This Week in British TV: Sadly, Terry Pratchett Is Not Good At Everything
By Caspar Salmon | TV | June 17, 2011 |
Pajiba Readership: Tell us! Tell us, Caspar! What programme have you seen? Should we watch it too?
Caspar: Ssshhhh. Come a little closer, my dears. Let me tell you what I watched this week.
Various Pajiba readers (to each other): Oooh, this is going to be good. I can't wait to find out what Caspar's been watching. It's going to be the new "Misfits"! Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb!
Caspar (huddling with the Pajiba readership; whispering): OK. The programme I'll mostly be discussing this week...
Pajiba Readership: Yes?
Pajiba Readership (breathlessly): Fucking tell us!
Caspar (whispering, excitedly): It's "Springwatch"!!!!!!!
Pajiba Readership (stepping back, rolling its eyes, and doing a 'black body language' hand-sign): Yo sister, say what now?
Caspar: I'm here to tell you about "Springwatch"! The tea-time programme about wildlife in Britain, that cosily and slowly captures footage of baby birds flying the nest in verdant English forests, and frog spawn turning into frogs in Britain's tiny, murky ponds, for the benefit of Britain's old-age pensioners! LIVE!
Pajiba Readership (glumly): It sounds like balls. Dare we hope that Benedict Cumberbatch makes an appearance? Sophie Okonedo? Look, we'll settle for Rupert Penry-Jones.
Caspar: NO, BUT IT'S PRESENTED BY KATE HUMBLE!
Pajiba Readership: Oh god, you suck so much. This is worse than that time when you'd just started writing for Pajiba and you dissed Bruce Springsteen. Why do you suck so hard? Is it a birth defect?
Caspar: OK, SO LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT "SPRINGWATCH"!
Pajiba Readership: Yeah yeah, dribble away, fattie.
Caspar: I'm actually quite thin; I've just got fat prose. In fact, if I suck my stomach in...
Pajiba Readership (wearily): OK, shut up, let's hear it with the "Springwatch" thing. What is it, there's some people looking at baby owls in their nests, and it's live, and there are toads and shit?
Caspar: Oh. Yeah, that's basically it. But I think it's interesting, sometimes, to adventure into the wilds of the TV schedule and watch something you mightn't ever have; to see how the other half lives, and marvel at the existences of these unseen millions who don't just chance on "Springwatch" when they turn on the TV, as I did, but who actually tune in for it. Why don't they just become proper birdwatchers, and go on weekend excursions to the Scilly Isles to look at puffins?
Because "Springwatch" is so cosy and comfortable. It's like a nature programme crossed with a hug from someone who smells a bit but is essentially well-meaning. As soon as it gets a bit too sciencey, one of the presenters says something dopy and amateurish and dumb and heartwarming, so that everyone who's watching to look at the sweet lambs won't get turned off by the harsh, cold breath of actual science. Example: the guy on the prog who knows his shit, and whose name I shan't bother to look up because his face is too boring to come across at the end of an internet search, will look at footage taken over the weekend of a baby bird whose mother is adorably sitting on its face, and say, "It looks funny, but a young bird actually doesn't have impermeable coating on its wings yet at this age, so this is necessary protection from the rain" -- and then the idiot Kate Humble will go, "Can we cut to the live cam! Yup, yup, there he is, still sitting there, but he's on his own, look, and he's looking a bit forlorn, isn't he, and probably thinking, "Where's my Mum!?"
OK. Deep breaths. Calm down, Caspar. It's just... BIRDS DON'T HAVE THOUGHTS THAT CAN BE ARTICULATED IN LANGUAGE, KATE HUMBLE, YOU GREAT BIG BABBLING GOON!
Humble did it again on another bit of the show I stumbled across, talking about some birds that had flown the nest -- or 'fledged', as I learnt during one of the moments when one of the presenters actually imparted something. One of the little birds was startled by a passing snake and just flew off, slightly before the age when you'd expect it to be able to leave the nest (about 13 days, FYI) -- and then some of the other baby birds followed its lead, a mere few hours later. This is actually biologically fascinating, and shows that animals' development is a by-product not just of their genes but of their environment; it was a directly Darwinian moment, revealing that the survival instinct can trigger physical action. But Kate Humble looked at the footage and asked, "Do you think the birds thought, "I've seen him leave, so I can leave too, or do you think they also got frightened by the snake and decided to leave because of that?" KATE HUMBLE, YOU BLITHERING, FAFFING GOOSE OF A WOMAN, HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU BIRDS DON'T HAVE A RATIONAL THOUGHT PROCESS! Jesus titting Christ, has anyone ever been so silly?
