Blightyvision: “How TV Ruined Your Life”

Written and presented by Charlie Brooker

We’re in an era where television is telling us about how everything is messing us up: cell phones, video games, fatty foods, and basically anything I like at any given point in time.  This week I’ve gone and chosen one of these shows to have a good long look at.  The subject?  A TV show that tells us how TV shows have messed us up.

For those unfamiliar with Charlie Brooker, he’s a game reviewer turned comedian whose work includes documentaries on television and video games, hosting credits for various TV and radio shows, and writing duties on the BBC zombie reality show “Dead Set.”  He mixes a sort of humorous pessimism with occasional glimmers of “You know, he has a point”-isms.

“How TV Ruined Your Life” — a six-episode deconstruction of the evolution of television news and entertainment — is the perfect outlet for his brand of snark.  Each episode handles an element of society that’s been warped in our eyes via TV: knowledge, aging, and relationships, to name a few.  He kicks off the series with an episode on scare tactics, and it’s a good starting place; his analysis of how news programs drag you along by the amygdala is insightful, to say the least.

Brooker couches his opinions in a satirical format, aided in a large part by the creation of fake TV shows and news reports mixed in with his real-world examples.  Once he’s got you laughing at how ridiculous his parodies are, he turns around and presents you with the real thing — just as ridiculous as what you were just watching — and suddenly the whole thing almost seems a bit depressing.

If you’ve seen his “Gameswipe” or “Screenwipe” series, you know that Brooker doesn’t detest modern entertainment by any stretch of the imagination.  People who see this before anything else of his might get that impression, though.  The level of vitriol he unleashes towards everything from “Blue Peter” to “Thundercats” can initially seem on the uncomfortably hateful side.  What this show gives you, though, isn’t so much hatred as humorous frustration — his metaphors are off-the-wall and colorful, and while his genuine distaste for certain programs is obvious, you can tell he’s not lambasting television as an art form … just taking it to task for what it’s made its rather impressionable viewers think.

To that end, I recommend watching some of Brooker’s other work before you give “How TV Ruined Your Life” a try.  If you’ve got a hair trigger when it comes to someone expressing a negative viewpoint about something you like, you won’t get through this alive.  (He gives “He-Man” a thorough going-over in the last episode, though mainly for how silly a lot of its shoehorned-in moral messages could sound.)  Yes, he expresses some pretty severe ire at shows that promote genuine fearmongering, but the whole thing is more a shake-of-the-finger than a come-to-Jesus.

With sense of humor and willingness to listen firmly in place, you may well enjoy it.  Brooker’s style of comedy borders on the surreal and has a strong undercurrent of snark.  If you like that, you’re in the right place.  If you like your comedy a bit less angry and/or go a bit crazy if your comfort zone is breached by way of ragging on things you’re a fan of, Brooker is likely not your pal by any stretch of the imagination.

Yahtzee Croshaw, the hatted gent behind “Zero Punctuation,” has admitted proudly that Brooker is his main inspiration.  Should the two of them ever join forces to review video games, the world would, in fact, explode.

Posted on April 7, 2011 at 09:15 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, Television: British and Canadian · Tagged with: , ,

One Response

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  1. Written by Arkonbey
    on 2011-04-09 at 01:37

    I agree with the vitriol against “Thundercats”. In retrospect, nearly all of the cartoons we late 70’s/early 80’s kids watched were awful and are now utterly unwatchable. One notable exception is “Thundarr The Barbarian”; That’s merely Silly with a small helping of Kinda Cool.

    Seeing as it’s BBC, most of its audience was likely spared the preachyness and awful stop-motion of “Davey and Goliath”.

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