Last Night's TV: Bohemian's rhapsody was hard to beat

Russell Brand On The Road BBC4; The End Of The World Cult, Channel 4
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The Independent Culture

"I am the living embodiment of John McEnroe's petulant courtside lament," said Russell Brand. "I cannot be serious." That's the Brand brand in a nutshell, really: the slurred estuary delivery that mixes low grammar with high vocabulary and the shimmering alternation between quoting things (with a lilt of disclaiming mockery) and sincerely meaning them. Can he really not be serious? Well, he's not serious about that either, which is why he can suddenly swerve from some woozy comic riff to get earnestly philosophical about the meaning of life. And there was no shortage of opportunities for such pirouettes in Russell Brand on the Road, in which he drove coast to coast across the US in emulation of Jack Kerouac's black-top odyssey.

Brand's Dean Moriarty was Matt Morgan, a sidekick and sparring partner on his Radio 2 show, and yoked in here as designated driver and general sounding board. He knows Brand well enough to share a motel room with him and to roll his eyes wearily when Brand locked his radar on to a pretty girl. "I do worry about him," he said, as Brand tried to add to his prodigious list of conquests. "I've suggested some sort of chemical castration." Whether the chemical has yet been devised that could tame a libido this frantically insistent is another matter.

The two began their fan pilgrimage in Lowell, the dowdy Massachusetts town where Kerouac grew up, and which was celebrating the centenary of On the Road's publication with a 12-hour marathon read-in of the novel. After doing their bit, and visiting Kerouac's former brother-in-law to examine the writer's love list - a full itemisation of his sexual conquests - they climbed into a pick-up and headed for New York, where wannabe beatniks were celebrating with some jazz poetry.

There's always something a little sad about such types, arriving 50 years after the party started and not even realising that it's now moved to another address. But Brand's energy and comic recklessness offered a different kind of tribute to Kerouac's philosophy of living in the moment. Checking into a grim Midwestern motel, he teased the owner relentlessly about the Psycho decor, indifferent to the fact that the man in question looked as if he was wondering where he'd left his gun. Next morning, to press his point home, he capered in the parking lot, dressed only in a pair of skimpy white briefs and his cowboy boots. And in Kansas City, the pair went to hang out with the crack addicts and winos, handing out dollar bills until a concerned local citizen muscled them into moving along. Loose and self-indulgent and prone to metaphysical ramblings, Russell Brand on the Road mirrored the qualities of Kerouac's book but was a good deal funnier.

There was a streak of apocalyptic religion in Kerouac ("As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border, I saw God in the sky in the form of huge, sun-burning clouds above the desert that seemed to say to me, 'The day of wrath will come'") that still finds expression in American life, one of its more extreme manifestations being the Lord Our Righteousness Church, a community of millennarian Christians who cluster adoringly around the feet of Michael Travesser, born Wayne Bent but informed by God in the year 2000 that he was the Messiah. In The End of the World Cult, Ben Anthony travelled to the group's New Mexico ranch to see how they were getting ready for the end of the world, on 31 October of this year.

As you'll have gathered, things didn't quite turn out as Michael had predicted (though as they got closer to the big day, he seemed to be hedging his bets about exactly what form the great translation would assume). It won't matter a bit to the faithful, anyway, since Michael could tell them that Mickey Mouse was Moses and they'd believe him. The most startling evidence of his powers of persuasion was provided by his son, Jeff, who explained how his father had confided one day that the Lord was insisting that he have sex with Jeff's wife: "God came down on Michael and forced him to consummate with Christiana. I mean it was a terrible strange act of God. I was astonished and so was Michael." It turned out that Michael had also been "burdened" with sleeping with the two acolytes who witnessed his transformation into the Messiah and seven other young girls from the group, who had been persuaded to strip naked and share Michael's bed with him.

Oh, yea of little faith. As Michael explained, with a beatific calmness, there was nothing carnal or base about these occasions. " I would say I have more authority to touch the soul than [a doctor] would... [a doctor] is far more likely to think of sex when he's doing something to a woman in her private parts than I am." His acolytes looked on in creepy adoration, like dogs waiting for a tidbit to be dropped. The end of the world has now been rescheduled, due to God's lack of interest in the first one.

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