Category Archives: Satire

‘Host the Week’ (Channel 4) Review

Thursday night brought the latest of Channel 4’s experimental comedy vehicles, Host the Week, each episode of which sees a different celebrity present an hour of sketches and games that they are entirely unprepared for. As we were told at the top of the show, this week’s host Scarlett Moffatt had ‘no script’, ‘no rehearsal’ and ‘no idea what to expect’. One would assume that what they were aiming for was a cross between The Friday Night Project and the Australian improv hit, Thank God You’re Here. What they achieved, however, was something I previously thought impossible: they delivered a show so disastrous that it somehow left me yearning for the comparative halcyon days of 10 O’Clock Live.

Prior to sitting down to watch it in full on Friday, I did catch a glimpse of Host the Week as it was broadcast the previous night. I saw an anxious Scarlett seated at a desk, presenting a news bulletin (pictured below, right), in which she delivered two jokes in relation to the week’s events: one involved the likening of aScarlett Moffatt hosts a Channel 4 News bulletin with Krishnan Guru-Murthy ‘mandate’ to a date with a man, and the other pointed out, quite simply, that Donald Trump is orange. My heart sank. I didn’t hold out much hope for improvement when I watched the show in full, and lo and behold, my expectations were met. The topical gags – of which there were far fewer than one would expect from a show called Host the Week – were nothing more than recycled Twitter puns. We know that Ryanair’s not very good. We also know that Andy Murray’s dull and his mum’s domineering. These are clichés that have been exhausted time and again on shows like this, and it’s the mark of an uninspired writing team when they’re churned out in this way. I found myself hankering for some originality – just a little excitement – but none came.

Despite her claims that she’d had fun and ‘would do it all over again’, this seemed to me just one big sorry mess for Scarlett. Away from the comfort blanket of her parents on Gogglebox or Ant & Dec on Takeaway, this was her first time at the helm of something. This should have been her big    showcase before the launch of her new-look Streetmate later in the year, but with almost universal disdain for Host the Week, it will no doubt be Scarlett who’ll suffer Scarlett co-hosts her own chat show, 'That Morning', with guests Stepsunjustly as she’ll be first in the firing line for people’s criticism. The blame for this mess should not lie with her, though – rather, it should be put on the script she was being fed. Due to the nature of the show, she was helpless – completely unprepared and entirely at the mercy of the writers, who, even when one allows them leeway given it was the first episode, could and should have done so much better. This show is brought to us by 2/3s of the brilliant Pappy’s and can boast a writing team with credits like Cats Does Countdown, Not Going Out and Murder in Successville. Even without that pedigree, the strength and frequency of gags in this show should have been so much higher, but with it, it’s unbelievable. If one also takes into account that some of the writers have previously been involved with Have I Got News For You, Charlie Brooker’s Wipes, and The News Quiz on Radio 4, it’s surely inarguable that the number of fresh topical references across the hour ought to have been drastically increased, particularly given this is a show that purports to celebrate ‘the week’.

It’s quite evident that Channel 4 were trying to do something new, and they should actually be credited for that – far too often we, as viewers, bemoan the fact that too much comedy follows the same frameworks and lacks originality. It’s surely beyond dispute, however, that Host the Week has far from got off to a good start and will need quite an overhaul if it’s to escape the same fate as The Nightly Show and be written-off as a failure.

UPDATE: Channel 4 announced today (27th June) that Host the Week has been scrapped after just one episode. A spokesperson said, ‘They don’t all work’. Read the full story here.

Image courtesy of Charlie Fearn, Tiger Aspect Production Limited and Channel 4

Unless otherwise stated, all images courtesy of Charlie Fearn, Scott Kershaw and Channel 4

Host the Week is still available on All 4.

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‘Ballot Monkeys’ (Channel 4) Review

From the trusted pens of Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin. and featuring a strong cast of comedy stars, Channel 4’s new Election-centred sitcom, Ballot Monkeys launched last night, focusing on the backstage goings-on aboard the Labour, Conservative, Lib-Dem and UKIP ‘battle buses’. Generally, it seemed to immediately impress viewers and critics alike – but left me slightly uncertain.

Hamilton and Jenkin are renowned for their rather unorthodox approach to making comedy; their last hit series before Ballot Monkeys, Outnumbered, was of course semi-improvised, and Drop the Dead Donkey, their 90s sitcom set in a television newsroom, often would not complete recording until a few hours before transmission, meaning that the tapes would have to be rushed to Channel 4 in time for their 10pm airing. Ballot Monkeys is filmed in a similar way, with much of the script not actually written until the last minute, allowing for as many topical gags as possible.

And in that respect, Ballot Monkeys worked very well – the stand-out moments from the episode were indeed those that referenced events of the past week. So, a fictional UKIP candidate calling the migrants who recently drowned off the coast of Libya ‘Labour’s new floating voters’, and two Liberals watching with horror Paddy Ashdown’s expletive-laden BBC News interview provided what were, for me, two of the most memorable and enjoyable scenes of the episode – but neither of which could have been achieved if the script had been written weeks in advance.

However, as is the obvious flaw in making TV in this way, it allowed the show to have a slight air of being tossed together at the last moment, and consequently not seem as consistent in quality as it arguably should have been. The hit-rate of gags was lower than I expected of the writers and assembled cast (which included Ben Miller, Sarah Hadland and Hugh Dennis) – and, while the episode was peppered with gems such as those mentioned in the previous paragraph, and smart one-liners from Sarah Hadland’s disastrous UKIP logistics advisor, I even thought that the satire on which Ballot Monkeys apparently prides itself was lacking true bite. The Herald’s Julie McDowall claimed that Ballot Monkeys ‘packed a far stronger satirical punch than ITV’s Newzoids’ but I would even have to disagree with that; for me, Newzoids’ portrayals of the political parties and their leaders were far more effective than those of Ballot Monkeys. And let’s face it: when someone thinks that your satire is inferior to that of a group of impressionists who use puppets and comedy songs as their main weapons, something has to be lacking.

