Subtitles Are Not TV’s Kite Mark: Not Unless You Want To Sing Along With Simon Cowell And Clive James
Mic Wright’s Remotely Furious.
HOMELAND is fine. Borgen is fine. The Killing was fine. If any of these shows was set in England and broadcast by ITV1, The Guardian would not give one solitary based-out-listlessly-by-Sam-Wollaston toss about them. They are entertaining but they’re not the red hot stuff that TV reviewers want you to believe you are. It’s not philistine to think subtitles are a pain the bum nor that Mel & Sue aren’t charming as hosts of the Great British Bake Off or that Richard “The Hamster” Hammond should grow up.
There is too much received wisdom in television criticism and TV chatter in general. You’re expected to enjoy but disdain The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, to throw a layer of irony on top to justify those hundreds of hours of Saturday night viewing. I love The X Factor and BGT unreservedly. Susan Boyle’s first BGT audition still makes me cry. It’s the product of emotional manipulation by savvy TV producers but so what? I watch sad films to make me cry, I watch nostalgic films so I can bang on about Pogs or that grim time when people enjoyed the music of Smashmouth.
The Guardian calls Simon Cowell “the karaoke Sauron” and thinks that is hilarious. It’s about funny as waking up to discover that your knob’s has been replaced by a miniature version of Alan De Botton which lectures any woman you sleep with and, instead of semen, deposits tiny versions of his collected works in any uterus it can target, growing them out into more Alain De Bottons.
I wrote in my first column for Anorak that I love Clive James and consider him to be the finest TV critic of all time. I immediately got a comment telling me I’m not Clive James, along the lines of Bentsen’s classic vice-presidential debate put down against Quayle (“I knew Jack Kennedy, senator, and you’re no Jack Kennedy”). That is right. I’m not Clive James. There can be only one and may his brain be preserved in a big jar with some eyes connected to it somehow [note to the future: please fill in your own details here]. The issue is: no one is trying to be this generation’s Clive James. Instead they’re tossing out lazy reviews of shows they got on preview and be jaded, jaded, jaded about something that is ultimately meant to entertain.
You know what was brilliant this week? Strange Days: Cold War Britain on BBC2. Dominic Sandbrook makes history alive, vibrant and thrilling on TV and in print. You know what The Guardian chose to obsess about in its review of this rush around Cold War myths? Sandbrook’s scarf. Well done John Crace. Well done. Clive James must be spinning in his comfy chair.