Tag Archives: TV

Playground training

Every year I vow I won’t put myself through it again, every single year. But without fail I still watch it. It’s event TV for the unimaginative, it’s infuriating and it makes me shout angrily at the screen as idiots in expensive suits make fools of themselves.

The Apprentice, Alan Sugar, and naked capitalism – a trilogy of things I hate, but still put up with annually. The producers are particularly savvy in their selection of candidates, as are the editors who tweak the narrative for maximum impact. It’s a parade of stupidity, and it makes me genuinely angry.

My girlfriend hates The Apprentice too, but she loves my apoplectic expressions, my consistent assumption that if I were on the show I could do better. The advertising slogans they coin, even the names they give their shitty and short-lived ‘teams’, lack even a simplistic sense of creativity.

Like a sycophant, I assume that if I made it onto the show I could win Alan Sugar’s favour, and his measly investment in whatever half-assed idea I sold him. The Apprentice sells the narrative that we all need a benevolent and wise mentor to guide us through life and it both appalls and entices me.

Watching this show makes me realise that my character isn’t as strong as I thought it was. I know that I should just ignore it, and let myself breathe more easily. The competitiveness, the backstabbing, and the anger that the candidates display is absurd, and frequently childish. The whole process makes these apparent professionals regress to their playground training, pulling hair and refusing to share the toys.

For me, there are some principles in life that we should defend rather than attack. There are some higher ideals that we should strive towards, instead of letting shitty human nature take over. We should aim to collaborate, and work together with others. And we should know that what we do collectively is always going to be better than what we do by ourselves.

But The Apprentice doesn’t aim for anything higher than naked profit. It champions those who squash, lash out, and venomously attack others. And it sucks us in with its logic.

Years and years ago, in the mystical dark ages of the 1960s, a sage called Richard Alpert discussed the legacy of LSD on the free market system. He claimed that if we all killed our egos, and if we all became mindful of the fact that we’re one consciousness experiencing reality subjectively, the world would become a healthier, happier, and more peaceful place.

It seems that if Alan Sugar, along with his business advisers and his yearly cohort of hopeful candidates, understood that life had more meaning than the arbitrary financial boundaries they believe in, The Apprentice could have a better legacy. It could be a TV show that highlights the positive aspects of humanity, rather than its ugliness.

Perhaps we should dose them all with LSD, we could watch consciousness expand, and we could realise together that there is no they or other, there’s just us, the collective. We could share in the candidates’ joy as they overcame the need to compete, and we could revel in the understanding that to be good to others is to be good to yourself.

There’s magic and beauty in the world, and sometimes we need a healthy dose of mindfulness, and we need to step outside of what we know and the ideas of self that define us to find it. But The Apprentice doesn’t allow for that kind of thinking. It’s an experience that makes everyone poorer. The candidates hurt each other, Alan Sugar watches on like the worst kind of prophet, and everyone celebrates wealth, opulence and greed.

If we don’t partake, if we don’t join in, and if we do it deliberately and vocally, then bad things stop. We don’t need to feed the beast; I could just turn the TV off. My girlfriend would lose out on some entertainment, but my mind would be better for it. The noise, the squabbling, squawking shrieks of anger and irritation, would be silenced. 

But what would I do instead on a Wednesday night? I could read a book, maybe explore my understanding of my own place in the universe. I could come to realise that by analysing the candidates on Alan Sugar’s shit show I become just like them. I could take a breath and realise that by judging others I’m judging myself; that our collective consciousness is harmed by the divisive them and us philosophy espoused by wealthy establishment figures like ‘Lord’ Sugar.

But I don’t have time for all that. The fuckers are naming a shampoo brand and they’re shit at it.

Four weeks earlier

Blood and tears clash on the face of the terrified and bewildered man on screen. He’s cradling a woman’s body in a burning building, fighting the realisation that he cannot save who we understand is the love of his life, and that he has dwindling seconds to get himself to safety before the floor collapses. The fear and fury of the scene is visceral. This programme is going to be pretty thrilling, clearly.

The screen goes black, and next we see an idyllic scene of a child flying a kite by a stream on a sunny autumn day. An adult couple sits on a nearby patch of grass, looking on with a mixture of happiness and mild concern that they may soon be drying off little Alfie who’s already getting in a tangle close to the water’s edge. They laugh together contentedly. They are deeply in love.

