WEB EXCLUSIVE: Couch Potato on the Paralympics, Charlie Brooker and the size of the universe

The Cauldron is lit by Margaret Maughan, Great Britain's first ever Paralympic gold medallist back in 1960 during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 29, 2012. See PA story PARALYMPICS Opening Ceremony. Photo credit should read: Anna Gowthorpe/PA
The Cauldron is lit by Margaret Maughan, Great Britain's first ever Paralympic gold medallist back in 1960 during the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympic Games 2012 at the Olympic Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 29, 2012. See PA story PARALYMPICS Opening Ceremony. Photo credit should read: Anna Gowthorpe/PA
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Our Sunday web columnist takes a wry look at the week’s TV.

You can imagine the brainstorming session ahead of the Paralympics Opening Ceremony.

“Good news, folks. We’ve got Sir Ian McKellen!”

“Wow, he’ll be fabulous. I can almost hear him now saying that line, ‘Shine your light on the diversity of humanity,’ just after the street dancers near the start.”

“Yes, it’s all about diversity.”

“Funny you should say ‘diversity’ because there’s even better news. We’ve also booked that street dance troupe who went head to head against Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent.”

“You don’t mean...?”

“Yes. We’ve got Flawless!”

One of many letdowns on a night that was everything I’d feared Danny Boyle’s phenomenal spectacle in July would be – theatrical claptrap that bored me senseless, made worse by the commentary of Krishnan Guru-Murthy who achieved the impossible by making me long for Trevor Nelson.

Sounded away with the fairies did our Krishnan: “A collision of particles is also taken as a collision of ideas.”

“A whirling dervish on top of the solar system now.”

“The umbrella has become a lampshade.”

Of course it has, Krishnan. Now move away from the pills.

And he had this public service warning: “Afghanistan, a nation where there are so many victims of landmines and amputees.”

Yes, watch out for those amputees. They can be vicious. Don’t be their next victim.

Where he came properly unstuck, though, wasn’t in the constant interrupting of six-time Paralympian Jeff Adams or the announcement: “It has been a difficult period for Jordan,” what with that messy divorce from Peter Andre, but catching television’s “iconic” lurgi.

“The iconic music of Holst.” “An iconic athlete, Margaret Maughan.” “Alison Lapper Pregnant, the iconic Mark Quinn sculpture.”

But if Krishnan was dull, Jon Snow had a shocker.

He opened by introducing Channel 4’s “fantastically creamy team” of disabled reporters, tripped over his autocue, called the athletes “contestants”, and hadn’t bothered finding out when Paralympics GB would enter the stadium, so was expecting them shortly after Ghana.

Some of his ad-libs were plain bizarre: “Even the Cubans are taking pictures.”

Others weren’t thought through: “Here’s Estonia. They have a long tradition in, in... erm...”

And, having marked the arrival of France with: “We’re not looking at any of the things which we spend our time talking about on the news. Here we have the joy of participation in sport. Raw sport,” Snow outdid even Huw Edwards in the misery department.

“Cote d’Ivoire. Very war-torn, a terrible civil war.”

“Here’s Croatia, another victim of civil war.”

“Democratic Republic of Congo, another dreadfully war-torn country.”

“Macedonia, another country that’s emerged from civil war.”

It got to the point where he even started depressing himself: “I don’t want to go harking on about this but here’s another country, in Georgia, that has had terrible military problems.”

Which was right when Germany entered, with immaculate timing.

So the fist-gnawingly regular commercial breaks C4 chose to shove in throughout Wednesday night were almost something of a relief.

Not, of course, for those waiting to see the majority of the Chinese and US contingents, South African flag bearer Oscar Pistorius’ Games-defining arrival, and all the Paralympians from Colombia, Comoros, Ecuador, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Chinese Taipei, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Uruguay.

All of them bypassed by adverts or Clare Balding interviews.

In Channel 4’s eyes, on a night that celebrated equality, some athletes are more equal than others.


This week’s Couch Potato Spudulike awards go to:

Total Wipeout’s Doorstep Challenge.

CBB’s Gods and Mortals shopping task.

Charlie Brooker reminding everyone he can do so much better than 10 O’Clock Live with Sky1’s excellent spoof police drama A Touch Of Cloth.

The extraordinary self-restraint shown by the police officers on BBC1’s The Lock Up in the face of such drunken provocation.

John Bishop and, especially, Sheridan Smith demonstrating they should stick to serious acting, on Accused.

The awe-inspiring athletes at the Paralympics, the sight of the cauldron aflame again, and Channel 4’s excellent Adam Brooker, born with deformed hands, breaking down barriers by playing rock paper scissors with Freddie Flintoff and claiming victory ever time with the same hand gesture, on The Last Leg: With Adam Hills.

