TV Reviews


The Call Centre (Acorn Media DVD) – Review

The high point of this programme was a puddle of sick in a car park. But more of that later. I'd like if I may to use this review of The ...



BBC3? Why do we need TV channels anyway?

In a week when the BBC has decided to save money by shutting down one of its most creative TV channe...

The Call Centre (Acorn Media DVD) – Review

the call centreThe high point of this programme was a puddle of sick in a car park. But more of that later.

I’d like if I may to use this review of The Call Centre (Acorn Media DVD/BBC) partly as a platform for my own strongly held and mildly bigoted views on the cold calling industry in general.

It’s my personal belief that cold calling is the nastiest, most intrusive, invasive and immoral form of marketing on the planet Earth. It makes many people’s lives a living hell, particularly the old and vulnerable. My own elderly mother is now afraid to answer her own phone.

I believe that everyone involved in cold calling is a disgusting, contemptible, self-hating swamp creature with no moral compass whatsoever. No person with anything resembling self respect would do this job. That’s why cold callers are among the most despised people in the UK, and that’s why cold calling should be against the law.

Let’s put that premise to an imaginary jury, shall we? I’ll begin by bringing to the witness stand Hayley Pearce, one of the featured characters in The Call Centre.

Here she comes  – bright orange fake tan, two inch long finger nails – her face caked in thick, badly applied make-up. I should remind the jury at this point that in episode one we first met Hayley on her hands and knees scrubbing her own vomit off the pavement.

She’d been out on the piss the night before and had turned up an hour late for work. Nice big close up of the vomit there, by the way.

Looks like Hayley is too hungover to give evidence, so let’s call to the stand Hayley’s boss, company CEO Nev Wilshere. In the first show we watched Nev having a meeting with one of his employees Kayleigh Davies.

She’d just split up with her boyfriend. Nev told her she’d been a “miserable bastard” at work recently, then revealed to her horror that he’d set up a speed dating evening, so that she could “get laid” as soon as possible. Failing that he’d at least find her someone who was a “good snogger.”

We then saw Nev drag Kayleigh out onto the sales floor where he loudly announced to the entire staff that he had a “desperate female” on his hands. He went on to ask a number of single men at random if they’d like to go out with her.

Delightful management style, Nev. Sensitive, caring, politically correct. Seriously, how is this man allowed to run a business in the UK?

All Kayleigh Davies would need to take Nev Wilshire to court for inappropriate behaviour in the workplace would be a DVD of episode one of The Call Centre. I’m sure the producers would be happy to oblige her with a copy. I hear they’re pretty strong on that sort of thing at the moment at the BBC.

And what’s Nev got to say in his defence? Just this: Nothing wrong with a bit of “friendly banter”, because it can “motivate everyone.” Looks like when the meteor landed, it missed a dinosaur.

I now draw to the court’s attention a clip from show one in which three male members of the call centre staff cruelly bully and intimidate the tea lady by hiding her tea bags and cutlery, then by blocking up her tea urn with something resembling chewing gum.

The poor girl eventually runs to see her line manager in floods of tears, accompanied by the raucous laughter of dozens of her moronic, slap-headed colleagues.

M’lud, I believe that all of this evidence proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the people who ring you up at home while you’re having your dinner, and try and convince you they can get you a refund on your PPI insurance, are as loathsome, repugnant, annoying and unpleasant in their own private lives as they are when they’re on the phone to you.

They may dress up as bananas and cowboys and sing along to Mr Brightside by The Killers, but they’re monsters. The law should therefore protect us from them.

In my view, every single person who has ever cold called anyone should be arrested and charged under intrusion of privacy laws. The press are being made to pay for it and the cold calling industry should be next. Starting in Swansea, ideally.

No doubt many people will compare The Call Centre with The Office, but let’s not waste time pursuing that comparison. The Office moved television forward. It was a clever, innovative and brilliantly executed comedy series.

The Call Centre is the opposite of innovative. It’s cheap, lazy, dumbed down programme making that drags the BBC’s reputation as a broadcaster ever lower into the mud.

Apparently, there are now over a million people working in call centres in the UK. Perhaps when the government has finished culling the badgers, they might seriously consider thinning out the numbers of this lot.

No further witnesses. I rest my case.




Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (BBC2) – Review

lee2A few years ago a friend of mine worked on the very first series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (BBC2) so I went along to see a few episodes being recorded. This turned out to be a rather unique experience as the gigs are taped in a real working man’s club in Stoke Newington and the faded, retro charm of the room is not created by a BBC designer, its the real thing.

Brutally honest, fiercely self critical and so comfortable in front of an audience he can get a laugh by doing nothing, Stewart Lee is also the real thing. Lee’s skill with comic repetition and deconstruction are a masterclass and his throwaway asides to the television viewers – while rudely excluding the live audience – are often the best observations you’re ever likely to hear about the diverse tastes and social structure of Britain.

In this third series Lee once again takes comedy apart, kicks it around a bit, then puts it back together again. His vocabulary is exquisite, his delivery sublime. Nobody does it better. And yet his style is not to everyone’s taste and many people simply don’t get it. Yes, its comedy about comedy, yes it might be a little inaccessible for some, but if you take Lee’s advice and work a little harder than usual while watching his act, you will surely be rewarded.

Quotes like, “this is the sound of the middle class applauding their own guilt,” set this series apart from every other comedy show currently on TV. Lee’s abrasive style and deeply bitter persona have been honed over many years performing in thousands of gigs around the UK. This is a man who makes an art form that is almost infinitely hard look laughingly easy.

Chris Morris takes the role of Grand Inquisitor in series three, pumping our hero with uncompromising, Paxman-like questions while both performers do their best to keep a straight face and pretend that these savage interludes are for real. Morris is also Lee’s script editor, so its not surprising that the series maintains such a consistent level of quality and pace.

If I had any criticism at all it would be that Lee’s stand-up is so good the format doesn’t really need cutaways, and I’d personally rather see more stage time, without the interviews and film inserts. As a long-standing fan I personally don’t think either of these bolted-on elements really adds anything to the series or shows off his talents as well as when he’s simply standing alone on stage in ill-fitting jacket and rubbish haircut.


W1A (BBC2) – Review

w1a“You’re aware that you’re at the centre of something genuinely important, and the exciting thing is to think that part of the job is establishing where that centre is, and what it’s in the middle of.”

It’s hard to parody something that’s already a parody of itself, so W1A (BBC2) – the BBC’s bizarre and surreal piss-take of its own corridors of power – must be viewed in context.

Because the sad truth is that the real-world BBC is far more bizarre and surreal than this fairly tame spoof, and the only real piss-take in the equation is the way the real Beeb behaves while claiming to serve its hard-working license payers.

BBC2′s continuity announcer accidentally introduced W1A by calling it a “new drama.” A Freudian slip, no doubt, by a BBC staffer on the brink of insanity.

Noel Edmonds went on Newsnight this week and announced that he wants to buy the BBC. Remind me, was that in the spoof version of the corporation or in the real-world BBC? It’s almost impossible to tell.

I’ve worked for the BBC many times, in many different roles, so I suppose I should have found W1A  hilarious. However, it was so close to the truth that all the programme actually succeeded in doing was to remind me of the anger, frustration and helplessness I felt while working there.

Most of the meetings really are a ridiculous waste of time. Many of the managers genuinely are pointless, poorly informed, time-servers who are only interested in protecting their own interests. Verbal communications skills are virtually non-existent in many Social Media-obsessed staff, and the curse of hot desking means it’s impossible to hold a meaningful conversation or concentrate on anything at all in your own space.

W1A is written by the same team who brought us the brilliant Twenty Twelve. David Tennant’s back as the deadpan and slightly puzzled narrator, and Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville) moves from Head of Deliverance at the Olympics to becoming Head of Values at the BBC. Jessica Hynes also returns as Siobhan Sharp, the air-headed PR guru.

There are many new faces as well, notably Jason Watkins as the slimy and grinning Head of Strategic Governance, and Hugh Skinner as Will – the intellectually challenged intern who seems to struggle with even the most basic of tasks. Will’s epic mental battle in delivering two cups of coffee to their recipients was one of the highlights of the first episode. I suspect his character will rise swiftly through the ranks and will probably end up as Director General if the show runs long enough.

Just as David Brent was far too painful to watch if you worked in an office, W1A may be a little too much for many BBC staff to endure. Alan Yentob and Salman Rushdie arm-wrestling in a meeting room? Remind me, was that in W1A, or did I see it on this week’s Newsnight?