Sluts for Zeit

So, more affectionate moans about the BBC and a couple of their new shows and general trends you can extrapolate &c.

I say new, but room 101 has been knocking around for a while in various formats; first with nick hancock, in it's early, garish, phase, then more measured, hosted by paul merton. Back on those days, you had a two person conversation that let you get to know slebs for better (in the case of stephen fry) or worse (in the case of gordon ramsey, who came across as utterly misogynistic).

I'm glad they've brought it back, but what's happened to it is... telling. We're with frank skinner now, but rather than an indulgent half hour with a popular sleb, we now have 3 separate slebs, competing in categories of annoying things to get their chosen annoyance cast in. It's been turned into a panel game, and people who wouldn't have usually been justified with a half hour to themselves are cropping up: danny baker, fern something, personality free sports presenters who somehow put 'everyone who doesn't share my obsession' in.

Yeah, back in the day, you had some pretty idiotic types turning up, vaccuous actors of the minute without an interesting thing to say about themselves or the world, whose views were poorly thought through at best. But at least they were given the chance over half an hour. And they had a free choice; Now you have to have two categories and a wildcard. So if I wanted to put both energy drinks and categorisation of music genres into room 101 I couldn't, because one isn't an animal or a celebrity.

I'm not saying the show is now terrible, change it back, argh; last week's one with alice cooper (great, if straight laced), Chris Packham, (weird and excellent), and chris tarrant (rubbish) was really enjoyable. But only when you get past the frustration at it being molded into something so... predictable. Formatty. more like a rdaio four program, really.

Evidence b is 'the magicians', and never has a purely zeitgeistily opportunistic show been so.. Crummy. You can tell magic's zeitgeisty, because there was a channel 5 talking heads list show about it earlier this year. Last year saw the launch of both 'The Magicians' and itv's 'penn and teller: fool us' where the genuinely astonishing duo judge amateur and semi-pro magic acts on single tricks, and try to guess them out. Penn and Teller's schtick is of course, that they're not magicians. They tell you how they do tricks, making you feel clever, then they go one better and do something that's completely unbelievable, despite (or even because of? all magic is misdirection) the new information they've given you. It was hosted by disgraced social chameleon jon ross, with no other sleb guests (other than when paul daniels managed to stick his oar in). Every show, p&t would perform one trick to close. The quality was mixed, as you'd expect from a show with a variety of acts. But it was excellent saturday night prime time telly.

So BBC1 decided they needed a saturday night prime time telly magic show, too. But what they've brought to the formula is shite.

For starters, its hosted by an utter non entity. Now I'm not down wit de yoof, but I've no idea why this person is presenting a live show; he's a sort of nothingness at the centre. He's competent and the right side of OTT, but last series was hosted by Lenny Henry, one of the most famous faces in telly.

Other than him, we've 3 magic acts who are all very good at what they do, but have to perform 4 tricks every week (lets see if I can remember them): close up magic, grand illusion... um, I can't tell the others, but a bit of research says they're street magic (so, close up magic on location) and location grand illusion (right, I now see why I didn't remember these. they're the same as the others). The trouble with this is, that these acts are all specialists, so getting them to do a variety of tricks is like having the same three bands on top of the pops every week, playing everybody's songs. What they end up being is session magicians, able to perform any trick that they've been told to do this week whether its escapology, mind reading, or the inevitable deck switch. So it feels to me, anyway.

Then there's the guest magician spot, which have been, in general, utterly shit. The less said the better.

The last two pieces of the show go together: slebs and (new for this series) phone votes. Each act has a sleb assistant for the week, and is voted for by the public with the losing couple performing a forfeit. The fact that the utterly missable forfeit section is apparently unrehearsed only underlines its lack of danger.

The slebs usually add nothing to the act, normally hanging on to the side and maybe coaxing the public into a trick; except for craig off of strictly, who, being a dancer, made an excellent magician's assistant and really got involv'd. And the phone voting, It's just a needless obsession. The show is like a formulaic mind map on a plate, and whatever's written in the middle of it doesn't matter; it was bound to have 'slebs', 'phone ins', 'regular performers', and 'guest spot' written around it whever it was dancing, magic, carpentry, or palaeontology. WE@RE SO GOOD AT TELEVISION.

It stinks of keeping up with the joneses in a pathetic way. Like that awful post-shaft 007 film, Madonna sampling abba, kid's performers who do sweary university tours, or korn going dubstep (although tbf that does make some sense), it's the sadness of watching a tired old performer desperately trying to impress the new generation.

On the other hand, good magic tricks are great, so I still love watching it. I guess my point with both the programs is that the content is good, but the form sucks. I want a magic show, not The Magicians Entertainment Program Experience Product.

What would be quite good would be to make it more like Later, where an experienced, possibly semi-retired magician (NOT DANIELS) hosts a compendium of turn-taking magicians.

No comments: