Robert Smith: Armchair Critic

Jonathan Ross, Mitchell and Webb, and everything inbetween are under the scrutiny of our Armchair Critic this week.

Horrible Histories Mitchell Ross Smith TV Ugly Americans Webb

Friday Night with Jonathan Ross saw its final episode last week. Ross was never going to last long at the BBC following the puritanical response to Sachsgate and the onset of a recession that placed his sky-high salary under scrutiny. Indeed there will be many who will be celebrating his departure, no doubt in the Daily Mail comments section, with the kind of fervour usually reserved for the execution of longstanding dictators. Ross could certainly be very irritating at times, his reliance on sexual innuendo got very tiresome, and his interviews often devolved into the kind of fawning sycophancy that made everyone feel a little bit queasy.

At its best though, his show was truly fantastic and with the right guest Ross’s humour and anarchic style would shine. Perhaps my fondest memory of Ross was the first ever interview I watched with Jim Carrey in 2003, a pitch-perfect lesson in lunacy ending in Ross and Carrey singing ‘Wild Thing’ while the latter trashed the studio.

The final episode was a pretty decent send-off; an undeniably solid show even if there were no truly amazing moments. Mickey Rourke was gruff yet charming, Jackie Chan did his usual routine of listing all of his horrific injuries and David Beckham recounting his attempt to build a Taj Mahal out of Lego was an unexpected treat. Thankfully, Ross’s final goodbye avoided the self-indulgence he was often guilty of and his emotion was obviously genuine. Ross is of course moving to ITV, which I can see as being nothing but a disaster. Put it this way, can you ever imagine Ross asking David Cameron if he’d had a wank about Margaret Thatcher being broadcast on ITV?

Elsewhere on the Beeb That Mitchell and Webb Look returned for its Fourth Series. Recurring favourites such as Get Me Hennimore and the post apocalyptic game show returned accompanied by a truly fantastic sketch about research at Laboratoire Garnier. As is often the case with this sketch show, however, there were vast chunks of unfunny material. I’m all for sketches running on for a long time, Big Train being the masters of this, but frankly this only works if the opening conceit is suitably entertaining. For my money, the now largely forgotten ‘The Mitchell and Webb Situation’ is still their best sketch show offering to date.

Luckily the BBC actually have a fantastic sketch show currently showing every week, but the chances are that you haven’t heard of it. Horrible Histories is, as you might have guessed, aimed at children but do not let that put you off. It has some seriously good talent in, including Jim Howick who is better known for playing Gerard in Peep Show, and some truly original ideas. My favourites from the first couple of series? An advert for witch hunting in the style of Claims Direct, the four King Georges recast as a boyband , and a brilliant Roman Come Dine with Me complete with Dave Lamb’s narration.

My TV highlight of the week, however, was the brand new show Ugly Americans on Fiver. The show is a new American adult cartoon following the trials and tribulations of a social worker in New York. The twist is that this version of New York is populated by all manner of freaks and monsters and he is seemingly the only normal human being around. The tone of the programme is reminiscent of Daria, as is the heavily outlined animation, and any comic book, sci-fi or horror geeks will probably wet themselves with glee at the visual style. The characters are all wonderfully played, my particular favourite being the delightfully apathetic wizard co-worker Leonard, and you can check out the first episode here on You Tube.