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TV Review: 'The Eleven o'clock Show'

No Rest For the Wicked?

Channel Four has just welcomed back its flagship nightly satirical review 'The Eleven o'clock Show' for another series, though whether the fact that it appears at almost any time in the late night schedules is part of the joke or not is anybody's guess. This is the show that launched Ali G, the black "homeboy" from Staines who is played by a Jewish white man, and who endlessly employs a stilted Afro-Caribbean patois in his toe-curling interviews with politicians and academics who are singled out precisely because of their ignorance of the idiom.

There has been a debate of sorts in the press over recent weeks about Ali G, specifically over whether he is a racist creation of the actor who portrays him, Sacha Cohen. Whatever else he might be though, Ali G is no Black and White Minstrel. His dialogue is carefully scripted and intended as a comic caricature of a certain strata of British youth subculture where phrases like “wicked”, “posse” and Ali G's ubiquitous “keep it real!” are trotted out as a substitute for joined-up conversation. That pompous authority figures with little or no conception of modern life and culture can be made to look foolish by their inevitable attempts to take Ali G's moronic posturing at face value are the nub of the joke, none more so than the Irish republican leader who was asked by Ali G “Why are people always dissin' da RAC?” and who then tried to answer the question.

What seems to be confusing to some of Ali G's critics on the left is that his conversation is sprinkled with outrageous and politically incorrect language. But this is where the joke really hits the mark—whether Ali G's interviewees will go along with his ignorant comments on the grounds that they do not wish to seem “unhip” or whether they will actually confront him—and if so, how. Many of course do not understand his questions and are in no position to form a rounded opinion. Fewer still seem to understand the various sexual references sprinkled throughout his speech, though Tony Benn did on one occasion memorably chastise him for his sexism—including his references to his girlfriends “me bitches”—and with some humour too.

By and large Ali G is well scripted and nicely performed, though unfortunately one suspects that his fame is spreading that fast that he will have no unsuspecting victims left before long willing to be interviewed. He has his own show coming up soon on Channel Four which will be worth looking out for as a follow-up to his Christmas special last year.

Send in the clowns
Now that Ali G has departed, 'The Eleven o'clock Show' is left exposed and bereft. More than ever it now appears to be little more than a post-modern version of 'Not the Nine o'clock News', written by the politically ignorant and driven on by a desire to replace humour with shock-value in the hope that at that time of night no-one will notice the difference. A typical example of its approach surfaced—if that is the right word—in its first show back. Sitting behind presenters Daisy Donovan and Iain Lee was an electronic scoreboard labelled "The Dr Shipman Snuff-o-meter", the score on which rose ever upward as the show progressed. But as the score increased, the tastelessness of the programme's makers shot up exponentially.

Would Daisy Donovan and Iain Lee, it is tempting to ask, have willingly sat in front of this "joke" scoreboard if their own parents or grandparents had been among those murdered by Shipman? Hopefully not, though they might care to remember the effect this sight would have had on the many in precisely that position, and then feel suitably ashamed. Frankly, better than this could have been expected from a dysfunctional five year old.

It is also curious to note that the programme which spawned the controversial Ali G seems to have attracted few press comments about the little streak of homophobia which is evident in most editions. Perhaps this is because most TV critics still find jokes about Michael Portillo funny regardless of whether they really are or not.

That The Eleven O'clock Show lets itself down in this way is disappointing because it is certainly not all bad and there are occasional rays of sunshine which break through the fog. However, its makers must learn that no truly great comedy programme ever made it on the back of shock-value alone and Daisy Donovan and Iain Lee should note that they do not have quite as much to appear self-satisfied about as their demeanour would suggest. Well observed, original humour and characterisation is needed, and lots of it. Unfortunately, without Ali G 'The Eleven o'clock Show' can appear as naked as the emperor with no clothes and, for the most part, just as unsightly.

DAP