Television channels are turning into ghettoes. In a sense they always have been, bunching viewers together in terms of education or aspiration. But this time it's different: the ghettoes are organised by age.
Switch on BBC1 or 2 in the early evening and you practically get a free pa ir of slippers, it's so cosy: all woodcock, abbeys, coasts. In a radical moment a seagull might plop on Alan Titchmarsh. Channel 4, by comparison, is the unpredictable adolescent of TV: weird, interesting, intense, crass. Out on the digital frontier channels, a generational bent to programming is even more pronounced. But why?
Nothing any good in culture is age-specific. Pop music pretends to be, but isn't really. If you like it, you like it, you like it – just look at Beryl Bainbridge choosing Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell on Desert Island Discs the other day: delicious proof that getting older does nothing to improve your taste. Likewise, being young doesn't make you tasteless.
Which brings us to Lily Allen, and BBC3. BBC3 used to aim vaguely for young people; now it targets them, point blank. Last week it had a relaunch, salting those blue Plasticine slugs and replacing them with a new logo that's pink and loopy and shiny. Of course it is. Young people are just like magpies, aren't they, right? Magpies in skinny jeans.
Somewhere BBC3's "yoof" brainstorming has gone horribly wrong. Lily Allen and Friends makes Charlotte Church's chatshow look accomplished. Hell, it makes Graham Norton look like God. Allen, her eyes glued fearfully to the autocue, isn't a natural presenter – quelle surprise: she's a pop star. The internet doesn't translate well on to TV because, well, whaddaya know – they're different media. And the whole thing patronises its participants horribly: if they humiliate themselves on air, Lady Lily beneficently grants them a free beer in her celebrity bar.
Afterwards on her blog she noted that the studio audience dwindled because filming over-ran and people probably had to "get trains home to wherever they came from". The unintentional offhandedness of this comment says a lot. Add an ellipsis after "home to" and it could be Marie Antoinette talking. Even the internet clips were ill-judged: a maddened and humiliated brown bear masturbating in a zoo? Sure doesn't crack me up.
Lily Allen and Friends is a textbook example of how age-specific commissioning can backfire. Viewers dwindled from 861,000 to 247,000 during transmission. If the mosquito sonic device gets banned they could play it on a loop to disperse young people in public places.
Then again, BBC3 struck gold with Phoo Action, a cult comedy in the making in which a mutant millionaire with a basketball for a head tries to overthrow the House of Windsor. So predictable, eh? Then he comes up against a kick-ass girl whose secret weapon is a pair of holy hotpants. Of course. Based on the cartoon published in The Face magazine in the late Nineties called Get the Freebies, this was another piece of genius plucked from the twisted brain of Jamie Hewlett, creator of Tank Girl and Gorillaz. It had a homemade, cheap finish that only added to its charm; they'd wisely spent the budget on a witty script polish (writers included Jessica Hynes, who co-wrote Spaced).
Blanched and boyish, Jaime Winstone made a perfect sulky Manga-style heroine, peeping out from a crimson wig that never quite revealed enough of her eyes. Eddie Shin (pictured left with Winstone) was a lovely, fey Kung Fu master, and Ed Weeks made a hilarious Prince William ("You will be exiled immediately ..." His face falls. "... to Ibiza." His face lights up: "Yessss!")
It may have been part of BBC3's youth offensive, but Phoo Action somehow straddled generations. Whitey Action had pictures up in her bedroom of Pete and Dud and Terry Thomas; there was even a line about a slutty character called Lady Eleanor Rigsby having "rising damp". Bizarrely, when you're young you like nothing more than getting an old joke about a series that finished before you were born.
Skins (E4) seemed pedestrian by comparison. What, no mutants? No Kung Fu digressions on sacred wedgy technique? But gradually the new series took off, with a nice recurring motif about dancing. Everyone was at it: Cassie (Hannah Murray) doing the Highland Fling; Maxxie's dad Walter (Bill Bailey) country dancing with his dog; Sid (Mike Bailey) flailing around at a rave on acid. The rave was the most realistic I've ever seen on screen; usually, you can tell the dancers are extras showing off on an afternoon in Elstree. But here you could practically smell the hormones and dry ice. For moments like that I'll forgive Skins anything, even the brave, if slightly half-hearted, storyline about the lead character becoming disabled. Wonder how long they'll keep that one up.
Attila the Hun (BBC1) was for boys of all ages, a spectacular rendering of history that was part-Gladiator, part-Asterix. Chief Goth, Atmospheric, set the scene while Characteristic did a lot of spitting to establish personality, Esoteric sang a few songs. There were some brooding looks from Homoerotic, until Attila got it in the neck, spat blood over Chronic and Prehistoric and went down swishing his beautiful hairdo (groomed by Carbolic). At least I think that's what happened. I'd double-check before you hand your coursework in, though.