Monday 20 November 2017

A 'grown-up' Ross is just no fun


IN a parallel universe where Sachsgate never happened, it would have been Jonathan Ross and not Graham Norton sucking up to Madonna on BBC1 last Friday.

In the event, Ross was to be found over at his new home, ITV, on Saturday, trading banter with Emma Thompson, Brooke Shields, Take Me Out host Paddy McGuinness and, eh, the bloke who plays glasses of water on the Skoda ad. Hardly a stellar line-up.

Despite ITV extending Ross's contract by another year, The Jonathan Ross Show is dying on its feet.

The ratings, 2.77m at their lowest (he routinely pulled in 4.5m viewers at the BBC), have been fluctuating according to the quality of the guests, yet even at their best they're are not what weekend ITV entertainment shows are expected to deliver.

Judging from Saturday's edition, the problems run deeper than mediocre viewing figures and second-rate interviewees. Ross has never been Mr Saturday Night.

His niche -- the one now occupied by Norton -- has always been late on a Friday.

Hopes that his ITV vehicle would pick up after a shaky start have fallen flat.

He looks more out of his element than ever.

The set's too big, the studio audience too far away, stripping the show of the intimacy/complicity that marked Friday Night with Jonathan Ross at its best.

Of course, that show was far from its best in its excruciating final months as a defanged Ross worked out his contractual obligations with nervous BBC suits breathing down his neck and the right-wing tabloids ready to pounce at the first off-colour joke.

Ironically, the freedom the move to ITV, which doesn't depend on public money and doesn't have a public-service charter to respect, was supposed to give him has tamed him even more.

In an effort to conform to ITV's broad, broadly conservative weekend audience, The Jonathan Ross Show feels middle-aged and middle of the road.

Television's most youthful 50-year-old is being forced to act his age -- or at least the way some sections of society decree 50-year-olds should act.

The effect is more cutting hedge than cutting edge.

You would imagine there'd be little to add to the story of Monty Python, which has been told and retold through numerous books and documentaries, as well as in last year's surreal and misfiring BBC4 drama, which recounted the group's battle with the forces of censorship and conservatism over Life of Brian.

Well, you'd be wrong.

Monty Python: Almost the Truth, made in 2009 but only now being shown in its unexpurgated, six-part form, is wonderful.

All the Pythons are interviewed individually, including the late Graham Chapman, who appears in archive footage from 1980.

The clips from the TV series that gradually pulled them together into a unit (That Was the Week That Was, The Frost Report, At Last the 1948 Show, Do Not Adjust Your Set) are an absolute joy, but what really sets the series apart is the way it puts the Pythons, as well as the influences that shaped them (The Goon Show, Beyond the Fringe, Not Only . . . But Also), into the context of their times and shows how comedy was a revolutionising force in a 1960s Britain still struggling to shake off the drab, grey overcoat of the previous decade.

Sherlock is dead. Long live Sherlock.

Of course, Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) is not really dead, no more than he was really dead at the end of The Final Problem, of which this last of three episodes was a brilliant re-imagining, with a high-rise block standing in for the Reichenbach Falls.

Alas, we'll probably have to hang around until 2013 to enjoy the look on the face of Watson (Martin Freeman) when he finds out.

You can bet it will be worth the wait.


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