Weaver's Week 2009-08-09

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You Have Been Watching

Zeppotron for Channel 4, 10.03 Tuesdays

Back at the beginning, we were mildly amused by TV Go Home, a website spoofing television listings. It had such bizarre concepts as Get Hen (viewers attempt to shoot an egg-laying bird when it appears during otherwise unrelated film footage), various series chronicling the life and work of Nathan Barley, and Daily Mail Island (a reality series where contestants are only allowed to read the populist warmongering crypto-fascist rag). TV Go Home isn't remembered for its spin-off series on new digital station E4, but as the first time many people became aware of Charlie Brooker.

Brooker had already been writing a weekly column on television for The Guardian newspaper, and has since added a second column on other matters. TV Go Home was effectively killed as reality television formats got more bizarre (Brooker's said that Touch the Truck was even more bonkers than anything he could come up with). He's made four series of telly review show Screenwipe for BBC4; and one run of Newswipe, a show reviewing television presentation of the news. There's been Dead Set, a screenplay about how the Big Brother house would react if zombies took over the world, and appearances on HIGNFY and 8 Out of 10 Cats.

We're not going to say from where they purloined the title.

For reasons we've never quite been able to fathom, Brooker is a tremendously popular figure amongst a certain section of the population. It could be the way he doesn't hesitate to call a spade a spade, it could be the way he has no taboos against using bad language. It could be the targets he attacks, or the general attitude of television (and television news, and life in general) being a bit worthless. It could be the seriously obscure in-jokes, though in the interests of pedantry "Gregg's the Bakers" might be replaced by "Ah, 'e's from Salford". Anyway, Brooker is seriously popular, and inspires such devotion as to make a one-man news aggregator The Charlian, which bills itself as "The world's leading liberal voice – as long as that voice is Charlie Brooker's".

Anyway, Brooker's spent the summer making a weekly television show about television. The format of You Have Been Watching is simple: three celebs and Brooker laughing at and picking over the bones of some truly banal television. The celebrity booking isn't tremendously inventive: very few of the panelists would be out of place on HIGNFY, 10 Cats, or any of the zillion other celebrity panel games. Targets for criticism have included BBC1's The One Show (renamed The Nod Show after the number of times people nod during it), and Torchwood (a drama. Starring John Barrowman, the first television presenter ever to be upstaged by a disembodied computer-generated cat's head). Also in for a ritual beating is ITV's The Jeremy Kyle Show, a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people whose lives are in turmoil, according to that well-known home for television critics the High Court.

The set is made up of telly screens, digital boxes, and other assorted broadcasting gubbins.

It's not the most demanding of targets: all of the shows included in the Television Club (a book club, for television) have been on BBC1 or ITV. No danger of criticism against Classic Goldie (BBC2) or a take on Property Snakes and Ladders (C4). Indeed, there's very little criticism of Channel 4, and even less of Big Brother. Could this owe something to the programme's slot, immediately after the Tuesday night recap of events on the Elstree set? Is it influenced by the producers, Endemol?

The show just passes under this column's purview by included a token quiz: towards the end of each segment, Brooker will ask some questions of his panel, and award points for correct responses. Really, this is just a way for him to include some cheesy game show music, and attract the attention of people who wouldn't normally have bothered with the show. Like, for instance, this column.

For our money, the highlight of You Have Been Watching is the international television segment. Scenes of Jamie Oliver competing on Iron Chef (the child of Ready Steady Cook and Gladiators). And scenes from Deadliest Warrior, a wargaming simulation that isn't quite Time Commanders but does pose questions of our age. You know the IRA? And you know the Taliban? Well, which of them is harder? There's only one way to find out.... and they really do have a computer-generated fight.

The panel are asked to explain the rules to Golden Balls. It makes Numberwang look simple.

We find ourselves wondering if Brooker's aim is simply to criticise the shows, or if he's ever going to suggest ways they might do better? You Have Been Watching is remorselessly negative viewing. Yes, we know that Jeremy Kyle's show saps the human condition and offends against all the standards that liberal Britain holds dear. Yes, we know that Casualty is melodrama with added medical jargon. There's no insight into the shows, no effort to explore what makes them what they are, no attempt to explore how these shows reflect the society and culture of their time.