We recognise them as the couple from the burning building. On the screen, words emerge: four weeks earlier.


Continue reading Four weeks earlier

Cashing out

Paul Kaye lives in the same part of London as I do. You’ll know him even if the name isn’t familiar – he was Dennis Pennis, that red-haired red-carpet terrorist who used dubious press privileges to ask Wolf from Gladiators if his Nobbies itched on set and whether Eamonn Holmes had ever shat on a glass table.

I see Paul at the tube station from time to time, on his way to film another intriguing character role in that niche he’s etched out for himself in shows such as Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and Humans. He plays long-faced, greasy-haired, gurning minor villains who inevitably get their comeuppance at some point. He plays them well.

It turns out these roles have been little more than prep work for his finest creation yet. I speak, of course, of ‘Morris’.

Continue reading Cashing out

Guy Pearce-era Neighbours

The more films or TV shows you watch, the more you realise that everything follows a pattern. The couple that seem to hate each other will get together. The plain Jane will suddenly scrub up to be beautiful. Remember Guy Pearce-era Neighbours and you get my gist. Soon you start to notice lazy plot items, and the end is sure to be nigh.

Impressionism appears to have passed the popular film media behind. Never will you see a mundane act tackled without it leading to the same fucking conclusion. If a character is washing up, you can guarantee they will cut themselves on glass or a sharp knife. Should a cut occur, the house will have a full first aid kid with bandages and rafts of gamgee. A burst water pipe in the garden? Clearly a dead body is down there. Milk is either off or empty. Rubbish bags always burst. Mobile phones have no signal or no battery. Mundane always leads to a plot twist.

Has anyone ever just used a bathroom in a film without needing to talk to themselves in a mirror? If someone announces they are washing clothes, secret love message will be scooped out of a pocket. No one just reads a book, it has to be a metaphor. Bills are always overdue. Getting drunk means clutching a toilet and refusing to move for a few days – strange, as I know people who get drunk, don’t vomit and manage to go to work with a hangover. Even eating isn’t safe – ketchup is pulled by gravity out of a bun onto a shirt or tie. The majority of film stars just hilariously burn food, and don’t get me started on crisps put in bowls. In bowls? Why?

The exceptions appear to be European art films and depressing soaps. In Walford you can witness people cleaning with even more misery than you would usually associate with such a meaningless task. Watch a European Art film and everything is reversed. For hours a woman will stare endlessly at the washing up, each bowl symbolic of her wasted youth, a spoon a reflection of her aged face. I once heard of a two-hour film all about a married couple watching a potato boil. I’m not stupid, I know it’s a metaphor, but a) you do not boil a potato for two hours, and b) who the fuck watches food boil? Maybe that’s why I cant cook rice.

If art imitates life, where are the boring Sundays where all you do is eat crisps and watch Antiques Roadshow? Without wanting to sound like a Mike Leigh film, just let people talk while they do normal things. Or maybe just surprise us occasionally with a ring not falling down a plug hole.

The peacock element

Change is largely considered a good thing. It means progress. Moving forward, changing for the better. As we become wiser and more knowledgeable we can use this to build a better future, a better world. From a personal to a global level as time draws on, if we gain nothing else we gain a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Rarely is it a short journey, and worthwhile change will often not be reached until many a tangential pathway has been taken. And at no point is the stilted progress of mankind more candidly displayed than by the slew of dating shows that can be picked up any time of day on any one of the 48,000 channels we now have access to.

There’s Dating in the Dark; a self-explanatory title whereby the daters meet and conduct all their subsequent dates in a pitch-black room. The show allows the contestants to demonstrate their lack of vanity and superficiality. Regrettably this goes straight out of the blacked-out window when they introduce themselves and give their professions. “Glamour model”, “professional body-builder”, “face double for Angelina Jolie / Bradley Cooper” (delete as appropriate; to be both would just be greedy) seem to feature heavily.

The final nail in the coffin is the ‘reveal’. After getting to know one another in the dark they get the chance to see each other in the light before deciding whether to take things further. It’s a strange and wordless affair and their reactions to each other are hidden, so they are at least spared the grimaces and dry retching when the light reveals their partner to be a person of average appearance rather than the shirt-rippingly ripped / lusty and busty (delete as appropriate) humdinger of a Hollywood heartbreaker they had conjured up in their minds. It’s a very moving scene.

