TV UK, New Year 2002

Impressions galore, EastEnders as pantomime and Christmas dramas that bash both science and religion.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

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I’ll be in Bonnie Scotland for Hogmanay, where the festivities revolve around Only An Excuse? (BBC1 Scotland, 10.45pm), a comedy show comprising impressions of Scottish football personalities. The funny accents, the hairdos! Oh, how we laugh!

I’ve never written about Alistair McGowan’s Big Impression (BBC1, Christmas Day), on the grounds that all impression shows are rubbish. In fact, this one isn’t bad. McGowan makes up for the tedium of impersonating dull politicians and soapstars by doing impressions within impressions: for example, Dot and Nick Cotton from EastEnders as Steptoe and Son.

This might not be entirely original, but McGowan has been carrying it off well – especially in his series of celebrity Beckett plays. McGowan’s other sketches focus on disposable celebrities like the Big Brother lovers Paul and Helen and Posh and Becks (the faintly amusing conceit here is that David Beckham has become a Renaissance Man since scoring for England against Greece). The Christmas special featured the more traditional musical EastEnders.

This isn’t as incongruous as it sounds. For all its gritty and depressing storylines, EastEnders has a pantomime quality that invites ridicule. I watched rapt (almost) over Christmas, as the beautiful princess was rescued from the wicked witch by her brave sister (who is really her mother). Meanwhile, Little Mo remains in the clutches of Shrek, the ogre with a Scottish accent, while the jealous Dame Babs is forcing her apprentice dame out of the gin palace. No wonder the BBC is advertising the FA Cup as its flagship drama for the new year.

The BBC’s obligatory ‘lavish’ Christmas drama The Lost World (Christmas Day and Boxing Day) was appropriately Christmassy, managing as it did to bash religion and science simultaneously.

Religion was represented by Peter Falk (Columbo to you and me), as a fanatical anti-Darwinist minister who tried to murder the adventurers, while science was represented by the stuffy and supercillious Edward Fox. When the party encountered its first dinosaur, Fox exclaimed, ‘I never thought; I never dreamed!’. The heroically eccentric Professor Challenger (played by the lovable Bob Hoskins) responded with a wise nod, ‘I know’. All this reminded me of the film Loch Ness, shown on Channel 4 not long ago, in which the little girl explains to Ted Danson in an adorably squeaky brogue that he can’t see the monster before he believes it: ‘You have to believe it before you can see it!’

The same might be said about The People of New York vs Jerry Sadowitz (Channel 5), which I recommended before Christmas, in the charmingly naive belief that it had been filmed since 11 September. I was wrong, and only a true believer in Sadowitz’s genius could have sat through this dross. Still, you liked ITV’s Othello, didn’t you? There is a more conventional adaptation of The Merchant of Venice on BBC2 on New Year’s Eve (2.35pm), but it clashes with The Green Berets (Channel 5, 3pm), John Wayne’s notorious Vietnam agitprop flick. Watch one and tape the other, I suppose.

There are more impressions later on in Bremner, Bird and Fortune: Geoffrey Malet, A Hero of Our Times (Channel 4, 9pm). This is a hagiography of a fictional politician who embodies all the qualities we associate with politicians (ie, not good ones). B,B and F are the undisputed heavyweights of political satire, but the ease with which they get real politicians and commentators to take part is more than a little disturbing. Everybody seems to agree that political satire is good for democracy these days. This can’t be a good thing.

There is more good-natured satirical knockabout on BBC1 at 10.30pm (not Scotland) in Have I Got 2001 For You, a compilation of amusing outtakes from the topical panel show. This is very wrong. Hogmanay is not supposed to be about a witty look at current affairs, is it? No, it’s about good company, McEwan’s Export and Lorenzo Amoruso’s funny accent. Och, aye, gli amici!

Happy New Year.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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