Cutting Edge: The Men Who Jump Off Buildings, Channel 4
While adrenalin junkies get up early to prove their machismo, a certain Californian writer is happy to stay in bed
Sunday 01 August 2010
This season's IT Crowd, which finished its run on Friday, has delivered some beguiling conundrums – not least how to get the word out about Street Countdown – but Moss's contemplation of the essence of man trumped them all.
"Men, eh? What are they like with their bawdy talk and roughhousing?" What are they like, indeed.
"Wouldn't you rather stay in bed?" Dan Witchalls' mum asks him in the Cutting Edge documentary The Men Who Jump Off Buildings.
"When the alarm goes off [at 4.30am], I think, 'Shall I get up?'" he replies. "But when I do get up and I go out and do the jump, I'm glad."
Dan: "Because I am."
Dan: "It's what I do, isn't it?"
Mum: "But you done it."
Dan: "But I can do it again."
Mum: "Do you feel afterwards you're on a high?"
Dan: "A little bit, yeah."
Dad: "A little bit? To get up at 4.30 and jump off blimmin' buildings?"
That snippet tells us an awful lot about Dan Witchalls. The voiceover assures us that the roofer, who has completed more than 800 "base jumps" (leaping off high-rise buildings with the last-second get-out of a parachute), uses ingenuity, nerve and skill when picking his jump site. He must also make sure he won't get caught – doing it in the dead of night isn't enough – we are told as he throws himself off Wembley Stadium, Battersea Power Station, Nelson's Column et al. Yet, Witchalls' own to-camera nonsense rather suggests his greatest attribute is macho stupidity.
He never can quite explain why he likes jumping, but maybe we can work it out. "Did you see me?" he shouts to his jumping buddy, Ian Richardson, running to him as he lands. Frankly, all he needed do was add "daddy", wheel his arms around and voilà, you have the five-year-old still seemingly driving him.
It's an impression made all the stronger when he visits Richardson in hospital, after the lad crash lands, snapping his leg. "What have we here?" he asks, cheeky-chappily to his camcorder. "Let's go and have a look. Fuck me, it's the hippo. What are you doing here, heh?" Has there ever been a better paean to bravado masking a legitimate fear of death? One in six jumps ends in fatality.
A big problem with adrenalin-sports programming is that while there must be a thrill to doing the activity (according to Richardson: "It's as close as you can get to being a master criminal without committing any major crimes"), we've all become so inured to ridiculously dangerous acts through programmes such as Jackass and, erm, Hole in the Wall (entire careers at threat in every show!) that it takes an awful lot more to make us care. A multi-layered protagonist rather than a gormless geezer, perhaps.
So that's the roughhousing. How about the bawdy talk? "Have you ever spent time with an 11-year-old boy and wanted more from him than he was willing to give?" Yup, Californication's back, and it's as filthy as ever. The third series begins, not surprisingly, with Hank (David Duchovny) in bed. With a beautiful woman who's not his on-again, off-again wife-turned-lover, Karen (Natascha McElhone). And he's having to get used to being a single parent, because Karen has gone to follow her dreams in New York. So, it's back to the good ship Promiscuity, with a smattering of weed thrown in for good measure. Though the fact that it's his daughter smoking it is perhaps more of a surprise.
As per, Hank is amoral; he's having a good time and he doesn't much care about the fallout. "What? I'm the asshole because I say what's on everybody's mind?" he asks at a dinner party after mooting the possibility that his daughter and the host's girl have just gone off to discover lesbianism together. But while the dialogue remains elegantly written, and, as one would expect of a HBO show, the production is slick, one can't help but feel it's losing a bit of steam.
The shock value has started to ebb, and there are worrying signs of phoning it in: when Hank flicks a cigarette at a "road-hog" cyclist, causing him to crash, it's pretty obvious that the cyclist is going to end up at that dinner party he's heading to. It's a heavy-handed moment we wouldn't have been seen in the first two series.
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