Friday, 21 January 2011


Friday, 21 January 2011

It can't have escaped your attention Channel 4 have launched a brand new satirical news show for Thursday nights; what with so many promos, billboards and online adverts swirling around the UK media over the past few weeks. 10 O'Clock Live is the latest in a string of attempts to find a British version of The Daily Show, which has proven to be tougher than it appears. But, following the success of the Alternative Election Night last May (which put a comedic spin on the General Election coverage, attracting a sizeable audience), that format's been repurposed for weekly live episodes poking fun at current affairs.

10 O'Clock Live is hosted by four familiar faces: comedian Jimmy Carr (8 Out Of 10 Cats), comic actor David Mitchell (Peep Show), columnist/presenter Charlie Brooker (Newswipe), and DJ/presenter Lauren Laverne (The Culture Show). They're the bantering pillars that give the show a vague Blue Peter-for-adults feel, situated as they are in a large minimalist studio divided into special areas: a zit-like roundtable for discussions; a counter, for Brooker to address the camera from; a desk, for Carr to interview people across; and an area with chairs, for Mitchell to do likewise, or Laverne to deliver pieces to camera.)

Each presented comes with a particular skill set and role, too: Mitchell chairs hot debates, interviews politicians, or rants to the audience (in "Listen To Mitchell", ostensibly based on his popular vodcasts), Brooker inevitably spews bile or introduces VT of him savaging a politician (this week, Sarah Palin), Carr delivers political standup (a précis of the week's top stories, poking fun at "holiday hotspot" Tunisia), and more lighthearted interviews (this week, environmental skeptic Bjorn Lomborg); and Laverne seems to take the lead when they gather for a four-way discussion, or else appears in the odd pre-recorded sketch (this week, co-anchor of a tacky celebrity news channel).

By and large, I thought 10 O'Clock Live worked rather well, although there are inevitable irritations and problems that will hopefully be ironed flat. Primarily, the hour-long format felt like a drag, being a show that's 80% discussion, 10% interview, 10% standup. There is variety, but the content's not varied enough to make you feel like you're given a break from comical political discourse. I was able to skip the adverts and it still felt languorous, making me wish the format was a tighter 30 minutes. Hopefully the producers will find ways to revitalized the show after every ad break, going forward.

The quartet of presenters largely did a very good job. I don't really associate Jimmy Carr with political comedy, but his experience with live TV made him a reassuring presence. Charlie Brooker's a no-brainer for this show, particularly in the wake of his excellent Newswipe series, but it does feel like he's only added to formats where it's possible to shoehorn in his patented, effusive VT funnies. That said, Brooker has never looked happier in a live TV environment than here, and I was heartened to see his reliance on pre-recorded videos was kept to a minimum. Lauren Laverne is probably the weakest of the bunch (although pleasant and capable), mainly because I don't see the connective tissue between her and political humour -- which feels like a bigger stretch than being asked to believed she cared about Renaissance art and Seamus Heaney while on The Culture Show.

By far the biggest triumph was David Mitchell, who was simply marvelous throughout. He had the toughest job of everyone, having to chair a debate on banking and interview a politician on student expenses, all while ensuring they were informative and constructive, but also funny and entertaining. He achieved this with great aplomb; demonstrating a depth of knowledge and sharp wit that can only get better as he gains experience and extra confidence. Whenever Mitchell was on-screen, 10 O'Clock Live was delivering exactly what was expected of it -- making politics feels accessible through comedy.

Overall, 10 O'Clock Live started its run with a confident first step, but more variety to the features would be appreciated. Also, not that this is likely to happen anytime soon, but I can't help thinking two half-hour episodes each week (Tuesdays, Fridays?) would also be an immediate improvement. I'm also not convinced the show justifies having four big-name presenters, as this episode made me crave a half-sized version with David Mitchell as permanent host and regular contributions from Brooker.

So, the format's a mixed bag and there's a feeling of overkill with the presenters outnumbering the guests, but 10 O'Clock Live provided fairly studious political comedy that (mostly) didn't fallback on ridiculing the image of public figures, as happens with numbing regularity on panel shows like Have I Got News For You. For that alone, I'm glad it exists and hope it manages to improve over time.

Thursdays, Channel 4, 10PM