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Thursday 29 September 2016

It's not Newzoids fault it can never be Spitting Image

ITV has been doing its darnedest to  persuade everyone that its satirical show Newzoids, starting tonight, should not - repeat NOT - be regarded as the new Spitting Image. Needless to say, this hasn’t stopped the media from calling it exactly that.

Comparisons are unavoidable, to be honest. For one thing, both shows use puppets; in the case of Newzoids, though, they’ve been created using computers and 3D printing, rather than crafted by a large team of sculptors and modelmakers working in an enormous, and by all accounts chaotic, workshop.

For another, Newzoids is making its debut near enough as not matters to the 20th anniversary of the final image of Spitting Image.

Nothing in the intervening two decades has come close to recapturing the brilliance of the series at its very best, although some have tried.

The animated series 2DTV and Headcases (which used soulless, ugly CGI) both went out on ITV and both had their moments of inspiration. But neither was consistently funny enough to make much of a lasting impression, if you’ll pardon the pun.

There’s a great deal of pressure on Newzoids to deliver something better. ITV didn’t provide a preview of tonight’s episode, since at least a third of the programme is being recorded as close to transmission as possible for maximum topicality.

Newzoids2.jpg  

But the brief clips that have been released  - Professor Brian Cox discovering a new moon orbiting Kim Kardashian’s bum, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first-born talking like a Cockney commoner - suggest something of Spitting Image’s irreverence.

The fact remains, however, that no matter how hard Newzoids tries, no matter how funny some of it might be, it’s never going to be another Spitting Image, for the simple reason that Spitting Image was an unrepeatable one-off. It represented a perfect storm of talent and circumstances.

The enormous writing team featured countless names that will be familiar to anyone with a deep interest in British comedy, including Geoff Atkinson, Colin Bostock-Smith, Ian Hislop, Nick Newman, Ben Elton, Rob Grant, Doug Naylor, Guy Jenkin, Richard Curtis and John O’Farrell.

The voice cast was pure gold, too. To name just a handful: Rory Bremner, Steve Coogan, Harry Enfield, Hugh Dennis, John Sessions, Alistair McGowan and Steve Nallon.

The whole show was overseen by genius producer John Lloyd, previously of Not the Nine O’Clock News.

And they had great raw material to work with. When Spitting Image started in 1984, the levers of power were controlled by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, two of the most hated free-world leaders ever to draw breath and both ripe for vicious satirising.

In a world without 24-hour news channels and social media, the royal family were still a closed book, which allowed Spitting

Image to run riot and portray them as a gang of braying halfwits.

Princess Diana was an attention-seeking Sloane Ranger, while the Queen Mother was a gin-soaked old biddy who talked like Beryl Reid.

How, you have to wonder, can the people behind Newzoids compete with that? How are you supposed to satirise Ukip leader Nigel Farage when the real thing is already a walking, talking, one-man spoof show? 

What can you do to David Cameron that he hasn’t already done to himself? How do you make Jeremy Clarkson and Katie Hopkins, two of the show’s other targets, any more arrogant or obnoxious than they already are?

Unlike the puppets in Spitting Image, the ones in Newzoids have actual legs. That’s just as well. They’re going to need all the support they can get.

Newzoids, UTV/ITV, 9pm

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