Monday, January 4, 2010

Big Fat Idiot

How quickly things can become stale. Take the annual panel show (comedy is too strong a word) “The Big Fat Quiz of the Year”, which was first broadcast only five years ago in December 2004. It now seems incredible that viewers once considered this programme original, anarchic or even faintly amusing, as it has now morphed into a tired collection of in-jokes and tried and trusted anecdotes. At its inception, this was edgy, funny television, but it’s time to kill it off, as it has now become a pathetic parody of itself and is clearly only an excuse to feed the insatiable egos of some of the guests. Yes, I am looking at you, Jonathan Ross.

For anyone who has enjoyed the good fortune of never watching this annual bore-fest, it is a bit like a pub quiz, only without the ambience and wit of your local. Three teams of two publicity seekers (sorry, celebrities) have to answer questions relating to events of the past year, presumably in a witty and engaging manner. Not that you would necessarily guess, as the over-riding objective seems to be to massage the vanity of the contestants.

"Act your age"

The lofty ambitions of the enterprise are established “early doors” (as Big Ron would have said), when the celebrities are invited to demonstrate their rapier-like wit by naming their teams. Hence, Rob Brydon and Claudia Winkleman opted for “The Newlyweds”, because one is a man and one is a woman. Yes, I know – it didn’t make me smile either. Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand went for the immensely self-serving “The Moral Minority” in the first of countless tedious references to the Sachsgate affair, which they appeared to have forgotten took place not in 2009, but in October 2008. Why not go the whole hog and call themselves the “Sex Pistols”? After all, isn’t Brand some sort of sex god? And I suppose that Ross might consider himself a bit of a pistol, a son of a gun, though on this performance others might prefer son of a b… (I think you get the message).

David Mitchell and Charlie Brooker advertised their intellectual, uncompromising stance with “Ignorance and Want”, the ghastly children in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. Not a bad effort, which, of course, went straight over the head of the imbeciles in the audience, who were primed to laugh at every single inane, headline grabbing remark, but managed to miss anything that was genuinely funny. So, every time Brand tossed his ludicrously coiffured locks, he was given an ovation by the adoring crowds, but the one time he exhibited some genuine wit, it took the audience ages to catch on:

Ross: I spent three months looking at cats on the Internet.

Brand: I did a similar thing.

"Can I be your best friend?"

Brand’s tiresome obsession with sex meant that he had the ideal partner in Ross, because he was up his backside for the duration of the show. In fact, if they had blended this programme with the “Apprentice” spoof about a loathsome boss televised a few years back, they could have re-branded (geddit) it as “My Big Fat Obnoxious Ross”, as he was easily the worst thing about the show – against some pretty stiff opposition.

There has been a lot of public outrage over Ross's exorbitant BBC salary and some recent talk about this being reduced by at least 50%, but I think that his managers are missing the point here. It’s not so much that people are unhappy with the amount of money he earns, but more that they don’t think he’s worth any money at all. Or, put more bluntly, isn’t it time that Ross’s twelve-week suspension for leaving a series of obscene messages on the 79-year-old actor Andrew Sachs’ answerphone was given a rather more permanent status? At least his partner-in-crime Brand did the decent thing and resigned from the BBC, while Ross treated his punishment as an extended holiday before once again poking his snout into the trough.

"Mutton dressed as lamb"

You would have thought that he would have learned his lesson, but you can’t keep a good playground bully down, as we saw with his puerile hectoring of David Mitchell during the quiz. This was because Mitchell quite correctly refused to be the performing monkey to Ross’s organ grinder, when Wossy berated him for not dancing to Lady Gaga’s dreadful “Poker Face”. This was a deeply embarrassing display from Ross, as he “busted a few moves” (to quote the man himself) in a desperate attempt to show that he is “down with the kids” (again, a direct quote from Mr. Ego). You felt like you’d gatecrashed the party of your nightmares where a fat old man had totally nailed the charade for “a dad dancing at a wedding”. Here we had a 49-year-old chubster trying to pretend that he was still somehow young and hip, while teasing another middle-aged man about his inability to dance. I feel sorry for Ross’s children, who no doubt were squirming in mortification at their father’s exhibition.

