Wednesday, 30 March 2011

10 O'Clock Live (Channel 4, 24/03/2011)

10 O'Clock Live is now in its tenth week; it is an attempt to make an up-to-the-minute satirical comedy, with a reasonably well selected team of participants. Whilst this is nominally a review of last Thursday's instalment, I have been watching this over a few weeks, so references may cover previous episodes.

The problem for me is not that it is left-wing - which it is, in a lukewarm Guardianista manner - but that it is all so predictable. Brooker's bits are very much News Wipe-lite, lacking the depth of his analysis on that fine BBC4 programme.

His recent BBC2 series, How TV Ruined Your Life, was satisfactory but tended to use very obvious clips. It worked best when he focused on the lifestyle dreams peddled by television, and the illusory view it gives of 'romance'; the public information films episode trod over very old ground without shedding much new light.

Lauren Laverne is okay, acting as a sort of likeably perky straight-woman to the others. She is rarely funny but does make some generally sensible, earnest contributions: the one on public libraries, particularly. As with any thinking and feeling person raised in Sunderland in the 1980s, she is anti-Tory and these views clearly come across. Far better her than Daisy Donovan.

Jimmy Carr is, well, Jimmy Carr - which is to say, smugly 'deadpan'. His contributions vary from the forgettable, to the inconsequential to the crass (making light of postal workers' redundancies). In Carr-world, puns are the height of wit and when the writers do give him some political lines his delivery lacks understanding and conviction. His portrayal of George Osborne the 'toff' is utterly toothless - missing the point and diverting the audience from the real nature of these Tories.

David Mitchell, however, has no end of conviction and displays more intelligence and passion than anyone else in the programme. He handles the largely serious interview sections well, mixing pointed, relevant questions with some barbed asides that are rather less cynical than Paxman's. He makes some sterling comments on housing, debunking the 5-years-out-of-date lifestyle 'aspirations' peddled by the Tory MP Grant Shapps: "Our houses are massively overvalued [....] Shouldn't we get rid of this bloody ladder!?"

Mitchell is excellent in highlighting the absurdity of Osborne's budget proposals, putting public money towards propping up house prices at their current 'value' - encouraging first-time buyers to borrow beyond their means. Politician Shapps is every bit the vacuous television property-porn salesman, an archetype that should be as popularly loathed as the reckless banker:

'People wanna get a foot on the ladder'

He also has Shapps squirming over the issue of elite public schools and their charitable status - effectively receiving a subsidy from the state. His "Eton College is taking the piss" receives gratifyingly loud applause from the seemingly 20-30-something audience. Clearly the Tories will have to face these charges now that they are in power, defending an iniquitous status quo (shamefully unchallenged by the Blair or Brown's Labour Party).

For the self-styled libertarian Tory James Delingpole to describe the programme as 'Maoist re-education' is palpably absurd. So much of the satire, Mitchell's interviews and pieces-to-camera notwithstanding, is relatively apolitical and lacking in bite; it is rather conservative television in how little it uses the format, with its solo-comedian spots and the spartanly garish sets. It would benefit from a more varied approach to its comedy: sketches, songs. Delingpole is wrong that there is no serious debate; in the interview and panel sequences, there is a reasonably high standard of debate - with guests who span the political spectrum. If it tends towards a left-of-centre perspective, this might be seen as a necessary counterbalance to the overwhelming right-wing dominance of the newspaper market - and the BBC, which, lest we forget, employs such left-wing firebrands as Nick Robinson and Andrew Neil.

This show is actually quite valuable in bringing some sober debate on issues like Libya and housing to a young audience. The Libya debate with Rory Stewart was a case in point, managing to convey many different perspectives on a complex issue - see alo the immigration debate that involved Mehdi Hasan. 10O'CL works less well as comedy, however; one can only imagine the greater depths that would be explored by a Stewart Lee. Indeed, this team of performers and writers seem unable to reach the incisive depths and vitality of Chris Morris or Armando Iannucci. Those 1960s-born satirists probe a lot deeper into the human condition and power than the following generation does here.

On balance, it is better that 10 O'Clock Live is being broadcast than not being broadcast, but there are so many missed opportunities that one is left disappointed. It should be urgent and essential viewing, but is only occasionally so. It is a significant advance on Channel 4's ghastly essay in anti-civilisation, The 11 O'Clock Show, but nowhere near the sort of satirical genius of The Day Today or even The Friday Night Armistice.

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