Grace Dent on TV: Horrible Histories, Cbbc, Britain's Got Talent, ITV1, Breaking Amish, TLC
The Horrible Histories gang are a mad mash-up of Monty Python, Roald Dahl and Tiswas
It's no secret that many alleged “grown-ups” are supplementing their haphazard history educations with CBBC's Horrible Histories, back for its fifth series with lovely, daft input from The League of Gentlemen. Tiny, mighty Sarah Hadland from Miranda and funny, clever Alice Lowe, writer of Sightseers are regular faces too. To adult eyes, Horrible Histories has the distinct feel of a group of bright, young, erudite, writery-actory sparks having a tremendously good time. One that they probably wouldn't be permitted to have anywhere else on telly.
Kids love them as they are the most peculiar sort of grown-ups. The sort of wonky uncles and aunties who turn up to tea with mild hangovers, scant regard for etiquette and a host of stories about idiot highway men, Second World War bat bombs (bombs attached to bats, prone to exploding before they left the American base) and an imaginary CD compilation called Now That's What I Call Spartan Warrior Music.
There's something about the Horrible Histories gang I find terrifically, stupidly, funny. They're the best bits of Monty Python, Roald Dahl, Tiswas, BBC2's The Tudors and The Young Ones all shoved into a bin and bashed with a stick. “Divorced, beheaded and Died! Divorced, Beheaded, Survived!” is the song that carousels in my mind whenever anyone mentions Henry VIII. Horrible Histories drummed the order of Henry's wives and their fates into my mind where A-level cramming failed forlornly. If only Mathew Baynton and Ben Willbond had shown up at my school in the Nineties and sung a few songs about the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, I could have a proper job now. Not just writing down stuff I think, drinking Earl Grey and taking Yodel deliveries in for neighbours.
From excellent kids' telly, I shall segue to wholly awful telly involving kids – ITV's Britain's Got Talent, full of dance troupes, pre-teen stand-up comedians and would-be Harry Styles. Because the current Harry Styles looks so very happy, forever sitting in a tattoo parlour begging for another terrible tattoo that symbolises “I miss mummy, I am a valid human being, not a product, please can you take the paparazzi lens out of my nostril, please, it's pressing against my brain”. At the first hint of any niece of mine donning legwarmers and a modfied bin-liner in a bid to impress Amanda Holden with roly-polys to a Taylor Swift megamix, I shall lock her in my airing cupboard while perusing Mormon boarding-school booklets. “Tough on the soft-shoe shuffle, tough on the CAUSES of soft-shoe shuffle,' is my child-rearing mantra.
There's a distinct lack of talent washing about on this series of BGT: an Amy Winehouse crooner who weeps through every interview, two Irish children who can sort of play the guitar and sort of sing and an excitable man who plays the drums. The camera throws to David Walliams between acts who says, “Ooooh, my Simon would like this, I bet as it's all glittery and he loves glitter, does my Simon!” Or 'You remind me of me when I dressed as a woman! My Simon loves that outfit, don't you my Simon!?“ And then Alesha says, ”That was a great little act, and you've got your moves, but you need to be true to yourself, right?“ and everyone applauds that as that's way deep. And then Amanda says, ”I really didn't think I was going to cry, but… you made me cry,“ pointing at a single tear moving like the River Euphrates down her HDTV-friendly foundation. It's a skill to be so passionate but noncommittal. I would last approximately two weeks as a judge on this show, but those two shock-and-awe-filled weeks judging the Hereford Bump and Hustle Crew would be very YouTube friendly.
This week's TV comfort blanket came in the form of TLC's Breaking Amish bank holiday catch-up. All 10 glorious episodes of series one of the “Amish kids tell their Bishop to bugger off and run away to New York” structured reality show.
Do you want to watch girls in Amish smocks trying to use chopsticks, wrestling with a Nespresso machine and having their first manicures in Manhattan? What happens when you put a crowd of kids who have never had electricity, zips or access to a dentist in the middle of New York and let them go to Forever 21, Wet Willies Frozen Daiquiri Bar and the 24-hour tattoo parlour? Is the mere description of this show really making you lilac-lipped and sweaty-palmed about “the television world's sense of responsibility”? Or are you thinking “Woweeee, I could watch this for up to nine hours, occasionally being checked by a carer for sofa-sores, while reading internet claims and counterclaims about which Amish kids are the real deal and which ones are 'fakers'!” If you're the latter group, you can sit with me.
The great thing about being on an Amish reality show is that when you eventually discover pole-dancing, you can be 100 per cent certain that your parents will never ever see the footage.
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