Book Review

Screen Burn by Charlie Brooker

Screen Burn by Charlie Brooker "Anyone who enjoys watching sport on television is an imbecile; a dangle-mouthed, cud-chewing, salivating ding-dong with a brain full of dim piss, blobbing out in front of a box watching a grunting thicko knock a ball round a field while their own sad carcass gently coagulates into a wobbling mass of beer and fat and thick white heart-attack gravy."

I picked that out more or less at random from the collected TV review columns of The Guardian's Charlie Brooker. Just about every other paragraph contains rants every bit as grim and wrong and sick and just plain hilarious. It is laugh-out-loud funny from start to finish. It's embarrassingly funny: it's belly-laughs-while-sitting-on-your-own-on-public-transport funny. It's the funniest thing I've read since Woody Allen's Complete Prose.

I remember Chris Morris of Brass Eye fame on a radio tribute to the late Peter Cook saying something like, "If this show is 30 minutes long, then it should just be 30 minutes of clips of Peter Cook." I feel the same about this review. If it's going to be 500 words long, then I'm already wasting too many of them here when I could just be quoting Brooker. Here he is on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here: Live (ITV2), where viewers were encouraged to share their opinions on the show via text messages, with the results broadcast on the bottom of the screen:

As a snapshot of the condition of twenty-first century Britain, the results ain't encouraging. The average texter has the IQ of a small puddle [...] Reading the endless dribble, it's hard not to picture a nation of hairless, boneless, Matrix-style pod people soaking in Petri dishes, jabbing outsized thumbs at their phone keypads, barking like seals each time their messages done go get on the telly box [...] Swear to God, it's an unforgiving glimpse into one barren existence after another.

Brooker's humour comes from his anger at the brainless stupidity of what passes for untertainment on today's TV. No one is spared his wrath: the people responsible for commissioning it and putting it out, the people appearing on it and producing it, the people watching it. But as you sneer, beware: as Brooker often points out, if you sit too close to the screen, you'll catch your own reflection staring back at you. Who's the real loser in this deal? Brooker's critique is therefore immanent; he recognises that he, both as viewer and reviewer, is as much a part of this slight on humanity as anyone else.

The truth of this took a sadder turn recently with Brooker's wrongcast, Nathan Barley, a sitcom he co-wrote with Chris Morris. Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris write a sitcom! How could it possibly go wrong? I don't know, but it did. It had its moments, but after some of the poorer episodes, to nick yet more of Brooker's images, I felt like sewing my eyelids shut with fishing wire, slicing the top of my skull off, and scooping the memories out with a spoon. A couple of good gags were stretched out into a complete Bo Selecta of a series. Not completely terrible, and better than most, but when Brooker and Morris get together, anything less than genius is a crushing disappointment.

So forget Nathan Barley. Get Screen Burn and Brass Eye. After reading and watching their work, you'll never again be able to watch TV without despairing at why the producers so plainly assume an audience of slack-jawed dimwits. Just don't sit too close to that screen or you might find the answer staring back at you.
-- Reviewed by Stuart Watkins on 30/08/2005

Further Information
ISBN-10: 0571227554
ISBN-13: 9780571227556
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Publication Date: 01/01/2005
Binding: Paperback
Number of pages: 384

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