Then there’s Dinner Date, which claims to unite people through their love of good food. The first cull takes place on the basis of the menus provided by the five men or women who are willing to invite a complete stranger (plus film crew) into their homes. The menus are very rarely about the food as the seduction process begins by the inclusion of things like “Racy raspberry cheesecake, served dripping with my silky cream”.

As with all these things, as the notoriety of the show grows, so the menus get more brazen. It can’t be long before “Spread ‘em steamed dim sum”, “I will sleep with you ice-cream” or “Bend me over banoffee pie” makes an appearance. Once whittled down to the three most appetising menus, the picker gets to have dinner with each person before deciding on their favourite and taking them out, to a restaurant no less. Needless to say it’s not often the person who shows the greatest culinary accomplishments who gets picked.

But the grand-daddy of them all sits very loud and leeringly proud in the prime-time Saturday night slot on one of the TV channels that existed back when there was only four of them to choose from. Take Me Out unapologetically trades on modern society’s obsession with all things appearance. It’s honest though. There’s no attempt to disguise it.

Round one: a human male is delivered down a Perspex tube to the music of his choice, before parading himself up and down in front of 30 clapping, baying women. The music stops for him to give his name and city of residence. This is followed by the cacophony of droning power-down sounds as the 30 women demonstrate their disinterest by turning the lights on their podium off.

Round two: the male cuts a lonely figure as he has two minutes in which to demonstrate some special skill (usually done topless) to the sound of hands slamming down on the lights-off switch.

Round three: a video short in which the male’s friends, colleagues, parents or siblings out him as a shallow egomaniac who will no doubt transform from a sleazy arsehole to a decent, modest gent if only he could find The Right Girl.

Should any lights still be on at the end of round three, our male protagonist is rewarded with free rein to strut around the studio turning off the lights of any women who made it past the casting director despite not looking like she’s just walked off the set of Hollyoaks. Down to the final two, he picks his favourite and the new couple are jetted off to a budget Ibiza-style location for their date.

There hasn’t been much change and progress on the dating show scene over the years. The sleaze factor has shot up; it’s less about coupling up and more about copulating nowadays. The amount of fake tan per episode would probably fill several Olympic-sized swimming pools – and that’s just for the menfolk – but the peacock element remains the same. It’s a reminder that no matter how many social media accounts we might be signed up to, and no matter how artistic we can be with a filter on our camera phone, we’re not so far removed from our animal brethren as we preen, pose, shriek and holler our way into a mating situation.

We just have the benefit of being able to televise it. And watch it. And laugh.

Now that’s progress.

The trials and tribulations of Mr Khan

Opinions are like arseholes: it’s best to keep yours to yourself and they only get worse with age.

People are well entitled to have opinions on whatever they like, though as previously explained if you disagree with me on music you are simply wrong. This I have most recently pointed out to my grandfather, who it transpires erroneously believes he has built up the right to enjoy the saxophone over the course of his 88 years on Earth. He is mistaken.

One thing that will divide opinion more than virtually anything else is comedy. Few actions available to us, at least ones that won’t get us arrested or exiled, are as enjoyable as laughter. Laughter’s so brilliant we can take pleasure from watching other people doing it, or even just hearing it – sometimes even canned laughter on TV. Which brings me to Citizen Khan.

What in the name of all that’s fucking holy were the BBC thinking when they commissioned this atrocity? For anyone who hasn’t bled from the eyeballs watching a trailer featuring a parodic Asian family gurning about tragically, Citizen Khan, and this is from Wikipedia, “follows the trials and tribulations of Mr Khan, a loud-mouthed, patriarchal, self-appointed community leader, and his long suffering wife and daughters”. Furthermore, “In Series One, Kris Marshall starred as Dave, the manager of Mr Khan’s local mosque”. Dave. Remarkable.

I tend to trust the BBC in most matters, despite how often they invite Melanie Phillips onto Question Time. They produce some fine programmes, including comedy – I will happily rank The Thick of It, Red Dwarf, Blackadder and Yes, Minister among the finest shows ever made, and it’ll surprise nobody to know I bloody love One Foot in the Grave. Two recent efforts, Uncle and The Detectorists, were unexpected treats.