Earlier in the year, Brooker's Newswipe included a piece by Adam Curtis, in which he suggested that television no longer bothered to explain difficult political phenomena. The news had simply become a procession of distressing images and bad people doing bad things to innocent victims. All the viewer could do was say, "Oh dear". We reckon that the other anticipated response is for the viewer to get angry at the apparent perpetrators of these abuses, and then because the real culprits are too difficult to remove, direct that anger against more obvious scapegoats. It's a button regularly pushed by certain elements in the populist press. We wonder if Brooker's doing something similar, asking his audience to get angry against the people who commission and air such rubbish television while himself benefitting from its existence.

Brooker ends each show by inviting his audience to go away.

As Seen On TV

BBC for BBC1, 8pm Thursdays

The genesis of this programme is LWT's oft-forgotten programme We Love TV, via its more successful descendent Telly Addicts. Indeed, so closely does As Seen on TV hew to Little Noely's show that there's a credit in the credits for his Unique Broadcasting company.

Two teams of three celebrities have gathered. These are people slightly more at home on primetime BBC1 – there's usually someone from one of the BBC's shows, a comedian, and sometimes a television legend such as Television Legend John Craven. They're captained by Jason Manford and Fern Britton, and the sides are referred to throughout as "Team Jason" and "Team Fern". Were the producers trying to save on paint and couldn't afford a single possessive apostrophe?

Steve Jones is the host, and – apparently – he is attempting to be funny. We're not getting it. The rounds are also very predictable: "Thingie Off the Telly" asks the panel to identify someone who was once famous for a televised role, there's a segment in which a human beat-box performs classic television tunes, and another where the host flashes bits of costume like in A Question of Sport's mystery guest round. There's a What Happened Next bit, huge amounts of cross-promotion for other BBC shows, and the almost inevitable Name That Year round. Do the panel remember that long-lost far-away year of 2008, a whole eight months ago?

The set is a bunch of coloured lines with laser-display boards behind.

Indeed, the whole programme feels like something cobbled together from bits of other formats. We were half expecting the teams to don blindfolds for "Thingie Off the Telly", so convinced were we that we were watching a re-tread of They Think it's All Over. Perhaps the direct parent is Jonathan Ross's best-forgotten show It's Only TV... But I Like It – insubstantial mutterings about the trivia of television, decided on an all-or-nothing buzzer round in the final 90 seconds.

The net result is a vapid and insubstantial show, one that would happily ask its contestants to remember the name of the winner of The X Factor in 2004 and wonder whatever happened to him, he was really good. It's not like a Danny Baker programme, where we'd be expected to mine the deep recesses of our nostalgic brains – As Seen on TV barely scratches the surface. For instance, it may surprise viewers to learn that Dr Who actually began before 2005. On the two episodes we've watched, even Television Legend John Craven, the Lovely Danny Wallace, and top bingo manager Sally Lindsay couldn't stop us from concluding we weren't going to get those half-hours back. Oh dear.

Oh it's, erm, you know. They're standing on Red Button from the top-right corner!

The Round Britain Quiz style question was well on-topic. "What links the power behind a water feature to impress Nicholas in Devonshire in Derbyshire, Peto's country retreat, the sheep amongst the swale, and Betjeman's final resting place; and why would mon clef know these places?" The answer's coming later.

University Challenge

Heat 5: Nottingham v Girton Cambridge

Just for once, we'll begin with Artist of the Week: it's Claude Monet, and it gets Nottingham off to the best possible start. They were founded in 1877 by Mr. Gladstone, and expanded after an endowment by the founder of a well-known chemist company. Girton jump in on the next starter, about the wars of 1905. This college was originally for women only, the country's first in 1869, and moved a couple of miles out of town – Thumper claims it's to discourage amorous gentlemen and make them exhausted before arriving.

Someone might indicate that the audience doesn't need to clap after every correct answer, otherwise we'll never get anywhere. Nottingham deserve some applause after identifying the ramblings of Sr. Berlusconi, the taxdodger turned prime minister. The first visual round is Name That Rugbyman, specifically British and Irish Lions captains, and it allows Nottingham to eke out a 45-30 lead.

