Tag Archives: Neighbours

There Goes Lassiter’s Again: Why I Still Need Good Neighbours

Spoilers for UK-pace Neighbours up to 12/04/16

It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is possible to judge how old someone is just by asking them a few questions about their TV-watching habits. One such battery of questions might proceeed as follows: ‘Which Blue Peter presenters do you remember most vividly?’; ‘Who’s your Doctor?’; ‘What did you watch on Saturday mornings?’; ‘What’s the first celebrity death you remember on TV?’. My answers to these questions are, respectively, Diane-Louise Jordan / Stuart Miles / Konnie Huq / Matt Baker, Number Ten, Live and Kicking (Andi and Emma version) and Princess Diana, all of which classes me firmly as an early Millenial.

But there’s one particular question that will not only reveal your age but also the deepest secrets of your psyche, and that question is ‘What was your most shocking Neighbours moment?’

Given that Neighbours has been running for 31 years, there are A LOT of momentous events to choose from. Scott and Charlene’s romantic wedding is obviously a classic from the early years, as are Bouncer’s dream sequence (Bouncer, obviously, being a Golden Labrador) and Harold’s disappearance over a cliff, leaving only a pair of broken glasses behind him. Moving forward in time, the world was rocked by Karl’s affair with Sarah, Drew falling off his horse, and – perhaps most shocking of all – Toadie getting his hair cut, while recent years have included Steph’s affair with her best friend Libby’s husband, teenage Bridget having a baby and then dying, Paul nearly being murdered, and the Ramsay Street car crash that nearly killed off every young person in the show.

And last week, the latest in a long line of disasters occurred, as Lassiter’s hotel blew up, leaving dozens more Erinsborough residents fearing for their lives…

But, the thing is: it’s all been a bit weird. The main reason for this, I think, is that everyone knew it was going to happen. Of course, for all of these really big storylines it’s generally known that Something Is Coming, but this time the advance warning has been really quite in-your-face. For weeks there have been references to the “maintenance issues” in the basements at the hotel, which has recently been suffering from a dodgy air conditioning system and a severely malfunctioning boiler. As if that wasn’t ominous enough, Channel 5 has been trailing it with a special title (‘Neighbours: Hotel Horror’ – no melodrama here) and tagline (“Five rooms, five days, one hotel”) as well as a late-night special episode subtly entitled Neighbours: Who Dies?

All that advertising certainly builds up momentum and anticipation – I wouldn’t have been watching otherwise, since my relationship with Neighbours in recent years has been patchy, to say the least. But there are two problems with being quite so forceful in your advertising. First it gets rid of the shock factor, which is really an essential part of a Shocking Moment. And second, if you’re gonna hype the show up like that, the pressure’s really on you to deliver something special. And Neighbours: Hotel Horror… well, it just hasn’t.

To be fair, it should be stated that it has all the makings of a classic Neighbours disaster. First, it takes place at Lassiter’s complex, scene of all the finest accidents and catastrophes: the explosion at the Waterhole pub (1993), the Lassiter’s fire (2004), Paul’s attempted murder (2010) and the destruction of Toadie and Sonya’s wedding (2013), to name but a few (if an event ain’t happening at Lassiter’s, it ain’t happening, and that’s a fact). Second, eternal Satanic patriarch Paul Robinson is almost certainly involved, having become embroiled a blood feud with the hotel’s owners – not a wise move on their part (if an evil scheme isn’t being plotted by Paul Robinson, it isn’t an evil scheme, and that’s another fact). Third, the potential death toll has been increased considerably by a sudden influx of characters towards the disaster site on the flimsiest and most spurious of grounds. Want to talk to your grandson about your will? Do it at a luxury hotel! Need to ask your estranged husband to dump his new girlfriend and move to Germany with you? Luxury hotel! Got a plot to trick your crush into thinking he’s going to meet a famous guitarist? Why, that sounds like a job for a luxury hotel!

So the potential was definitely there – AND YET.

One issue: the pacing has been all over the place. The bulk of the drama – one day in TV-time – has taken place across a week of five episodes; and the tagline (recall: “Five rooms, five days, one hotel”) suggested some kind of cool single-camera real-time event where each episode would deal with the inhabitants of one of the five hotel rooms (yep, it only seems to have five, and in fact up until last week I was pretty sure it only had one). But that was very much not what happened.