Occasionally the BBC screw up and we could each list a barrel load of shite TV they’ve produced, including many sitcoms. Many terrible shows only last one series and the Beeb can be forgiven for taking a punt on things that don’t work out, but you saw those two words up there didn’t you? That’s right: ‘Series One’.

There’s been more than one series of Citizen Khan. In fact if you head over to the iPlayer now you’ll be able to catch up on episodes from Series Three.

Who the hell finds this debacle funny? The dimwittedness of TV viewers knows no bounds when it comes to things like Big Brother, and the singing and dancing spectaculars they mindlessly goggle at of a Saturday night, but a purported comedy about an Asian family that makes Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em look like, well, Citizen Kane? Is this really happening?

And evidently I’ve misunderstood what racism’s about if this doesn’t fall into that category. Do I have to start calling my mum a nigger now? Please don’t make me.

OK, everyone finds different things funny, I get that. The universal hilarity of watching people fall over and/or hurt themselves aside, the fact that everyone has their own sense of humour is what makes comedy so special. For some reason this is best summed up by Irish sitcoms – Father Ted, one of the Republic’s finest exports, makes me laugh until milk comes out of my nose. Moone Boy was a surprisingly entertaining, cheeky-but-inoffensive watch. And then there’s something called The Walshes, which made me very angry the other night, a falsely stereotypical batch of Irish ‘idiots’ japing their way through uproarious misunderstandings for thirty graceless minutes.

And I’ll be the first to admit some things are not intended for me. Though the movies are superb I never really got my head around Monty Python’s TV series, and much as I loved Spike Milligan it was more for his writing than for The Goon Show. Surreality is not to my taste, and though I can see why people might enjoy Flight of the Conchords, it’s not for me. That said, anyone involved in The Mighty Boosh should be branded with ‘I’M SORRY’ on their foreheads.

Obviously not everyone finds what I find funny in any way amusing. My favourite programme of all time, I’m not ashamed to admit, is Minder. I tell people that often, usually as they back away slowly with their palms facing me, eyes darting left to right. I can’t explain what exactly it is about Arthur Daley that makes me believe he’s the finest comedy creation of all time. People think I’m obsessed with Dennis Waterman because I also love the original Sweeney and I have a New Tricks habit I can’t seem to shake, but it’s Arthur, it’s always Arthur.

But surely we can agree that programmes like Citizen Khan must be stopped. There are plenty of gormless sitcoms for the idiots to enjoy – see Not Going Out, Benidorm if that’s still going, and presumably Michael argh-please-God-no-more McIntyre will have a sitcom of his own before long. That Outnumbered programme, that’ll work if you really need ‘family’ comedy. And if sitcoms are just too white for you, for Christ’s sake pick up a box set of Desmond’s, because that was bloody superb without needing to patronise either non-whites or liberals needing a show to demonstrate how right-on they were.

I stared open-mouthed at 12 minutes of the first episode of Citizen Khan, and tried hard to scrub it from my memory. I completely missed the second series and assumed there hadn’t been one. That it’s made it to a third is as unknowable to me as Mark Lawrenson’s continued presence on football coverage or how Terry Wogan disguises his syrup so well.

I’m loathe to bring the licence fee into it but part of my annual BBC tax is going on this foul endeavour. I hope the BBC’s security is up to scratch in their lovely new building in Marylebone because the moment they announce Series Four, thoughts will turn to shotguns and dynamite and taking as many of them with me as I can.

Due to the high standard of applicants

“We just can’t get applicants with the skills and attitudes we need.” The constant refrain from employers bemoans a lack of skills, and applicants who turn up in pyjamas and expect to be allowed to drink neat vodka all day, along with an inability to hold a basic conversation. There are, so British industry says, no suitable, skilled, British applicants for UK jobs. At all. Anywhere.

And Peter Pan is real, and lives two doors down from me.

Employers: the reason you’re not finding suitably skilled applicants with a good attitude and decent work ethic is because you don’t get back to us when we email you. We write, in perfectly grammatical Queen’s English, explaining our relevant experience, with examples of things we’ve actually done, and projects we’ve been involved in. We give you the names of real, physical companies we’ve worked for, and who were pleased to have us there (or said they were, at any rate).