Ross seemed blissfully unaware that the more he tried to humiliate Mitchell, apparently for the crime of being more intelligent and witty than Mr. Showbiz, the more he showed himself up as a narcissistic buffoon. As he became more childish, I wondered whether Ross had persecuted his mates at school in a similar way and fervently hoped that one of them had punched him in the face – after all, they could hardly miss. However, I fear that in the same way he hangs around the likes of Russell Brand like a bad smell today, he would probably have also hung on the coat tails of the cool kids at school, so coming under their protection. Oops, bit of a double meaning there, which I’m sure that Ross as a master of smutty innuendo would appreciate.

"Never mind the quality, feel the salary"

In another wretched attempt to appear trendy, Ross decided to diss Twitter as being full of banal contributions. WTF? This is a man whose contributions to the latest social network are hardly going to trouble Oscar Wilde’s memory. Yesterday’s highlight was “I am off for a post-minestrone nap. See you later”. Oh no you won’t, sunshine. Talk about having your cake and eating it – lots in his case. To be fair, he did use Twitter to slam the quality of TV over Christmas, which few would argue with, though they might counsel him to leave the glass house before starting to throw rocks.

Surely I am not the only one who is sick to death of seeing Ross’s smug visage all over the aptly named idiot box? I would again blame the BBC for his ubiquitous, oily presence, as whenever they think they have an asset they certainly know how to sweat it. Take David Tennant, whose spiky-haired, astonished expression could be seen absolutely everywhere over the festive period, like the beer of the same name on the streets of Glasgow, making the most of the incredible success of Doctor Who – though this is the same corporation who suspended production of the show in 1989 for fifteen years, so I suppose that they can’t even take much credit for that.

"When will I, will I be famous?"

At least Tennant does not have a sibling in the world of show business, unlike Jonathan, whose older brother Paul is even more vomit-inducing than the chat show king. He’s an awful movie critic, whose work is barely good enough for those august journals “News of the World" and “Daily Star Sunday”. His acidic comments are left far behind when he (frequently) attempts to scramble upon the celebrity bandwagon, appearing on “Comic Relief Does Fame Academy”, “Celebrity Mastermind”, “Celebrity Weakest Link” and, most embarrassingly, “Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes” as Tommy Steele. The only humorous thing about Paul Ross is an Internet campaign to take the mickey out of a portrait of the great man on Amazon, which has attracted nearly 300 ironic comments, e.g. “If you only buy one 20 inch canvas print of Paul Ross this year, this is the one to get”.

Jonathan, a man that the great Frankie Boyle described as “a £500 haircut on top of a melting mound of ice cream”, was paired with Russell Brand, most probably in a deliberate attempt to get publicity from the permanently outraged hacks at the “Daily Mail”, but the only result as far as I could see was a relatively subdued exhibition from perhaps the country’s biggest exhibitionist. His constant references to last year’s belittling of Manuel only emphasised how tired and irritating his routine has become. Apart from an absolutely abysmal piece of “acting” in the eminently forgettable “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, what else has he done in 2009? His feeble efforts at getting a laugh on the “Big Fat Quiz” were encapsulated by his child-like drawing of a plane to illustrate the story of the pilot landing on the Hudson in New York. He clearly missed last year’s partner, Noel Fielding, who’s also not particularly funny, but was a vast improvement on the shouty “Rosser” sitting next to him this time round.

"What do you mean, I'm Welsh?"