Episode #1: the residents of Erinsborough gather for the ‘Citizen of the Year’ event at Lassiter’s. The staff worry that the boiler might explode. Paul Robinson schemes. The boiler explodes.

Episode #2: No sooner have the viewers asked, “Who’s going to die first??” than the answer is revealed: it’s Josh, before the opening credits role. Sad, but not exactly suspenseful, since he’s gone before you can blink. Kyle and Amy are free almost immediately afterwards, having spent approximately two seconds trapped in a lift; Karl and Sarah also escape in a matter of minutes, despite Sarah’s whingeing and limping. Daniel has also been extracted from the building and is in hospital, having regained consciousness.

Episode #3: Doug is brought out of the hotel, apparently unharmed. Outside, he collapses and dies as his ghost looks on. His body is then left in the rain for several hours (although someone does bother to put a mini gazebo up over it).

Episode #4: We discover that Toadie is trapped in the most damaged part of the hotel. Paul ‘tries’ to ‘comfort’ Terese by choosing the hour after her son and father-in-law’s death to tell her he loves her.

Episode #5: We recall (having forgotten about them for four episodes) that Ben and Xanthe are also in the hotel, just in time for them to realise that’s a stupid place to be and walk out of the hotel again. Kyle, having recently escaped a life-threatening experience, decides that it’s the ideal time to move to Germany, and leaves with his dog.

So, to sum up: of the twelve characters in danger from being killed inside the hotel, seven casually walked out after the explosion with hardly a scratch on them, leaving the audience to wonder why the writers bothered to stick them in there at all; one died in the first five minutes of the disaster; another died outside the hotel, possibly of the disease he was already suffering from; two have been extracted and are recovering (we assume) in hospital; and one – a character who had already left the show – hasn’t been mentioned but would be incredibly lucky not to have got out since she was in the same room as two others. Quite frankly, a disappointing showing.

Now this isn’t to say that there weren’t some good moments. The sudden realisation that Toadie was in the building – now that was tense, because Toadie is great (and long may he reign over the House Formerly of Trouser and all that is awesome). The emotional impact of a death on a dazed family, beautifully acted. The wonderful musical choice of having ‘Georgia on My Mind’ play as Kyle decided to move to Germany with, yes, Georgia. The fact that Bossy the dog is leaving with him (all in all, probably the most devastating loss of the week.) And Terese asking the immortal question, “Is there something you’re not telling me, Paul?” (Pro tip: The answer is yes. THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS YES.) And there are also several strands still to tie up. Who caused the explosion? We assume Paul, but we could be wrong. Why has Sarah returned? Just to wreak havoc and destroy Susan and Karl’s marriage yet again? What is in Toadie’s mysterious red file, bequeathed to Steph to be destroyed in the event of his death?

But, overall, none of it comes close to my most shocking Neighbours moment. What is it? I hear you cry. What? What?

Dear friends, it is THE PLANE CRASH.

Fans of the show will already be fanning themselves in relived horror at the mere mention of this event; for non-viewers, the monumental impact of this storyline may be illustrated by the fact that it has its own Wikipedia page. Briefly, Paul Robinson (him again) invites pretty much the entire cast to go on a historical fancy-dress joy-ride to Tasmania on his private plane, including Neighbours stalwart mother-figure Susan Kennedy and her much-detested love rival Izzy Hoyland, the Bishop family David, Liljana and Serena, likeable Irish rogue Connor and kooky young couple Dylan and Sky; Paul himself and his daughter Elle are also aboard. A bomb causes the plane to crash, everyone tips out into the Bass Strait, and the fight for survival begins. Young lovers cling onto each other. Enemies are forced to work together. The tide rises. And chaos reigns.

So what does this choice tell you about me? It tells you, first, that I was at my Neighbours-watching peak (i.e. a student) in 2005, which means that I was probably a child of the Eighties. It also tells you that I love over-the-top melodrama, storylines about relationships and an intense close-quarters scene or two. If I told you, additionally, that I was most concerned about Dylan and Sky, then you could also surmise that I love a rough-edged character with a heart of gold. All these inferences would, by the way, be 100% accurate.

And that’s why, eleven years later, I still can’t quite let Neighbours go. I don’t know whether baby Millennials and the first members of Generation Z will sit about in 2027 reminiscing about the Lassiter’s hotel explosion. Maybe they will. Maybe they loved it. Maybe I found it hard to care about the current roll-call of characters because they are no longer my people; maybe, in short, Neighbours is simply not for me any more. But I suspect that, for many years to come, I will still be checking in on Ramsay Street now and again, just to see how everyone is getting along.

