Thursday, 13 September 2012

Review: BUG (Sky Atlantic)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

I recently had the chance to mainline Sky Atlantic's eight-part Bug, the Sky Atlantic series from Adam Buxton (one half of the excellent Adam & Joe) that basically televises his popular bi-monthly gigs at the British Film Institute. The concept is very simple: "Dr Buckles" casts a discerning eye over unconventional music videos available online, and reads out some of the unintentionally hilarious and genuine YouTube comments. If nothing else, you have to marvel at the ingenuity of Adam in creating Bug, because the format means he does practically nothing beyond source appropriate videos and comments.

It sounds like I'm being harsh, but I don't mean to be. I actually found the first few episodes of Bug very funny, and it was refreshing to see a unique format on TV—although it owes a debt to the "docu-comedy" sub-genre Dave Gorman created in the early-'00s. The trouble with Bug boils down to two things: repetition and a strange ignorance of its biggest strength.

The repetition is an obvious fault (exacerbated by watching multiple episodes in a row, admittedly), because I quickly become Adam's material in-between the videos clips is largely the same every single week. There's a running joke of Adam unpacking a virtual "briefcase" on his laptop, allowing us to see amusingly-named folders on his desktop, and this "comedy bit" is the same shtick every single week (only with different folder titles). This sort of thing works when you're doing a gig every few weeks, because each night's audience will be different and most likely unaware of the previous "performance", but it's strange that Adam forgot a television series is open to weekly scrutiny by the same viewers.

The ignorance of the format's key strength is a specific issue, and perhaps not something everyone will agree with me about. Simply put: the best part of Bug is when Adam reads out the insane, petty, badly-written, threatening, stupid, racist, sexist, xenophobic, and ridiculous comments real people have left in the comments section beneath a video. Adam's fantastic at bringing these anonymous people and "trolls" to life; creating genuinely funny "characters" by extrapolating a great deal from how they've written and misspelled things. It's brilliant to behold. I must admit that since watching Bug, my eye wanders down to the dreaded comments area of YouTube more often than usual, but I'm usually very disappointed there's no Bug-style hilarity to be found. The way this show unearths diamonds in the virtual shit is reason enough to watch Bug.

But this aspect of Bug only takes up a tiny percentage of screen time. In a typical half-hour episode (including adverts), less than half that time is spent on dissecting the user comments. The rest is watching videos themselves (of course), comical interludes (quickly repetitive), instances when Adam plays a music video that doesn't then get critiqued in comments (so why bother?), or moments when he stars in his own music video (see below). Over the course of eight episodes, I estimate about an hour was given over to Adam reading the funny comments, and that's just not enough.

A friend suggested Bug perhaps isn't supposed to be constantly poking fun at music videos and online commenters, just celebrating unique and unusual videos in a light-hearted way. If that's true, I have to ask: why?! I can watch online music videos, to my heart's content, 24/7. What I can't do is spare the time to find those golden moments of discourse from online users. Surely Adam Buxton realises the best part of his show is the reading aloud of such comments? Maybe there just isn't enough material to fill the majority of an episode every single week, which is understandable, but why bother making this show if it's going to mainly consist of watching someone do something you could otherwise do yourself? That seems like madness to me.

Anyway, if only for the moments when Bug is having tongue-in-cheek fun with user comments, it can be a very funny show. I just hope a second series realizes its obvious strengths and put the emphasis on the nonsensical comments left by idiots, and Adam Buxton writes more material so he's not largely repeating himself every week.

Sky Atlantic, off-air