The HIstory of the World Backwards (Tuesday 10 pm, BBC4)
I slowly awoke from my slumbers drifting into ennui. Rob Newman was on the telly. It had only been a week since he had appeared on the television, and of course there had been repeats in the meantime. This was the final repeat of his new show. I’d missed it when first shown, and missed all of the others for some reason. And when I woke up I seemed to have the idea that I’d actually always preferred Punt and Dennis from the Mary Whitehouse Experience. Anyway, I mustn’t damn something without watching it. I was prepared to give it a go.
As I came round I became aware that he was dressed as Freud selling vegetables. I was confused waiting for the jokes. It’s not enough to have a comic juxtaposition surely there must be something more, but thankfully that sketch ended and he went on to something else.
But this was more of the same. In it Kepler and Galileo played with modern electronic products. It seemed that time had run forwards from 2007, but following a timeline leading from 2007 to 2006 to 2005 and so on. The main idea was a little convoluted and Kepler and Galileo trying to understand these things seemed simply to involve a comic juxtaposition again. That a sketch turned on hair straighteners and George Foreman’s lean mean fat reducing &c just didn’t seem good enough. Perhaps it would get better. My general state of despair seemed firmly embedded though.
Later sketches included monks reading an illuminated text of the actions of Tony Bla-ir and his actions in reducing carbon emissions, after they had a pratfall involving lots of flowers, and businessmen fighting over horse manure. God, I felt awful. Thinking that some of the ideas were clever (but some (most?) not), and there was an agenda of some sort there – but I was not enjoying it at all. But, I was becoming more alert and as time went on better disposed to it, so that was one thing.
Then I started to get parts of it – the Harrow March – where unemployed IT engineers marched to the north for work in the manufacturing industry holding placards stating “Will web design for food” – was clever. It didn’t generate any laughs, but I could see the technical mind framing it. The early parts of the show had not made much of the time running forwards as we reverse progress and evolution, but these later parts were much stronger. The central conceit was being illustrated by more amusing ideas. The political agenda: that all progress is not necessarily for the best – still a little heavily worn, but enclosed in better jokes.
And then he ended with his two best jokes – provided in voiceover (thankfully avoiding the delight of Newman dressing up) – that from small beginnings Native Americans ethnically cleansed their continent removing all Europeans by the late fifteenth century; and that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned a kindly benevolent Spice Girls fan and emerged years later so embittered he was determined to violently overthrow the state.
And with that climax I thought Rob was my favourite from the Mary Whitehouse Experience after all, but this show had proved so weak on the whole that I doubted if he would appear on television again for years and years. But the last few moments served one benefit. I was ina very good mood for the end of Flight of the Conchords.
(ETA: For an alternative view which is rather more favourable see here)