Television Review

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The Independent Culture
AT ONE point in It's Only TV... but I Like It (BBC1), Caroline Aherne was offered a medley of cardboard bits and sticky back plastic and asked to suggest what Blue Peter would have made from it. She smiled, with a hint of disdain, and said: "I have no interest in anything like this. There's more important things in life."

You might ask what was she doing appearing in a celebrity trivia game in the first place if that was really how she felt. But perhaps she hadn't been expecting things to get quite this trivial. It's Only TV... but I Like It is a kind of Everest of pointlessness. Never Mind the Buzzcocks was fairly pointless, but at least it referred to something outside TV, and somebody had taken the trouble to come up with a joke for the title. This show opens up whole new vistas of circularity and futility. A populist television programme that refers to nothing but populist television, features people who are famous solely for being on populist television, and borrows its ideas from other populist television programmes: McLuhan, thou shouldst be living at this hour. And the title's garbage.

Pointlessness is fine by me (it would have to be, really: reviewing television isn't exactly making a contribution). What rankled here was the laziness. As I say, much of it was borrowed from other programmes - Jonathan Ross's contrived score updates between rounds came from Have I Got News for You; the round where the guests are invited to complete a catch-phrase (Citizen Smith: "Power to...?") took its cue from Buzzcocks. Elsewhere, it made insulting assumptions about what makes viewers laugh. One round involved old people being filmed making inconsequential, out-of-context remarks about an unnamed TV programme - the assumption here being that old people are automatically funny.

I shouldn't go on, I know: this is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. But you know how irritating some nuts can get. Oh well. It keeps Jonathan Ross off the streets.

Cliches came thick and fast, too, in Soldier Town (C4), a documentary series about the relationship between soldiers and civilians in Colchester, apparently England's oldest and largest garrison town. The first episode concentrated on the area on a Saturday night, which was depicted as a battlefield in the war of the sexes. Soldiers evidently cling to some unreconstructed notions about Essex girls: "Colchester girls," one said, "you don't need to chat them up. All you need to say is `Hello' and `Let's have sex' and they're like..." - he broke into a cruel parody of an Essex accent - "`Naaaa, OK'."

Unfortunately, the Essex girls filmed were gobsmackingly eager to live up to their reputation. The programme followed Vikki as she went on the pull, ending the night drunkenly exchanging pledges of fidelity with a soldier she'd only just met. The next time we saw her out and about, she had spotted him with another woman and was going on a round of revenge snogging (evening's total: two soldiers, two sailors). The sad part was that Vikki genuinely seemed to believe she was on course for a steady relationship. On this showing, she could give Jonathan Ross a few lessons in futility.

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