TV criticism is probably the pinnacle of journalism, nay literature. Many don’t appreciate how hard wot it is and the effort wot it takes to craft pithy, constructive and relevant reviews. Ok, regular readers of this blog will know that that statement is a load of tosh. These TV reviews are irrelevant ramblings of a man with too much time on his hands but TV does love to navel gaze. We are currently going through a “reflective” phase of TV preview and review shows. The cynic may say that this is simply because it’s cheap TV and good promotion for the industry’s output. (If you know anything about copyright clearance and the “review” clause which means that you can use TV clips in reviews for no fee, then you would concur it is a very cost effective way of filling airtime.) Others might say that in this multichannel world programmes like this cut through the dross to the quality. That really depends on the review programme in question.
Too Much TV is the latest 6:30 pm offering on BBC 2. It’s always a tricky slot that. For a quarter of the year it’s dominated by It Takes Two, the Strictly spin-off that actually has more airtime than Strictly itself. It’s really catering for people who are avoiding the news. With a bit of channel-hopping you can ease yourself from teatime quiz shows Pointless or The Chase, through Eggheadsinto early evening magazine shows with Too Much TV and then quickly flip over to The One Show whilst avoiding news of Syria, refugees or the Brexit. Too Much TV has been commissioned for 25 episodes so we are in week 2 of 5. There are 4 presenters Aled Jones, Sara Cox, Emma Bunton and Rufus Hound. They appear in various combinations like a logic problem. Mon: Aled & Sara; Tues: Sara & Emma; Wed: Aled and Emma so Thursday = ???? (NB. The answer isn’t logical. I have been trying to work a pattern out and have so far failed.)
The programme consists of previews of the nights TV; a couple of interviews a flashback montage and a VT package. On Wednesday nights’ shows they choose “The Best of the Best” where stand up comedian Funmbi Omotayo goes around the country to determine who was the best double act, puppet etc. He does this by asking the public to put a counter in what looks like a collection box for the most indecisive chugger ever. “Just collect for one charity? With the Collectertron 2000 ™ you can collect for 5 charities at once”. FYI Ant & Dec and Basil Brush won their respective categories
It would be easy and lazy to dismiss Too Much TV as a low-rent One Show, and as I’m in a bit of a rush so I will do just that. No, of course I won’t. To use that awful “stating the flaming obvious” cliché; “It is what it is”. For me it was reminiscent of Liquid News which appeared on the early days of BBC Choice and BBC Three (click here for more on BBC Three) but with this being made by BBC Entertainment and not News, it did have some genuinely funny moments. I think Rufus Hound is a great left-field choice as a presenter as you know he will say what he thinks; not what he is being told to say. A brave but fruitful choice.
An equally brave but at times slightly confusing choice of presenter is Brian Conley on TV That Made Me. Actually the whole programme is a bit confusing. It seems to be an interview show combined with an archive show. So a celeb comes into a retro lounge in front of a tiny studio audience and chats with Brian about their lives and how TV has had an influence on it. Again, a cynic can hear the calculator being thumped behind the scenes. “Build one set, get one presenter in for the week, get a celebrity booker to book twenty guest, four shows a day, one week in studio, bit of money for archive… Ker-ching, budget daytime TV”. However, this show has one thing that most chat shows don’t have. Time.
It runs for 45 mins per episode and least 3/4 of that time sees the guest talking about their life. When did you hear a guest on The Graham Norton Show or Jonathan Ross talk for that length of time without being interupted? (Admittedly, depending on the guest, 45 minutes may actually be too long! (No offence John Prescott)). This is where Brian Conley as a presenter comes to the fore. The show isn’t about him, he actually listens to the guests, prompts them when required or mucks about to lighten the mood. The pace fits the slot. Sitting down with a cup of tea in the afternoon to listen to Esther Rantzen talking about her life is a rather nice thing to do. The only other place you can hear an interview like this these days is on the radio. Actually I could imagine this working on the radio, but instead of TV clips perhaps, I dunno, music? (Hold on when I write this down: Daytime radio show; 45 min; celeb talks about their life and chooses their favourite music. Oh. Right. Might have been done before.)
The current master of TV review shows has to be Channel 4’s Gogglebox. Now in its 7th series it’s growing in popularity and influence. The concept was simple. Watch people watching the TV. When it first aired in 2013 it was derided by critics as being, you got it, “cheap tv” (are you spotting the theme here). In fact it’s a really clever cross-genre (oooh, get me, cross-genre) programme. Its a reality programme as it features real people; it’s a TV review show as they are very, very honest about the shows and presenters (by the way Jamie Theakston, if you are watching this I still think you look great); it’s also a comedy, entertainment and social commentary show. (See, I told you it was cross-genre).
It has made stars of the ordinary people it features. Everyone has his or her favourite. Personally I think Scarlett is the sharpest; Steph and Dom the drunkest and Stephen and Christopher the funniest. But one of the best aspects of the show is having a good nose into other people’s lives. How many teapot cosies does Rev Kate have? How many different types of biscuits and cakes do the Malones have and how many different spirits do Steph and Dom have in their cabinet?
This week they watched The Getaway Car (bit late chaps, we did that ages ok. You can find it here). Dogs Might Fly and Do We Really Need the Moon. You get the impression though that they would have a witty or incredulous comment on anything. As I said at the beginning, everyone is a TV critic. Even TV itself.