Somewhere out there is a small group of awful people who get to decide what goes on TV. I’m not talking about the directors, producers, actors or presenters, but rather about the commissioners and the type of people that sit down and decide what sort of programme we might like to watch today; or more likely what programme we had no intention of ever watching, but since it popped up as we were flicking through we thought we’d give it a go and how on earth did it turn out to be a bigger pile of shit than the pile of shit we feared it was going to be in the first place. As our capacity for sitting motionless watching variations of nothing on TV has ballooned so has the sheer volume of the nothing available; it might just be modern culture’s purest and most depressing relationship of supply and demand. It’s somehow even worse than online gambling or heroin addiction. You think I don’t mean that? Well, I do. Because only in a world so intellectually shaved, beaten, strip searched, sleep deprived and chemically subdued could you find the sort of barrel scratching programmes that are available to us today. And by that I’m referring to the good stuff; the kind of stuff that 30 years from now some grinning tit will refer to as ‘broadcasting gold’.
Exhibit A is, it saddens me to say, Friends. As I write this Friends is available on three different channels, according to the Sky Box. I love Friends so very, very much but it is starting to dawn on me that unless we’re careful the whole thing will just be on a loop until the end of time, to the extent that after humans are wiped out by something or other and then re-evolve over many millions of years we will find footage of Friends in a bunker somewhere and base a whole new civilisation on the highly unlikely mishaps of six aesthetically pleasing white people in New York. Please don’t tell me that wouldn’t make you sad, especially if they used the first series as the template. The one saving grace is that at least Friends is still funny and comforting in a way that a lot of TV is most resolutely not.
Take, for example, Stop Search Seize, a lavishly cheap documentary vehicle created solely to sate the appetite of the countless legions of British viewers who want nothing more than to understand what really goes on at the Irish customs border. That this programme exists at all serves as soul crushing evidence that somewhere out there a few zombified morons genuinely find solace, and even a cheap thrill, in watching a couple of Irish customs officers, with the help of a doughy, bored stiff garda, unzipping a suitcase to find a family of dead parakeets, or asking some poor, broken, acne splattered mule why he has three kilos of low grade cocaine parked up his lower intestine. I mean, how many times can you watch that without considering suicide to be a rosier alternative? You could always switch channel but it won’t do you any good, unless you genuinely can’t get through your days without watching compilations of dashcam footage, imaginatively titled Caught On Dashcam – the dual irony being that to watch people driving like arseholes you simply have to go driving, and that many of Caught On Dashcam’s core audience either cannot afford to drive, have been banned from driving or have to rely on a mobility scooter these days, probably because of their swollen ankles.
Of the other delights available to me, and you, at the moment we must stare, slack-jawed, at the prospect of a documentary called Discovering: Telly Savalas, which has the cheek to ask for a whole hour of your life, and only you can decide how to spend it. Or you could settle in to mainline on a whole afternoon of Tipping Point repeats; a show which isn’t anything much more than a seaside arcade coin drop game with some not at all challenging general knowledge mixed in and an opportunity to walk away with something slightly better than a pocketful of sticky, green tuppence pieces. And every moment conducted by the popular with housewives, third rate eunuch Ben Shephard. Alternatively, you could opt to watch an episode of Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares that you’ve already seen three times before – the one where Gordon Ramsey suffers the repeated nightmare of earning shitloads of money to swear at strangers. Or simply get exotic and try S4C, the world’s only (with good reason) Welsh language television channel, which offers tongue twisting confectionary such as Cymry ar Gynfas (translated: Cum on Jenny).
There is always an all time low, you’ll be pleased to know. A show that has to be the Marianas Trench of the television format. One that somehow ticks every possible box in the search for what can only be the worst thing to do with your life at any given moment. It’s the sort of programme I will never be able to watch a second of, if only because there might be a chance, as I lay dying, that my life really would flash before me and I would have to watch it again. That someone, somewhere, genuinely thought it up makes me find renewed hope in the alternative joy that World War III might bring. I refer to Nick Knowles’ Big House Clearout, a programme that would surely even test the patience of someone wrapped up deeply in the very deepest stages of terminal dementia. Any programme that features any kind of big house clear out is already doomed to cultural oblivion, but to be hosted by Nick Knowles, the lowest common denominator on TV (and possibly in all humanity), is just too crushing to contemplate. I have been through periods in my life when I have watched some pretty awful shit on TV, hours spent on the sofa that have made me question the purpose and direction of my life. But I can assure you of this: the day I have to resort to watching Nick Knowles’ Big House Clearout will absolutely be the last day of my life. There is every chance I’ll simply die from just not being able to live anymore.
G B Hewitt. 05.02.2022.