Thursday, March 09, 2017

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: February 2017

I don't really understand Simon Brodkin (above)'s motivation for being "BRITAIN'S GREATEST HOAXER" (Channel 4) but it's fascinating to see just how much research and work he puts into his stunts.  From auditioning as an Orthodox rapping rabbi on "Britain's Got Talent", to posting a "BHS destroyer" sign on Philip Green's superyacht, and finally to throwing swastika-emblazened golf balls at Donald Trump on his golf course in Scotland.  This documentary will have raised his profile, but of course that means that the better-known he becomes, the harder it will be for his future stunts to succeed. However when it comes to attention-seeking pranks and stunts, "Brodkin's Got Talent" so I'm sure there's much more to come.

There's no end to the news coverage and speculation about Brexit on our TV screens, but we very rarely get the chance to see what's happening in European politics.  Katya Adler explored the current state of play in "AFTER BREXIT - THE BATTLE FOR EUROPE" (BBC2) which looked at the rise of anti-establishment politics in Europe, and the growing Euroscepticism which may eventually tear the EU apart. As Ms Adler concluded, the EU may not be there for us to leave...

On to a documentary about Russian football hooliganism.  "THIS WORLD: RUSSIA'S HOOLIGAN ARMY" (BBC2) explored the world of Russian's football hooligan 'firms' who made the headlines last summer after the shocking scenes in Marseille during Euro 2016.  They are far from the bevvied-up stereotype of a football hooligan - in Russia, the firms prefer the gym and sauna to the pub, and they are trained to fight combat-style, and the job interview is a brutal 'forest fight'.  They proudly display themselves as a symbol of a country where aggressive masculinity is now encouraged. "When we are good, no-one remembers us, when we are bad, no-one forgets us" said one masked group (a couple of them pictured above) who promise to roll out the red carpet for the 2018 World Cup.  Be very afraid.

Whilst this documentary was going out on BBC2, here in Scotland we were being treated to "THE INSIDER'S GUIDE TO THE MENOPAUSE" in which broadcaster Kirsty Wark (pictured above) explored what is still a taboo subject, but what is a part of every woman's life.  You don't have to be a "certain age" though; as this programme revealed, many younger women are also going through "the change" for various medical reasons.

This was very close to home of course as this daily debilitating hell has been my life for the past 3½ years.  However I just wish that the programme would have focused more on alternative treatments to hormone replacement therapy (HRT), as not everyone chooses to go down that route.  We need more positive coverage in the media of this much-misunderstood aspect of women's lives, which as this documentary showed, is often material for comedy sketches.  Let me tell you though, it's definitely no laughing matter.

I'm not really a fan of the fad for documentaries fronted by celebrities, but sometimes they can be a good way to raise our awareness. In "THE TROUBLE WITH DAD" (Channel 4), comedian and writer David Baddiel gave us a very personal insight into Pick's disease, a previously little-known form of dementia, which his father Colin is living with. (David, his brother Ivor and dad Colin are pictured above).  Sad, shocking, funny and warm-hearted all at the same time, and a fascinating exploration of a family relationship which, although unconventional and complicated, is characterised by enduring love.

"HOW TO LOSE WEIGHT WELL" (Channel 4) was one of those typical shows which turns up at the start of every year on TV.  All this new year, new you nonsense, you know. This show compared a number of 'fad' diets and tried them out on people either wanting to lose weight quickly or over a longer period.  It didn't really tell us anything apart from that these diets will work if you stick to them, but they are definitely not a long-term lifestyle choice.

There are a lot of shows on TV at the moment which I call "empty TV" - the kind of lightweight factual format which seems to pop up on every channel.  You know this type of programme - the dumbed-down-documentary format which spends the first five minutes telling us what it's going to be about, then spends the rest of the show on numerous recaps etc, and doesn't go into any real depth about its subject. These shows particularly tend to focus on food/diet/health issues.  Whether it's "SAVE MONEY, GOOD HEALTH" (ITV), "TRUST ME, I'M A DOCTOR" (BBC2) or occasional issues of "TONIGHT" (ITV), these are the kind of shows which were once consigned to daytime TV (and probably still should be).  I can appreciate the need for escapist entertainment in these difficult times, but we also need quality investigative journalism too, rather than these bland, throwaway substitutes.

