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Tuesday 12 December 2017

A dismal history lesson in boredom

a short history of everything else (ch4) american weed (national geographic)

Television needs another comedy panel show about as much as a goal net needs another dozen holes. A Short History of Everything Else is if nothing else aptly named.

It begs, borrows and steals elements from every single panel game you care to name from Have I Got News for You onwards, but does so shamelessly and cynically, and with a weary, contemptuous disregard for basic entertainment value.

In the host's chair is Griff Rhys Jones, who we learned from the Three Men . . . programmes he made with Dara O Briain and Rory McGrath, can be an extremely angry and unpleasant presence when he's not working from a script.

Seemingly having misplaced his funny bone 25 years ago, he goes through the motions with a rigid lack of charm, as if he knows as much as the rest of us how cheap it all is. And it's dirt-cheap. The shtick is nostalgia, which future-proofs it for regular repeats as long as channels like Dave and UK Gold are around.

The panel are shown some old news clips, asked to name the year and then asked some questions.

It goes on like that, round after round and with no real concessions to variety, for 30 tedious minutes.

The regular team captains are tiredly familiar faces Marcus Brigstocke and Charlie Baker, and the guests in the opening show were journalist Kirsty Wark and another comedian, Micky Flanagan.

Wark, like every other nominal woman on this sort of thing, struggled to get a word in edgeways over the sound of three professional comics desperately trying to outsmart(ar*e) one another.

The concept is sloppy, the jokes, unscripted or otherwise, are feeble, and Rhys Jones looks like he'd much rather be mucking around on a boat or creeping around a stately home, the things he seems to spend most of his time doing these days. Truly, madly, deeply dismal.

I don't know about you, but I wasn't even aware you could legally buy marijuana in Colorado, provided you need it for medical purposes and have a special medical card authorised by a doctor.

But as we saw in the first of the three-part documentary series American Weed, not everybody is happy about the law.

Ranged on one side are people like the Stanley brothers, who run a licensed growing facility and a dispensary (in one town there are more weed dispensaries than Starbucks), and their patients, including Shawn Sitzman, who suffers from diabetes and a condition that's destroying his nerve-endings.

On the other are Scoot Crandall, a former teacher who's campaigning to have the law changed in an upcoming vote and routinely comes in for abuse from passers-by, and Det Sgt Jim Gerhardt, who we saw busting a grower for cultivating his plants in his garden, which is a legal no-no. Passing youths were happily helping themselves to handfuls of the harvest on their way to school.

Somewhere in the middle of the argument would be Shawn's wife Stephanie, who's not crazy about him using weed for pain relief, despite it calming his chronic symptoms. "I'm not a fan of medical marijuana," she said.

"It dulls reality. It's more of an escape mechanism."

The Stanley brothers say the patients will suffer and they'll be put out of business if the law changes, but their case isn't exactly helped by the fact that some of the other licensed providers come across as, to put it as delicately as possible, a bit scummy.

Dispensary owner John Clifford, who looks like a character from Easy Rider, likes to unwind by riding dirt bikes and getting high on his own supply, while his wife Dawn is a buxom former fetish magazine model.

This is a fascinating story. It's marred, however, by the kind of hyperkinetic editing that afflicts too many US documentaries, as well as some scenes that look more like scripted-reality TV than factual film-making.



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