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Tube Talk: Un-Cool Britannia

TUBE TALK: with John T. Forde

Un-Cool Britannia

What has happened to British television? Once a feasting ground of witty, acerbic and terribly-well-bred comics who wrote brilliant shows like Fawlty Towers and Blackadder, Brit comedy has descended into unwatchable tripe.

In the good-old bad-old days, the good/bad TV distinction was easy. American TV was obvious and trite; Brit TV was subtle, subversive and clever.

Now, in some weird trans-Altantic bitch slap contest, the tables have been turned. TV’s three best shows – Six Feet Under, Sex & The City and The Sopranos are all American (albeit made for HBO, a non-network cable channel).

But since SFU has only two episodes to go, and TVNZ are still sadistically delaying the Sopranos season (despite advertising it for over four months), I’m going into good-TV withdrawal. Thank God TV3 have taken pity on us by repeating Sex & The City (Saturdays, 9pm.)

After a week of night sweats, twitching and random outbursts of “Motherfucker!” at my flatmate, in desperation, I turned back to new Brit shows Balliol’s Syndrome, and Footballers’ Wives. Alas, we’ve hit the Twilight Zone of crap Brit TV.

Balliol’s Syndrome is a vanity project for its lead, stand-up comic David Balliol. He’s one of those runty goateed guys with bad glasses who probably bored you senseless at university parties.

In a lame attempt to channel the “therapy comedy” of Woody Allen and Seinfeld, the show consists of Balliol lying on a couch complaining to his unseen therapist (voiced by Stephen Fry) about his girlfriends – most of whom are too gorgeous to conceivably go out with a smelly little prat like him. There’s even a bunch of badly-drawn supporting characters, including – hey! – an obnoxious American.

Of course, they’re all eclipsed by Stephen Fry – a comic who doesn’t even need to be on screen to be funny. If only Fry would drop-kick Balliol and go back to making his own TV comedies again.

Then there’s Black Books, a cult comedy in the making about two trenchcoat wearing weirdos who run a book shop. In the grand tradition of Brit cult comedy ( Red Dwarf springs to mind), you spend most of the show wondering if it’s actually funny or just the mindless ramblings of two Oxbridge grads on too much speed. But give them points for creating something original – if not always comprehensible.

No such originality or interest applies to Footballers’ Wives, a truly flaccid soap opera from the makers of Bad Girls.

There seemed to be so much promise in a show about Beckham-like working-class soccer boys becoming instant millionaires and adopting garishly nouveau-riche lifestyles. The rows of perky male buttocks being soaped in Episode 1’s shower scene were certainly eye-catching.

But alas – despite the flashy sports cars, coked-up trophy wives, and rampant adultery in jacuzzis, Wives is about as racy as a plate of dead kippers. Like Beckham himself, Wives proves that being gorgeous and rich doesn’t compensate for being thick as pigshit and married to an anorexic Spice Girl.

Let’s pray that Brit comedy doesn’t succumb to any more dumbing-down before we all turn into Teletubbies.

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