Posts Tagged ‘India’

Merton In India / Fry in America

October 13, 2008

How To Make a Television Programme
#16485 – Drop a National Treasure in a foreign country

Michael Palin’s spine is not what it once was. Apparently he can barely take a 168 to Hampstead Heath without buckling.

Ustinov’s dead.

So who could the BBC and Five send off on a jet plane for their travelogue programming? Which safe pair of hands could deliver quality footage, fit for a series at only the cost of their fee, their expenses and a handful of first class plane tickets?

Time to get out the Handbook of National Treasures…

David Jason’s too grumpy, Robbie Coltrane won’t fit on the plane and Parkinson’s not very interesting. In the end, stuck for options, Five chose Paul Merton whilst the BBC, probably thinking itself slightly superior, plumped for Stephen Fry.

Paul Merton in China was a bit of a drab affair. It was Merton’s first outing in the travel format and he didn’t look altogether comfortable. His constant asides to camera occasionally came across as slightly patronising towards the Chinese and the imported comedy moments, set-pieces created purely for camera, didn’t do it any favours. It still had a lot of good moments and thankfully the second series is a further improvement.

Paul Merton In India is a different kettle of fish. Merton’s in his element here, as the atmosphere is markedly more chaotic. This gives him the scope to make his witticisms to camera without so much of a reaction. The general hubbub around him means he is ignored, to some extent. He’s part of a constant movement rather than the focus and the show benefits from this change.

In episode one, Merton visited a gentleman called Bubbles who saved a city from exploding using guile and breathtaking bravery. Rather than focus on why missiles were being driven nearby and how one of them caught fire, we followed the story from Bubbles’ point of view and discovered that he put it all down to his worship of a Goddess. A Goddess who protects rats. He led Merton and his charming guide to a nearby temple where they hung out with the rodents and it was all very sweet, if not a little odd.

Things took an even stranger turn when PM hung out at a religious festival in honour of Shiva which featured naked disciples twisting their penises in all directions. Five didn’t shirk from showing this footage. I’m glad I wasn’t eating my dinner when the sight of a block of cement suspended from a bell end flashed on screen, filmed from behind, from the vantage point of the disciple’s arse-crack. Merton was speechless. The viewer was speechless. When offered a chillum packed with weed, PM toked on it like a man possessed, presumably to soften the blow of the visual assault. By the end of this sequence, he was visibly stoned out of his face – like an aged, slightly flabby Bruce Parry, intoxicated in the near-wilderness. It was great stuff.

On top of all this, having sat through a bizarre, faux-accident in a weird, nightmare flight simulator, Merton accidentally jumped out of the emergency door the wrong way, bounced on his head and fell arse over tit. It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year. The programme was littered with these amusing little accidents and it triumphed as a result.

Over on BBC1 in a Sunday night slot made available since Martin Clunes stopped fannying about with his dogs on ITV, Stephen Fry pretended to drive around America in a black cab. In Stephen Fry in America, he started his journey in Maine, speaking to fishermen engaged in catching lobsters. We didn’t learn much from this exhange, except that lobster-catchers in Maine are apparently the best in the world. But then, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

  • Later, Fry went hunting deer with some men who covered themselves in deer-poo. No deer made itself known, in the event, so Fry moved on.
  • He went to the Ben & Jerry’s factory and made some ice cream. Visitors to the factory enjoyed his mixture.
  • He went to Washington and talked to a satirist you’ll not have heard of.
  • He went to a Casino to act as croupier. He spoke to a Vietnamese lady who couldn’t understand his accent.
  • He went to speak with Sting, the self-styled Englishman in New York. Sting likes it in New York (when he’s not loitering in European brothels). This section was absolutely infuriating.
  • He spoke to an old man who pretends to be Abraham Lincoln for a living about the Gettysburg address.

And that was about it.

With Fry’s effort it didn’t seem items were linked by anything other than the location of the States – and several of these were completely glossed over with a fleeting apology. This was an episodic array of set pieces, all featuring Fry as he met with everyday, unremarkable Americans. There was something missing here. As with Dave Gorman’s recent America Unchained series, the central premise was flawed so momentum wasn’t allowed to build. Was Fry studying the history of America? The social relations between Americans? Was it an effort in cultural understanding? Or was it just a shallow toe in every one of those puddles, with too little exploration for it to be as engaging as it could have been?

