Review: Why is he always on my telly welly?
The Royal Variety Performance, ITV1; Russell Brand On The Road, BBC4; Kizzy: Mum at 14, BBC3
Sunday 16 December 2007
Lights, camera, harp glissando - the Royal Variety Performance was upon us again. Which meant: Dame Kiri Te Kanawa making cow eyes up at the royal box while singing the national anthem, acrobats balancing on Ikea shelves, gruesome twosome Katherine Jenkins and Darcey Bussell out-hoofing one another, Joan Rivers accidentally swearing and offering her neck up to the Queen ("Go on, slice it!") - oh, and Seal singing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" backed up by a whirling, gurning dog's dinner of dancing boys and girls, fireworks and stiltwalkers. The Variety Performance is so naff it has almost gone full circle and become cool again. Every year it dies of overkill and comes back stronger.
The performers included Russell Brand, of course. Throw something at the TV, these days, and the chances are it will hit Russell Brand. He doesn't even need to look in the mirror any more; he just switches on the box. Last week he was on Boys Who Do Comedy, The Royal Variety Performance and The Culture Show, which covered his appearance at the Oxford Union (and included a hilarious sequence in which a don gave an earnest critique of My Booky Wook).
Next he was on Have I Got News for You, where the blokey all-male panel brought out his more epicene side and he started flicking his diva-from-a-ditch hair and rolling his huge kohl-rimmed eyes at Jack Dee and Charlie Brooker. He even stalked off halfway through to go to the loo, girlishly flaunting those bendy black pipe-cleaner legs. Brand is like the hermaphrodite clownfish, male or female when it suits him. He's completely mesmerising at the moment, a self-perpetuating paradox: the more Brand you get, the more you want. Recently he has blossomed, dropping the Big Brother's Big Potty Mouth shock-and-uurgh stuff, and relaxing instead into a more intelligent persona, bubbling with barmy eloquence, skipping nimbly between the gutter and Higher Things. Fame becomes him.
Russell Brand on the Road was a delightful, rambling homage to Jack Kerouac. Accompanied by a looky-likey friend (aren't they always?), Brand drove across America, meeting ageing Beats and spinning humour out of raw material, be it the jar of peanut butter he found laid on Kerouac's grave or the legendary long scroll that On the Road was typed on, which now resides in a glass museum case. "Imagine," Brand told its curator in a wonderful ad lib, "if you let us touch it and we got all tangled up in it like mummies and everyone was crying...".
Brand said he got from Kerouac some of his freedom to be unafraid and claim "the privilege of spontaneity". Kerouac, in turn, got something from Brand, namely humour.
Parenting programmes often serve, inadvertently, as long adverts for contraceptives. They don't tend to have explicit political agendas, however, so it was all the more of a shock when BBC3's Kizzy: Mum at 14 turned out to contain pieces of virulent anti-abortion propaganda, with almost no airtime given to the counter-argument. High-street anti-abortion campaigners and Kizzy's pro-life dad were allowed to say their piece, while Kizzy's school sex education centre, disparaged for handing out condoms, had barely the briefest right to reply. There was also a void at the programme's core where Kizzy, its supposed subject, should have been allowed more of a chance to speak honestly without her parents' interference.
Of course it was heartening to see the way everyone had rallied round Kizzy and her baby, but the political slant, even on the supposedly neutral voiceover commentary, was unmistakable. Kizzy didn't have an abortion because "life is too precious", it intoned self-righteously, forgetting that some would consider Kizzy's specific life more precious than "life" as an abstract.
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