Tag Archives: Channel 4

Sodden clumps of Mayfair on a radiator

sex-boxWoody Allen once said: “Love is the answer, but while you are waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty good questions.” And thanks to Channel 4’s Sex Box, which starts tonight, three couples now have a forum for discussing those questions. All they’re required to do is have sex inside a futuristic portakabin in the middle of a television studio, before emerging, breathless, ruddy-faced and slightly unkempt, to have a cosy post-coital chat with Mariella Frostrup and a panel of ‘sexperts’. Bingo!

The show is part of Channel 4’s ‘Campaign for Real Sex’, a season of programmes “which aim to reclaim sex from porn”. And what better way to reclaim sex than by placing it inside an opaque, sound-proofed cube. “It’s quite a chaste programme,” said Channel 4’s head of factual programming, Ralph Lee, “— there’s no sex in it.”

True, there’s no sex. But I read somewhere that there is a handy colour scheme so that we can all follow what’s going on at home. Apparently the box glows red for coitus; yellow to indicate intermittent foreplay and a chat about whether the tiles in the bathroom need re-grouting; purple for when the mood evaporates and the couple decide to eat Hobnobs and watch Countryfile instead; and blue to alert the crew to unexpected flaccidity.

Typically appalled by the show’s premise, the Mail Online reported that Channel 4 is cynically trying to boost ratings after it was outperformed by Channel 5 for the first time in its history in July. Whether or not that’s true, I’m sort of glad that Channel 4 got in with this idea first.

After all, Richard Desmond’s cut-price Channel 5 version would probably be called something like Fuck Truck. Presented by John McCririck, wearing nothing but oversized underpants and a deerstalker, amorous couples would be expected to have orgiastic sex in a perspex trailer on the back of an eighteen wheeler. McCririck would then walk among the writhing bodies singing Bloodhound Gang’s The Bad Touch into a loud hailer, as the truck winds its way through Leeds city centre.

Alternatively, Desmond could always develop a programme called Snuff Box, a one-hour programme in which oversexed, banter-loving ‘lads’ are lured into a shipping container by a pneumatic blonde, before taking a bullet to the back of the head. I think I’d watch that.

Anyway, Sex Box and the ‘Campaign for Real Sex’ seem to be a product of Channel 4’s eagerness “to talk about sex – real sex – the kind that is actually going on in Britain’s bedrooms”. That’s fine, but aren’t we always talking about sex these days? A better idea for a show would’ve been Sex Library, where anyone who tries to strike up a conversation about sex gets shushed by a stern-faced, conservatively dressed librarian, with half moon spectacles sitting on the end of her beaky nose. Isn’t sex boring now?

And what is ‘real sex’ anyway? With absolutely no apologies for the sweeping generalisation I’m about to make, I imagine ‘real sex’ for men in their late teens and twenties involves clumsily trying to mount someone in a piss-sodden nightclub toilet, while a stumbling, incoherent friend helpfully vomits eight hours of two-for-one shots into the crotch of their ankle-high underwear.

I’m also not entirely sure how Sex Box can liberate us from pornography?

My first experience of porn was in 1989, when I discovered a bin bag full of pornographic magazines in a park behind the newsagents where I worked. I remember turning my bike on its handlebars, as though innocently fixing a puncture, just to give myself enough time to paw at the bag until some of the glossy magazines slipped out and flipped tantalisingly open. I ended up flicking through a ridiculous photoset featuring two naked women cowering beneath a mulleted Dracula – a set of plastic fangs sitting awkwardly in his mouth, with his cape thrown open to reveal a phallus of truly ridiculous proportions.

I only managed to look for a few seconds, though. The sound of Bram Stoker turning in his grave suddenly spooked me (or it might have been a cat darting through the bushes behind me) so I decided to hide the bag in some undergrowth and return to collect my filthy treasure after dark.

The bin bag was gone by the time I returned to fix another fake puncture on my bike, but that was the beauty of porn in the old days – it was a challenge to find! (And in terms of the sodden clumps of Mayfair I once found and tried to dry out on a radiator, difficult to read.) Furthermore, buying just one pornographic magazine over the counter at a newsagents was often prohibitively expensive, especially once I’d hidden it beneath four packs of Chewits, a copy of The People’s Friend and a foam ball and tennis racket set. The young people of today wouldn’t have an addiction to porn if they had to acquire it under those kinds of conditions.

Actually, thinking about it, maybe Sex Box can rid the world of pornography. If this box thing catches on, we might soon be living in a world where all the filthiest, x-rated bits from porn films take place inside opaque, sound-proofed boxes, leaving us to actually enjoy the dialogue and plot in films such as Moulin Splooge and The Italian Handjob. Furthermore, trying to view pornographic images online would eventually be no more exciting than surfing the IKEA website for a self-assembly wardrobe. If pornography was made that dull, I’m fairly certain that people would lose interest.

We can but hope.

