. This s a charmless and depressing offering, which is why I ought to be surprised – but actually I’m not – that Channel 4 thinks it is a quality offering. Ha! Now that is quite funny.

It's even been mentioned as one of the shows that could be at risk if this ailing channel is sold off, as the Government is currently considering. Apparently, another casualty could be the silly, guffawing excuse for a chat show fronted by the hugely over-rated Alan Carr.

So let's get on with it! Any bidders?

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

On TV, dignity just doesn't matter any more

Contemporary British TV is a very good barometer of the pisspoor philosophical and spiritual conditions which prevail across our territory.

X Factor (ITV) shows just how awful things have become. The expressions of banality and superficial emotion, the looks of slack-jawed gormlessness – and that’s just Nick Grimshaw. Don’t even get me started on the contestants!

Those caterwauling karaoke monkees, and the do-they-don’t-they-get-a-chair sweaty dilemmas of the judges … well surely the viewers aren’t so thick that they can’t see through such charades?

Hmmmm … well, maybe the viewers are utterly stoopid now. After all, that’s what 99 per cent of TV programmes do – they make those watching (at home or on computers or mobile devices) become thicker and thicker as time goes on.

Talking of time passing, it was hilarious to see the awful Duran Duran (so bad they named them twice) on Jools Holland’s Later (BBC2) recently. Looking like mutton dressed as mutton, Simon Le Bon pranced about the stage like dignity just doesn’t matter anymore. Perhaps it doesn’t.

The band members appeared on TV again several nights later, on some obscure Freeview channel or other, collecting an MTV award for their highly pretentious music videos of a couple of decades ago. Unbelievable!

Dignity in performance – requiescat in pace.


Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Cheery cynicism at the Edinburgh Fringe!

I’m still in recovery from my annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe – and the associated piss-up with pals from my days as a newspaper journalist in Scotland.

We had a ball as usual but it started badly for me. Before setting off to meet in a bar on Saturday lunchtime, I quickly grabbed what I assumed was an antihistamine tablet and swallowed it.

Turns out it was a sleeping tablet. Ah well, that bit of foil they're wrapped in looks similar, and I can’t be expected to read everything, not with my watery eyes.

So the start of our get together was a little fuzzy for me. At first, I assumed a great depression had descended on me. Well, I am a Catholic from Wigan and unlucky in love …

Don’t know what my mates thought during the early stages my near-catatonic state. Maybe they reckoned I was balefully reflecting on the futility of human existence. I do that frequently, as it goes, especially now that I work in Runcorn.  ‘Thank you! I’m here all week…’

No, lads, it was the sleeping tab that did for me, at least temporarily.

It is, however, impossible to stay miserable or sleepy for long in the midst of such excellent company – Alan and Colin, John, Scott … and Brian (who knows a thing or two about arts festivals).  

By the time we got to our pre-arranged karaoke bar I was ready to swing and sing. Also, I set a new world record time for drinking three large glasses of red wine (i.e.a full bottle) in five minutes. That helped.

And so I was able to belt out ‘A Town Called Malice’ with some gusto. Ditto ‘Shout to the Top’ and ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart'. That last one I dedicated to another Scottish friend, Chris, who couldn’t be around for that part of the proceedings, but did rock up throughout the long and boozy day.

We did see some live performers, in case you’re wondering. We saw Rodney Bewes’ one-man show, which was charming and sweet, like the man himself. After that show my friend Alan played the ardent fan in front of Rodney Bewes on a scale I've not witnessed since my own awestruck stances at various Roddy Frame gigs.

We were all impressed by Stewart Lee’s show. He displays a cynicism which is paradoxically refreshing and entirely appropriate in these ghastly times we are living through.

Lee’s timing is perfect. His confident but subtle bitching about the more mainstream of comedians - the sort that become whores to the TV industry - was very enjoyable. I was also impressed by his trademark repetitions and slow-build-ups.

Later we went to see the Irish comic Ed Byrne, and he was rubbish – “pish” to use a Scolttish word. I’d forgotten, incidentally, that he had - along with 50-odd other showbiz fluffheads - signed a 2010 open letter published in The Grauniad, stating opposition to Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to the UK. If I’d remembered that I would never have agreed to pay to watch the lightweight berk.    

Byrne did a dull observational comedy routine about parents who take their kids to Costa coffee bars – so lame.  And his overlong routine about his diarrhoea just made me feel uncomfortable. I felt Byrne was just going through the motions (no pun intended) with his show; and that’s not good enough for Edinburgh.

With such a level of complacency I’m not surprised that Byrne is one of those inoffensive, wet comedians, who are fawned over by those despicable people, the TV commissioning bosses.

