Last Night's TV: Would Like To Meet Again, BBC2
Britain's Really Disgusting Foods, BBC3
Friday 15 August 2008
Long ago, in the magical land called the Good Old Days, the entire nation was in permanent paroxysms of indignation due to the scandal of "repeats". How people seethed at the clogging up of the schedules with stuff that had been on already. What was a person supposed to do? Read a book? Listen to some music? Have an early night? Unthinkable!
There were only four channels back then, and sometimes it so happened that absolutely everything had been on before. Even the news. That's what (if you're under 40, you might not know this) people are talking about when they bang on about the communal experience of terrestrial viewing. The communal experience was the easy ability of everyone to complain about exactly the same thing. It did a lot for social cohesion, really it did.
How much more easily fooled we are now, though. They'd never have gotten away with the pseudo innovation of the pseudo repeat back then. No one complains too much about the pseudo repeat, partly because everyone is glad that it is not an actual repeat and partly because there is so much insulting rubbish on the telly now that it is impossible for even the most dedicated viewers to keep abreast of it all. Anyway, to make the pseudo repeat, people have at least gone out and put in some extra work. There is some new material. It is all so much better than it used to be. Definitely.
In its purest form, the pseudo repeat thrives in the realm of the makeover show. You take some pitiful human inadequate, mock her wardrobe, then tell her what she should be wearing instead. Then you go back a year later, run the whole show again, and check at the end if she's still following "the rules". Or you take some other husk of a being and show her how much younger she could have been looking all along, if only she'd had the good sense to drop £60,000 on cosmetic surgery, dentistry and foundation wear. Then you go back a year later to check that her face hasn't fallen off. It never has, and if it ever did, I don't suppose we'd be told.
Last night, we were treated to another of these masterfully warmed-over offerings, with the dating programme Would Like to Meet, lame the first time round, retooled as Would Like to Meet Again. Clever. In the initial series of shows, the unlucky in love were schooled by three experts in "how to attract the opposite sex". What larks to revisit these unfortunates and see if they had followed the "rules". The rules were shown to us again, of course, just in case we'd missed them the first time round.
Five years on, Kevin had found love. Good. Seven years on, Debbie hadn't. Bad. Debbie had failed because having been entirely rebuilt, she'd forgotten to leave the house, except for work. Kevin had succeeded because his new love was... a work colleague! Hey, if only Kevin had been Debbie, and vice versa, how differently it would all have worked out. Debbie was exhorted to join some clubs, which made me long to be an expert myself. Kevin's wife wouldn't appear on the programme. Which only goes to prove just how lucky that guy really got.
Another popular form of the pseudo repeat is the bare-faced filching of a successful format and the construction of a clone programme. Yes, there is some crossover here. In the Good Old Days of last year, the communal experience of Britain was obsessive attention to property values, and the schedules reflected the hysteria. Also, people craved elaborate dinner parties, at which said property values could be discussed, and all but the most cringingly untelegenic of chefs were recruited to show us how it was done.
The schedules, though, have reacted quickly to the lamentable period of austerity we have entered. So we viewers are unable to eat our lonely cut-price repasts on our knees without switching on a show designed to remind us that we really ought to be cooking from scratch from the fresh ingredients we have tended in our woefully depreciating window boxes.
Britain's Really Disgusting Foods, to be fair, was a trailblazer for this broadcasting revolution. But the new series has come out at a point when every channel seems to be pushing a similarly revolting, depressing and horribly necessary agenda. Still, as Tess said in Working Girl, of a culture not dissimilar to our own: "Never underestimate what the American public will put in their mouths."
In last night's show, our host, Alex Riley, who looks like a cut-price Jarvis Cocker and is serious and passionate abut his crusade, showed us all just how easy it was to make tasty-looking pies. Scrupulously following every food regulation ever written – apart from those in the Talmud, unfortunately – he concocted attractive yet sinister crusts, hiding grotesqueries even Roald Dahl would have blanched at. He persuaded sporting members of the public to eat some of his wares. But did Riley take a bite himself? No chance. Just like those female doctors who know too much and opt for elective caesareans.
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