Once a Neighbour, always a Neighbour.

Ten Tragic TV Couples

This Valentine’s Day, are you fed up of red roses, boxes of chocolates, lacy hearts, public displays of affection and awful puns? Then read on for the ultimate antidote to Valentine’s Day Nausea: the Screen–Eyed Monster Official List of Ten Tragic TV Couples (featuring exclusive RoJu Tragicness Rating).

SPOILERS for, among others, Angel, Buffy, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Grey’s Anatomy.

 10. Edmund Blackadder and ‘Bob’/Kate (Blackadder II)

Pic 0023 Blackadder Bob

Edmund Blackadder: nobleman, wit, raconteur, all–round arsehat. The one time he ever shows any consideration for someone other than himself is when he finds himself falling for his new manservant, Bob. Fortunately for the standards of the Elizabethan Age, ‘Bob’ turns out to be Kate in disguise, and Blackadder is able to seduce and marry her. Or at least, that’s the plan, until best man Lord Flashheart waltzes in with a canoe in his pocket and steals the bride–to–be. Edmund is never nice to anyone ever again.

RoJu Rating: 1/10 (because Blackadder still has Baldrick)

9. Phoebe Buffay and David the Scientist (FRIENDS)

Blog 0023 Phoebe David

Phoebe is swept off her feet by David’s awkward approach to her in Central Perk, explaining that the only reason he is talking during her performance is that he can’t believe how beautiful she is. But their time together can only be fleeting, for David is about to take up a research post in Minsk. A few more brief encounters over the years keep the hope alive, but Phoebe can’t wait forever, and eventually finds Mike instead. David’s last–minute attempt to win Phoebe back by proposing to her is overshadowed by Mike’s simultaneous proposal; rejected at the last hurdle, David sadly returns to Minsk, never to be seen again.

RoJu Rating: 2/10 (because Phoebe, at least, found happiness in the end)

8. Susan Mayer and Mike Delfino (Desperate Housewives)

Pic 0023 Susan Mike

Very much the Ross and Rachel of Wisteria Lane, Susan and Mike had a relationship more complicated than a Shakespeare comedy. Was he a murderer?Was she still in love with her ex–husband? Would she rather marry an Englishman? Or a house painter? Was he going to spend the rest of his days in a coma? Was she going to lose both kidneys? Would she be arrested for helping to conceal the murder of her friend’s evil stepfather?  The answer to all of these questions eventually being ‘no’, Susan and Mike marry for a second time to raise their son together; but then Mike is killed by a loan shark and it’s almost as if none of the last ten years ever happened…

RoJu Rating: 3/10 (because by the end of the series we were totes over it)

7. Gregory House and Lisa Cuddy (House)

 Pic 0023 House Cuddy

House was a genius, yes, but so rude, callous and infuriating that nobody could really put up with him… apart from Cuddy, his long–suffering boss, friend and, for a brief glorious period, girlfriend. The sexual tension was palpable from the get–go, and it almost seemed for a moment or two as if a relationship with Cuddy would lead House to grow up and start caring about other people. But his self–destructive tendencies got the better of him, and when he drove a car into Cuddy’s living room, she made the (entirely justified) move of leaving his life forever.

RoJU Rating: 3/10 (because House’s true love is really Wilson)

6. Cristina Yang and Owen Hunt (Grey’s Anatomy)

Blog 0023 Cristina Owen

From the moment Owen flew into the ER riding a gurney and desperately trying to keep alive a man on whom he’d performed an emergency tracheotomy with a pen, Cristina was smitten. They got together almost immediately, and stuck with each other through bouts of PTSD, shootings, storms, an unexpected pregnancy, friends’ deaths, a rushed marriage and an affair. Ultimately, their relationship failed for one reason alone: he wanted kids, and she didn’t. After six years, they realised there was no way to compromise. So they called it a day, and Cristina moved to Switzerland.

RoJu Rating: 4/10 (because no–one died, but life just got in the way)

5Toadie Rebecchi and Dee Bliss (Neighbours)

Blog 0023 Toadie Dee

Toadie was the class clown with no direction and a penchant for amateur wrestling; Dee was the beautiful nurse who was unlucky in love with several of Toadie’s housemates. After much prevaricating, Toadie and Dee realised they were meant to be together, and when a complex plot cooked up by Dee’s evil ex–boyfriend Dr Darcy threatened to derail their relationship, they battled through. Finally, FINALLY, their wedding day arrived – but as they drove away from the ceremony, Toadie lost control of the car and the happy couple plunged over a cliff into the sea. Toadie escaped to wrestle another day; Dee did not.

