First Impressions: The Day Today, BBC2 (1994)

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The Independent Culture

The Day Today opens with some wonderfully glossy computer graphics and one of those pompous current-affairs soundtracks – all sforzando brass chords and urgent percussion. It's the real thing, at least until the final seconds, when it suddenly dawns on you that the computer effects have got a little frantic, that the music's final bars are perhaps a little overwrought in their search for a punching climax. Not much respect here for those national institutions The Nine O'Clock News and Newsnight. Not much respect either for Elvis Presley, government ministers, the Church of England, Prince Charles, good taste and unsuspecting members of the public, but above all for television itself, which is the real object of The Day Today's scorn. It's very cynical, very clever and very funny.

It wouldn't work nearly as well if the pastiche wasn't so lovingly and expensively detailed. There's more here than parody. They have fun ripping actuality out of context – so that newsreel of Lord Owen stumbling through a doorstep interview about some Balkan atrocity ("I don't think I've ever seen anything quite such... so totally wanton... ghastly... mess... terrible") is made to follow presenter Chris Morris's urgent headline "David Owen emerges shattered from Oliver Reed".

The heart of the thing is its eye for the dead clichés of presentation. Steve Coogan as sportscaster Alan Partridge performed a Highlights of the Year sequence that was a miracle of close observation, from the fake chuckle in the voice to the ill-informed commentary. As a team car overtakes a Tour de France rider Alan's indignation overcomes him: "I don't know what this man is playing at! Surely the judges must come down like a ton of bricks on that. Carrying bikes on top of a car is not a sportsmanlike way to run this race!"