Last Night's Viewing: Just Around the Corner, Channel 4
The Oklahoma City Bomber Tapes, Channel 5
Cinema has been ever so preoccupied with the end of the world recently. Viruses, climate change and asteroids have all threatened to take us out on the big screen. Must be that whole ancient Mayan prediction of our demise in 2012 or whatever.
Oddly enough, many have failed to see the comic potential in devastating events such as the polar ice caps melting. Shaun of the Dead succeeded in marrying humour with the possible demise of the human race, but I'm afraid I never managed to get to Seeking a Friend for the End of the World because the prospect of Steve Carell sucking face with Keira Knightley was a little too much to bear.
But now the small screen is waking up to the idea that the desperation, chaos and depravity that arises in a world threatened with extinction could make a rather good setting for a sitcom. Airing as part of Channel 4's Funny Fortnight, Just Around the Corner has been described by its creators, Outnumbered's Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, as "Mad Max meets The Good Life", which is nothing if not intriguing.
It's set in "the near future", the seas having risen, flooding most of the United Kingdom and swallowing much of the coastline, Just Around the Corner followed a suburban family called the Pilches, who dealt with the usual dilemmas of everyday family life (daughter's unsuitable boyfriend, annoying neighbours) in a world where the banks have collapsed, corpses litter the garden, batteries are the main source of electricity, and lynching is not uncommon. James Fleet (The Vicar of Dibley) played the man of the house, living with his teenage daughter and grouchy father-in-law.
Despite a promising scenario, it turned into a bit of a one-show gag, the gag being how depraved humans have become. They stone poachers! There's no pain relief for dentistry! They're filthy! There was a nice take on typical neighbourly disputes with the passing-over of a corpse from one side of the fence to the other, both families reluctant to pay the body-dumping fee. And the Dutch being introduced as Enemy No 1 – Holland having sunk and our isles infiltrated with "cloggys" and "tulip-munchers" – was entertaining enough, particularly when it was discovered that the daughter was dating one. But elsewhere it felt a bit short on jokes, and there was little to make me care about the family's fate. Perhaps there is a reason that comedies are rarely set in a post-apocalyptic future. I suppose it is kind of hard to find the humour in imminent flooding and the threat of cannibalism.
Like many, I have long been fascinated by the 1995 Oklahoma bombings, in which 168 people perished in the Alfred P Murrah building in what was the largest terrorist attack on US soil (until the Twin Towers fell six years later). What I didn't understand was how Timothy McVeigh, a seemingly ordinary American who had served for his country, could commit such a hideous crime. The Oklahoma City Bomber Tapes, which included, for the first time, transmission of tape recordings of McVeigh as he awaited the death penalty (he was given the lethal injection in 2001), promised to give some insight.
Being a Channel 5 documentary, it was hardly a subtle affair. In fact, it came close to rubbernecking. "Using new facial replacement technology we transform re-creation shots with actors into visuals that graphically place McVeigh into the very scenes he describes," we were told at the beginning. Graphic's the word. I ended up wondering if the world really needed to hear McVeigh, in his own words, try and justify his actions. It's one thing to know that McVeigh showed no remorse; it's another to actually hear him laugh about the atrocity.
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