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Tuesday, 2 January 2007

TV humbug

I know it’s an easy moan, but the festive TV was genuinely awful this year. Is it just old age? Are we becoming harder to please? Or are the networks just not trying? I don’t pretend to know, but here’s a quick skim through the highlights and lowlights anyway.

This year’s X-Factor was the worst yet, and, though the show’s only three years old, it already feels tired and stale. The compulsive bits were as always the early rounds with the horrible auditions; once we get into the studio, blanditude carries the day. This time round, four fucking months of X-Factor could only produce a yawnsome finale featuring a Mariah Carey soundalike beating out an Eddie Munster lookalike with a mad hard-on for swing. And then the judges – Simon Cowell only has so many putdowns, and after a while you get to the point where you can nearly play Cowell Bingo. Besides, what do these guys know anyway? I suppose the show at least fulfils its function of providing the Christmas Number 1, for those people who care about such things.

By contrast, Strictly Come Dancing – and I know it’s pro-celebrity rather than an amateur contest – gets better every year. The format actually does give you a journey, with the celebs having to learn new routines every week, stretch themselves and improve their skills. The judges are bona fide experts whose opinions are worth paying attention to – to be sure, there’s a theatricality with the panel dividing into soft cops (avuncular Len Goodman and ebullient Bruno Tonioli) and hard cops (deadpan Craig Revel Horwood and terrifying Arlene Phillips), but these guys know what they’re talking about. And every year you get somebody really good. This year’s highlights included Spice Girl Emma Bunton, proving she can do more than strike a pose and point; teenage EastEnders actress Louisa Lytton, bouncing across the stage like a sparky wee bundle of energy; and dour cricketer Mark Ramprakash, a swivel-hipped revelation who thoroughly deserved his win.

EastEnders is never a barrel of laughs, but the Christmas edition is invariably an orgy of misery, and this year didn’t disappoint, with Pauline Fowler’s big exit centre stage. The soap runs best on schadenfreude, as if to say to the audience: Your life may suck, but at least you’re happier than these fuckers.

And so on to Crimbo Doctor Who. This was a completely generic Who story: big monster attacks Earth, Doctor defeats big monster. Plus some Time Lord gobbledegook to underline that this was a very bad monster. Good fun though. I had been dubious about Catherine Tate’s guest starring turn, but, apart from looking quite fetching in that wedding dress, she put in the sort of performance that makes me want to see her do more dramatic roles. Her acting is broad, but next to David Tennant – who went relatively easy on the shouting and eye-rolling – you would hardly notice. Plus, we have proved there is life after Billie.

Finally, thank God for the Germans, who still know how to do festive. On German TV you could enjoy folksy variety shows, André Rieu concerts, and, best of all, settle down on New Year’s Eve to watch the immortal Freddie Frinton in Dinner For One. Same procedure as every year. Magic.

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