After the last couple of weeks, anything much short of perfection on the bonuses will look a bit bad. The second stanza, in particular, is not a particularly good one, with questions dropped all over the place – a round on former names for diseases has Girton twice zigging when they should have zagged. Nottingham pick up the audio round – Name That Bird from the top ten charts, warble-pickers, and it gives Nottingham an 80-75 lead.

Nottingham: Sam Dodgin, Ian Burt, Philip Whitehead, Tom Jackson.

Every member of the Nottingham side gets a starter – the last is Geekery of the Weekery, on Pastafarianism – then there's a set of bonuses on sub-cellular structures. It's almost as if Thumper doesn't understand what he's reading out. The Hidden Student Indicator of the Week arises when no-one even buzzes in when given a textbook definition of false consciousness, a term in Marxism. Clearly none of them studies the founder of communism. Maybe we should tell the reactionaries on Daily Mail Island that they can stop their struggle, the BBC is no longer the home of reds on screen. The students then get a question on forms of ear-piercing, and the revolutionaries of Daily Mail Island pick up their flaming For Sale signs and shelter behind chintz sofas (complete with tax-deflecting antimacassars) while lobbing the columns of Melanie Phillips at the EU, which is full of bogus asylum seekers – as everyone on Daily Mail Island knows so they don't have to bother with such liberal nonsense as facts or evidence, because that's political correctness gone maaaaaad.

Erm, sorry about that, we'll really have to stop writing like a cross between Charlie Brooker and Marcus Brigstocke. Where were we? Carol Ann Duffy! Yes. Poets Laureate form the second visual round, ensure that everyone's got a starter, and Nottingham's lead is up to 140-100.

Girton Cambridge: Daniel Spencer, Allanah Brown-Kerr, Christopher Cameron, Becca Cawley.

It looks like we know the winner, but three starters and a couple of bonuses draw the sides level, then give Girton the lead. Nottingham buzz in a little early on a famous French prisoner – if it's not the Pimpernel, it's M. Masque de Fer. That puts Girton ahead by 25, and time is fast running down. Two starters are dropped, then Girton get another starter. Even though their bonus conversion rate has been poor, it runs the clock down and puts the game beyond Nottingham. At the gong, Girton has won, 180-145.

Thumper says that he expected Nottingham to do a little better than that, and Girton were a bit diffident. Sam Dodgin was best on the buzzers for Nottingham, he had three starters and no missignals. The side made 14/26 bonuses with three incorrect interruptions. For Girton, Allanah Brown-Kerr and Christopher Cameron had four starters; the side made 12/36 bonuses.

Next match: Edinburgh v Central Lancashire

Repechage standings:

  • UCL 175
  • Christ's Cambridge 170
  • Clare Camb 165
  • Nottingham 145

Only Connect

Series 2, Episode 4: Charity Puzzlers v Chessmen

Sherlock Holmes, we're told, was not available to join us on this recording. The people who were include the Chessmen, who are three-quarters of the various Manchester University Challenge sides. The Charity Puzzlers set dingbat puzzles, and sell them far and wide.

Charity start us off, and pick up a point on peals of bells. Chessmen pick up two on a question about tied sporting events; being a Ryder Cup nerd, one of the people we watch this show with claimed the full five. Charity were just out of time on the audio round, allowing Chessmen to pick up a bonus: they were the first records on television and radio stations. Their next question is appropriately self-referential: they're all Greek letters. Charity pick up a point on milliners, including Miss Lovelace from Chigley. Chessmen have the picture round, people named after fish; they don't recognise Jeremy Halibut. The Chessmen have a lead, 6-2.

What's on fourth? Charity start with the second names of US presidents, and the conversation turns to Victoria's suggestion that the Chuckle Brothers should be prime minister. People of Northern Ireland, how did the Gerry Adams / Ian Paisley first ministry catch you? Two to the Chessmen on musical accidentals, and a bonus on the pH values of various liquids. Never knew tomato juice was so acidic. It's an education, this show. The Chessmen get two on endangered species, and a bonus on the power structure of "1984"; one of the Charity Puzzlers muttered it after one clue. Chessmen take Archbishops of Canterbury, and the lead is an impressive 15-5.

