Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Little Man In The Boat

Last April BBC2 screened The Lost World of Friese-Greene in which presenter Dan Cruickshank retraced the route from Land’s End to John O’Groats taken by Claude Friese-Greene back in 1926 as he filmed life in the countryside, in colour, for his series of short films called The Open Road.

Following in Friese-Greene’s tyre tracks, he revealed not only what had changed over the eighty years but, even more remarkably, how much still remained virtually the same. Along the way Cruickshank spoke to descendants of people who appeared in the original footage and even pensioners who had been young children at the time Claude and his camera passed through their towns and villages.

Cruickshank’s remarkable three-part series had a purpose. Which is more than can be said for the sudden nasty rash of programmes on BBC and ITV that are so keen to tell us how utterly wonderful England's green and pleasant land is.

Griff Rhys Jones is tramping up the British Isles’ mountains in Mountain, and after three weeks still hasn’t fallen off on yet. Great British Journeys sees Nicholas Crane, still substituting his bloody umbrella for any hint of actual personality, retracing the routes taken by British “adventurers” who still wanted to be back home in time for tea.

Starting this week, ITV has the asinine Britain’s Favourite View, which could be less insipid if it just tried a little harder, and now Robbie Coltrane: B-Road Britain. Although given the big man’s expanding girth, squashed behind the wheel of his little bright red Jaguar XK150 (which is quite a stylish motor as mid-life crisis cars go) it could easily have been mistaken for Broad Britain.

I’m sure the views from the B-roads are very pleasant as long as the hedges aren’t too high and it’s a bright, sunny day, but they’re not very practical if you actually want to get somewhere. I remember car journeys from my youth that didn’t involve motorways. Even on the A-roads they took fucking ages and everyone was usually worn out and miserable by the end.

Sticking to the back roads is for people who don’t have to be anywhere other than stuck behind a tractor for three hours, or don’t care what time they get to where they have to be. Of course the show wasn’t really about the roads but the wacky people he happened to meet along the way. And what a bunch they were.

Think the British are either uptight and reserved or just a little bit mad? Apparently we’re all off-our-tits crazy. Can you believe there is somebody walking free who admits to coming up with frisbee golf? Then again, the removal of a lens cap is the biggest arsehole magnet there is.

In years past, programmes of this ilk at least had the diligence to go abroad and ridicule funny foreigners. Now they can’t even be bothered to do that anymore, unless they’re afraid of being blown up.

Britain has got some really beautiful landscape. It’s a whole lot better when it isn’t being trampled over by an army of camera crews and out-of-breath presenters babbling equally tired platitudes.

Slapped into the schedules they all add to the evidence for the prosecution that we’re balls deep in the summer of shit UK TV. Yes, there’s always Heroes and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, but if you’ve already seen them you’re basically well and truly twatted.

What makes it even more infuriating is that, now that the US networks are killing time with reruns until the Fall schedule kicks off, American cable channels are using the summer months to put out some very interesting and entertaining shows. AMC has Mad Men set in an advertising agency in 1960s New York, TNT is showing Saving Grace, starring Holly Hunter as a wearied police detective in need of a guardian angel, even Spike has come out with the bank hostage drama The Kill Point.

In their wake comes Californication on Showtime. One of the problems I had with The X-Files, even before all their convoluted conspiracy story threads went completely wonk, was David Duchovny’s almost arid delivery. It looked like Cesare the somnambulist was his acting coach and, quite frankly, I’d seen more expressive wallpaper.

Then he began to appear on The Larry Sanders Show as a very different “David Duchovny”. There his deadpan delivery made much more sense and it’s back on show as New York novelist Hank Moody, living in LA and unable to write. Low self-esteem and self-loathing doesn’t stop him from trying to stick-and-stir inside everything with a pulse and then toss them like a used Kleenex. His novel God Hates Us has been turned into a movie called A Crazy Little Thing Called Love starring Tom and Katie. At least Moody gets his own back by banging the director’s wife.

Reviews have referenced Shampoo or called it a male version of Sex and the City. While the former seems relevant, Moody is far more complicated that Shergar Jessica Parker’s whiny character in the latter. Whichever one it ultimately veers toward, the character demolition of a date his agent’s wife fixes him up with is just priceless as is his kiss off: “Not only are you a cadaverous lay, you also have shitty taste in movies” – a line I could have used more than a couple of times in the past.

It also stars Natascha McElhone as his ex-partner. Luckily for us Five have already bought it.


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