An Ode to Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe..
The BBC’s mission statement, as laid out by its founding father John Reith, is to “inform, educate and entertain.” Few programmes manage to incorporate all three elements of this mantra into their production. Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe is one of the few exceptions: it is at once analytical, enlightening, and most of all, frequently hilarious, which is why we’re delighted to hear that he’s planning a new ‘Wipe’ series.
The brilliance of Screenwipe lies in the attention to the writing. The show never seems half-arsed or formulaic, and has a high punchline hit rate which doesn’t detract from the serious points it makes. Brooker made his name as the Guardian Guide’s caustic TV critic and he utilises his acerbic bile to full effect on television. He possesses the comedic delivery of a seasoned stand-up. Such is Brooker’s charm, that there’s something majestic about watching him ranting in full flow on his sofa, yelling “cunt!” at his TV. His lyrical swearing is perhaps only bettered by The Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker.
There’s an intellectual bent to much of his stream-of-consciousness criticism, deconstructing some of the most batshit mental programming. Take his analysis of The Baby Mind Reader, which features self-proclaimed psychic medium Derek Ogilvie ‘channelling’ the thoughts of baby children and relaying their ‘thoughts’ to their parents. He manages to reduce a single mum to tears when he claims her daughter is angry because of her troubled past relationships. “This is like Blue Velvet” chimes Brooker, chastising Ogilvie for raking up the woman’s suffering at the hands of violent partners.
Britain’s Hardest, presented by “Phil Mitchell” is not a show built for rigorous over-analysis, but Brooker’s dissection of it is a real highlight of the series. His barbs are inspired; from describing the ‘ard blokes “dangling from a scaffold like angry slabs of beef”, to his suggestion that the use of “hard” in the show is actually a metaphor for “erect” – “Being hard, can open a lot of doors for you. Proving you’re hard, can open a lot of doors for me”, it’s a masterclass in puerile humour.
Brooker explores the effect certain programmes have on society, and how television can lead to alienation, despair and fear, though is not short of praise for shows he adores, describing the pleasure he has watching Jacob Bronowski’s seminal series The Ascent of Man, “it’s like taking a warm bath in university juice.”
Screenwipe has been branded ‘TV Burp with swearing’, which is somewhat disparaging to both shows. Yes, both shows utilised similar formats of deconstruction, with frequent subversive and surreal interludes. Hill’s whimsy allowed for pre-watershed family viewing on ITV1; Brooker’s world-weary cynicism is usually buried late at night on BBC Four. There’s no reason why people can’t enjoy both. If forced to choose which show is best then of course there’s only one way to find out…
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