A TV show about how TV shows are rubbish

I’ve been enjoying How TV Ruined Your Life, the new show from writer, comedian and miserablist Charlie Brooker.  The latest episode was shown last night on BBC 2 and continued in the same vein as its predecessors.  As its pessimistic title suggests, every week Brooker casts his weary, misanthropic eye on the legacy of television and its largely negative influence on the world.  It’s an excellent and appropriate vehicle for the satirist’s acerbic sense of humour, and a strong debut for Brooker on a terrestrial channel, but it’s not without it’s problems.

Perhaps its biggest fault is that it’s too self-consciously bleak.  From the title screen onwards, How TV Ruined Your Life aims to look only at everything wrong with the medium.  This is in contrast to his first onscreen offering Screenwipe (and its News and Games spin-offs), which took a similarly cynical look at its subjects, and offered similarly wry clips packages with a ranty narration.  But those earlier programmes, whilst derisive, were also celebratory.  As host, Brooker was obviously as much a fan of good TV as he was the scourge of rubbish TV, and his evangelical praise of quality shows like The Wire and Deadwood was as entertaining and informative as his damning indictments of dross like My Super Sweet 16.

This new show is a little more one-track-minded.  It treads a familiar path, and the montages are as snappy and well-edited as ever, but the tone is unrelenting.  Brooker’s fanbase will be gratified, but he seems to be playing up to his grouchy public persona (a character also seen on the almost-good 10 O’Clock Live).  He is scathing in his assessment of television’s ultimate effect on society; the conclusion always reached is that TV’s contributions have given us, as a people, a net loss.  It’s a conclusion which is not only ironic given the medium that the message is delivered, but self-evidently untrue, as Brooker himself would probably attest, if put on the spot.

The writer’s rising profile has seemingly afforded him a marginally bigger budget, transferring his commentary HQ from his own poky London flat to a studio mock-up, and peppering the clips with some comedy sketches.  This is a new addition, and it only occasionally works.  Having had no formal comedy background beyond writing hilarious diatribes in the Guardian, Brooker’s comedy sensibilities are hit-and-miss.  The most successful sketches invariably boast the talents of the superb Kevin Eldon, one of the best comic performers working today, and his appearances spruce up even the weakest bits of writing.  Without him, it sometimes falls flat, as it did last night with a skit about a robot being an X-Factor style judge.  (Just so you know, TV writers, as a general rule, robots aren’t all that funny.  Silly computer voices ≠ comedy gold.)

But it’s still good.  The host is still on form, and though he piles it on a little too much, his brand of exaggerated cynicism and dry wit remains refreshing in a schedule which would otherwise continue to pour glossy smiles and unalloyed optimism on a confusing world.  The best of his journalistic writing has made it to his onscreen persona, and he remains the high priest of biting put-downs, e.g. “a show which already looks so insanely dated, it might as well have been presented by George VI”, or “When you first encoutered wi-fi it was like magic.  Now you’ll moan like an oppressed dissident if you can’t get a 20mb download speed on your novelty ****ing teaspoon.”   Charlie Brooker remains a unique and brilliant figure in broadcasting, and whilst this show is not his best, he remains a shining beacon of comic genius, and miles ahead of any competition – if indeed he has any.

I’ve got a new fish-eye camera

What do you spend thirty-five quid’s worth of John Lewis vouchers on?  I have spent the weeks since Christmas trying to think of a useful solution to this dilemma, being as I am unfamiliar with the shopping experience of behemothian department stores. Last week I gave up trying to think of important household goods I ought to buy with them and spent a Sunday afternoon wandering round the gigantic seven-floor flagship shop on Oxford Street in the hope that something would catch my eye.  I walked out with a shiny new Lomography Fish-Eye camera.

Lomography, purveyors of quirky and artsy consumer cameras, claim that this is the first widely available fish-eye camera on the market.  It is like any other standard old-school 35mm camera, the kind everyone used to have, where you have to wind the film on manually, and rewind it when you reach the end.  But it comes with the most incredible bulbous 170° lens, and accompanying viewfinder.

It’s an extraordinary experience, taking photos with a fish-eye.  For starters, I haven’t used or owned a traditional film camera like this in about ten years, and it takes some getting used to.  I have almost forgotten how to load a film; and it’s a curious feeling to suddenly find that I can’t immediately view, edit or delete the photo I have just taken – there’s no LCD display with 35mm…  Having spent years taking digital photos, I am now re-learning the pace and patience that characterised all of photography for it’s first hundred years.

Fish eye also wildly changes the way you think about photos.  You can’t just snap away willy-nilly.  With a fish-eye in your hand there is to be no willy, nor any nilly; every shot must be carefully considered.  The Lomo guide recommends that you get as close as you possibly can to your subject, and with it’s super-wide-angle lens it is terribly easy to forget exactly how much it fits into the frame.  The photos give a unique and dramatically distorted perspective on even the blandest of objects.  I took a picture of something as pedestrian as a pedestrian crossing sign and bang!  Out comes one Art.

Of my first roll of film of thirty-six, roughly around eleven came out any good, which isn’t a bad ratio for the first batch.  A lot came out too dark, or too grainy – it’s a camera which gives best results in blazing sunshine.  Spending a weekend with friends in the pretty seaside town of Brighton proved to be plentiful with photographic opportunity.  A bit of photoshop tweaking and they’re definite keepers.  I’m no pro, and it’s still early days, but I’m already smitten.  This is old-school analogue gadgetry at it’s finest.  It’s a magic camera – everything looks cool. I’m never going back.

%d bloggers like this: