Saturday, 3 October 2009

Casual Viewing

Television makes whores of us all. A cursory reading of Marshall McLuhan leads me to that aphorism, as does watching the first 3 episodes of Stephen Fry's Last Chance To See. I saw a copy of the book the other day, sitting alongside Jamie In America, and although I wouldn't dream of conflating the two, it did remind me that I had planned to review Mr Fry's latest televisual offering.

I have heard that there has been some beastliness towards the programme (although it has not been easy to find too many dissenting voices. In fact, it's hard to find anything which is not either by Stephen Fry, or on the BBC, or on Amazon. But there you go) but I do not wish to be accused of bandwagoning. I am - as you may be aware - quite a fan of Stephen, and had been looking forward to the series coming out since I began seeing the tweets and twitpics coming in from exotic climes during filming for the series.

God knows, there are occasions when my mobile hardly seems to stop buzzing with his 140 character or less updates. I am also a long-time worshipper of Douglas Adams, and am sympathetically inclined towards the idea of highlighting the damage we are causing to our beautiful planet. But, after watching the first episode of LCTS I myself tweeted about a certain uneasiness with the thing. I thought I would give it a bit more of a go, though, and have watched the next three. I will continue to watch, but thought I owed myself a duty to elucidate the problems I have with it. So here goes.

The main thing, I suppose, is the chemistry - or lack of it - between the two main protagonists. Mark Carwardine is - IMHO - a not very likeable man, and there is an air of desperation about trying to establish some sort of characterisation for him, as an intensely knowledgeable, and just plain intense, individual. Driven by his love of wildlife and his unquestionable commitment to environmental concerns, he nonetheless comes across as a largely humourless git, and not a little supercilious. His practical jokes - most notably the rope around the dick routine in the second or third programme - are excruciatingly unfunny.

Along with that, and probably even more annoying to me, is Stephen putting himself across as some sort of air-headed schoolgirl, laughing at the lame gags, and being ridiculously impressed by the not very obscure facts that Carwardine insists on telling us. I understand that TV tends to pander to the lowest common denominator, and cannot assume that everyone is an expert, but I find it hard to swallow that Fry is unaware (for example) that rhino horn is used in traditional Chinese medicine, in direct opposition to his well-known schtick of being the cleverest man alive. This is the kind of thing he does regularly in the programme, and I do find that it grates more than a little.

Finally, while I understand of course that it is important to highlight these terrible things to the ordinary citizen, so that we may maximise the opportunities to do something about it, I am a little peeved (possibly - I admit it - also a little jealous. That beach in Madagascar did look rather enticing) that a programme about the environment again features TV personalities and their enormous retinues flying around the world to take pictures of the shrinking natural world, beating their chests and tearing their hair whilst contributing to the destruction of the planet. This is a minor point, as far as my appreciation of the programme goes, but it does contribute.

I don't know. A la Dorothy Parker, the best reviews are often pithy in the extreme. To summarise the review in one of the links above:

"How could it fail?... So why is this show leaving me so uninterested?"

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