Gogglebox, Channel 4’s Basement Gimp And Why BBC3 Is Dead
Gogglebox, Channel 4’s basement Gimp and why BBC3 is dead
SOMEWHERE in the basement of Channel 4 there lives an executive known only as The Gimp. Constantly masked and frequently gibbering, His job – apart from not drawing on the walls – is to come up with new formats for the channel to exploit. It was he who devised the legendary Orphan Slingshot proposal which, though it got to pilot stage, was cruelly hampered by those swines from the Healthy & Safety Executive who deemed firing orphans at desperate childless couples to be unsafe. Still, he did well with Embarrassing Bodies, My Big Fat Gypsy and the forthcoming crossover My Big Fat Embarrassing Gypsy Body…
…alright, that’s all lies but it just makes me feel better to think of The Gimp shouting out formats in the basement than it does to face up to the reality: there’s a group of people out there absolutely delighted that they devised Gogglebox. If you’ve not seen the show yet, it’s 45 minutes of watching other people watching telly with Caroline Aherne providing a voiceover pitched somewhere between a kindergarden teacher with a major head injury and someone explaining Twitter to a half-deaf elderly relative.
The executives are no doubt utterly delighted with the little metatexual joke of having Aherne – who co-wrote and devised The Royle Family – narrate a show that is simply a reality knockoff of that show. Rather than having to invest in true documentary or new drama to fill the slot, Channel 4 can just point cameras at ‘normal’ families, carefully cast to get the optimum mix of over-opinionated, under-educated and occasionally pleasant. Charlie Brooker should also be delighted. Nathan Barley was his first character to metastasise into reality, now Screenwipe’s Barry Shitpeas is made real on Gogglebox.
Presumably 37 Days, the BBC’s docudrama on the run up to World War I, was so patronising to avoid confusing viewers who like several of the cast of Gogglebox are baffled by things like “the news”, “facts” and “linear narrative”. 37 Days resembled an episode of Horrible Histories with the jokes removed and the moustache budget tripled. The moustaches actually turned out to be a somewhat less heavy-handed way of explaining who were the goodies and who were the baddies than the laboured narration.
Elsewhere, deciding between baddies and goodies in the battle for BBC3 was even harder to work out. On the one hand it seemed as though Lord Hall (latterly of the Royal Opera House) had chopped the channel in order to avoid awkward conversations with the BBC4 watchers in his friendship group and was therefore the enemy. On the other, the supporters of BBC3 include talking Tony+Guy haircut and perennial irritant Nick “Grimmy” Grimshaw and the reparations for the televisual warcrime that was Two Pints of Lager… remain unpaid.
The argument for BBC3 as a breeding ground for new writing and acting talent is a decent one. However, the channel’s budget has been cut brutally in recent years, its ability to take risks curtailed and its output largely dominated by Family Guy repeats and crassly-named documentaries that distract from its more thoughtful factual output (like this week’s excellent Junior Paramedics). That the channel also crunches up news bulletins into 60-second fact pills doesn’t do it many favours either.
Overall, the BBC has a problem with dramas and new comedy. It kills off promising series – The Hour, The Fades and Ripper Street to name just three which have died early deaths – and schedules new comedy badly making it hard to establish new break out stars. If British television wants to avoid being atomised and ceding responsibility for interesting new shows to Netflix, HBO and the rest, it needs to put more faith in telling stories and less in easy formats like Gogglebox. But I’ve got more chance of persuading people that there’s a Gimp in the basement of Channel 4 than I have of selling that idea.