Super Bowl Live, BBC1
Life on Mars USA, FX
The Super Bowl holds a fascination for British viewers, even if most of us haven't a clue what's going on
Sunday 14 February 2010
Staying up to watch the Super Bowl from the UK is like eating Hershey chocolate from the US: there's a trace of what makes the stuff good, but the memory only makes you pine for the real thing.
I'm no hardline sports fan, but the Super Bowl is more than sport: it's a pop-cultural event. (And there are plenty like me: this year's game surpassed the finale of M*A*S*H to become the most-watched American TV show of all time.) Hence I have an informal agreement with a few equally under-athletic friends to find a widescreen set on which to see it each year, even if it means a miserable time at work the next morning.
Our imitation of Stateside sports fandom remains a sorry one. The La-Z-Boys are more likely Ikea sofas. The hot-dog rolls lack the greasy sheen of an American bun. The nachos aren't big enough; the melted cheese isn't processed enough; the beer isn't weak enough. While the BBC couldn't entirely conceal the in-game advertising – for the "Doritos Half-Time Analysis" or the "Intel Post-Game Show" – Limey audiences are denied the blockbuster commercials that give Americans something to talk about in the interminable pauses between plays.
So while the ads rolled on CBS, the BBC was saddled with stale banter from what was obviously the Match of the Day studio, decorated with a single American football helmet in hope of disguising it. Sitting on the pundits' couch in place of Alan Hansen was Alex Smith, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and a man who manifestly ought not to be in shirtsleeves, gamely re-explaining the rules of his sport to host Jake Humphrey.
Teams are not "teams" in the US; they're "franchises". The Indianapolis Colts, favourites to win Sunday's Super Bowl XLIV, are originally from Baltimore, but were bought and shuffled westward by some billionaire owner or other. Which would have been one good reason to support their opposition, if we hadn't already possessed a handful more: like the fact that the Saints are from New Orleans, and have triumphed over the adversity of Katrina; or that they'd never been to the Super Bowl before, and were thus the underdogs.
My friends and I spent the first hour or so of the game – which lasted four hours – trying to remember the rules without letting on that we'd all forgotten them since last year. "So, how many quarters are there?" somebody whispered. The Who played at half time, and we were at least qualified to play air guitar in time with "Baba O'Riley". But by the end we'd given up on understanding much of what was happening on the field, and resorted to yelling quotes from Jerry Maguire and Any Given Sunday.
American football is strategic and mechanical, made up not of fluid play but of pre-ordained moves that are rarely disrupted by circumstance. Complex thought is required only of the coach and his quarterback; everyone else is meticulously positioned meat. Americans seem less obsessed by the plays than by the statistics to which each tiny detail of the game contributes, which is why the screen forever flashes with captions like "First onside kick inside third quarter during Super Bowl" and the post-match analysis might note that "Brees [the Saints quarterback] was 32 of 39 overall for 288 yards, with two touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 114.5 QB rating".
By the time the game ended at 3am GMT, there had been approximately 10 seconds of bona fide footballing excitement for the uninitiated viewer, when Saints cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted a pass, disappeared through a gap in the defence and sprinted 74 yards to score the game's final, winning touchdown. As for the ads, which I sought out the following day on YouTube, one of them was for an evangelical anti-abortion organisation, and another was an in-joke involving US talk-show hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman. Just like the rest of the night's action, they'd leave most British viewers baffled.
Speaking of transatlantic mis-translations, I always thought Life on Mars a tad overrated, but the series (which ended in the UK in 2007) had the conviction to maintain its ambiguity to the end. We never learnt conclusively why Sam Tyler woke up in 1973 having his balls busted by Gene Hunt. Whoever rewrote the finale for its US incarnation, screened last week on FX, had no such faith in mystery. Tyler awoke in a spaceship, in 2035, on his way to the red planet; I kid you not. The software designed to keep his brain active while in stasis had malfunctioned, leaving his thoughts stranded in the Seventies. His mission was a "gene hunt" to find – you guessed it – life on Mars.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food