The BBCâs mission statement, as laid out by its founding father John Reith, is to âinform, educate and entertain.â? Few programmes manage to incorporate all three elements of this mantra into their production. Charlie Brookerâs Screenwipe is one of the few exceptions: it is at once analytical, enlightening, and most of all, frequently hilarious, which is why we’re delighted to hear that he’s planning a new ‘Wipe’ series.
The brilliance of Screenwipe lies in the attention to the writing. The show never seems half-arsed or formulaic, and has a high punchline hit rate which doesnât detract from the serious points it makes. Brooker made his name as the Guardian Guideâs caustic TV critic and he utilises his acerbic bile to full effect on television. He possesses the comedic delivery of a seasoned stand-up. Such is Brookerâs charm, that thereâs something majestic about watching him ranting in full flow on his sofa, yelling âcunt!â? at his TV. His lyrical swearing is perhaps only bettered by The Thick of Itâs Malcolm Tucker.
Thereâs an intellectual bent to much of his stream-of-consciousness criticism, deconstructing some of the most batshit mental programming. Take his analysis of The Baby Mind Reader, which features self-proclaimed psychic medium Derek Ogilvie âchannellingâ the thoughts of baby children and relaying their âthoughtsâ to their parents. He manages to reduce a single mum to tears when he claims her daughter is angry because of her troubled past relationships. âThis is like Blue Velvetâ? chimes Brooker, chastising Ogilvie for raking up the womanâs suffering at the hands of violent partners.
Britainâs Hardest, presented by âPhil Mitchellâ? is not a show built for rigorous over-analysis, but Brookerâs dissection of it is a real highlight of the series. His barbs are inspired; from describing the âard blokes âdangling from a scaffold like angry slabs of beefâ?, to his suggestion that the use of âhardâ? in the show is actually a metaphor for âerectâ? â âBeing hard, can open a lot of doors for you. Proving youâre hard, can open a lot of doors for meâ?, itâs a masterclass in puerile humour.
Brooker explores the effect certain programmes have on society, and how television can lead to alienation, despair and fear, though is not short of praise for shows he adores, describing the pleasure he has watching Jacob Bronowskiâs seminal series The Ascent of Man, âitâs like taking a warm bath in university juice.â?
Screenwipe has been branded âTV Burp with swearingâ, which is somewhat disparaging to both shows. Yes, both shows utilised similar formats of deconstruction, with frequent subversive and surreal interludes. Hillâs whimsy allowed for pre-watershed family viewing on ITV1; Brookerâs world-weary cynicism is usually buried late at night on BBC Four. Thereâs no reason why people canât enjoy both. If forced to choose which show is best then of course thereâs only one way to find outâ¦
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