Wednesday, 8 July 2009

You have been watching... but why?

Industry secret: keeping audiences in empty studios will leave them desperate for laughs.

Charlie Brooker has a new series on a terrestrial television channel! Put away your idols and effegies because whatever god you've been praying to it sure as hell worked - and if you don't belong to a belief system that has a hell, rest assured, there's still a Charlie Brooker.

Screen Burn, Screen Wipe News Wipe and now You Have Been Watching. Who cares that is defies any logical progression of naming for Brooker soap-boxed as long as it has footage of reasonably acceptable and popular television shows played along to voice-over that explains precisely why it's the first horseman of the apocalypse? And it does. Unsuprisingly, that's the best bit. Charlie's imaginative profanities and undesirable analogies cut through even the most unthreatening middle-of-the-road daytime shows with the kind of tenacious satire usually reserved for child-molesterors, politicians and the messy middle-ground. Brooker's back on TV, and all is either right with the world or next on his agenda.

So why then is You Have Been Watching such a disappointment?

Brooker when he was TV's least favourite child. The one you leave alone in the house when you go on holiday.

Well firstly because it's not just Charlie on a sofa. It's him behind a desk while three nobodies witter away the time that could be filled with more Brooker. It's like he's been fed into the Channel 4 format machine which says "Funny-presenter? *Ding* Panel show! Must call Jamelia." One minute there's a VT with the familiar Brooker wit (Brooker also likes to throw around terminology like 'VT' in complete disregard for the time-honoured 'me = presenter, you = idiot' dialect. It means videotape if you wondered. Which is wonderfully anachronistic in a show purporting to engage with new media like Twitter) the next moment the laughs have slowed right down while the nobodies play memory games similar to a child's English Comprenhension test.

Sarcastic persona or genuine disdain?

And while the latter is annoying ("Who the fuck is Rufus Hound?" tweets a nation) it's the former that is the genuine betrayal, because in there lied the promise of a Watch With Brooker 'TV club' where you can tweet along in the hope of pleasing his causticness (Yes, I was one of them) and so to subject an audience to watch The One Show is cruel enough but then to read out exactly one tweet from a week's worth of material is brutal. It seemed like a token gesture to excuse what seems to be an otherwise cynical publicity attempt. Sure there is still joy in the experiment on Twitter, and Brooker does well to reguarly update his every non-sequitor thought but Twitter is not a forum and so with all these @YHBWs knocking about the only people who get to read the finished conversation is the show makers, and by the looks of that one lonely read-out they're not sharing it

Perhaps this is more of a problem with the concept than the product. Ultimately the show is funny and fresh, and while it sometimes feels like a mixure of Mock The Week and that obscure Justin Lee Collins chestnut Flipside TV - C-lists stayed up to describe what was on the other channels - it still remains a full head and shoulder of controversy ahead of both (Cheering for the I.R.A - a whole series of Flipside TV still wouldn't have channel-hopped onto something as impossibly odd as Deadliest Warrior). It's just that what was promised isn't what you got. What sounded like Charlie Brooker hosts Points of View ended up being a slightly above par panel show.

It takes a lot of work to look this lumpy.

The fact remains that it is funny. It's the only panel show on my V+ and I'll still be watching on Tuesday. The problem is that what I won't be watching is this week's TV Club,
Torchwood: Children of Earth. With the best will in the world frankly the incredibly low odds of making it on the show or even getting a tweet from Brooker is nowhere near worth the cost of watching that shite.

In short,
You Have Been Watching begins to feel a little presumptious as well as sounding like the voice of the authority that Brooker is so vitriolic about. We can tweet to our heart's content, but they'll still be in charge in content, we're just here to watch it.

With friends like these... who do you shoot first?

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