Dynasty: Season 3, Episode 14
If I’ve learned anything in this life, and I haven’t, it’s that human beings are selfish, lazy, and stupid.
Not individuals, just the lumpen mass of humanity that, when suitably stimulated can take the collective spirit and use it not to make the world a better place, but to do things like pour millions of pounds into Katie Price’s bank account for books she doesn’t even write. The Arab spring and making shell suits popular, from the same species. Go figure.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in entertainment. I recently saw a blog about honest taglines for movie franchises. The one that caught my eye was ‘The Fast And The Furious: You Keep Watching Them, We’ll Keep Farting Them Out’. They’re making the seventh in the series. Can you guess why?
It’s easy for British audiences to sneer at this kind of thing happening over the pond; after all, we brought the world I Claudius and The Singing Detective, so we can look down on the rest of the lowbrow offerings from abroad yes? Well, not for a while now.
Channel Four has manoeuvred itself into the position of the outlet most likely to produce absolute mince and try and pass it off as ground-breaking edgy content. At the moment it is running a long ident entitled Born Risky, designed to show off all the attempts it has made to challenge the established view of what makes good television.
In fact what it does is lay out in thirty seconds all the absolute cobblers you’ve wasted your life watching over the last twenty odd years. The voiceover gives the motive away. “Channel Four was founded… [to] pass the profits back into making more challenging programming” intones Jon Snow. What this means in reality is that the advertising revenue generated by showing a fame obsessed educationally subnormal attention seeker stick a wine bottle up her nunna goes back into commissioning a programme showing people fucking in a box.
(Isn’t that a band? I digress.)
Now, after the high water mark of gogglebox, where we are expected to watch other people watching TV, comes a new dip into the freakaverse. Step forward Bedlam, a series in four parts which promises to….. actually here’s the premise in their own words.
The word Bedlam can be traced back to 1247 when the Priory of St Mary of Bethlehem was established in the City of London. The priory, which became a refuge for the sick and infirm, was known as ‘Bedlam’ and was the earliest incarnation of what is now Bethlem Royal Hospital, part of the South London and Maudsley (SLaM). ‘Bedlam’ also reflects how mental illness has been perceived historically and while treatment has changed dramatically over the past 800 years, stigma undoubtedly still remains. This series wants to help change that.
Of course, this very outlet has form in this regard. Back in the eighties they tried to change people’s attitudes to mental illness. What happened was the country got to laugh at someone who was ill, and Joey became the insult du jour to describe anyone with any kind of learning difficulty or disability. That’s all people remember about the show. Not his diagnosis, struggles, feelings or experiences. Just running round the playground pointing at people screaming JOEY! JOEY! at the top of your voice.
Profound, inspiring stuff.
The trailer claims to promote an in-depth and unprecedented look at mental health in Britain today with exclusive access to services, patients and staff., but kind of gives the game away by featuring a patient who is describes herself as “…bipolar, which makes me double nutty”. I’m fairly sure we won’t be any the wiser at the end, again.
Of course, to bring the argument full circle, if people didn’t watch these things they wouldn’t make them. this kind of TV is cheap, and therefore if it gets the same audience as an original drama the broadcaster and/or production company get to keep much more of the advertising take. Which do you think costs more to produce; four episodes of bedlam, or four hours of a series like Shameless? Exactly. And there’s an audience for it.
When it goes out tomorrow night Twitter will be inundated with people throwing out live comments about it, condemning the coverage and the impression it’s creating, or simply laughing at the various patients we’ll meet. Producers know this, and make sure people have plenty to comment on. (Look at the ridiculous overreaction to Educating Yorkshire, in which grown men and women told the world they were crying over a teacher showing a smidgen of humanity towards his pupils, which is how it’s meant to be. That’s how low our standards have dropped; people get showered with praise for doing what they’re paid to do.)
Of course, we could invest in talent. Albeit in a market where there is more chance of recouping investment in formats and programmes America has been slowly but surely building cable channels that simply embarrass us. It’s probably a no brainer to greenlight a pilot directed by Martin Scorsese but HBO signed off on a budget of over $20m for the first Boardwalk Empire, and are reaping the rewards four years later, and of course the states is notorious for cancelling ruthlessly (the series Lucky 7, a US remake of the show The Syndicate, was recently removed from the schedules after two episodes). British creative types can only dream of someone over here backing them to that extent, and it’s mainly because rather than risk a few quid they’d rather pump out footage of the clientele of a takeaway or people with OCDs cleaning a fucking house, or a competition for people cooking their fucking afters.
I reckon when Big Brother features a fuckbox and a branch of Dixy Fried Chicken populated with men with ten stone bollocks and women with a fetish for eating door keys the whole thing will implode, and we’ll have to find something better to do as we shuffle towards the peace of the grave.
Bedlam is on Channel 4 at 9 p.m. tomorrow night. It’s going to be shit. You know this.