If it was none of these things, then it should have dropped its game and opted to go for the same silly approach that Merton’s crew took. As it stands, Fry’s effort was a touch too earnest and less entertaining as a result.

His series may well improve as time goes on and Merton’s may well degenerate, but from episode one of either vehicle, Merton leads with a goal to nil.

Blood, Sweat and T Shirts

May 7, 2008

It’s actually quite difficult to know where to begin with this – with people who don’t know they’re born, who don’t know about human suffering and who don’t understand anything other than their own desultory, vapid existence – and even struggle with that.

This mini-series was made as part of BBC3’s Thread project – a worthwhile but not-very-well-publicised campaign for eco-clothing and fair trade. It’s not something I’m particularly interested in, as it happens. I describe my own style, my own personal sartorial vibe as ‘tramp de la jour’ or ‘affluent curmudgeon’. Basically, I tend to find clothes in dustbins and discarded in puddles so that I end up looking like a tramp who’s one rung up from rock bottom. Despite this detachment, it’s hard not to applaud any movement that attempts to grab those twats who spend two hundred quid in Primark every weekend by the shoulders and shake so much sense into them that their brains haemmorhage.

I remember the glory days when fashion would only take up a couple of pages in a newspaper at a maximum, once a week. Now it’s dripping off every current affairs periodical, with comment, discussion, adulation and piss-taking in every margin of every wretched page. I couldn’t tell you why. Fashion is the the most pointless of all industries. It’s people dressing idiotically in the vain hope they might catch another idiot’s eye for five minutes. And after that five minutes is up, the look becomes ‘so five minutes ago’, making the whole exercise more transient than a transit van going at full pelt along an empty runway.

So – and I think we all agree on this – even a tiny smudge of a passing interest in anything to do with fashion is the mark of an idiot. With this in mind, let us look at the central premise of Blood, Sweat and T Shirts.

Six Westerners, all of them fashion victims, are sent over to India to see how their garments are made. The four parts take us in sequence from the higher class of factory in episode one (still paying workers a pittance, but at least hygenic and safe) to, as I write, part three which took our travellers to a cotton plantation where they picked the cotton buds from the source, before working to gather it and bundle it. Living conditions are very, very basic and work is hard, strenuous work. Part four will hopefully see them losing a hand in some rusty machinery because, to a man, these are the worst group of snivelling idiots you could ever hope to see. And three of them are particularly odious examples of the offspring our nation is plopping out.

Okay, so Georgina is just a little bit thick. Fair enough, Stacey is your unremarkable airhead, and at least she puts in a bit of work. I’ll admit that Tara actually appears to be learning something from the experience – so fair play for that. It doesn’t make them any more likeable, but I admire the fact they got involved.

Despite these three showing, at last, some vestige of being adjusted and functioning, the remaining three are grade ‘A’ arseholes. Irredeemable twats. Especially Richard. By Christ, especially Richard.

First off, Amrita is a spoiled little rich girl who I believe is of second generation Indian ethnicity. Ok, so that might be too distant for her to feel genuine empathy for people from her own background, but still it was surprising to see her slagging off the natives of the country where her ancestors were born for being ‘dirty’ and ‘rude’. In fact, I’ll go further. It was fucking disgusting and she should be beaten with a fucking stick for her callous twattishness. She’s a posh little devil who honestly thinks she deserves the priviledge she was born into. Last night, after working in the cotton field for five minutes, she was delighted her eczema flared up, meaning she couldn’t continue and had to go back to the flat they were renting to do fuck all.

Slightly less irritating, but only because he’s so thick he’s unaware of what his huge, farting gob is going on about, is Mark. Mark lives with his Mum and is clearly unable to do anything for himself. At times Mark has put some effort in but he tends to throw tantrums the minute anyone touches him. He also dresses like any clone who walks out of Next or Top Man and he talks in mono-syllables. Luckily, he’s quite easy to ignore. Unlike Richard.

