Identity, Jonathan Ross - Remotely Interested: The Summer Drought.

Mark Grainger 02/08/2010

Ah the summer. A time for frolicking in the fields and golden beaches, a time for barbecues dripping with so much blood you'd think the burger's had been sacrificed instead of store bought and above all a time to enjoy the fresh air and weird claustrophobic unease that comes from spending unusual amounts of time outside. A chance to say, “Welcome back Mr. Sun, it's been a while." Or at least it would be if I didn't live in the North East, the drizzle capital of England. Do you have any idea what's it's like to hunch your shoulders up impotently as a feeble barrier against the rain, shouldering your way through unforgiving crowds as torrents fall from the collapsing sky and lash the car park from Get Carter? Actually, neither do I, I tend not to venture to Newcastle when it's pissing down.

The point I'm labouring towards though is that since it usually rains throughout roughly seventy percent of my 'summer' days, I usually find some solace in my old friend the telly. Sure I know it abuses me and my eyes and doesn't really love me but every so often it surprises me with a treat. This year though? Forget it.

For weeks now the only programming blighting my plasma faced friend has been the total saturation coverage of the World Cup, and now the golf, (although at least it doesn't sound like there's a swarm of amorous bees invading the fairway) covering three of the major channels whilst the assorted cretins over in the asylum that is C4's Big Brother house continue to provide a chronic pain in the cheeks simply through their annoying habit of breathing whilst striving to confirm that they're thicker than the Hulk's trouser fruit.

Elsewhere though there's been precious little to report. ITV has tried once again to prove that it can make a serious, gritty drama that isn't called Cracker. Identity, the latest attempt at emulating the success of Jimmy McGovern's seminal 90's masterpiece, predictably takes place in a police station. So far, so ITV, the home of Prime Suspect, Law and Order: UK, Trial and Retribution, Taggart, The Bill, The Commander and basically anything else Lynda La Plante has thrown at their drama commissioner. In a bid for originality, Identity eschews the usual convoluted murder and drugs plots in favour of, well, a convoluted identity theft (see what they did there?) and the consequences plot. Rather unoriginally though they've cast Keeley Hawes as a tough detective (wonder where that idea sprung from?), but it's okay because The Wire's Mayor Carcetti (Aiden Gillian) has turned up with a flock of seagulls hairdo to boost the show's credibility amongst TV buffs.

Of course July has also meant the long prophesised departure of one Jonathan Ross from the BBC. We all knew this day was coming as soon as Wossy and his lanky-faced bell-end of a mate Russell Brand left some ill-advised voicemail's on Manuel's phone but interestingly there doesn't seem to have been a mass outcry of a career cut short, and there's a very good reason for that. Wossy didn't just go stale, he committed the ultimate critic's crime; he made friends with his guests. In the early days Ross would mercilessly take the piss out of his guests for a variety of reasons, often without them knowing, transforming often puerile lines of questioning into a masterful lesson in overpowering your guests with so much boyish charm that they just smile bemusedly like granny when visitors come to see her in the home.

All that changed somewhere around the midpoint of the show's life, and more obviously when Ricky Gervais scraped his enormous head through Ross's stage door for the first time. Suddenly Ross's clawing and need for celebrity mates made Michael Parkinson's gentle interview technique look like the hostage interrogation from Reservoir Dogs. Eventually Ross swapped difficult, interesting questions for an endless stream of piss-weak compliments and a sickening amount of showbiz chumminess whilst the audience were left to bask in the glow. This became even more frustrating when guests were plugging a film on Friday Night With..., as what Ross said to their face was often vastly different to his review of the release on Film 2000. Nothing shatters credibility like double standards, and whilst Ross tried to laugh off this ethical slip many times, his standing amongst the little people, those who merely watched his show, surely fell. Ross has remained a competent and funny host, as evidenced by his continued presence at the British Comedy Awards, but news that he's signed a deal with ITV to start a new chat show worries me immensely.

For a start, ITV? Really? Surely if he felt gagged at the BBC then Ross would have done better to bolt to C4, whose 'couldn't give a toss' attitude towards offending people and need for bigger name draws would surely have allowed the freedom Ross clearly needs for his best work. Money appears to be more important than integrity to the nation's top entertainer. My second problem though is that Ross has clearly been coasting for some time now and in all honesty I can't think that giving him a new chat show so close to his less than gracious exit from the Beeb will prove to be anything but an absolute foot-shooter for all involved. Wossy needs a break from matey fawning to pursue some other projects, pure and simple, 'cos if Gervais, Jimmy Carr or any tennis player pop up on his first ITV show then there's a very real chance I'll hit the standby button and actually peel myself off the sofa in protest. As it is, Ross is like the summer rain in Newcastle, always there, always in your face and getting more and more irritating with every outburst until you're left saturated, low on patience and in desperate need of some time away.