Connecting walls, and the Chessmen get bogged down trying to catch the pigeon. They then get beards in double-quick time, but can't split their bicycles from their cars. That's because the cars are a group of ships! The maximum 10 points there.

Charity have a lot of Muppets in their grid, but start by trying to find sorts of haircut. Then they head off down the area of sporting trophies. Finally, the Muppets come out, and the haircuts finally arrive. They've just enough time to randomly jab for the sporting cups, but miss that by including "Davis" – the cups are in rugby, and Davis is amongst a group of jazz trumpeters. Six points put the Chessmen ahead 25-11.

We're clearly playing for the honour in Mssng Vls. Hors d'oeuvres should, of course, be placed on the Saturday Night Armistice hors d'oeuvres tree, and that's 4-0 to the Chessmen. Paintings sold at record prices is a 1-1 draw, and Scottish musicians 2-1 to the Chessmen. Imperial measurements goes 3-1 to the Chessmen, and the one question in Oscar-winning animated films goes to the Chessmen. They've won by a rugby score, 36-14. Oh, that's their next opponents.

Next match: Mathematicians v Cambridge Quiz Society

Image:Only Connect round 3.jpg Ionizing radiation, People in Brave New World, Stars in a constellation. And this.

This Week And Next


Answer to the question, which is on-topic both because it's about locations round Britain and because it's ending up with a game show. Devonshire in Derbyshire should lead in the direction of Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire, where the Duke of Devonshire lives. One of his predecessors built the Emperor Fountain to impress Czar Nicholas of Russia when he paid a visit: as Griff Rhys Jones discovered on Rivers last week, the Czar didn't bother to turn up. Emperor Fountain is powered by pressure from Emperor Lake in the hills above Chatsworth. Peto's country retreat is Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk, rebuilt with gardens and a maze constructed on the instructions of the nineteenth-century MP Samuel Morton Peto. The Isle of Sheppey takes its name as a contraction of "Sheepey", and it's in Swale district in Kent. Poet Laureate John Betjeman is buried in St Enodoc's church near Port Isaac in Cornwall. The places are known to "mon clef" – my key – Mikey – because they were all starting positions on the first and only series of Interceptor.

Just when we thought the 0898-gate scandals were history, up pops another one. West London broadcaster SKY Television has admitted messing up three premium-rate telephone votes and competitions. In all cases, contributions from viewers in the Republic of Ireland were completely ignored.

We didn't hear the political commentator Quentin Letts speaking his mind about Alan Sugar on the radio; apparently, Mr. Letts intimated that Mr. Sugar might not have the most towering intellect in the country, or something along those lines. We wouldn't tip his team to win the current series of Only Connect. Anyway, Mr. Sugar has taken great exception to such personal criticism, and says that he'll sue Mr. Letts unless the latter promises not to criticise him again and pays Mr. Sugar's solicitor's bills. This column stands by its comments from 5 April.

We have a tie in the ratings to 26 July! Both Guesstimation and Total Wipeout were seen by 3.96 million viewers. We won't ask Mr. Knowles and Mr. Hammond to duke this out, we'll give them both the gold medal, and bronze to Mr. Tarrant, his Millionaire was seen by 3.55m. Dragons' Den returned with 3.35m viewers – plus 1.95m for the part-networked repeat on Sunday, Mock the Week had 2.8m and 1.95m for its Sunday repeat. UC had 2.7m and no narrative repeat. On digital, Come Dine With Me 845,000, Britain's Got Talent Us 510,000, and QI 460,000. A strong challenge from Mock the Week on Dave, 450,000 tuning in, and fans of The OC will be pleased to hear it was seen by 230,000 on Monday night, and goodness knows how many on its six narrative repeats. Da Dick and Dom Dairies recorded 190,000.

It's the heart of summer, and ITV is burning off two-year-old editions of For the Rest of Your Life (12.30 weekdays). BBC1 has a The Weakest Link boxing special (6.20 Saturday). The really notable new shows this week are in languages other than English: the second series of 0 Ond 1 (S4C, 8.25 Friday), and La Carte aux Tresors drops in on Charente-Maritime (TV5, 1pm Wednesday).

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