You may have noticed a dearth of Bacon-related activity lately, even with new episodes of, well, just about everything. While suspicious deaths were taking place at Pushing Daisies‘ abbey (can’t wait can’t wait can’t wait) and vortices were opening up on Heroes (can wait can wait can wait a good long time) and Life was the latest show to screw up the Stanford Prison Experiment (folks, it’s not difficult–they’re called Institutional Review Boards, and they’re not gonna let you do that kind of thing anymore), Susannah and I were crossing the Atlantic to spend a little time in the UK. While we were taking in the London Eye (Susannah claims the Nestene Consciousness is alive and well and making her nearby hotel bathroom scorching hot) and giggling at the Dodi and Diana shrine at Harrod’s and listening to a service in Westminster Abbey‘s often blocked-off Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor, we were also taking our Bacon responsibilities seriously and watching some British TV. We champion a lot of UK shows here (Doctor Who, the original Life on Mars, Gavin and Stacey, Spaced, etc.), so we might have given the impression that the sun never sets on the quality TV of the British Empire. Turns out the ratio of quality to crap is…pretty much the same as it is in the US. A brief tour:
- Both countries show a lot of football. It’s very different kinds of football, but it’s a lot of football. We saw at least pieces of the England-Kazakhstan World Cup qualifying match (and heard no fewer than five Borat jokes within our first hour on the ground as a result), the Germany-Wales game, and the England-Belarus match, and can therefore report that although the graphics leading into and out of breaks are just as mind-numbingly repetitive on British TV as on American, they are slightly less annoying than those break-dancing robots on Fox’s NFL coverage. Advantage: UK.
- One genre that has disappeared from the American airwaves but that appears to thrive in Britain is the celebrity-stacked game show. The US used to have Match Game and Password (which recently suffered through an aborted comeback attempt) and Hollywood Squares and any number of other shows that were ostensibly about answering questions and winning prizes but that really allowed celebrities to pop off “witty” bon mots. How would Nipsey Russell have disseminated his poetry if not for $10,000 Pyramid? These shows have been pushed off the American television map by fake courtroom shows, but they’re alive and well in UK primetime. We saw one quiz show with Stephen Fry grilling Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson (I believe it was QI), and there was Some Guy With A Spiky Mullet who showed up on almost all of these game shows. The peak of such production, however, appeared to be Alan Carr’s Celebrity Ding Dong–I am not making this up–a show that is essentially an electronic version of HORSE. A noted British comedian quizzes teams of B-list celebrities until one team gets four answers right, meaning that their corresponding four letters (either D-I-N-G or D-O-N-G, depending on which side of the stage they’re seated on) have all been lit. They then win some unidentifiable reward–pride? The Crown Jewels? It was difficult to tell. Although we are no fans of the fake courtroom shows, the British celebs’ answers didn’t seem to be scripted and, therefore, tended to be rambling and less than funny. So we’re giving the point to US TV, although we note we might have been more charmed had we any idea who the B-list celebrities were.
- The US has imported “talent”-based reality shows straight from their Limey cousins–Pop Idol became American Idol; Britain’s Got Talent became America’s Got Talent; Strictly Come Dancing became Dancing with the Stars; Dancing on Ice became Skating with Celebrities. A proud tradition on both sides of the pond. We saw something “talent” based, although we confess we’re not sure which show it was (we think it was probably X Factor, given Simon Cowell’s presence), but it involved a lot of not-very-impressive singers and even a moment where Cowell apologized for picking a boring song for a competitor. Little wonder, then, when we switched on the TV the next night in the middle of yet another singing competition, this one hosted by So You Think You Can Dance‘s Cat Deeley. Finalists included a post-surgical transsexual who had been outed during the course of the show (to even greater public popularity!) and a group act called 2 Up 2 Down, two married couples in which both wives were in wheelchairs. We began to suspect this one to be a spoof when one of the 2 Up 2 Downers tumbled off a stool in which she’d been propped during a number with Rick Astley, of all people–and, indeed, the show was actually a parody dreamed up by Peter Kay (aka Doctor Who‘s Victor Kennedy/Abzorbaloff) called Britain’s Got the Pop Factor…and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice (it’s even funnier when Deeley recites it with great gravity). But I think it says something about the structure of the bread-and-circuses electric kool-aid nightmare these “talent”-based reality shows have become that for 15 full minutes we believed it was real. (In fairness, this was before we heard the title.) Winner: No one (except Peter Kay and Cat Deeley)–we’re all losers in that landscape.
So do the Brits actually have superior television? We do love us some Who and Cranford, and we’re grateful they lend us The Office, but we’ve got Daisies and sent them Buffy and The West Wing to great acclaim. I guess we’ll have to keep going back to London until this question is decided once and for all.