Blightyvision: “Brass Eye”

Directed by Michael Cumming
Written by Arthur Mathews and Christopher Morris
Starring Christopher Morris and Mark Heap

When you specialize in niche entertainment — and in the US, UK television tends (rather unfortunately) to be “niche” — you discover that things tend to only fly under the radar within your own fandom for one of two reasons.  Either it really just wasn’t that great, or someone got in trouble over it … which, naturally, then makes it double-great.

“Brass Eye” was one of those shows I simply hadn’t heard of, and only found out about through an expat friend.  At first I thought the reason must be because it satirizes British news programs, and thus might not be considered as accessible to an American audience.  Of course, about five minutes in, you realize that there isn’t really that much difference between US and UK sensationalism.  You also realize about five minutes in that this one definitely falls under the second option: this is one of those shows that makes people rethink censorship laws.

Whereas satirical news programs over here tend to focus on the one-man reporter/opinion show format, “Brass Eye” goes the route of the news documentary, with half-hour episodes focusing on drugs, crime, and animal rights, to name a few.  Within said half hour, Christopher Morris delivers scathing, unblinking commentary on all the biggest issues affecting the UK in the 1990s — including new mechanisms that allow a person to smoke pot by first filtering it through a dog, and computer keyboards that allow paedophiles to spray noxious fumes in the faces of children from a distance via the internet.  (Said fumes will make your child smell like hammers.)  All the humor is at this sort of over-the-top ludicrous level, all delivered with the same in-your-face scare tactics of real news shows that warn you about how many things in your kitchen could kill you.

The stories are supplemented with a complete lack of numbers, dead-end pointless graphs and charts, and some of the most annoying and unnecessary typographic and visual effects you’re likely to see.  (The rest, you’ll see on real news documentaries.)  The words that come out of the reporters’ mouths are utterly ridiculous, if not entirely nonsensical.  But the format in which the show is presented is so close to its real-world counterpart that the message is unmistakable: with enough flashy graphics and scary numbers, people nowadays will believe just about everything.

And here’s where we come to the whole getting-in-trouble part.  “Brass Eye” received a lot of complaints concerning content, especially for its 2001 “Paedophilia” special following its 6-episode run in 1997.  The reasons for the complaints?  Allegedly lack of taste and sensitive subject matter, but it’s more likely because of all the celebrities and political figures they embarrassed while putting the show together … because for some reason, many of the people brought on did not seem to understand that they were being messed with.  Among those rather peeved at their own inability to spot shenanigans from a mile away were Phil Collins and Labour MP Syd Rapson.  That in itself provides another level of hilarity — wondering how members of Parliament could believe there really is a drug called Cake that causes you to throw up your own pelvic bone is at once amusing and dismaying.

Because of this extreme level of humor — and because the critics do have a bit of a point when they say the show pushes the boundaries of good taste to near-breaking — “Brass Eye” takes an episode or so to decide if this is “your thing” or not.  People not as familiar with media sensationalism might not be able to associate with what’s being presented, and those with a low tolerance for the absurd will get fed up pretty quickly.  But those geared to that style of humor mentally will enjoy it, and likely be a bit annoyed that more than seven episodes weren’t ever aired.

“Brass Eye” is currently not available on R1 DVD, and likely never will be — we’ve got more than enough completely nonsensical news shows of our own.

Posted on October 14, 2010 at 01:51 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, Television: British and Canadian · Tagged with: , , ,