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TV: You Have Been Watching \ Charlie Brooker \ Channel 4

July 8, 2009

Charlie Brooker, host of new Channel 4 panel show You Have Been Watching, is a victim of his own success.

Having preached to a formerly disatisfied audience, Brooker has converted the cynics to his way of thinking. Now that same audience sit and watch him do something different from his usual output and provide the same armchair criticism he did in his Screenwipe shows.

Those programmes were pure Brooker. Half an hour of uninterrupted critical assessment of various aspects of television output. If there was an issue in the media, Brooker could be relied upon to provide an accurate summation of that issue and deliver an everyday angle on it, cutting out the crap with his viciously scathing humour.

In doing so, he succeeded in pointing out exactly what it was we the audience were thinking about any given media-related subject, even if we didn’t realise where we stood on it.

And in doing that Brooker became our mate. Brooker became a badge of honour. He led an army. We followed him unconditionally. He was someone who didn’t need to be offered a drink at the bar because there were plenty of fans already queuing up to purchase one already.

In You Have Been Watching, Brooker takes the same jaw-droppingly awful sequences from popular TV shows including the BBC’s The One Show and a stunningly disgusting segment from ill-thought out and deeply disturbing “factual” entertainment show Deadliest Warriors. Instead of satisfying ourselves with Brooker’s take on a show offered in his usually biting voice-over, the host also welcomed the opinions of his three panellists.

Those three panellists were Rufus Hound (someone I only really recognise from the Dave posters on the Underground advertising another panel show he was in but whom I feel I know sufficiently well to want slap every time I saw his face on the screen), Richard Herring (someone I did know but whose similarly smug face made it look as though he couldn’t believe his luck he was back on TV and thus, I wanted to punch him too) and Jamelia (who’s chest didn’t shake when she laughed thus confirming her role as the dizzy female pundit constantly playing catch up with the wittier panellists who surely must have missed their taxi to the studio). All of them took up position in a ridiculously oversized studio with bright colours and a perfect audience. The picture was complete. This was Telly Addicts for the 21st Century.

Of course, Brooker’s expertise could well be at work here. Maybe the whole thing was ironic. Maybe the gag was that he was taking the piss out of formats. What better way to cock-a-hoop at the industry but by treating his ascerbic wit the same way and seeing if it worked.

Personally speaking, I don’t think it did. Brooker looked mainstream. He’d moved from being behind the bikesheds pouring scorn on the other kids there with him desperate to find a working lighter for their cigarettes, and now seemed to be standing at the front of the class delivering the lesson in a slightly self-consciously wacky style.

Brooker is best when he’s on his own. I want to see him being grouchy in what purports to his own flat. I want his opinion, not anyone elses. I don’t want to see people attempting to be funny with him and neither do I want to see him try and make an audience laugh.

What he’s incredibly skilled at is writing scripts which don’t rely on the interaction of others. When he voices them or they’re printed in the Guardian they’re pure Brooker and that’s what those of us in the media industry who occasionally quake with fear need to reset us from time to time.


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  1. I’m glad it wasn’t just me who was disappointed. The gratuitous cleavage; the gratuitous, distasteful violence;- the awful set – Charlie, you’ve sold your soul.

  2. hello, dr_loplop here! just to let you know that your blog post is the #2 google search result for charlie brooker c4 — well done, and good critique.

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  1. You Have Been Watching…something entirely unidentifiable « Topazbean would happily be a slave to a wage

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