Friday, 13 July 2012

Reality Show

As you know, I love everything in the world, with the exception of three things. One of those things that I love is TV shows about TV shows.

The Newsroom saw its UK debut this week, a show so unbelievably Aaron Sorkin that it would feel like a parody, were it not for the fact that it's obviously really good. Yes it's smug and over the top and shouty and there are inexplicable English people and the newsroom itself looks more like CTU from 24 than any real place on Earth - which is probably more a problem with 24 for making the Anti-Terrorist HQ look, in the genius words of Charlie Brooker, "more like the offices of a Hoxton-based fashion magazine than a top-secret quasi-military nerve centre." - but you can't help but get lost in Sorkin's world; a world in which people randomly make rousing speeches as a Thomas Newman score soars underneath; a world in which the unattractive and unwitty are kept in bunkers deep, deep underground; a world in which no one ever says "ermmm..."

But what's my point? Well, ermmm... The Newsroom is a TV show about a TV show, as are previous Sorkin works, the brilliantly clever Sports Night and the terribly titled Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. And this phenomenon doesn't end with Sorkin; a lot of TV shows are about the production of TV shows, and I don't mean documentaries about real TV shows, I mean dramas and comedies that revolve around the production of a fictional TV show. Perhaps it's a case of television writers taking heed of the advice, "write about what you know." As a result, we have the depressingly unfunny Home Improvement, the oddly interesting but seen-by-no-one Rob Brydon's Annually Retentive, and Ricky Gervais' second favourite show of all time, Extras. His favourite is Life's Too Short.

As a complete sucker for the postmodern, I love this kind of clever meta stuff, so here are my top 5 TV shows about TV shows:

5. Sports Night

Sorkin's first TV show is, in my humble and horrendously ill-informed opinion, his greatest work and subsequently he has just been trying to replicate it. Sports Night centres around the production of a sports show called Sports Night. Replace "sports" with "news" and you have The Newsroom. Literally; it centres around the production of a news show called News Night. There's no weak link in Sports Night, with actors including Peter Krause, Joshua Malina and Sabrina Lloyd bringing Sorkin's unfeasibly sharp script to life; they really can walk and talk at the same time. Because it wasn't massively popular and, as the tagline says, "it isn't about sports at all", Sorkin was able to recycle a lot of it later for his bigger shows. For me though, Sports NIght has more heart than any of them, and its rough edges make it feel warmer than the slick glossiness of The West Wing and The Newsroom.

4. Episodes

Because of this character.

3. The Larry Sanders Show

Proving yet again that HBO can do no wrong - even if they killed your grandmother they'd do it with such intelligence and class that you'd say "fair enough" - The Larry Sanders Show did it all first. I'm only on season 1 because no one grabbed me and shook me and shouted at me to FUCKING WATCH LARRY SANDERS, and as a result I'm angry at everyone. That's why I'm so aggressive when it comes to recommending brilliant TV shows; I want others to do the same for me. So FUCKING WATCH LARRY SANDERS. You can see it oozing out of every modern comedy, particularly in the case of 30 Rock and Extras, on which the influence of this classic cannot be understated. The Larry Sanders Show had celebrities appearing as parodies of themselves over 10 years before Ricky Gervais made it his gag. His one gag.

2. Dead Set

Charlie Brooker is a TV critic, and nothing criticises TV quite like his zom-com Dead Set. Famous for its zombie-Davina, Brooker's viciously scathing and articulate attack on reality television sees the zompocalypse strike during a Big Brother eviction night. Trapped in the Big Brother house, the contestants become the survivors. It's a genius premise, but it's more than that; it's a bitingly dark comedy, a genuinely scary piece of horror, and a poignant and ruthless satire. Plus of course, zombie-Davina.  

1. 30 Rock

I am nothing if not predictable. Unlike 30 Rock, which has run for six seasons and never ceases to be clever and funny in equal measure. It has created some of the best comedy characters of all time, with Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin at the show's heart, trying desperately to run a live TV show and keep reins around the insanity of Jenna, Tracy and of course Kenneth. The next season of Fey's perfect creation will be its last, which is tragic, not least because I don't know where I'll find quotes to put at the top of my blog. But 30 Rock is so ingeniously written that it can be watched again and again; it's satirical, it's warm and it's hilarious, with some of the best guest stars in TV history. Talking of which... funny how these things all click into place.

So those are my top 5 TV shows about TV shows, thanks for reading. If there's two things I love it's television and Spanish ska, so I'll leave you with the Ska-P song that this blog is named after, enjoy!

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