Inside Television: A show of raw potential


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The Independent Culture

Over the next two weeks the current series of Fresh Meat will come to a close, so please make sure you're watching. Not because it's particularly entertaining (although it is) or particularly important (it isn't), but because it will aid our communication in future. You see, Fresh Meat shows the potential to develop that most prized quality in a television series - referenceability.

A referenceable TV show is one which continues to come up in conversation, long after its initial run had ended, but rarely as the topic in its own right. Instead, the referenceable TV show is a treasure trove of iconic characters, memorable scenes and recycle-friendly one-liners which can be called upon to aid the flow of everyday communication. Want to describe the irritating qualities of your new boss? Mention David Brent. Hope to liven up the office Christmas party? Start dancing like Carlton. But whereas most popular series include one of two useful points, the truly referenceable TV show is a kind of compendium, to be dusted off and consulted whenever a standard analogy fails you. After, 25 seasons and 500+ episodes, is there a single shade of human experience which cannot be explained by reference to The Simpsons?

With the exception of The Simpsons, if there's TV show you find yourself referencing often, it can say a lot about where you are in life. If it's Fresh Meat, you're probably still at University, or wish you were; The Thick of It and IT Crowd both speak to people in certain professions, and if you find yourself quoting old lines from Sex and The City, it's probably just because you're a total Samantha. This week I have been mostly referencing The Fast Show a BBC sketch show which ran from 1994 to '97. It's a symptom of early-onset nostalgia and a sure sign that before long everything will go a bit Last Tango in Halifax.

So what makes a TV show referenceable? Firstly, it must be long-running and usually at least five seasons are necessary to accumulate the required range of storylines. So while the two-season Fawlty Towers is cult television, unless you regularly entertain German guests at dinner, it's of limited use. Secondly, your show has to be widely watched, and preferably regularly repeated too. And thirdly it should include a cast of characters who each represent different personality types, as an aid to categorising your own peer group - the Monica's among you will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Get TV referencing right and your conversation will sparkle while your friendship bonds are deepened by shared understanding. But beware: get TV referencing wrong and the group of people with whom you can communicate will gradually shrink, until eventually, it's just you, alone in front of the TV set, babbling like Joe Wicks from mid-nineties EastEnders. If you get the reference.

Ian McKellan vs. Damian Lewis

Fight! fight! fight! A thesp-fight is better that a fist-fight and one kicked off this week between Homeland star Damian Lewis and Vicious star, Sir Ian McKellan, aka Gandalf himself. Back in October, Lewis made reference in an interview to "these slightly over-the-top, fruity actors," who "then start playing wizards." Sir Ian waited till now to respond, because as any actor who has played Iago at the National knows, revenge is a dish best served cold (Have you played Iago at the National, Damien? No? Oh...)

In an interview with Radio Times, Sir Ian suggested Lewis might want to re-evaluate his own career arch, before casting aspersions on others: 'I wouldn't like to have been one of those actors who hit stardom quite early on...stuck doing scripts that I didn't particularly like just to keep the income up.' Touché

Catch up

Lucan, ITV Player

Rory Kinnear is a rather less glamorous Lord Lucan than the Errol Flynn-look-alike of tabloid remembrance, and all the better for it. Part one of this two-part ITV drama sets the 1974 murder of family nanny Sandra Rivett in the context of a dissipated set of 20th century aristocrats who gambled away fortunes at The Clermont in London. This provides the opportunity for a show-stealing supporting turn from Christopher Eccleston (doing posh, instead of Northern, for once) as The Clermont's proprietor John "Aspers" Aspinall. His amoral raconteur is the perfect foil for Kinnear's chillingly selfish dullard.

Heston's Great British Food, 4OD

Heston makes cookery shows for people who think Jamie is annoying, Gordon is rude and Great British Bake Off is unbearably twee. His secret is that he doesn't really make cookery shows at all. Instead it's a circus of food and you have the ring-side seat. In this first episode of his new series, for instance, Heston delves into the history of our humble national dish to produce a four-course fish 'n' chip supper, that's more fantasy than feast. That's not to say it wasn't also delicious; Heston's flavour combinations are explosive. Often, literally.

'There are two Americas': A speech from creator of The Wire, David Simon, YouTube

As befits the creator of the greatest television show ever made, David Simon has become something of a sage. He is invited on political panel shows, writes op-eds for national newspapers and even gives the occasional speech. In this one, delivered at The Festival of Dangerous Ideas, Simon expands on some of the themes that underpinned The Wire: Two Americas, how the 'War on Drugs' became a war on poverty and what Capitalism should do next.

Nelson Mandela: A Nation Remembers

How should television mark the passing of a great man? This week we saw several examples of how not to. US channel CBS used 'Africa' by Toto to soundtrack their coverage of the Mandela memorial, but perhaps we should just be grateful it wasn't 'Hakuna Matata' from The Lion King? Meanwhile some British TV viewers apparently found the BBC's decisions to interrupt a scheduled episode of Mrs Brown's Boys more upsetting than the news itself. For a much-needed dose of historical perspective amid the madness, try this 1961 archive clip of Mandela's first TV interview. You might not guess it from this week's coverage, but it wasn't Mandela the cuddly grandfather who changed that world; it was Mandela the dedicated revolutionary.