And unemployed Billy Moore, at X Factor’s Newcastle auditions, becoming the first ever contestant to provide running self-critique during a disastrous stab at Don’t Stop Believing: “Juuuuuust. Juuuuuust. Juuuuuust. I’m killing it. Singerrrrrina smokey room. Nah. I’m killing this. Sorry about that. I’m absolutely murdering it. Nah. It’s not working. Sounds awful, that. This was a bad idea.”

Don’t beat yourself up, Billy. It was brilliant. Please come back next year with another song.

Foghorn on the Tyne.


Louis Walsh, to chimney sweep Kye Sones, on The X Factor: “You’ve been cleaning chimneys with a voice like that?”

No, Louis. He’s been using a brush.


I’ve been trying to pinpoint the moment the mid-series lull set in.

It could have been when the Geordie narrator provided this spine-shuddering mental image: “Cheryl Fergison is packing her smalls ahead of tomorrow’s eviction.”

There’s a chance it might have been the night Coleen Nolan got lost in her own neediness and begged the viewers to like her.

But in truth, the rot began on Celebrity Big Brother when it fell into that perennial reality-TV-show trap – focusing its attention on the immature younger contestants at the expense of the far more entertaining oldies.

You see, judoka Ashley was cross with Rhian for leading him on, Rhian was cross with Ashley for ignoring her, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino was cross with Danica for leading him on, Danica was cross with Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino for ignoring her, and Prince Lorenzo was... well, it really doesn’t matter, and neither do the names.

CBB had lost its way. And that, I assumed, would be that.

What I didn’t bank on was a glorious two-day, Greek gods-themed task, pulled from the emergency locker by the producers, that reinvigorated the show, gave us an all-time classic episode, on Tuesday night, and a moment anyone watching is unlikely to forget in a hurry.

Seventy-year-old Julie Goodyear, in the guise of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, being fed a banana suggestively by a poor young lad hired to play a scantily clad cherub in tight, gold trunks, while clutching and patting his right buttock at head height.

Simultaneously hilarious and disturbing – even Julian Clary averted his eyes and the whole incident was edited out for the lunchtime repeat – it kick-started the CPR this series desperately required.

The Gods and Mortals task was TV gold from start to finish, with Martin Kemp, as Zeus, or possibly an unconvincing Santa, and Goodyear “summoning the power of fire” which, naturally, involved hurling Spacehoppers attached to coloured tracing paper to knock the celebs off wobbly plinths.

Kemp ended the evening covertly watching Prince Lorenzo tell Danica she was his ideal woman, on a monitor in the gods’ secret room, and remarked: “He’s completely forgotten that he’s on television.”

That was Martin Kemp, dressed as Santa/Zeus in a toga, sandals and white fluffy beard, to MC Harvey, from So Solid Crew, in a room ludicrously called Mount Olympus, listening through headphones with clumps of cotton wool glued to the sides.

How could I ever think this series had lost its way?

Me of little faith in the TV gods.


This week’s Couch Potato Spuduhate awards go to:

Simon Cowell’s ITV talent shows becoming indistinguishable from each other with the plague of acoustic guitar buskers, including Lucy Spraggan, who’ll be great on the live shows during Victoria Wood week.

Channel 5 believing the return of Dallas is the ideal time to give the reclusive John Barrowman some airtime.

Mastermind allowing Duran Duran as a specialist subject.

Ofcom poised to launch an investigation into claims of racism by BBC1 Asian sitcom Citizen Khan, but not into the fact it’s the worst TV comedy since Amanda Holden’s Big Top.

The impending arrival of a hidden-camera, prosthetics disguise show, with Dom Joly, on ITV1 primetime Saturday night.

The Celebrity Big Brother crowd cheering pumped up, testosterone fuelled, simpering, pathetic, aggressive little toad The Situation, a Harry Enfield character brought to life.

BBC2’s Iceland Erupts: A Volcano Live Special breaching trade descriptions by having zero live content.

The discovery that the Paralympics blind judo isn’t as Clouseau-on-the-prowl-for-Cato as I’d hoped.

And the complete lack of foresight by the powers-that-be at More4 for scheduling the worst possible show immediately after the Games’ opening ceremony which, when it overran, had the on-screen programme title flashing up as: “Embarrassing Bodies.”


Monday night’s Horizon, on BBC2, asked the question: How Big Is The Universe?

The long answer, from Nobel Prize for Physics-winning cosmologist Professor Saul Perlmutter, of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab at the University of California:

“The simplest picture of the universe is a universe that’s infinite. We really could live in a universe where there is galaxy after galaxy after galaxy in every direction and it never stops.

“We calculated that actually the universe isn’t slowing down. It’s actually speeding up in its expansion.

“All the distances are getting bigger ever day. So it’s still infinite, all the same galaxies are there, it’s just that we’ve now pumped more space between each point in this infinite universe.”

So may I provide the short answer?

Really big.