Belfast Telegraph

TV View: Frivolity abounds as ill wind of hatred batters us

By Joe Nawaz

Sometimes events in the real world make writing about the gogglebox for your reading pleasure/displeasure (delete according to your opinion of The Fall) seem glibber than a Sinn Fein call to "fight the cuts". At a time when we're all meant to be Charlie, how can one extol the virtues or otherwise of Celebrity Big Brother, the One Show or Posh Pawn?

In fact, how can you even think about anything else when in recent days the monstrous events in Paris have been on heavier rotation than a Hairy Biker with a Hula-Hoop? It's a sobering and relentless reminder of the essentially frivolous flim-flammery of our obsession with popular culture and the state of Rita's dentures in Corrie.

At least with the Pakistani school massacre it was all over in a few brief news bulletins, before reassuring godless Western decadence resumed. But, currently, there's no respite from the sense of sheepish guilt about setting your Tivo to bag the whole series of The Undateables.

It doesn't help that so far in 2015 TV's long-anticipated mid-life crisis seems to be taking hold. I mean, where does television go after everything plausibly possible, including a live autopsy, has already been programmed? In the TV equivalent of having an existential crisis and trying to grow a pony tail and buying a motorbike and an age-inappropriate girlfriend, programme-makers seem to have thrown the whiteboard and marker pens out and settled for random word association as creative process. It starts with Britain's Best Back Gardens, and probably ends, in the very near future, with Monkey Tennis Live on Channel 5.

To substantiate my current theory of TV devolution, I offer, at random, these very real exhibits from the recent schedules. Let's start with Night Of The Big Wind (or should I say Oíche na Gaoithe Móire?), which seems to have come about after a key ingredient mishap with the mushroom vol-au-vents at the BBC Irish language department's Christmas do.

How best to explain? Well, you know the way we've been getting "weather" recently? Well, there was some weather in Ireland back in January 1839. It was really windy that night. Like the end of the world. I mean, not cataclysmic like Hurricane Katrina, but you know - Irish windy. This was juxtaposed with feebly dystopic ruminations along the lines of "imagine if it was really windy again?"

Apparently the Night Of The Big Wind was so windy that it seemed essential to state the obvious in not one, but two languages. "Nobody in living memory had experienced a storm of its kind" and "all you could here was the sound of the wind", where some of the choicest.

Elsewhere, television's meltdown continued apace when The One Show actually apologised for The Voice's Rita Ora owning a pair of breasts, following complaints from people who spend too much time obsessing about women's breasts.

Celebrity Big Brother - which has long been a John the Baptist for the coming TV meltdown - filled a hermetically-sealed studio with a tier of humanity who have things called agents and CVs boasting "used to be in Baywatch" and "busty beauty queen". Throw in a horse-shaped random insult generator and Calum Best (left) and suddenly a future with a gibbon calling out "new balls please" seems as inevitable as global warming.

As I said, it's hard to be frivolous about the gogglebox in such dark times, but with TV not even pretending to take itself seriously right now, it's even harder not to be.

How Undateables romance restored my faith in the human race

Channel Four is a rum platform for the old sensationalist title. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Benefits Street and I Fell In Love With The Man Who Shot My Kids are just some of the many tabloid-baiting monikers its given some of its most exploitative programmes over the years.

So you'd be forgiven for expecting more of the same sneering down from a programme titled The Undateables. But what you actually get is a warm-hearted and earnest account of people with various "disabilities" looking for romance.

Even on the page, that last sentence seems cynically exploitative. But interesting, rounded and lovely people like Shaine and Alex (who happens to be autistic) were allowed to just be themselves without the patronising air that could so easily have made such a programme painfully unbearable. Alex hooked up with Eloise, who has Asperger's syndrome, and like most first dates the initial conversation was excruciating. I've been there myself. But that's where my relating to the situation ended, because soon they were hitting it off more famously than gin and tonic, and taking in the unfolding romance was just as heart-warming. It might be stating the obvious, but it's nice to be reminded now and again that people is people is people - we just come in different flavours.

Just sometimes TV makes you feel rather lucky to be genetically connected to the rest of the human race.

Odious rich Russians are out of steppe with reality

Reeling from the travesty of Peter Capaldi - the best Doctor since Tom Baker - being snubbed by this year's National Television Awards, I attempted to soothe my rage with a little light channel-hopping.

I may as well have drank a quart of cheap blended whiskey and picked a fight in my local for all the good that did, as I stumbled upon Rich, Russian And Living In London (BBC2), which was custom-made to provoke the red mist in even the most heavily medicated pacifist.

Igor explained that Russians with mere hundreds of millions lamented that they weren't really rich, because there were other Russians with billions, and so on.

Basically, the programme was a welcome reminder of the real immigrant problem in Britain.

Switch on

Broadchurch (ITV): Come on! Broadchurch! It's back and it's as badass as ever, and proves again that Olivia Coleman is one of the best female actors ever. David Attenborough's Life Story is still available on iPlayer and my guilty pleasure is Last Tango In Halifax. It's got the divine Derek Jacobi in it, for goodness' sake!

Switch off

Barely Legal drivers (BBC3): There's a programme on BBC3 called Barely Legal Drivers. I haven't seen it, I just can't quite get past the ill-advised title. But back in the real world, does anybody still enjoy the reheated irreverence of Room 101? And the new Musketeers series is a bit "meh" without Capaldi's villainous Richelieu.

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