RoJu Rating: 4/10 (because Dee’s body was never found, and hope remains that she could come back)

4. Lady Sybil Crawley and Tom Branson (Downton Abbey)

Blog 0023 Sybil Branson

Things looked bleak from the beginning for the earl’s daughter and the chauffeur who fell in love despite the odds. He encouraged her to wear trousers and consider the plight of the working classes; she convinced him not to burn her family home to the ground. Eventually Sybil tells her parents the truth, but there’s no time for her father to disapprove, because the pair has eloped to Dublin, and shortly afterwards Sybil is pregnant with a tiny half–posh half–pinko baby. Can the tiny creature bring the family back together…? No, because Sybil dies in childbirth, leaving poor Tom alone to fend for himself and his new baby against the entitled onslaught of the Crawleys.

RoJu Rating: 6/10 (because it is better to have loved and lost than never to have eaten at the Crawley table)

3. The Doctor and Rose Tyler (Doctor Who)

Blog 0023 Doctor Rose

On the one hand, this was never going to work: a young Earthling and a centuries–old Time Lord, divided by millennia of experience. And yet, for a while, it did, with Rose saving the Doctor’s life almost as many times as he saved hers, and showing an impressive ability to get over the fact that, halfway through their relationship, he became a completely different person. But time gets us all in the end, and Rose ends up trapped in a parallel universe with a Doctor clone for company. The Doctor, once again, ends up alone.

RoJu Rating: 7/10 (because two Doctors are better than none)

2. Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Blog 0023 Willow Tara

Willow didn’t realise she was into women until Tara arrived on the scene, full of witchy goodness. Together they help to defeat a multitude of vampires, demons and monsters, as well as serving as parental figures for teenage loner Dawn, until Willow starts to abuse her magical powers and alters Tara’s memory. Tara works hard to forgive her, and they finally reconcile – at which point Tara is accidentally killed by a wanton bullet, and Willow goes Dark, taking revenge on the perpetrator and very nearly summoning the Apocalypse in her grief. Yikes.

RoJu Rating: 9/10 (because the end of this relationship nearly brings about the end of the world)

1. Wesley Wyndam–Pryce and Winifred ‘Fred’ Burkle (Angel)Blog 0023 Wesley Fred

A second entry from the Buffyverse, because Joss Whedon apparently hates happiness, but this one’s a corker. Wesley the rogue vampire hunter falls secretly in love with shy librarian Fred, who chooses their colleague Gunn instead. After an extremely misguided affair with an evil lawyer and a stand–off against his own father to save Fred’s life, Wesley tells Fred the truth, and she reciprocates. Guess what, though? In the next episode she dies and her body is taken over by an ancient demon, who hangs around as a constant reminder that Fred is no more. Oh, and at the end of the season Wesley dies too.

RoJu Rating: 10/10 (because having to be friends with your ex’s corpse is just nasty)

Happy Valentine’s Day, guys!

The Rise of the Meta-Celebrity

Since film and television began, actors and other famous people have been paid lots of money to pop in unexpected places, say a few lines, and disappear again, leaving the audience going, “Wait, was that…?” Increasingly, though, celebrities are rendering the question moot by appearing as themselves, or at least grotesque, exaggerated versions of themselves. Of course, some of these Meta-Cameos* are egotistical puffery, but others nail it, pulling off the neat trick of proving themselves funnier and more likeable by pretending to be an awful human being. In celebration of the people in this second group, we now present a highly subjective, mostly arbitrary, vaguely ranked list of celebrities playing themselves on television: The Official and Definitive List of TV’s Best Meta-Cameos Ever!!!**

10. Trudie Styler in Friends

The appearance of Trudie Styler (AKA Mrs Sting) was brief but fruitful. Although Styler was a good sport, the storyline involving her was slightly underwhelming (mainly because it also involved the entirely forgettable Ben Gellar), and Styler herself wasn’t especially humorous. Nonetheless, her presence sparked hilarity anyway because it opened the gates to some eve-more-insane-than-usual behaviour from Phoebe, including a series of Sting-related puns (“Look, I just pressed a button triggering a silent alarm. Any minute now the police will be here.” “The Police? Here? A reunion?”) and a song that gave even Smelly Cat a run for its money.

