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Conoisseur of Crap – what’s good about bad television?

Monday, July 23, 2001

Why do I like watching people falling over on television? Probably for the same reason I like to see clips of 1970s soup commercials featuring minor celebrities when they were ten years old.

Bad TV can be really good, and I stand by my commitment to ‘You’ve Been Framed’ and ‘Before They Were Famous’ despite all criticism about the intellectual bankruptcy and all-round crapness.

First, with ‘You’ve Been Framed’ – what’s not to like? A stupid adult gets on a rope swing across a river, and even though you know exactly what’s going to happen next, it’s still great to behold when the branch snaps and the bloke gets dumped into the mud.

Or two goats arrange a cunning trap where one crouches down behind a kid and the second gives her a nudge from the front, sending the hapless four year-old falling backwards over the goat obstacle. Priceless.

Slapstick comedy is considered to be very low-brow (unless it’s Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd, when you’re allowed to say it’s genius), but I’d argue that while it might not be very subtle, these pratfalls are just flat-out funny.

Normally people stay upright, stay in their rowing boats, ride their bikes OK and open patio doors before they walk through them. But on the other hand, the universe tends towards chaos, so if you have enough people standing beside a swimming pool (especially with a video camera to hand), then sooner or later someone will fall in.

And when they do, it’s funny. So long as nobody gets hurt then this stuff is a gentle reminder of our hubris in thinking that we’re in control around here. Being dumped in the mud is a forceful suggestion that you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously.

A similar reminder is watching Jeremy Irons dancing around like a fool with Brian Cant on ‘Playaway’.’Before They Were Famous’ is the celebrity version of your mum showing your baby photos to your new girlfriend. You have to sit there squirming while she sees your toddler self naked on the sheepskin rug (or maybe I’m sharing too much here).

One baby looks pretty much like another, and it doesn’t really tell you anything about the person now, but it’s entertaining for her to see you in a former life, and reflect on how far you’ve come.

And it’s exactly the same when we see Martin Clunes in some 1980s horrorshow outfit trying to act tough in ‘Doctor Who’, or Grant Mitchell from ‘Eastenders’ singing ‘They’re tasty, tasty, very very tasty – they’re very tasty,’ in a Kellogs ad.

Seeing these clips (and ones of a shiny young Tony Blair trying to smile when he’s just lost his deposit in his first run for parliament) reminds us not to lionize these folks, and maybe tells us something about the fleeting nature of fame. And it makes you laugh.

So don’t feel guilty if you find yourself watching ‘You’ve Been Framed’. Even when someone ends up with a portaloo tipped over them, it’s all good clean fun – you’re just becoming a connoisseur of crap.

Articles Square Eyes Television UK

Who should win Big Brother 2?

Wednesday, July 11, 2001

OK, we’re down to six people in ‘Big Brother’, and there can be no doubt who the winner should be; so here’s the order in which I would off them,

In an ideal world, Paul would be the first on my list, but he’s dodged nomination this because his fellow inmates have given up trying to get the public to vote his sorry Teflon-coated ass out of the house. His continued survival is nothing short of astonishing. I’ve heard suggestions of rigged telephone voting and that wouldn’t surprise me since it’s the only waythis self-important, arrogant ignorant homunculus could have beaten Bubble a couple of weeks ago.

Paul’s boast to Amma that he ran the household shows the depths of his foolishness, and his conspiracy theory involving Josh being straight is plain bizarre. Becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the house can’t be much fun, but he’s brought it on himself. Run him out of town on a rail the first chance you get, but meanwhile send Josh packing.

Josh is funnier and more empathetic than Paul, but he hasn’t contributed a great deal and would be no loss to the group (although he does use a skipping rope in a much more polished fashion than Elizabeth, who skips like she’s eight). He appears to be reasonably controlled and secure, but his sudden gatecrashing of Brian’s head shaving pointed to a need to grab some attention.

On which point, we come to Helen. At first I hated her whining childishness, but I’ve come to be more entertained by her antics, and the nocturnal hand-holding with Paul was great drama. She’s got a heart of gold, but she’s as stupid as a box of rocks – Monday night’s diary room discourse on whether or not time was passing quickly in the house was bewildering in the extreme.  She’s got some sparkle, but not enough to deserve to win, so she’s next after Paul.

