Gigglebox Weekly #5
This week, Ian Wolf looks at something Scottish, something surreal and something satirical.
If you’ve not seen Burnistoun don’t worry – most people haven’t, primarily because it’s only broadcast on BBC Scotland and thus if you live anywhere else in the UK you have to watch it on iPlayer.
It’s a shame, really, because Burnistoun is a very good show. To give you a quick summary of what it’s about, the show features a range of different characters played by Robert Florence and Iain Connell in the fictional town of Burnistoun. The most famous characters are Paul and Walter, the owners of the town’s ice cream van who always share a moment of high tension.
This week, idiotic Walter got petrified from watching a horror film which turned out to be Jools Holland’s TV show, had to deal with a women who wanted to buy tampons and Paul tried to break up Walter’s relationship with his best friend – a Breville sandwich toaster. The sketch was just bonkers but utterly brilliant. Bizarre ideas kept building on top of the other until the point that all you can do is drive your van away.
The best way to describe this show is simply ‘daft’. Sketches featuring two Kenny Rodgers impersonators falling in love, a rap about shoes being left on top of bus stops, and a trailer for a horror film about a terrifying wee wardrobe are amongst some of the oddities that are on offer.
As said before, it seems baffling that such a show is not being shown nationwide, because it clearly is a hit over the border. For me, it’s rather like one of those situations where they try out a TV show on a digital station before moving it over to a terrestrial channel. If it’s successful, then it’ll no doubt be given more public exposure. I say that, but it already is successful really, so if the BBC wouldn’t mind sticking it on in England now I think we’d all be glad.
I’m going to say something which is going to make me unpopular with most critics – I actually like this show.
Having read other reviews of Campus, the vast majority, especially those in the tabloids, derided this new sitcom by the team behind Green Wing. Most said it was bad because it’s too similar to Green Wing. Are these people mad? That’s like saying, “This country has a rubbish football team. It’s too much like Brazil’s.”
Campus, like Green Wing, is great, especially the egotistical, power-crazed and bigoted vice chancellor of Kirke University, Jonty de Wolfe, played by Andy Nyman (most famous for being Derren Brown’s right-hand man).
Nyman’s character also got panned by the critics, arguing his remarks went too far, comparing him unfavourably to David Brent (the fact they have the same beard doesn’t help, I guess). There are key differences here, though.
Brent is a middle-manager, is meant to be a realistic character, and in the end his incompetence results in him getting the boot. Wolfe is the master of a surreal and chaotic world, answering to nobody, and as such is able to get away with what he does because there is no-one able to stop him – at least not yet, but there is another character who is due to appear later in the series who might be able to stop Wolfe.
Among the other Green Wing associations made were comparing their characters to Campus’. The misogynistic English Literature professor Matt Beer (Joseph Millson) was compared to Guy Secretan – and to be fair there are quite a lot of similarities – and his relationship with Maths lecturer Imogen Moffat (Lisa Jackson) is similar to that between Guy and Caroline Todd.
I also read one critic comparing mechanical engineering lecturer Lydia Tennant (Dolly Wells) to Sue White, which I think is totally wrong. With all of her idiosyncrasies, odd mannerisms and pomposity I’d argue if anything that she’s more like Alan Statham. It is in fact Wolfe who is most like Sue White, but only with much more power.
I have to admit, though, there are some problems with the show. Firstly, the camerawork is quite unprofessional, with some dodgy cuts (watch the scene when Wolfe is on a megaphone talking to a female student about a degree in arseology – his left hand is suddenly on a rail, then on the megaphone and back on the rail again) in this episode in particular.
And in the end I just know Channel 4 will axe the show. The first episode was watched by only 718,000 people, as previously mentioned several times it’s been written off by the critics, and nothing I’ve written will change any of the minds of the bigwigs who run the network.
But in truth, the main reason that Campus is on Channel 4 in the first place is because they decided to axe Green Wing; so if you don’t like Campus, don’t blame the writers or the other people behind the show, blame Channel 4 for axing the original great work in the first place.
Have I Got News for You
This panel show began its forty-first series this week, and as usual it features a lot of things that we’re all familiar with: Ian Hislop’s in-depth political knowledge, Paul Merton’s extraordinary improvisational abilities, a biased scoring system and rubbish but amusing pictures to keep the cost of making the show down.
Typically there were some good moments in this episode, hosted by Jack Dee, like Hislop’s gag about Obama supplying light sabres to the rebels.
However, much of what was covered has already been featured in other programmes like last week’s edition of Russell Howard’s Good News, including the house that looked like Hitler, the Michael Jackson statue and Wayne Rooney’s swearing. While the move back to Friday will no doubt please many viewers it does mean that other satirical comedies get to the stories first, so in a way it feels like the jokes are being repeated. Then again, they do cover some stories with more depth than other shows, so they get points for that.
The main problem that I have with HIGNFY – and indeed most satirical comedy shows – is that very often the jokes are just too lazy. All they have to do is find a single oddity about a person and they will keep making the same jokes about that person forever, or until they find an even better oddity.
We saw the same jokes tottered out again: Russell Brand and Silvio Berlusconi are lecherous; Sarah Palin is stupid yet sexually appealing; Eric Pickles is fat and so on. I loathe this lazy writing, especially the fat gags. For around 15 years we have had to listen to the same old jokes about John Prescott being fat and grumpy, and now that he has gone we’re going to have to listen to the same gags again, but now with a different target.
Of course the thing you have to remember is that now we have a Tory government in power, so satire should be easier anyway. I have my own personal theory about satire, which is that there is always a satire boom in comedy whenever a right-wing government is in power.
In the 1940s, Charlie Chaplin made The Great Dictator, probably his greatest film. In the early 1960s you had the satire boom under Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home with shows like Beyond the Fringe and That Was The Week That Was, which soon fell after Harold Wilson came to power in the late 1960s. In the 1980s you had the alternative comedy boom and Spitting Image. In the 1990s Drop the Dead Donkey and HIGNFY began during Thatcher’s final days, with Spitting Image finishing the year before Blair came to power and DDTD finishing the year after. In the 2000s, America had shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report under George W. Bush. The only problem is that no-one was expecting the Lib Dems to come into play.
Still, HIGNFY is enjoyable. It’s not going to bring down the government. Mind you, with the Conservatives in power, would they want all that good material going to waste?
Gigglebox Weekly will be back next Monday with Ian Wolf.