We submit our CV, or the carefully-completed online application form, well within the deadline, having checked, double-checked and triple-checked that our email address and mobile phone number are accurate, and that we haven’t inadvertently given you the address of the Facebook and Twitter accounts that we let our mates see – you get the same profile Mummy and Daddy do, where we talk about our volunteering work, the educational programmes we’ve watched on the BBC, and the online courses we’re undertaking to “improve ourselves” and “further our education, knowledge, and experience”.

We make sure that relevant documents are attached to the email, which we’re not sending from our ‘workisforwankers@dossmail’ address, or, if you’ve asked us to be all old-fashioned and post things to you, we make sure everything’s included, the address is right, and that the lady at the Post Office checks the envelope to ensure we pay for the right amount of postage. Then we drop it in the slot, or hit Send, and wait.

And wait. And wait.

Until, three weeks or so after the closing date, we eventually get a terse “Thank you for your application. Unfortunately, due to the high standard of applicants, you have been unsuccessful. We wish you luck in your job search.” It’s not even addressed to us, and you’re not even skilled enough with computers to fake that you’re not sending it as a bulk mail job.

And then, a week after we stopped less than an inch short of slashing our wrists in response to your rejection, you’re in the paper, or on This Morning, whining about how hard life is for you, and how no one’s good enough to work for you.

Boo-bloody-hoo. That’s not what you told all those folk currently having their benefits stopped because they didn’t even get to interview with you, so must’ve screwed up somehow. You’ll carry on raking in your hundreds of pounds an hour salary, while the rest of us struggle to buy groceries, pay bills and get by on the same amount you’d spend on a “quiet evening out”.

There are skilled, sensible job applicants out there, who know that they’re expected to turn up on time, do as they’re told, and be professional. Who can write and speak good English. Who know that you don’t wear a tie to an interview for a kennel hand, or a gimp suit to an interview for a job in a solicitors’ office. But we’re not psychic – if you want to interview us, you have to respond to our application. Preferably with your location, and a date and time.

But it’s cheaper for you to ignore any applications you get, and go on TV whining about your life. After all, it’s free advertising, isn’t it, especially if you can get the telly crew to do a few seconds of footage in your offices or your factory. Not an avenue that’s typically open to jobseekers, the free publicity of an appearance on the six o’clock news. The truth is out there, along with the job applicants you claim don’t exist. And the truth is, British industry, that you don’t want a workforce – you want a soundbite.

A brave move for a lad they call Del Boy

I remember it just like it was yesterday. I think I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. I may have only just come around from the shock of it, but I can still say I’m glad I was there, I’m glad I saw it.

Did you see it too? Have you been watching The Apprentice recently? The moment was so seismic I swear I saw my TV levitating while every spoon in my flat was bending or some other such supernatural analogy. It was that never before seen footage of a candidate on the show displaying the lesser-known behaviour of humility in the boardroom.

Lindsay – my new hero and mentor – after titting up a pointless and wanky sales task found herself in the boardroom on the losing side of the blame game. We’ve seen this before, and we know what to expect. We were waiting for her to fling herself around the room, wildly passing blame onto anyone and everyone, egomaniacally washing herself of any responsibility and making desperate claims about how brilliant she is and how many businesses she’s successfully made a few quid from, which usually boils down to a few bits sold on eBay and/or a small enterprise set up as part of AS-Level Business coursework.

But she didn’t. Cheeks ever so slightly aflame and eyes showing just a tiny hint of moisture, she did something unthinkable and just took the blame. Not only did she take the blame for failing in that particular task, but she went on to explain how she just wasn’t the right fit for the process. Of course you’re not the right fit, Lindsay! You’ve got a fucking heart you poor dear!

Sitting to her right, someone who is absolutely the right fit for the process – in other words, a total twat – went from getting ready to push her under the train to extending an arm of sympathy. A brave move for a lad they call Del Boy. You’d think he would be too afraid of catching humanity to actually touch someone who had the foolishness to admit to what he’d perceive as ‘weakness’.

Across the table, poor old Lord Sugar, with the look of a dried apricot that’s been rolling around in the fluff under the sofa for a good while, was just baffled.