But the whole thing has a certain daffy, wonky charm which, though I would never actively watch it and though it infuriates me, I can understand the appeal of for the elderly viewer. I'd like to tell you my favourite line from the show, which I cleverly wrote down. Introducing the snake segment, one of the male presenters with a boring face said, "There were scenes of mild distress." Mild distress! Don't you love it?
Pajiba Readership: Nah. Can you talk about "Luther" or the Terry Pratchett programme about assisted suicide now, please?
Caspar: OK! Jeez. But I can't watch "Luther" because I saw Idris Elba behaving like a complete tool on the Jonathan Ross show a year ago, and he has completely ruined himself in my eyes. On to Pratchett!
Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die
Have you ever read anything by Terry Pratchett, the author of the popular fantasy series Discworld? No? Well then, I insist that you go to a bookshop and, erm, continue buying books that aren't by him, because he's a bloody awful writer. I first came across his books at a very important moment in my life, when they helped me to realise that the cool kid in my class at school, who read Pratchett, actually wasn't very cool at all. Surely he should be reading Kafka? He was nice, don't get me wrong; a very kind, sweet boy, with good clothes and bone structure - but not cool. It was one of those eye-opening moments that seem to crop up during your teenage years.
But I digress. Pratchett was on the telly this week, in a programme that generated huge publicity for him and the BBC, in a programme advocating everyone's right to choose the manner of their dying. I watched the show, and -- well, I -- this is going to sound bitchy. But -- well, here goes. I wish someone more intelligent had been making the case for euthanasia. Pratchett has Alzheimers, and has admirably thrown a light on the condition and used his example to start a debate in the country about assisted suicide. But he's so flipping clumsy and unengaging, somehow! He passes dimly through his own programme, rather witlessly talking to two people who have elected to die at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, all the while dressed in the most bizarre all-black outfit and a funny pointy hat, like Gandalf at an Amish funeral. What the programme required, in my view, was not a rather kindly and sympathetic old giffer bumbling about his own life sentence and asking such questions of his interviewees as, "I can't decide anything without my wife. Do you...?" -- but on the contrary a magnetic, unapologetic, effervescent polemicist, who could tease out the philosophical implications of the subject and draw them into the personal sphere with humanity and deftness of touch.
In the end, I found the show -- which did have some compelling moments, particularly in and after the deaths of the two people we met - didn't quite have enough guts, or brains. It failed to connect with the essential beauty and deepness of life, seeing things only on an intensely personal, rational, 1+1 plane. Imagine if Christopher Hitchens had been doing it! What frustrating, unnerving, thought-provoking fireworks we'd have had then! But it wasn't to be.
Some stray thoughts on "The Apprentice", finally:
1. It hasn't been a vintage year, so far -- no one to root for and no out-and-out villain to loathe or outright idiot to be appalled by; also, Lord Alan Sugar, the little business Grizzly Bear, seems bored by the whole business
2. However! It's starting to hot up, and we've got to the stage where everyone is really going to start being a lot more backbiting and unkind to each other. Let the theatre of cruelty commence!
3. The task this week was to devise a magazine for a particular sector. One team chose to make a Lads' Mag, and basically oriented it at idiots from the 90s who liked tits and money; the other elected to write a patronising magazine for older people, which they called 'Hip Replacement'. Words fail me.
4. In doing the old people's magazine, Susan, the dumbest candidate this year, was brainstorming and shouted, "For young old people! For people with old faces and young minds!"
Caspar Salmon has actually mostly been re-watching old episodes of "Arrested Development" this week, and everything - and I don't just mean TV shows, but actually everything - pales in comparison. Write to email@example.com with suggestions of other programmes for me to watch! Bye!
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