"SHOP WELL FOR LESS" (BBC1) returned with another series.  This show follows the same intelligence-insulting template of "Eat Well For Less" where extremely well-off families are shown how to save money by swapping their overpriced brands for cheaper stuff.  When many people are struggling to make ends meet, a programme like this is in such bad taste.

Talking of bland TV......

I initially had high hopes for "LET IT SHINE" (BBC1). I really can't stand talent shows any more but the idea of this one initially appealed to me thanks to the Take That angle.  The purpose of this show was to put together a boy band for a new musical which will feature the songs of Take That - although, just to confuse you, they won't actually be playing Take That.

After the initial auditions, which were not that far removed from every other talent show, the programme then went down a very strange route by forming five different bands with different names (Drive, Neon Panda, Five To Five, Iron Sun and Nightfall), before the eliminations started and confusingly, the remaining contestants were absorbed into other bands.  By that point I completely lost interest but returned for the final on 25.02.2017.  The eventual winners were Five To Five (pictured above).  Since the final, there has been some controversy in the media as the winning band will not have as much of a role in the musical as was first thought.

The problem for me was that I just didn't care enough to invest in any of the contestants in the way that I did 10 years ago in the BBC's previous musical-casting show, "Any Dream Will Do".  Aah, 2007....those were the days :)

"WHO DARES WINS"  is back but over the past couple of months it received some very shabby treatment in the schedules; either shunted into a teatime slot, in preference to Pointless Celebrities and Casualty, (both bookending the aforementioned "Let It Shine") or it wasn't on at all.  It now seems to have been restored to its rightful slot.  BBC, stop messing this show about! Interestingly enough,  the show which we watched being recorded in Glasgow last May was finally screened on 18.02.2017.

"TOP OF THE POPS 1983" (BBC4) is still an enjoyable nostalgia trip, and during the past month we've had everything from Kajagoogoo, Wham!, Duran Duran and the Thompson Twins to Orange Juice, Big Country, and of course who could forget New Order's unforgettable live performance of "Blue Monday".  Even bands which I definitely wasn't a fan of, like Altered Images, could surprise me, with a song like "Don't Talk To Me About Love" which was just a great pop song. It's actually nice to reconnect with that time, because, as in 1981 and 1982 I was in my "parallel universe"of just listening to indie/alternative music, however as time has progressed I have rediscovered the mainstream pop of those years, thanks in no small part to the 80s chart followed by the brilliant "Forgotten '80s" on Absolute 80s radio.

"THE EIGHTIES" (Sky Arts) was the follow-up to the CNN documentary series on the previous decade, co-produced by Tom Hanks. Like "The Seventies" it delivers a curiously American slant on that most scary, greedy and troubled of decades (if you weren't lucky enough to be rich/a yuppie/the up-and-coming billionaire, Donald Trump of course).

Finally, to the annual experience of suffering my way through "THE BRIT AWARDS" (ITV). Once upon a time, when music (and everything else) was better, this ceremony was never screened live as even though it was always the most corporate of events, there was always a risk of - shock horror! someone swearing or doing something shocking. But over the past few years it's been broadcast live, because bland musical times get the bland awards ceremony they deserve,  2017 brought yet another slick and soulless ceremony, however there was one very striking emotional moment as Andrew Ridgeley and Pepsi and Shirlie (above) paid tribute to their dear friend George Michael, who very sadly passed away on Christmas Day. Unfortunately this was followed by Chis Martin's version of "A Different Corner". A song which cannot, and should not, be covered by anyone.

The next Square-Eyed should probably appear around the middle of April.  I haven't been watching much telly since the beginning of March, thanks to a) writing my blog posts backlog and b) catching up with all the national selections for Eurovision. National finals season ends this weekend, so that should give me a bit more time to watch TV ....although I still have a lot to write about national finals season, so TV will have to wait a little while longer, I guess :)

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