That leaves a final three of Brian, Elizabeth and Dean. The next to pack their Samsonite is Brian.  Yes I know he’s Irish and he’s funny and he’s been a real help to some people in the house, but he’s also bitchy and juvenile and shallow. Sometimes he’s all of these things at once, blowing up when Bubble asked him to remove the letters from above his bed.

His best has been pretty good, though – his fake rows with Bubble were much better than his real one, and his jaw-dropping exchange with Helen and Paul this week was priceless.
Brian to Helen: “I think you and Paul would be good together.”
Helen (taking the bait, of course): “Why?”.
Brian: “Because you’re a dirty bitch and I’d say Paul would like that.”

But with Brian, it’s all about Brian.

Whereas for Elizabeth, it’s hardly ever about herself. The Mother Teresa of the household, she’s always looking after the practical stuff, offering sage advice to the kids and not letting this cat herding get to her.

When she had her birthday party I was amazed to discover that she’s only 27.  She and Dean have ended up in the position of parents in this wildly dysfunctional family, and Elizabeth’s outburst to Dean last week was a frustrated mother moaning to her husband over a gin and tonic when the kids have finally gone to bed.

But there can be only one winner, so Elizabeth goes next leaving our hero, Dean. He’s clever, funny, calm and is the undisputed leader of the house, because he doesn’t want to be. He’s kept his head, got on with everyone and managed to preserve some integrity and sense of proportion under the most bizarre circumstances.

When he slagged Brian for not knowing when the first moon landing was, he raised the level of debate in the show at a stroke: “I know when it was not because I was around then, but because it was a massively important event.” For this and other signs of having a few brain cells and the will to use them wisely he wins my vote (and he can also build a record-breaking tower of sugar cubes).

So that’s it then: Dean should be the winner of ‘Big Brother’ (not that I’ve been watching it all that much, you understand).

Posted by David in • Square EyesUKTelevision

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It’s not easy being green – Shrek reviewed

Sunday, July 01, 2001

‘Shrek’, it’s funny, it’s cute, it’s clever; a modern style fairytale with enough gags to please both the kids and the grown-ups in the audience, it offers an alternative view of dragons, princesses and ogres, topped off with amazing animation. I’m still marvelling over the texture of Eddie Murphy’s fur, and it’s not often you get to write that line.

The film’s very careful to underline the message that you should take people as you find them, and not get caught up in assumptions about perfection. So the hero is ugly, the dragon just wants some love, and the beautiful princess burps and kicks butt.

The evil Lord Farquand is shown to want everything picture pefect, so he banishes the fairy tale freaks in favour of a perfectly manicured, thoroughly homogenized kingdom. There are many digs at Disney thoughout the film, and it’s not hard to read his shiny city as a sanitized Disneyland.

And of course he doesn’t really love the princess, he just wants to marry her because that’s what ne needs to be the perfect king. However, she’s not quite what she seems – he might not be so delighted if he heard her singing voice, and certainly if he saw her after dark.

The ending of the film – which most of the grown-ups will see coming – underlines the notion that it’s not about looks, it’s what’s inside that counts (although they still get the lovely Cameron Diaz to do the voice of the princess), and even though it’s billed as an anti-fairy story, we still get a happy ending.

Along the way there are some great one-liners, including an unimpressed knight offering a paltry bounty for the old man who turns in Pinocchio – ‘five shillings for the possessed toy’, and a pretty good soundtrack – who would have though Leonard Cohen would turn up in a summer animated comedy?

But, and here I’m probably reading too much into a kids’ film, it’s actually not as right-on as it thinks it is. Eddie Murphy still gets to play the familiar black sidekick role, even if the hero’s green and has a dodgy Scottish accent. 

And no matter how much Shrek loves the princess, he doesn’t get to live with her as a beauty, she has to become ugly(ish) before he’s allowed to marry her. The lesson’s supposed to be ‘love conquers all’, but it comes out like ‘ugly people should only breed with other ugly people.’

And despite all the stuff about not making assumptions about people before you really know them, the main reason for disliking Farquand appears to be that he’s short. There are a lot of cheap shots about this, and John Lithgow is largely wasted, except in the great gingerbread man torture scene (which should have been much longer – I was imagining a whole ‘Reservoir Dogs’ scenario in my slightly sick mind).

But despite those quibbles, it’s good summer fare and if you feel a bit sheepish going into a kids’ film without a kid, see if you can borrow one for the afternoon.

Posted by David in • Square EyesUSAFilm