Tis the season for end-of-year review shows, and Charlie Brooker can always be relied on to breathe life anew into a tired old TV format.
The former Guardian TV reviewer has always put plenty of acidic bite into his newspaper writing, and eventually put his money where his mouth is with his own TV show, Black Mirror. Luckily for him, he was able to come up with the goods after dishing out yards of acerbic bile on others.
Brooker’s Wipe series proves again and again his genuis-like way with words. The script is scattergunned with axe-sharp descriptions, from “melodic pipsqueak Justin Bieber” and “controvergonk Jeremy Clarkson” to “the Joffrey it’s okay to love, Prince George”.
He describes Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar selfie as “the second-most-viewed picture of Jennifer Lawrence this year” while somehow likening 12 Years A Slave to Horrible Bosses.
Even Ed Milliband gets it in the neck: “a man with the face of a rubber ear and the voice of an enchanted plimsoll”. I defy you to find a livelier description of a politician than that.
Brooker’s is a brand of malevolent, night-black knowing comedy. He masters an almost impossible high-wire feat, managing to be offensive and incendiary while somehow being more right-on and politically correct than most other broadcasters.
Over the hour, the jokes come thick and fast. The viewer is often too busy wheezing over one to catch the next. Yet even Brooker knows 2014 was a year packed with tragedy, and he knows full well when to hold the potshots and exercise sensitivity. In fact, there’s a noticeable sag in the middle of the show when the wisecracks dry up as he recounts some of the more unsettling world news stories of the year.
If Mrs Brown’s Boys is your speed, Brooker could be a tad too salty for the palate. But for everyone else, Brooker’s endless stream of righteous indignation is as chaotic, inspired and hilarious as it has ever been.
Sadly for TV3, its 2014 – The Highs And Lows paled in comparison to Brooker’s considered and intelligent review. Neatly sidestepping the heavy stuff, The Highs And Lows focused on the year’s entertainment headlines, from Pantigate to BOD’s retirement.
“The song Happy went viral like Ebola. Pharrell’s voice is so buttery, it’s like spreading Dairygold on some toast,” opines some character called The Viper (not that one).
I’d have paid cold hard cash to hear what Brooker would have made of Enda Kenny’s Happy dance. Alas, The Viper’s Dairygold gag was as verbose and witty as it got.
Where the talking heads on RTE’s Totes 2014 were folks you had an outside chance of at least being familiar with, The Highs And Lows took the opportunity to break ground with some truly obscure contributors. It wasn’t so much a Who’s Who as a Who The Hell Is That? You know you’re in trouble when the biggest names involved are Martin King and Lucy Kennedy.
The show managed a fluffier touch than Brooker’s, but the end result became a half-baked unending stream of “meh” in dire need of a spit and polish. Comedic trio Foil Arms & Hog and the writers from satirical website Waterford Whispers gamely attempted to raise the gag quotient, but to little avail.
Come back RTE and Eoghan McDermott, all is forgiven. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.
Charlie Brooker's 2014 Wipe (BBC2) ****
2014 - The Highs and Lows (TV3) **