9. Stephen Hawking in… well, pretty much everything

Stephen Hawking’s brain apparently works so fast that even explaining the universe only takes a couple of hours a week, because he’s played himself in more TV programmes than you can shake an event horizon at. Particularly entertaining appearances include The Big Bang Theory, where he causes Sheldon to have a mini-meltdown, and The Simpsons, where his wheelchair can fly, but perhaps the most notable is his appearance as a Star Trek hologram (of himself, so it totally counts) that plays poker with Data (Brent Spiner). It was, as Spiner himself put it, “the most notable moment in television history since Albert Einstein guest-starred on Gunsmoke”.

8. Emma Bunton in Neighbours

Neighbours has had its fair share of Australian celebrity cameos, from Shane Warne to the Wiggles, but British viewers had a field day when Karl and Susan came to London to get married (for around the ninety-seventh time). They ran into Michael Parkinson, Julian Clary and Jo Whiley – as I do every time I go to London – but cream of the crop was Emma Bunton, who found Karl’s lost engagement ring and was rewarded by Karl having no idea who she was. Fortunately Susan made up for it by screaming with joy at recognising her. After all that excitement, Dr K and Susie Q got on a boat and were married by Neil Morrissey, because why not?

7. Josh Groban in Glee

Just so we’re clear: I’m not a Gleek, but I am a Grobanite. Groban’s appearance on Glee was short and not-so-sweet: he turned up to an a-capella performance given by Mr Shue and his cronies, insulted everyone who took part and then left to seduce Mr Shue’s mother, all the while referring to himself in the third person. The fact that he didn’t sing is pretty infuriating, especially since everyone else in the programme sings non-stop; but we did at least get to look at him. In the words of Mr Ryerson:  “He is an angel sent from heaven to deliver Platinum Records unto us”. Amen to that.

6. Matt LeBlanc in Episodes

Matt LeBlanc is pretty damn famous now, so in a way it’s bizarre that his most successful post-Friends role has been playing himself. But he does it with flair. Opting squarely for the ‘sex-mad actor who also played a sex-mad character’ archetype, LeBlanc gives it a slightly sinister edge by getting rid of all of Joey’s puppy-like innocence and replacing it with cold calculation and world-weary cynicism. Do we like the Matt LeBlanc who sleeps with every woman he can get his hands on, including a slightly psychotic stalker and his best friend’s wife? Not as such. Do we like the Matt LeBlanc who plays him? Yes.

5. James Van Der Beek (and Dean Cain) in Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23

Ignoring for a moment the bizarre new trend of giving your show a title that can’t actually be spoken on air (see also: S*** My Dad Says), James Van Der Beek has been quite enjoyable as a slightly whiny version of himself who hangs out with normal, non-celebrity people. But the last few weeks have seen him shoot up the list due to his acceptance into (a fictional season of) Dancing With the Stars, the USA’s version of Strictly. For one thing, his main rival is Dean Cain, aka Clark Kent, aka Superman, who is already awesome. For another, Van Der Beek can actually dance. Very nice.

4. Wil Wheaton in The Big Bang Theory

One of many Star Trek actors to cameo in The Big Bang Theory, Wheaton made a stylish first appearance by enraging Sheldon, which is always funny to watch (see ‘Stephen Hawking’, above). Since then, the development of the rivalry between the two has worked really well, particularly when Wheaton’s horrible behaviour induces us to feel sympathy for Sheldon (because nobody messes with Sheldon’s meemaw). And for those of us who are familiar with Star Trek: The Next Generation, the bitchy remarks about the whining and uselessness of Wheaton’s character Wesley Crusher are bang on the mark – he really was THAT annoying.

3. John Prescott in Gavin and Stacey

You might be surprised to find this one so far up the list (that is, if you’d forgotten that this list was (a) official and (b) definitive). Prescott only appears for a few seconds and barely says a word, but this appearance was brilliant for three reasons. First, it’s an unexpected but good-humoured (and probably quite savvy) move from a man who was the butt (no pun intended) of a lot of negative jokes at the time. Second, it’s a great moment for Nessa’s character development – the audience has always been a bit sceptical about whether she really did sleep with Richard Madeley and Goldie Loookin’ Chain, roadie for The Who and sing with All Saints, but this finally vindicates her. Third, it’s John Prescott. In Gavin and Stacey.