Talking of which, mindful of the fact that Edinburgh’s International Television Festival (or International Whores’ Convention, if you prefer) was looming, we, the auld gang, took our leave of the fine old city.

But we’ll be back!  We are coming back here!  And we are going to install a fecking karaoke machine!

PS There was a comedian called Sam Brady at the Fringe. Apparently, he is quite well established. I didn’t get a chance to see him. Did he take inspiration for his act from my column on the old ITV ORACLE service?  Hmmm … After looking at his website, I somehow doubt it, as comedian Sam Brady's’ style is apparently ‘friendly, warm, enthusiastic’, and he likes to emphasise human kindness. Sounds interesting, though… good luck to him!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

TV: precious few gems among SO MUCH crap

The state of the la la land that is TV just get worse and worse. Apart from occasional gems, such as the timely repeat of ITV’s Cilla* in recent days, there is so much junk.

Why, for instance does the BBC persist in churning out Casualty and Holby City? They aren’t dramas. They are textbook examples of hand-wringing, liberal issues-led dross.

Coronation Street, meanwhile, is nowhere near as good as it was. It shouldn’t keep chugging away with crisis-heavy storylines, and preachy stuff such as Steve suffering depression, and now Cathy being addicted to hoarding rubbish, and Carla  becoming a problem gambler.

However, the actress who plays Cathy, Melanie Hill, is brilliant. I loved her role as Cilla Black’s mum in ITV’s hit biopic miniseries – especially her yodelling scene. I hope Melanie becomes a mainstay in Corrie as Cathy – but please add some beef to her role.

It was good to see John White as Cilla’s Dad, too. He was so good in Early Doors, one of the few occasions the BBC have ever managed an intelligent take on soulful northern English humour and pathos.

Northern humour still does surface in Corrie, of course, but rarely. The last time I laughed out loud was months ago when Scary Mary talked of her prowess at yoga. "My crescent moon is the talk of the community centre,” she boasted. Fffnnnarrr!

And now, after endless boring cookery shows, we have some awful, overblown bollox of a barbeque competition, ITV’s BBQ Champ. Two things I find irritating about it instantly …

(A) It’s a rip-off of the BBC’s Great British Bake-Off, and that was hardly worth copying.

And (B), two of the new show’s ‘stars’ are among the most irritating people ever to appear on telly. (I know! There’s a lot of competition; are you listening Phillip Schofield and Su Perkins?)

The two supremely annoying people in BBQ Champ are, of course, Myleene Klass and Adam Richardson. Oh, come on, it needs saying!

On a sombre note, there’s something else I need to say too… Requiescat In Pace, Cilla Black.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

So Newzoids … not a bad effort from ITV

The UK general election campaign is, in itself, a big unwitting satire show.

Plastic politicians endlessly crap on about “hard working families” and “our NHS”. BBC “journalists” (or Guardian readers, as I call them) report everything with a totally synthetic seriousness.

It’s all so pointless, actually. Everyone who is intelligent knows that our model of government – representative liberal democracy within nations– is no longer even the slightest bit fit for purpose.

How could it be – in a planet so damaged by things that are global in their awfulness - environmental abuse, rapacious capitalism, and terrorism?

Still, we have a general election campaign and I suppose we should vote. At least it means we can be free … if only for a few seconds.

And with British politicians doing such a great job of sending themselves up, there's no much point in having a telly show to satirise them.

But actually I’m rather pleased by what I’ve seen of ITV’s Newzoids  – i.e. last night’s offering. This new puppet show (which has been compared to Spitting Image) is steering away somewhat from party politics, maybe because the election is on and regulations require TV to be fair and even-handed.

Even so, I think it was a good idea of Newzoids to feature Ed Milliband in a spoof version of C4’s Embarrasing Bodies show. The Labour Leader just doesn’t feel comfortable in his own skin, apparently. No kidding!

And I was pleased to see ITV have a go at the BBC’s preposterous recent Dr Who output. It’s the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, see. It’s so good at getting clueless scriptwriters out of their many plot cul-de-sacs. Nice one.

I also thought the Princess Charles and Camilla snogging sequence was hilarious – if somewhat vomit-inducing.

And I sniggered to see: the puppet of Sky TV’s ghastly presenter Kay Burley had a literal (as opposed to a metaphorical) forked tongue; Jeremy Clarkson being made an 'Offender of the Realm'; and Alan Carr rightly portrayed as a silly showbiz fluffhead.   

So well done ITV!  You always were my favourite station. And you are still just about up there, with recent improvements in Coronation Street and the continued glorious vulgarity of Benidorm.

All ITV needs to do now to keep me happy is commission a British version of Family Guy and screen an episode every night.