For the merest moment, as I sat on my sofa with every muscle in my body tightening, I thought to myself “fucking hell, she might actually win this”. How could she not? Having shown honesty, integrity and self-awareness, she was a stand out. So she’s no salesperson, but is that really what it takes to be an entrepreneurial success?

Well yes, it probably is, and it sure as hell matters when you’re trying to go into business with Lord Al. With the confused look of a tortoise that’s just had a load of fag ash dumped on its head he did what he had to do. More gently than he perhaps would have done otherwise, he put our Linds out of her misery fairly quickly.

Up and away she went with well-deserved dignity, leaving behind a boardroom full of sharks who were too busy thinking about who to scapegoat next to dwell too much on the brief display of human decency they had witnessed.

It comes from the French word apprendre; to learn. An apprentice is one who learns or is learning. It’s why people get away with paying them pennies in the real world, because they supposedly have no skills that are valuable enough to warrant payment. What they get is the knowledge of one more experienced than them so that they can go out into the world and make a living.

Not so the cast of The Apprentice. They know it all already, though they’ll occasionally pepper their self-promoting windbagging with a few words of flattery about Lord Alan. Essentially they want to be as loaded as him and they want to know how the fuck he did it; that’s basically the learning they’re interested in.

One thing no one needs to tell them is there are very few ways in this world to become that rich without having a fairly loose attitude towards the feelings of others. I’m not saying everyone who is rich got there by being mean, but there are elements of it. Whether it’s by smashing the little guys, or taking a pay cheque for something that doesn’t fit with your morals just because there are several zeroes before the decimal point, you can get rich, but it’s unlikely to be the result of being nice.

Go forth and conquer it all, Lindsay. You don’t need to learn anything from Lord Alan or Del Boy or even Karen and Nick. You’re a hands down decent person which may mean you’ll never be stinking rich, but your position as The Nicest One on The Apprentice will doubtless be safe for many, many more series to come.

Feathery bastard

I sit slumped in the chair, vodka screwdriver in hand. I’m filled with rage, the level of rage only a king could feel as he watches his subjects rise up in revolt. But my rage isn’t because of people, my rage is the fault of a pigeon. This feathery bastard’s shit on me.

Bird poo was on my shoulder and I’m still pissed. When folks are mad they express it. Some cartwheel their anxiety away. Other hurl themselves out of planes. I like to fill a glass half empty with society’s favorite poison, turn on the television and scream obscenities that would make Mel Gibson blush.

I’m ready for the catharsis, but wait! What in God’s hell is this? I’m staring at floral-designed, cigarette-stained chairs, clutching sunken, deflated pale orange cushions. It’s C4’s Gogglebox. I am watching the watching. I see kings and queens sat upon their thrones, commenting and snarling into the disfigured face of that medieval jester we call light entertainment.

I can’t watch this. It’s what I do; I sit, I snarl. I ramble and rant while babies are crowning their soft heads into our reality. How am I supposed to be disturbed when I know Steven and Chris from Brighton are chuckling at One Born Every Minute?

I can’t enjoy shouting at the TV because the TV is shouting louder, and it has wit. I hate it having wit. TV commentary was a game I played and won. I was playing by myself but I was still winning. Now it’s a competition, me vs the TV; who is the most creative when calling Jeremy Clarkson a prick. “Top Gear is like a rose bush, it looks pretty but it’s filled with pricks” I used to joyfully preach. Not now, no because Linda, George and Pete from Clacton-on-Sea have outdone me, the witty arseholes and they have an upstairs living room. I don’t have an upstairs living room.

I have lost my vent, my outlet. What am I supposed to do now? Get angry at people being angry? That’s ridiculous, I’m moving my anger one more stage away from the root of the anger. It was pigeon shit then rage at TV, now it’s pigeon shit, TV and now rage at people raging at TV. It’s getting far too meta.

If only I’d got that beak-headed mutant-toed fuck in the first place I could of written a poem about cats wearing mascara.

If there’s one good thing to come out of Gogglebox it’s this: it has shown me what a completely idiotic swine I am, mindlessly perplexed by a glowing box. I rant and ramble not thinking about the venom pouring out of my hypocritical skull. I am as dumb as the rest of this doomed nation and I should just turn off the TV. I will keep it off!

Until the next time a feathered foe fires faeces into my face.