TV review: The Brit Awards - When did boring become rock'n'roll?
Emeli's lovely, and Adele's a class act even when she's somewhere else, but this was a show defined by what didn't happen
Sunday 24 February 2013
The best way to experience The Brit Awards these days is invariably to read all the "Best Brits moments" lists chundered out beforehand. That way you can briefly transport yourself back to a time when the Brits still had "moments". Like blottoed, block-shaped DJ Brandon Block trying to take the Best Soundtrack award hostage. And Geri Halliwell emerging from a giant vagina. And presenter Norman Tebbit MP declaring "I don't know anything about pop music!" before being descended on by George Michael dressed as a bare-chested cowboy.
Well, it's fair to say Norm would have felt totally at ease at Wednesday's ceremony which, according to the conventional understanding of "pop" as "fun", was less pop than an evening with Hansard. The story of last year's shindig, of course, was Adele's curtailed victory speech. This year, she had her revenge by being the most charismatic presence of the evening, despite being absent: on a video link from LA, she taunted us with her sentience and sensibility and, in 19 seconds, trumped the entire laugh count of host James Corden.
Indeed, from that headline no-show onwards, this was an event defined by what didn't happen. Harry Styles didn't look red-faced, merely poker-faced, in the inevitable cutaway to him during the appearance of presenter-cum-supposed-former-teenybopper-power-couple-partner Taylor Swift. Justin Timberlake didn't bring sexy back with his wipe-clean tux and antiseptic ballad. And Emeli Sandé, lovely as she may be, didn't do or say anything to justify the inordinate amount of exposure that led to the foregone conclusion of her double win.
What's clear is that when you're trying to create an entertaining awards show at a time when pop stars are so assiduously understated – some of them, like the singer from Alt-J, have actually gone mute – it's time for radical measures. Perhaps organisers should heed the MasterCard ads that punctuated this year's show and replace the stars with hyperventilating superfans until they buck up their ideas. Alternatively, if everyone involved really just wants a drink and a catch-up complemented by a warm sense of achievement, they could shut off the cameras and style it like any other awards event. Here's to a Hilton function room, a swing band playing Black Eyed Peas covers and a Moss Bros discount deal for 2014.
For further adventures in celebrity solipsism, there was Meet the Izzards (BBC1, Wednesday/Thursday **). "The epic story of humanity's journey from our shared origins in Africa ... all the way to Eddie Izzard" was how the voiceover teed up this two-parter – due warning of the programme's skewed perspective. Putting a primordial spin on genealogy hit Who Do You Think You Are?, it had the comic tracing his lineage back 10,000 generations or so via some cutting-edge analysis of the DNA in his saliva. Naturally, given TV's penchant for sending comedians on jollies, this led him from Cameroon to Denmark in search of "genetic cousins". And, naturally, 200,000 years of history were only as important as their impact on one famous 51-year-old, as he hung out with Kalahari desert tribesmen, Djibouti fisherwomen et al, and marvelled at his new-found sense of kinship with the world.
A shame, though, that the programme's own kinship was so hazy: here we had a celebrity travelogue wanting to pass muster as a serious science documentary without scaring viewers off with too much actual science. And so much of it passed by in a forgettable blur of inexpert commentary (keywords: fascinating, fun, wow) and spurious set pieces: Eddie sleeps out in the bush and is comically perturbed by elephants etc.
It was unfortunate, too, that the whole early migration/evolution thing was covered far better by Alice Roberts's BBC2 series The Incredible Human Journey a few years back. As noble as its attempt to make anthropology a prime-time proposition might have been, rarely has so little been said about so much.
All the better for not trying to say too much, meanwhile, was The Fried Chicken Shop (Channel 4, Tuesday ****), a documentary hooked off the becrumbed boom in high-street KFC imitators. Avoiding the obvious public-health angle, the film-makers instead concentrated on the souls eating the sorta-soul food, setting up a series of cameras in a Clapham branch of Roosters Spot and observing its teeming customer base over a week. And, some 2am brawlers aside, they tended towards the endearing and eccentric, from bolshie college girls to waltzing panto princes. Screenwriters take note: there are the (grey, discarded) bones of a sitcom here.
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