Last night's TV

Posted on: 22 March 2011 by Alexander Hay

Sex changes, trains and childbirth – an evening of Channel 4

Another night's entertainment...Back in its heyday, Channel 4 used to be rather quirky in a genuine, guileless sort of way, with lots of odd shows, subtitled films, cool East European cartoons and a genuine love of experimentation. Nowadays, it's a more slick, self-satisfied beast, as some of its more popular shows demonstrate.

Still, the honest quirkiness surfaces from time to time, as last night's 4Thought demonstrated. This 5 minute short, put on after Channel 4 News, has a weekly theme about which different members of the public wax lyrical on from Monday to Friday. Sadly they do have a tendency to be either outspoken or just daft as a brush, but perhaps that's the appeal.

Last night's speaker wasn't mad, fortunately. Instead she was a Church of England vicar, of the kind with a gentle, inoffensive demeanour who worries about overdoing it whenever she asks if next door can turn down the music just a little.

The thing was, she used to be a 'he', and is in fact a post-op transsexual. This, of course, is the theme of the week, and we will no doubt see the purple ink brigade run amok during the remaining four episodes.

The vicar was actually much more mannered and calm, however, and made a compelling call for tolerance, including a theological argument that 'eunuchs' (presumably she doesn't mean Nick Clegg) should be tolerated and considered equal in God's eyes.

Of course, gender reassignment surgery is no cakewalk, and she's had surgery on her face too, to the point that you have to look hard to see she used to be male. So it was refreshing that she seemed so happy, so untraumitised and, well, decent about it.

There followed a trailer for one of the worst TV shows so far conceived, the execrable Supersize Vs Superskinny Kids, a sort of freak show meets guilt trip contest where overfed and underfed children compete to achieve an unobtainable normality while being made to feel very, VERY guilty.

Throughout we have smug patronising doctors turned media stars wagging their fingers at feckless parents, but in truth we've been here before, care of train-wrecks like Honey, We're Killing The Kids, moral entrepreneurs like Jamie Oliver and the creepy intrusiveness of the feel-bad guru herself, Gillian McKeith. Won't someone think of the children?

The one dependable feature of Channel 4, be it new or old, is its documentaries, so at least we had a (mostly) amusing episode of Dispatches to look forward to. This had Richard Wilson reporting on (and having to endure) the horrors of our awful train system. Put simply, it costs too much, the service is late and often overcrowded and the whole system is inefficient, over budget and rigged in the train companies' favour.

So far so good, and Richard Wilson is a lively, engaging narrator. The hidden camera footage (for some reason, train companies don't like their cattle trucks being filmed) is effective too, capturing the claustrophobia and grime of over-priced, over-populated trains meandering through a creaking system.

Sadly the show makes the mistake of trying to be 'interactive' - cue lots of people desperate for their 15 minutes posting up all manner of naff YouTube videos as they repeat the points the documentary has already made. It's at times like these that you remember that the reason why the media exists is because its audience is rubbish at making its own material.

The other problem is the fact that the true villains of the piece are not named - us. After all, we can complain, moan, go on camera and denounce the likes of First Great Western, but we still carry on paying train ticket prices and not rioting every time a five carriage train draws up alongside 12 carriages' worth of commuters.

Finally, the next show was One Born Every Minute, the never-ending real life soap of women making grunting, shrieking, growling or rasping noises as they try to give birth, interspersed with scenes from Alien and useless, utterly useless or just plain absent men lurking in the background, often out-gunned by some battleaxe of a sister, best friend or soon-to-be grandmother.

Once you've seen five minutes, you've seen the lot, which begs the question as to why the show is so popular as it has been looping this formula since 2009. People can be very odd, it seems, but sadly not enough to enjoy Polish experimental cartoons any more.

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Alexander Hay

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