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Kookyville: the day television died

There’s a wonderful film called Wings of Fame in which famous dead people are depicted as guests at a grand old hotel. The more enduring a person’s fame on earth, the bigger and more luxurious their room. While those with dwindling fame, perhaps fading in the memory and no longer considered relevant, are constantly downgraded to smaller, pokier rooms until only the “mists of oblivion” await. “More of us are afraid of oblivion than of death,” explains one resident.

When I think about that beautiful hotel, filled with the likes of Einstein and Hemingway, and even Baader-Meinhof terrorists, still caught up in the romanticism of violent revolution, the mental image is gatecrashed by a group of Z-List ‘scripted reality’ idiots charging through the marble-floored lobby, dragging leopard print luggage behind them.

To some extent, the fantasy is a comforting one: they’re all dead. Furthermore, they would probably make a beeline for ‘oblivion’, keen to be seen at what they assume is the afterlife’s premier club night. On the downside, however, the commotion in the lobby has left Marilyn Monroe’s William Travilla dress with an unsightly orange smear of fake tan. I fucking hate these people. The TOWIE people, that is. (The living and the imaginary dead ones.)

Unfortunately, the TOWIE phenomenon appears to have been the inspiration for possibly the most appalling, detestable piece of television I have ever seen: Channel 4’s Kookyville – “a comedy sketch show with a difference”. The most obvious difference being the complete absence of any comedy.

Scheduled straight after Peep Show (following a triumphant return for its eighth series), Kookyville felt like something of an ambush. Where did it come from? Why did it happen? Who made it possible? I had so many questions.

Before the programme began, we were reminded that Fosters sponsors original comedy on 4. Kookyville then opened with a Little Britain-style title sequence, before introducing the David Brent character, the Catherine Tate ‘Nan’ character and the Del Boy and Rodney characters (which also had a vague whiff of Smith and Jones in their ‘head-to-head’ sketches), which was all catastrophically packaged in a TOWIE scripted reality format.

The ‘sketches’ themselves (featuring people who “are not actors or comedians, and there’s no script. They’re just real funny people”) were just a series of inane and very obviously scripted conversations, which makes the dialogue in TOWIE sound like it’s penned by Aaron Sorkin.

So what were the highlights of Kookyville? Well, there weren’t any. But here are some of the most inexcusably awful and offensive bits:

Remember the Catherine Tate ‘Nan’ character I mentioned? Well, the real life version they’ve found – for the purposes of making Kookyville just that little bit more unwatchable – is a woman called Ronnie.

In her first ‘sketch’, Ronnie is sat on a bench chatting to her German friend. “You taught me everything I know. All the good English,” says her mild-mannered companion. “Yeah! Fuck, cunt, wanker and bastard,” replies Ronnie, as she delivers the achingly predictable punchline from the depths of her tar-ravaged lungs.

Ronnie also pops up in the second part of the programme. There’s this brilliant bit, yeah, where she’s driving along a pavement in a motorised cart, then she suddenly stops and aggressively tells an imaginary person off-camera to fuck off. But that’s just a bit of filler! That’s not even the main joke! The main Ronnie ‘sketch’ in the second part of the programme sees her visiting a Chinese restaurant with her two twentysomething grandchildren. She then embarks on a gut-wrenchingly descriptive tale about how some prawn balls once gave her the shits.

Just think about all the great comedy that Channel 4 has commissioned and broadcast over the years. No, go on, just think about that for a few minutes to ensure that that last paragraph is purged from your mind forever.

Other delights from Kookyville included a mother and daughter (Annierose and Suzanne) spotting a dwarf walk into the salad bar where they’re having lunch (presumably after the director had yelled “OK, Dwarf enter stage right!”), which subsequently prompts a conversation about how Annierose “would quite like a dwarf” because they could provide “all the best qualities of a baby, but he could go to the toilet himself.” Between that and the chucklesome story two hoteliers tell about a guest with Thalidomide short arms falling out of a window (complete with unnecessary munchkin-style voice impersonation), it’s difficult to know which sketch the Official Broadcaster of the London 2012 Paralympic Games wanted me to find most funny.

We also had two call-centre girls called Babs and Cabs (who were later joined by their “bezzie bizzle Shabs”) who’d taken the day off work to visit a farm. The unlikely location of their excursion subsequently led to weighty debates about whether animals eat meat, given that they are meat, and also saw them constantly pronounce “ewe” as “ewie”. Yet again, television presents gross stupidity as entertainment and something to celebrate rather than despise.

Kookyville also introduced us to Afsad, an Asian David Brent figure presiding over a car sales “dynasty”. His shtick seemed to involve introducing his employees to camera and then either insulting them or embarrassing them. “This is a guy who’s had cameras up his ass!” Asfad excitedly announces at one point. The employee then laughs politely, before confirming that he’d once had an exploratory procedure to determine whether or not he had Crohn’s disease. Honestly, the giggles!

But what will next week hold? Maybe Babs, Cabs and Shabs could take another day off work and visit the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. And maybe Ronnie could go for an Indian meal and explain to the waiter, in excruciating detail, about the time a prawn bhuna once made her vomit over a child.

Or maybe it could all just stop. But having said that, the ‘comedy’ never really started.

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