Friday, 13 January 2017

Review Review

The Big Fat Quiz Of Everything is one of those comedy panel shows that make up 56% of TV.  This one hasn’t even got Frankie Boyle or Rob Brydon, because it’s not 2004.  But it has got Noel Fielding, because apparently it’s 2001, or something. 

Jimmy Carr is presenting, and, like all comedians, he has a really odd laugh.  It goes Huh!  Huh!  Huh!  Huh!  Huh!  HHUUUUUUUH!  If something is really funny, or just the first syllables if it’s only a little bit funny, like the funniest things David Walliams has ever said.  If it’s really really funny, like one of the three things Richard Ayoade says in any two-hour period, he adds in an extra two or three syllables.  It sounds like he’s climaxing, in a really sarcastic way.
This thing is two fucking hours long.  (The programme, not the climaxing.  Or the laugh.)
(That’s not the kind of joke I like, normally.  But it was inspired by the thing it is reviewing, so it's appropriate.  That’s how reviews should work, isn’t it?  There’s no reason they shouldn’t be creative, is there?  Mind you, I tried to be funny in a live music review and one commenter described it as "unnecessarily bitter".  Sadly, however, the commenter didn't specify the necessary level of bitterness, so I wasn't able to correct it in line with the feedback.)
Still, as I say, Richard Ayoade is on it.  His appeal used to be that he was a bit odd and delivered a refreshingly abstract and occasionally intellectual (it’s all relative) take on the well-worn panel comedy quiz formula.  Now he’s been on telly for a while, including this type of thing, his appeal is that he does these shows as if he’s too good for them.  He conveys this with faint embarrassment at having delivered a deadpan joke as if it’s not a joke.  It’s basically the same, but he says a little bit more and is a little bit less funny.  He is a film director, so maybe he does these to make money for a new film project.  How would I know?  He’s still the most interesting person on this show, or any like it, by far.
Richard Ayoade’s teammate is Noel Fielding, who has done little/nothing of interest since The Mighty Boosh, and has spent most of the time being on these kind of things.  The allure of this kind of work must be hard to resist for a flamboyant person who likes dressing up and knows he is wittier and more interesting than most people who go on these things.  Still, it’s all relative, isn’t it?
I saw one a while back with Fielding on the same team as Brand.  It was like watching someone fall over; I felt it was wrong to laugh, but it was a bit funny.  They both come off as preening tossers who are quite amusing (for a strictly limited time) while being preening tossers, but are both also reasonably interesting and funny people when they are not.  Everyone is more than one thing.  But it’s very hard to be multi-dimensional, or interesting, or play to one’s strengths on these kind of TV programmes.  It’s not what they’re for.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure at all what they’re for. 
(Although it’s not me, I‘m sure.)
On day one of my A Level Media Studies course, the tutor made an important distinction: that Media Studies, unlike Literature and most other Humanities subjects, does not study what is judged to have inherent value or quality.  Media Studies s about looking at anything that exists for consumption, regardless of quality – or even interest.  I have never forgotten that astute observation, and it makes sense now that there are a million channels to fill, and less and less money to fill them…
And it’s the reason I watch things I don’t really like and then write an arrogant, smugger-than-thou review of them.  But I’m not a professional reviewer, you know?  I just do it because I like writing/expressing opinions for which no one has asked/feeling good about myself by criticising/talking down to others, in increasingly florid language.  (Isn’t that why anyone writes reviews, these days?  Surely it’s not a paying job any more…?  It’s not even journalism, in most cases; like most internet content, it’s aggregation.)
When I was in a band, aged eighteen, we didn’t play many headline sets.  But we managed a few.  One of those shows was reviewed in our local reviews and listings magazine, considered something of a city institution at the time (the magazine, not the show.  Or the band). 
The review spent a column and a half on the opening act, a column on the middle act and a short paragraph on us.  Which seemed ass backwards to me.  Until I realised the reviewer had to arrive in time for the first band and presumably started drinking immediately, getting progressively more arseholed as the night wore on.  By the time we upstarts took the stage, s/he was less inclined to take notes, or even take note of whatever we were doing.  We were probably fairly shite, but we were entertaining.  That’s my review of that band.
But the actual review of that band mentioned little about what we did or how it sounded, and nothing about the reaction we got – which was surprisingly favourable; people laughed a lot; we were a silly, fun band.  Audiences always create the atmosphere in which music is played.  Music in an empty room is very different to music performed in a room with 1000 people for the express purpose of witnessing/experiencing it.  (In our case, playing in a practice room with just us in there was very different to playing at The Fleece to tens of people, including all of our closest friends.)
I’ve not seen many reviews that mention how the crowd at the thing react to the entertainment on (or off) stage.  That seems like a glaring omission: the whole point of live music is to gather people together to witness/participate in music.  So why do reviews treat the on-stage spectacle as if it could easily be done without the audience?  Or as if the audience simply isn’t there?  TV reviews sometimes mention viewing figures, but it’s not the same, is it?
I like honesty, so when I review live shows, I mention that I have been drinking.  If it’s relevant.  Which it often is.  There’s a paucity of contextualisation in standard reviews; that which is given tends to focus narrowly on the back catalogue of the artist in question.  There is an absolutely standard way of reviewing things that is of no interest, and seems like a joyless, witless grind for the writer.  Luckily, no one pays me to write all this, and (relatively) few people pay any attention, so I can say whatever I want, in whatever way I want.
An object lesson.

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