2. Shaun Williamson in Extras

Extras, by its very nature, was full of actors pretending to be themselves, which made this one a very difficult call. Other contenders were Kate Winslet’s cynical nun, Orlando Bloom’s miserable failure with women, and Daniel Radcliffe’s sex-mad teenager – but in the end the award must go to Shaun Williamson, primarily because he manages to hold his own against Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, both very talented people, by wringing every last drop of sympathy out of being constantly overlooked. Plus, Williamson’s character, Shaun Williamson, also responds to the name ‘Barry from Eastenders’, which make him the only Meta-Meta-Cameo on the list. Kudos.

AND THE WINNER IS…

1. Adam West in Family Guy

Let’s be clear – the man who played Batman in the original TV series is already a legend and can almost certainly do no wrong (if proof was needed, I offer you this clip of what can only be described as a surf-off). But Adam West goes one step further and hits the top spot because his character in Family Guy is genuinely inexplicable. He’s the Mayor of Quahog and therefore nominally in charge; but instead of going down the megalomaniac route, West produces the dippiest, most surreal and probably most heavily doped up character on television. Plus, he’s 95% helium.

~

*Patent pending.

**30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, SNL and Entourage are excluded because, although they’re famous for exactly these kinds of shenangians, I haven’t quite got round to watching them yet…

Puns, Plot Points and Puppets: A Guide to Spoofing

This week I finally got round to watching A Touch of Cloth, which has been on my DVD shelf since approximately the dawn of time. It’s a film-length parody of TV crime dramas, written by Daniel Maier and Charlie Brooker (he of Screen Wipe, 10 O’Clock Live, angry-ranting-about-a-variety-of-subjects and punching-well-above-his-weight-by-marrying-Konnie-Huq fame) and the cast includes John Hannah (hilarious in The Mummy, heartbreaking in Four Weddings and a Funeral), Suranne Jones (Scott and Bailey, plus two different programme with David Tennant – well played), Navin Chowdhry and Adrian Bower (Kurt and Brian from Teachers) and Julian Rhind-Tutt (understated hero/sometimes obnoxious jerk Dr Macartney from Green Wing).

Given the afore-mentioned cast and crew, I was quite looking forward to watching A Touch of Cloth – especially as I still get pangs of sadness that Kurt and Brian are no more – and it didn’t disappoint. As well as the near-destruction of the fourth wall over the course of the show, elements of hilarity included WPC Cardboard Cut-Out, the various jokes that popped up in the background (such as a hospital sign directing you to the ‘Shayne Ward’) and the increasingly painful puns on the hero’s name, DCI Jack Cloth (“Thanks to you, the entire department is losing face, Cloth”). Perhaps my favourite moment was DC Asap Qureshi (Chowdhry) welcoming Cloth to the crime scene and Doing Exposition:

Victim’s name is Aidan Matthew Hawkchurch, successful chef, 39 years old, six foot, 180 pounds, got his own TV show, now in its fourth season, been married for thirteen years, all in a row, lives in this house, estimated resell value £1.9 million, desirable catchment area, would suit professional couple or recently murdered man, black front door, entrance hall, Orla Kiely stem print mat, recommended retail price £29.99, six-peg coat hook, price unknown, walnut frame mirror, purchased 2006, grieving widow Claire Hawkchurch, 37, GSOH, Sagittarius, 34C.

This tickled me because obvious and unnecessary exposition is one of my pet peeves in crime dramas, with the various incarnations of CSI being the biggest offenders. Apparently, Jim Brass from the original series is known in the fanbase as “Captain Exposition”, while this blogger lists cheesy exposition as one of the reasons she despises Horatio Caine from CSI Miami (a view with which I have some sympathy) – but at least it makes sense that these guys would know the facts and need to tell them to someone else. In contrast, the worst examples of ‘Here’s what’s happening, viewers’ come when characters are giving information to people who would already know it, and especially when the viewer’s already worked it out anyway. Check out this absurd exchange from CSI Miami, in which two characters are talking about a crashed car:

A: “There’s damage here in the quarter panel and bumper.”
B: “She did impact at over 60 miles per hour. It could have happened then.”
A: “Well, there’s also paint transfer. [Ah! So there was another car that ran her off the road!] Now, it could be incidental, or it could be road rage.” [And therefore another car that ran her off the road. Maybe sample the paint and find out who it was?]
B: “We need to get these paint samples to Trace, have them analyzed. [That’s what I said.] Every paint has a distinct signature, so…” [Yes, so you can find it who it was that ran her off the road.]
A: “We find the collision car, we find a witness.” [Or whoever it was that ran her off the road.]
B: “That’s right. Or a murder suspect.” [I KNOW!]

