Grace Dent on Television: Very Important People, Channel 4 / Girls, HBO
Bear Grylls has left his number in a cottaging hotspot. It's not your standard impressions show
On Channel 4's new impression show, Very Important People, Bear Grylls – well, a very fine mimic, Terry Mynott – is off on another macho adventure. One of his turbo-outdoors, willy-waving, twigs'n' bear-wee freegan buffet expeditions.
Yet Bear's not in Sierra Nevada or the Moab Desert, he's in an inner-city municipal park behind the petting goat enclosure. "It's... a good... idea," Bear puffs and wheezes, scribbling his number on the wall of a cottaging hotspot for passing trade, "to hook up and share intel with other urban survivors!"
I'm rather obsessed with Very Important People, the latest work from Morgana Robinson, Mynott and Matt Morgan. This isn't due to any grudge against lovely Bear, although I still can't wholly forgive him for the time I sat down with a vanilla slice and a cup of Earl Grey and chanced on him skinning and disembowelling a camel then crawling inside it for a night's kip with the anus as a pillow. I just loved this show; the mimics are good and the material strong. This isn't the unfettered meanness of Star Stories, and it's not a twee Jon Culshaw BBC1 venture with seven minutes of Ronnie Ancona sort-of doing Audrey Hepburn with a script written on an envelope on the bus there.
It's disgustingly unfashionable to enjoy TV impression shows these days (in fact I think many are reading this column with a face sourer than John Humphrys at an Andrea Dworkin retrospective) but there are moments of brilliance in here: Jonathan Ross as the cartoon superhero Mid-life Crisis Man, Dr Brian Cox rolling about on a hillside under the stars purring "leave the camera on meee". We see David Attenborough's Life on Earth study of "Frankie Boyle in his natural environment" shuffling around a hotel room perfecting abuse about Amy Childs's vagina. "This is how he feeds his young," Attenborough tells us in tones of awed wonder. Elsewhere Danny Dyer's "feelin' nawty and brickin' himself" on the 7.20am Greater Anglia Trains service on "Britain's Hardest Commutes". It's mischievous, well-acted joy.
As a nation we've lost our faith in TV impression shows, or anyone with the ability to copy and recreate, but ironically we're not bored with seeing "copies". Why, the queue at Madam Tussauds in London is still forever 500 people thick with folk slavering to pay £30 and rush inside and enjoy an oversized partially melted altar-candle with a wig attached wonkily and the caption "This is Tom Jones. Yes this is what he exactly looks like. No refunds. Yes he has always been 5ft 1in with a webbed hand."
In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s we felt Madam Tussauds-level giddy about TV impressionists. The Little and Large Show ran from 1978 to 1991 and the only impressions Eddie Large could do were a) Cliff Richard, b) Benny from Crossroads and c) Woody Woodpecker. Despite the fact that one of these impressions is actually a cartoon character, and for 23 years Syd Little rarely contributed, meaning 50 per cent of the screen was just "a thin man staring", Britain was still nervous to take the plastic wrapping off new sofas in fear of mirth-related stainage.
At one point in British comedy being able to waggle some fake glasses and say, "so... hem, hem, the director... said to me", while in the same vague vocal ball-park as Ronnie Corbett would take you through four undefeated rounds on New Faces. My happiest moments as a child were Kenny Everett doing The Bee Gees, French and Saunders doing Bros and hours of Spitting Image. If I'm coming out as an impressionist fan I'll namecheck Bremner, Bird and Fortune with Frances Barber and Pauline McLynn and the last series of Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse, featuring Bono and The Edge sharing a bedsit, too.
The great time-saving perk Twitter and social media have given us nowadays the chance to hate comedy knowledgeably before we've even seen it. I told Twitter the other day I'd been repeat-playing my taster tape of Morgana doing a spoof mindless fly-on-the-wall ITV2 show "Natalie Cassidy is Doing This Now" ("Ere I'm hosing down me wheely-bin now, well it's wot you do innit?") and was told numerous times, "that sounds crap". I'm sure these are the same ilk of internet comedy psychics who are utterly livid about HBO's utterly superb, groundbreaking show Girls, which they've also never seen but are 100 per cent sure they'd rather "scoop their own eyes out and pour on acid than watch".
Internet comedy fans are risibly macabre and dramatic. Incidentally, Girls isn't an impressionist show, although Lena Dunham is doing a fairly neat summation of that rite de passage, so bleakly and sharply and more-ishly that I want to pogo round the living room in glee. Perhaps you'll disagree. Perhaps you watched nine full seconds of the YouTube trailer for Dunham's exquisite movie Tiny Furniture so you're already an "I hate Girls" aficionado.
Before you cast aside all this fresh young talent completely, at least give Morgana doing Martine McCutcheon on "Very Important People" a whirr round your eyeballs. Poor Martine, flogging her life-enhancing, gut-revitalising yoghurt, waffling hokey science facts with one greedy eye on the fee+agency+ vat. "This yoghurt is so good for you that it's actually, like, y'know, going down into the sewers and cleaning them up! In fact in the future, right, families will be going on holiday... in the sewers." Pout to camera, feed face with peach Melba bio-goo. These people are very important to me.
Grace's marmalade dropper
The sight of Joffrey in Game of Thrones, who, not content with being a smug-faced, woman-beating, bloodthirsty psychopath, has taken to clomping about with a crossbow and added bleak sadism to his roster of lolz. As Bronn, played by Jerome Flynn, put it: "there's no cure for being a c***".
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