Archives for posts with tag: news

It seems weird to be discussing a show as lightweight as 8 Out of 10 Cats, but I have good reasons to. The first is, to put it bluntly, there is little else on TV at the moment that I haven’t analysed to death, although if someone wants to know my thoughts on New Girl for the umpteenth time I am happy to divulge. The other is that it is a prime example of a successful satirical panel show, and is worthy of dissection as a representation of the genre.

I always see Cats as the teenage grandchild of Have I Got News For You that is enjoying its first few trips to the pub with its mates. The jokes are not as deep and there is no Ian Hislop to offer some thought provoking monologue but it shares some basic genetic material. There are the digs at those in power and popular culture, the latter of which hit home more. It is always more convincing when you hear someone under 40 bemoan modern life if you are in that age bracket. Paul Merton dissing, say, Lady Gaga always comes across as the older generation patronising the younger. Rob Beckett doing it feels more genuine.

The change of captains from Sean Lock and Jon Richardson to Beckett and Aisling Bea is welcome. Not that Lock and Richardson weren’t great, but there was a danger of the show slipping in to the very problem described above with Merton and Hislop – complaining about modern life only works if people genuinely believe you are aware of what it is you are commenting on. Besides Beckett and Bea are hilarious. I am a particular fan of Beckett’s long-running insistence that Jamie Oliver has a kid called Spaghetti Pete. It’s not the cleverest of jokes, but you buy into it because it only stretches the truth slightly.

I do think the show shares a limitation with HIGNFY. Both of them in their satire paint an almost consistent negative picture of politics. There are two camps in satirical thought – one that it exists only to ridicule the powerful and the latter that it should offer guidance on how to improve. I belong in the latter. HIGNFY does have Hislop sometimes giving such a patch of light. Cats does not. You could argue that is not the show’s remit, but with it being so youth oriented, and that generation proving to be so crucial in elections (as the last few years have proved), it almost owes us a duty to encourage engagement in social issues. The Last Leg does this so well without being preachy, so it can be done.

Still, as a diversion it does its job and it isn’t the worst way to spend an hour with the TV.

Confession time – there has been little new for me to watch this week. No new series have taken my fancy and my week has fell into a humdrum pattern of viewing. The good news is that this week coming there are a couple of new things on the horizon. For now though, you will have to suffer me talking about something I’ve discussed before.

The Last Leg has built a loyal following over the last five years. It has moved beyond its original remit of just being a Paralympics companion show to becoming an incisive current affairs programme, gleefully mixing pop culture references with satire to cut through the news of the week.

By and large, it does an excellent job. Neither forced to be neutral like the BBC or owned by someone with an agenda like our newspapers, it can break down stories to make them understandable whilst offering social commentary. It is positive and uplifting and is capable of discussing both sides of the argument whilst still able to draw a line when one side is talking nonsense. They even have a special ‘bullshit’ button to know when that line is being crossed.

Of course, time restraints mean that they can never go into too much detail, but shows like this are only ever intended to be a jumping off point, especially ones like this that aim to give some light relief. Of course, it is seen by many as a home to ‘libtards’, although this seems harsh when you consider they have been as quick to criticise the shortcomings of Clinton and Corbyn as they have to May and Trump, it’s just the latter two have now got power and need to be more accountable for what they say and do.

My biggest critique is that actually, for all its talk of equality and diversity, it sometimes fails its own standards. The last three female guests on the show, Victoria Coren Mitchell, Sandi Toksvig and Sharon Horgan, have all been paired with male guests, with only Horgan’s understandable, as it was her writing partner Rob Delaney. Both Coren Mitchell and Toksvig could hold their own. There didn’t seem to be a need to book a female guess to counter balance Kevin Bridges, and, as Harry Hill pointed out when he appeared, it was ironic that the show broadcast on International Women’s Day had five men and no women.

Similar arguments could be made regarding race and LGBT figures (Stormzy the sole BME guest and Toksvig ticking the LGBT box for the series). Nobody wants this reduced to a box-ticking exercise but something as simple as allowing female guests to fly solo would be a start.

Am I being pedantic? Maybe. But it would be a shame for a show that covers equality and diversity so well in other areas to fall on something as basic as this. Otherwise it might be their hiring policy that is termed ‘bullshit’.

Christmas TV is a challenging affair. Firstly, the schedules are all out of whack, meaning the purchase of a TV guide and some highlighters are essential if you want to stay on top of the soaps, the news or any other regular TV event that gets shunted round. Then there is the odd balance of repeats of previous years’ Christmas specials with new, costly specials or one-off dramas. It does feel as if both the BBC and ITV spend the entirety of their Christmas budget on just 2 or 3 baubles and fill the rest of the airtime with any tapes from times gone by that still work.

Still, there are always things to look forward to – Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife all give their audiences what they want, although there will be a Downton­-shaped gap next year. I hope ITV have something good up their sleeve, or Christmas Day night is going to feel very long.

Personally, my favourite Christmas TV event is Channel 4’s knockabout The Big Fat Quiz of the Year. The format is deliberately simple; Jimmy Carr presides and asks six comedians/celebrities questions of the year’s events. Nothing too serious – think David Cameron putting his genitals in a pig rather than ordering air strikes on Syria.

Of course, so much is dependent on the guests. Mel B did her best to kill the mood last year, while in 2012, Jack Whitehall and James Corden went almost too far in their humour. The best duo ever has been Russell Brand and Noel Fielding as ‘The Goth Detectives’, although frankly both have been strong without the other when teamed up with others.

This year saw a good balance. Rob Brydon provided a strong first half running joke of trying to take over the show from Carr and launching a pseudo-political revolution. As that joke reached its crescendo and ebbed away, Greg Davis and Richard Ayoade started their own long running joke of answering everything with ‘Bad Dong’. Claudia Winkleman brought a more genteel pace, and was paired nicely with David Mitchell.

Mitchell and Ayoade are always good bookings for anything like this. Both have a geeky obsessiveness, with Mitchell having a nice line in biting satire and Ayoade a surrealism that slowly builds throughout the show. Strangely, the weak link seemed to be Jo Brand, who I normally love. Maybe the mood wasn’t right for her to be at her best. She has never been one to compete to be heard, and increasingly looks more comfortable on shows where she is in the driving seat and playing individually.

Still, the mood was still jovial and refreshingly lacking in cruelty. Perhaps as the show has been on for more than a decade it is starting to grow up. But hopefully not too much. It still needs its silly, absurd edges. In an increasingly serious world, it is nice to end it with a smile on your face.