Last Night's Viewing: The Genius of Invention, BBC2
Way to Go, BBC3
"This is a post-watershed programme and contains adult content and language," read an advisory note on the screener version of Way to Go, a new BBC3 comedy about euthanasia. Thoughtful of them to point that out, but I do wish there were times when that was a guarantee and not a warning. And I'm not thinking about Way to Go particularly (more on that later) but about The Genius of Invention, a new BBC2 series about British inventors.
The Genius of Invention is post-watershed too, though it really needn't be because in everything from presentational style to the level of the material it contains it's essentially a children's programme. In fact, it calls for a new verb: to Bluepeterise, a shorthand for the increasingly fashionable technique of dividing the content up between three puppyishly eager presenters – in this case, Michael Mosley, Mark Miodownik and Cassie Newland (the latter introduced to the people of Britain, in a good example of the effortful sprightliness of the thing, as "nerdy but nice").
Bluepeterising also requires a spacious set so that the presenters can stroll from one side to another in order to ask each other what they already know ("Hi, Cassie. What have you been finding out?"). In the case of last night's programme, it had been set up in a maintenance shed in Drax power station, because the general theme of this first episode was power generation, from Newcomen's first steam engine to Charles Parsons' compound turbine, an example of which hung above the presenters' heads so that it could be goshed at occasionally. And, after you've endured the tedious forthcoming attractions montage with which all such programmes are now obliged to begin, what you get is a pretty basic introduction to technological history, enlivened by the odd demonstration. The latter are fine, incidentally. It was quite gratifying to see the force of condensing steam crumple an oil drum as though it was an empty Coke can. But there's frustratingly little meat on the bones, and few details that would even begin to challenge a first-year GCSE student.
The problem is energy generation – not as a subject matter but as a broadcasting imperative, since the idea appears to be that viewers won't stick with a programme unless it's artificially pumped up with the enthusiasm they're assumed to lack. As a result, the script is sprinkled with exclamation marks and there's a breezy avoidance of depth or complexity in favour of strained liveliness (at one point, Michael Mosley was actually riding a bicycle in circles around Miodownik, as the latter delivered a bit of script). There's also a startling amount of redundancy, as presenters recap what's already been said or share between them the transmission of even the simplest ideas. This was something of an irony in a programme that repeatedly underlined the most powerful imperative of invention – to achieve a desired end more directly and with greater efficiency. Less pointless complication, please. More invention.
Way to Go isn't very adult either, the word here essentially used as a code for "involves swearing and sex". It is quite intriguing, though – a black comedy in which three friends, all down on their luck, find a new career offering euthanasia without the airfare (not so much Dignitas as Indignitas). Scott gets the idea when his neighbour offers him a pair of George Best's old football boots in return for an easy exit, and he then enlists his mate Cozzo, a fast-food-equipment engineer, who constructs a suicide kit he calls the McFlurry of Death. Too much of the comedy is dependent on wild over-reaction but Blake Harrison, who played the thick one in The Inbetweeners, is good as Scott, who continually has to explain to his colleagues that normal business rules do not apply. "There is no word of mouth, you idiot," he says, when they're discussing routes to expansion. "If we do a good job our clients are dead."
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
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