Richard wants to look like Alex Zane (fuck knows why), and he pulls this off – he too looks like a berk. But where Alex Zane is presumably capable of logical thought, Richard is a toothy, weepy, fuckhead with nothing going for him whatsoever. Apparently he runs his own ad agency and is on fifty grand a year (must be a small ad agency then)  – but I refuse to believe this on the basis that he is utterly, utterly stupid. The world has never known stupidity like this. Seriously.

The object of this show is to replicate the experience of your average sweatshop worker – and even then I’m sure they’ve sanitised it somewhat. When Richard felt a little bit tired, in the middle of a crowded cafe, he began a tirade against the dirty, disgusting, rude, peasants he worked amongst (his words, not mine). He was so loud, he disturbed those around him, one man in particular took offence (and rightly so) and attempted to assuage the anger, only to receive more hot air from the stupid cunt.

Richard’s threatened to leave a few hundred times and I’m sure I’m not alone when I wish he’d just piss off and leave the others to it. He’s incapable of learning anything about Indian culture and he refuses to engage with the workers. His reasons for feeling no sympathy for the workers early on was that they, he reasoned, could surely find a way out of the slums. Citing his own climb to ‘the top’, he said that any man could make their own way in the world, forgetting that he comes from one of the wealthiest countries in the world and was surely given more than a leg up from his old man. Even the slightest bit of research would tell you that these people have no choice. You don’t even need evidence, Richard! Look around you!

To add to this, he also didn’t realise cotton comes from plants. Richard is the personification of our idiot youth – that percentage of our kids who are over-exposed, over-priviledged and who deserve to be flogged.

The final episode is next week. For editorial purposes, there’ll be the inevitable end of ‘the journey’ tears and a montage of edits wherein all the participants are shown to have learned something. Don’t believe it. Amrita and Richard in particular are learning fuck all. They haven’t got the capacity to see beyond their own material, pointless lives. They’re dumbed down dickheads and they should be left to survive in the slums. They haven’t an ounce of the dignity of the people they work around in this series, and if left to their own devices in that environment, minus camera crews and production staff, they’d be trying to eat their own shit and living in trees, so devoid are they of common sense.

You might be able to tell, this show upsets me a little bit. The final edit is trying to tell its own story – of six youngsters realising where their easily gained possessions come from. But the programme does more than that, as despite attempts to cover over the cracks, what we actually see is a handful of pig-headed twats realising nothing and revealing everything that’s bad about our throwaway culture. At least, for an hour per week, we get to see them suffer.

The Wright Stuff (again)

September 12, 2007


Did you happen to catch The Wright Stuff medical phone-in last Tuesday morning? If not, you missed the most revolting 15 minutes of television I’ve witnessed in a long time.

First to phone in was a man whose penis had gone all bent out of shape thanks to his bad diet (for examples of a bad diet see Piqued). This wasn’t all that bad, considering what came next.

Because next up was a man who, when he sat at his computer and farted, had an oil he described as being ‘like that liquid on the top of a curry’ leak out of his arse and contaminate his chair. He didn’t describe whether he was cursed with this mysterious arse-oil when he farted on other seats, so I was led to believe it only happened when he farted at his computer. The doctor suggested it might be pancreatic cancer – an illness I had no idea made you fart oil whilst looking at the internet.

Next was a man who’d picked up arse-worms whilst trekking around India. The doctor suggested he look at his arse in the mirror but, arse-worms being the shy little devils they are, he’d have to catch them off guard. The plan was to lull them into a false sense of security by turning off the lights, then catch them in the act of wriggling out of the guy’s anus by shining a torch at them as he crouched in the dark straddling a mirror looking at his own arsehole.

Finally there was the guy who, when attempting a fart, ended up belching instead. Of course, this being the most disgusting phone-in show ever devised by man, the belch stank of farts. He wasn’t best pleased. Who would be? Farting out of their mouth like that? Imagine if you did it at a dinner party? Or in Smith’s?

For years, my grandfather has been thundering at me that television has gone down the pan. For three decades I’ve dismissed his cries and wails as the moans of a hoary old misery guts stuck in a time-warp of Morecambe & Wise Christmas Specials and Dad’s Army. After seeing this … this … whatever it was, I am now in complete agreement with him.