And they always take themselves so seriously, too. This is apparently one of the reasons why Brooker and Maier decided to spoof crime dramas rather than murder mysteries, because the latter are already, as Brooker put it in an interview, pretty much parodies of themselves: the focus is on tea and cakes and village fêtes, and the actual murder barely comes into it. Other programmes with a light touch would presumably also be pretty hard to parody. Take Neighbours – sure, there are all sorts of ridiculous elements to Neighbours that are just begging to made fun of, but Neighbours does that itself. This week, for example, Toadie, Sonya and Susan invoke the soap trope that two people talking in the kitchen can’t be heard by anyone in the living room, despite the fact that the latter is about six feet away with a paper-thin interior wall between them; but Toadie and Sonya keep having to pause the argument whenever they go to the fridge because that end of the kitchen is in Susan’s eye-line. You get the feeling, with Neighbours, that everyone involved recognises the absurdity of the programme and tries to make it work for them, not against them.

A good spoof, on the other hand, takes an earnest programme and makes it nonsensical. Look Around You did a bang-up job of doing this to educational science programmes in its two series of non-stop lies and gibberish. The presenters (Robert Popper, Josie D’Arby, Peter Serafinowicz and the now deservedly ubiquitous Olivia Colman) play it absolutely straight as they tell us interesting facts about the world around us: the largest number is 45,000,000,000, ghosts can’t whistle, and baby birds are called ‘bees’. The Office did the same thing: yes, workplace documentaries will usually fixate on the office oddballs, who really do exist and are often more than a bit strange – but they’re not generally quite so strange as to start an office singsong during a corporate training session or entertain their colleagues with mimes of being shot by a sniper. This is why it’s so difficult to parody talent shows – you’re already watching a dog dance in front of an audience of people apparently brainwashed to cheer and boo exactly on cue. Where can you go with that?

And it’s in this context that Family Tree, which started last week on BBC 2, isn’t quite hitting the mark. The programme is based on the format of genealogy programmes like Who Do You Think You Are and it has a number of mockumentary features, such as characters talking to the camera as if being interviewed and lines of dialogue that imitate the pauses and stumbles of real speech. Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to class it as a parody (many sources simply refer to it as a sitcom), but, come on, it’s written by Christopher Guest, co-creator of officially the best mockumentary that has ever existed, This Is Spinal Tap, so I was expecting some gold-standard piss-takery: people bursting into tears at the slightest mention of sadness in an ancestor’s life, a long-lost relative who turns out to have been a human taxidermist or the person who draws the faces on Jelly Babies – you know the kind of thing. And yet… Family Tree is just not that stupid: the only amusing occupation uncovered so far is a man who was the back end of a pantomime horse. And the single truly surreal element is the main character’s sister, who due to some traumatic past event talks through a monkey puppet – she’s played by Nina Conti, so the ventriloquism is pretty spot on, but it isn’t really spoofing any particular element of genealogy shows, which makes it weird in an aimless way.

The monkey-puppet aspect also doesn’t really fit the tone of the rest of the programme, which is mainly down-to-earth and quite sweet. Chris O’Dowd is lovely as the main character Tom Chadwick, doing his trademark stunned-disbelief face at his sister and the other slightly eccentric characters around him, including a blind date who thinks that the dinosaurs are still alive – this scene was actually pretty funny. Not that there’s not really anything wrong with a pleasant and (dare I say it) watchable show that raises the occasional laugh and also works in some bittersweet moments – the moment at the end of the second episode when a camp theatre manager reveals something unexpected about Tom’s great-grandfather is one example. I suspect that I will grow to care about the characters and get interested in what Tom finds out next. But so far, Family Tree is definitely not turned up to 11 – it’s a seven or eight at best.

So when it comes to parodies, I suppose what I really want is out-and-out stupidity: subtle-as-a-brick puns, knowing absurdity, recognisable archetypes grotesquely metamorphosed into insane caricatures. I want David Brent, DCI Anne Oldman (get it?), Synthesizer Patel, Nigel Tufnell. I don’t want subtlety and nuance – I want in-your-face proof that something, somewhere is being mocked. Proof, reader.