So, perhaps it was just a quiet week for politics but this opening episode of Ballot Monkeys certainly didn’t get my vote in the way that it did other critics. What I believe it did do right, however, was hint at the rather shambolic decisions and ludicrous discussions that are made and had on the main parties’ ‘battle buses’ – so much so that it struck me as the right decision for Channel 4 to have scheduled it the day after the deadline for voting registration, because, if the characters in the show are at all representative of the campaign teams themselves, who’d let anyone like that run the country?The cast of 'Ballot Monkeys': Trevor Cooper, Sarah Hadland, Ben Miller and Hattie Morahan (left-right)Image credit: Thanks to Channel 4, Nicky Johnson and Hat Trick Productions 

Ballot Monkeys is on Tuesdays at 10:00pm on Channel 4

What did you think of Ballot Monkeys? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

‘Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe’ – Episode 1.1 Review

There’s something strangely endearing about the professionally angry Charlie Brooker’s confrontational, half-arsed approach to making TV – something which was solidified with the opening episode of his new show in the Wipe franchise, Weekly Wipe.

A SYNOPSIS

Yes! We’ve had Gameswipe, Newswipe and Screenwipe but in Weekly Wipe, we now have an amalgamation of the latter two. If you’ve somehow managed to escape the increasing prominence of Charlton Brooker in our lives then let me explain the premise of this show (which you can then apply to almost every TV show he has ever fronted): Brooker sits on a sofa in what appears to be an untidy flat, criticising anyone or anything which dares appear on the TV screen in front of him. He has regular contributions from comedians you may recognise from Mock the Week or 8 Out of 10 Cats but the gems in the show come from the mouth of the man himself as he pontificates his acerbic opinions to the nation. I, and many others, absolutely love it.

INTANGIBLE CHARM’

As always, he pulled no punches in the first of his Weekly Wipes – especially with shamed cyclist Lance Armstrong.

In fact, only Charlie Brooker could get away with demeaning renowned diver Tom Daley’s Olympic efforts by dubbing his sport, ‘Falling into water without flapping your arms around and screaming “SHIT!”’. The fact that he was able to say this and not seem overly malicious demonstrates my point: he has an intangible charm which many commentators could only dream of possessing and which requires reviewers such as myself to point out: as Brooker never will.

JUST ONE THING…

My only criticism of Wipe would be that we see a little too much of American comedian Doug Stanhope – well, we did in this episode at least. I’m not a huge fan of American comedy anyway. I know I’m alone here but I don’t find Friends, Big Bang Theory or, in particular, Rich Hall very funny. I tune in to see and hear Charlie Brooker, not Doug Stanhope. The other contributors are quite entertaining and offer bizarre takes on often serious stories but Stanhope? I just don’t get it…

It’s going to take a lot more than Doug Stanhope to ruin my enjoyment of Weekly Wipe, though. Then again, I don’t think anything could stop me enjoying this.

Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe is on Thursdays at 10pm on BBC2 and BBC HD

What did you think of Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Feel free to comment below or tweet me about this or any other TV show – @UKTVReviewer

You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on my YouTube channel.

‘Full English’ – Episode 1.1

Family Guy, The Simpsons, Futurama, American Dad – the list of American cartoon sitcoms goes on and on! Now us Brits have got in on the act with Channel 4’s Full English.

YANKEE HUMOUR

I was quite looking forward to the show as, unlike the majority of my friends, I am not particular interested in series such as the aforemetioned. However, that’s not due to the cartoon genre: I just don’t find American humour…humorous. Therefore, nor do I like The Big Bang Theory or – and I may be about to commit career suicide here – Friends.

If you’re too outraged at and disgusted with me to be able to carry on reading, I completely understand.

HALF ENGLISH?

Anyway, I digress. Back to Full English. I was quite interested to see whether the British sense of humour would suit animation.

My conclusion is that our humour does suit. However, I have also concluded that Full English doesn’t include much of it.

It just seemed a bit of a damp squib, if I’m perfectly honest. We saw the daughter of the family – a fat emo – audition for Britain’s Got Talent, with disastrous consequences. Disastrous, that is, until she tells the producers that her parents have died – at which point, she is invited back to the show and progresses to the final, but then reveals the truth (that her parents are in fact alive) and is disqulaified from the competition.

The aim of this plot was clearly to satirise the nation’s love for talent show sob stories, as well as Simon Cowell’s slight effeminacy. The trouble is, subtlety went out of the window and the scriptwriters went all-out to mock BGT, seemingly just in case we were thick and didn’t know a satire when we saw one. In fact, the only saving grace of this storyline was the impressive graphics it treated us to, with an instantly recognisable Cowell and Jeremy Kyle. Sadly, though, they were just impressive – not particularly funny. Which is a shame for a ‘comedy’.

EDGAR AND WENDY

On a more positive note, I did enjoy the scenes in which we saw the parents of the family, Edgar and Wendy, on holiday for their wedding anniversary in Wales. In particular (and I’ll try to put this as delicately as I can – and also in a way which doesn’t make me seem odd), I thought the scenes involving fellatio were entertaining…in a comedic way, of course! Richard (no I will not take the easy option and call him ‘Dick’) Ayoade’s inimitable tone made those scenes a joy to watch, too.

So, despite some relief from the holiday scenes, I wasn’t wholly impressed by this opening episode. On the other hand, I do like to give comedies a second chance, so it’s likely that I’ll watch the next episode – but I’m not particularly hopeful for improvement.

Full English is on Channel 4, Mondays at 10pm

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