Serial Welshman, Rob Brydon, also appears to have lost his mojo, probably in the enormously over-rated “Gavin and Stacey”, which now seems to be more of a soap opera than a comedy. Brydon’s little man trapped in a box is admittedly very good, but is there anyone that hasn’t seen this routine by now? I’ve personally heard it on at least five different shows in the last fortnight alone. Of course, he’s very good at impressions, but they’re usually of people who left the limelight 30 years ago like Ronnie Corbett, so why not just get Mike Yarwood? To be honest, impressions just aren’t funny anyway, as anybody who saw Alistair McGowan’s execrable performance on last week’s “Live at the Apollo”, when he was effortlessly outshone by the emerging talents of Kevin Bridges and Reginald D Hunter, would undoubtedly agree. At least Uncle Bryn got into the spirit of this year’s “Big Fat Quiz”, when he bullied host Jimmy Carr by constantly mimicking his laugh (like a “molested seal” according to the genuinely witty Carr) – not funny the first time, it certainly got no funnier each time he repeated the “joke”.

"Are you sitting comfortably?"

As Charlie Brooker observed, at this point the over-long (two hours!) show had been reduced to “just a series of noises”, which prompted the useless Claudia Winkleman to give us the benefit of her horse impersonation. There’s no foal like an old foal, I suppose. Although this was an incisive contribution, Brooker is rapidly turning out to be a right Charlie. So brilliantly acerbic in print, he struggles to deliver in person and appeared in awe of his fellow panelists. You can see why he took the writing route, as he’s not very quick on his feet, only once demonstrating the verbal dexterity that his readers in the “Guardian” know so well, when he described his own dancing as “like a frightened horse on a frozen lake”. Usually on such shows, he goes for a cheap laugh by using the word “shit” as his pejorative adjective of choice. Unfortunately, like a PR man turning into the story, he is a writer famous for eviscerating rubbish television who now appears all too often on sub-par nonsense like the “Big Fat Quiz”. How can he now critically review terrible TV shows with a clean conscience when he features in so many of them himself?

"Put on your dancing shoes"

Winkleman gormlessly played the part of the token woman, which is annoying on at least two levels. First, she is spectacularly unfunny, invariably using some totally inappropriate street slang (“hello?”, “whatever”) in the place of anything resembling humour in a bid to become this year’s Davina McCall (the undisputed queen of the inane, wide-mouthed comment). Secondly, her presence prevents authentic female talents, such as Lucy Porter, Sarah Millican or even Josie Long taking her place. Or how about Victoria Coren, who would definitely have the balls to stand up to the sexist insinuation that Ross loves so much. Instead, we have to suffer Winkleman, who contributes precisely nothing, except maybe a deep orange glow on a cold, dark night.

"The Day The World Turned Day-Glo"

The only contestant that made me laugh consistently was David Mitchell, whose intelligent wit stood out like a diamond in a dustbin. He managed to rise above Ross’s increasingly awkward efforts to induce him to dance, e.g. renaming Mitchell’s team “The Dancing Queens” – oh stop it, my aching sides. Mitchell is the real deal, a comedian who can speak well and amusingly on whatever topic is thrown at him. Brand and Ross should look and learn from a master at work, someone who long ago realised that you don’t need to scream and yell to be funny (even in 2010).

Nor do you have to abuse others for a cheap laugh. Speaking of which, where was Ricky Gervais, given that he’s Jonathan Ross’s great mate? His absence can only mean that he has nothing to plug at the moment, no awful film like “The Invention of Lying”, crappy children’s book like “Flanimals” or dreary stand-up like “Politics”. OK, his seminal comedy “The Office”, based on an idea by his writing partner Stephen Merchant, was absolutely superb, but increasingly Gervais resembles a one-trick pony, as his later ventures pale in comparison. To be fair, let’s call him a two-trick pony, as the podcasts with Merchant and Karl Pilkington are also hilarious.

"The Producers - Mr & Mrs Ross"

The comedy world feels just a bit too incestuous at the moment. Even the genial host, Jimmy Carr, is at least as famous for being the tennis buddy of Jonathan Ross as he is for his one-liners. If “The Big Fat Quiz of the Year” really aims to feature the hottest comedy talent around, then Ross surely should be nowhere near the show. In fact, he has appeared every year since it started, except 2008 when he gave it a miss due to the public outrage after his infamous phone call to Sachs. Maybe we should ask the show’s producer why Ross always has a seat at the table? She’s called Jane Goldman – better known as Mrs. Jonathan Ross.

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