Charlie Brooker, David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne, Kerry Katona, Matt Leblanc - R.I: Dancing On Ice, Episodes, 10 O'Clock Live
Mark Grainger 28/01/2011
After the traditional Christmas face-stuffing spectacular, the majority of people like nothing better than to fall off their seat, crawl over to the nearest easy chair and practice how many fly buttons they can pop without using their hands. For the good of your cholesterol encrusted blood-pipes then, this annual surrender to fat-bastardry is usually followed by a period of rest, relaxation and much gentler fare. After munching your way through the entire contents of Henry VIII's shopping basket though a break from the constant stream of rich food usually comes as welcome chance for recovery.
You'd be right to wonder where I'm going with this so I'll stop writing myself into a cul-de-sac: put simply, the metaphor which I've been torturing in the Guantanamo bay of the last paragraph is that television scheduling in January is unfailingly, unflinchingly cack-handed. That's a generally accepted inevitability, but nobody minds after a quality packed Christmas period, the jewel in the broadcaster's crown. If the Christmas schedule is meant to be akin a sumptuous banquet of succulent turkey and plentiful vegetables though, then last year's was more like a plate of festering sprout sandwiches: a constant barrage of last year's repeats with only really Doctor Who, Top Gear and the lukewarm, partially reanimated corpse of Upstairs Downstairs alleviating the pervasive gloom of the soaps. The over-all quality of the major networks' offerings made it all the harder to accept the return of January's major Saturday night clap-along-athon, Dancing On ice.
Always the poor relation to the Beeb's Strictly Come Dancing, DOI not only rips off a lot of the premise and methods from its forebear but also manages not to learn from the sins of the father. The atmosphere is purely pantomime, with resident "Mr. Nasty" (read: arrogant cock) and This Morning style guru, Jason Gardener dispensing ever more elaborately conceited and spiteful sound bites, over maniacally booing and hissing crowd, all the while dressing like he's just fell over in a room full of scissors.
The real problem which DOI, and to a lesser extent ITV's other celeb 'reality' offering, I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, really suffers from is that as far as its casting and booking department is concerned they're getting so incredibly lazy their laurels probably have bedsores. Ex-soap stars are a depressing staple of the genre, as is 'the old one' and 'the one who dances like man/ woman perpetually falling from a great height' (arms wind-milling and legs heading in different directions, facial expression of horror like a child whose just seen a birth.), but the rest of them? If you listened very carefully during the introductions just audible over the deafening squeals, screams and bloody clapping of the crowd, you could hear the scratching noise of a barrel being scraped.
For a start there's 'presenter' and 'model' Chloe Madeley (last seen modelling in a photo shoot for Famous Parents magazine presumably), coke-shovelling, Iceland's own brand Amy Winehouse and fame-barnacle Kerry Katona and a frankly terrifying woman by the name of Elen Rivas, whose claim to fame is that she carried the spawn of Frank Lampard (although judging by her wide-eyed, cold, dead stare, she may have hypnotised him into the deed.). Its a fairly poor bunch, and one
that surely makes ITV glad they never included the word “Celebrity” in the show's title, and to be honest I'd rather stare at the box of fish fingers in my freezer for three hours than watch DOI in the vague hope that Vanilla Ice (yes he's there too) falls over. Thankfully though two genuinely promising new shows have also had their début this month.
Episodes, a transatlantic effort between the BBC and Showtime in the USA telling of a British couple (Green Wing's Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan) taking their award winning and distinctly British comedy over to LA, only for it to be spoilt by network executives parachuting Matt LeBlanc into the role of the erudite and wordy lead. What could easily be a clichéd take on the Hollywood machine works for three reasons; the first is that there's only really one duplicitous American character, the network man, Merc. His staff are all eager to please but they recognise his shortcomings too, and are often just as despairing as the Brits. Secondly, instead of a 'them and us' scenario, Greig and Mangan's relationship is tested as he is willing to make compromises for the show to work in the US whereas she is resolutely defiant and protective of the original concept.
Thirdly though, Matt LeBlanc is fantastic as a shadowy reflection of himself, putting a wedge between the writers. There's a twinkle in LeBlanc's eye and an intelligence to his performance that was seriously lacking in the latter years of his time as Joey Tribbiani. It's all very subtle and and uncomfortable, as well as being uncharacteristically unsentimental when you consider David Crane, co-creator of Friends, is behind it. The only question now is whether it will follow the 'beginning, middle and end' storytelling route of British TV or the 'flog it 'til its dead' US approach.
10 O'Clock Live is the latest in a run of C4 shows trying to do topical satire. Fronted by the alternative election night coverage team of Jimmy Carr, Charlie Brooker, David Mitchell and Lauren Laverne it thankfully its not just a stand-up show (although Jimmy Carr does have a stand-up section), instead taking in interviews of political figures from Mitchell and analysis of themes and events from Brooker (although he seems to be focusing on targets which he's already covered more successfully on his BBC wipe series). What Lauren Laverne does for the show however, remains a mystery. It's had a fairly jittery start, trying to squeeze too much into its hour long time slot, forcing interesting discussions with guests to be cut criminally short in favour of other sections which patently didn't work. It's very early doors though and 10 O'Clock live does show immense promise to be a more than merely entertaining look at the week's major events so long as it settles into a more comfortable groove and get over the nerves of going out live. And at least Charlie Brooker hasn't pissed himself again like he admitted to during the election coverage, its hard to idolize a guy's work when there's a wet patch forming.