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Half-hearted satire

Harry Hill’s TV Burp (ITV, Saturday); Hole in the Wall (BBC1, Saturday); Saturday Night Live (NBC); The Sarah Silverman Program (Paramount, Monday and Tuesday); Desperate Housewives (Channel 4, Wednesday)

22 October 2008

12:00 AM

22 October 2008

12:00 AM

Harry Hill’s TV Burp (ITV, Saturday); Hole in the Wall (BBC1, Saturday); Saturday Night Live (NBC); The Sarah Silverman Program (Paramount, Monday and Tuesday); Desperate Housewives (Channel 4, Wednesday)

I don’t want to come over as obsessive, but I was delighted to see the return of Harry Hill’s TV Burp (ITV, Saturday). This show, which has huge ratings, assails everything on television that is stupid, shoddy, lazy, contemptuous of the audience and generally rubbish. Last weekend the main target was Hole in the Wall (BBC1, Saturday) which I mentioned a fortnight ago as a terrible example of what happens when the Beeb turns bad. Clearly Harry Hill, or someone on his production team, takes exactly the same view. Hill evoked ‘the vision laid down by Lord Reith’ — a cliché but always a good cliché — then showed a clip of Dale Winton, who presents HITW. ‘How would you feel,’ Dale was asking, ‘about seeing your favourite celebrities dressed in skin-tight silver Lycra, then facing a huge wall hurtling towards them with a most unusual hole in it, and having to bend their bodies into the oddest shapes ever, just to avoid being plunged into a pool of cold, cold water?’

Hill’s angry sarcasm — ‘It’s the Reithian vision!’ — was slopped all over this dire programme, not least because the ‘favourite celebrities’ are people most of us have never heard of, such as ‘top ballerina Noushka Hanly’. (I find that earlier this year she played a horse in Equus, in Cardiff.)


‘She’s everywhere you look!’ said Hill, his persona as an affable lunatic barely masking the irony.

TV Burp does slightly undermine itself by cosying up to the people it’s attacking, so top ballerina Noushka Hanly was invited on to the show, presumably to indicate that they don’t want to be unkind and that she is a good sport. And Harry Hill’s ratings are so high that by appearing with him you do become a bit famous. Daniel Boorstin wrote that ‘the celebrity is a person who is known for his well-knownness’, but these days that would leave us short of celebrities, so great is the demand. Noushka Hanly is now somewhat well-known because very few people have heard of her. It’s one of those Escher-type arguments, like Yogi Berra’s: ‘Nobody goes to that place any more, it’s too crowded.’

Saturday Night Live (NBC) also subverted itself last weekend by having the real Sarah Palin on. (I wouldn’t normally write about a programme shown on American television, except that the brilliant Sarah Palin spoofs are easy to find on the internet.) She is played by Tina Fey, a superb impressionist who has the governor’s voice, gestures and rambling, dim-witted manner to perfection. She also looks, from the front, exactly like her. I can see why both sides connived at this appearance: whopping ratings for SNL, and a chance for Sarah Palin, like Noushka Hanly, to demonstrate what a good sport she is. But the message it sends is: ‘Look, it may seem like satire, but we’re not actually angry — really we’re all chums together.’ I enjoyed the clip, but also felt somewhat let down.

I don’t think I was let down by The Sarah Silverman Program (Paramount, Monday and Tuesday) but I wasn’t quite sure. Silverman is the hottest comedian in the States at the moment, and presently touring the UK. She’s a sort of female Lenny Bruce, who doesn’t mind what she says and doesn’t mind if you do mind. There is no real plot, just her bouncing off her gay neighbours, her sister and her friend the cop with his lesbian partner. Sometimes each scene seems to be a sketch of a sketch, a rough outline of something almost very offensive. To a disabled Vietnam veteran: ‘Wow, bullets coming down like rain — I can’t imagine that, high school is the nearest thing I can remember, it was kind of cliquey…’ You don’t like that? There’ll be another along in a minute. You know those shows that you want to watch on your own, because if you got someone else to join you they would sit there stony-faced while you laughed like mad? It’s like that.

Desperate Housewives (Channel 4, Wednesday) has jumped the shark, or at least jumped forward five years. Gabrielle is now almost frumpy, Brie looks like Morticia Addams and has married a psychopath. Edie is hitched to someone who is obviously a sinister criminal. ‘I have a husband now,’ she says proudly. ‘Oh, whose?’ the girls ask. And there has been a terrible, unexplained car crash. I don’t know, I miss the vanished old days on Wisteria Lane.


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