This week John Byrne checks out telly-watchers, yet another BBC music documentary, and a super-sized family reality show
Reviewed: Gogglebox (Fridays, Channel 4); The Story of Funk: One Nation Under a Groove (Friday, BBC Four); 17 Kids and Counting (Tuesdays, Channel 4)
We've moved way past irony at this stage. Take Gogglebox (Fridays, Channel 4) for example. It's a television show that shows people sitting on their sofas at home watching TV shows. It's almost as daft a concept as the Saturday afternoon show on Sky Sports News where viewers watch a selection of talking heads watching football games live on TVs in the studio. But Gogglebox is also great fun while all Jeff Stelling and co offer is merely a radio show on TV.
But it's not all laughs on Gogglebox as sometimes there's a great line or a smart insight. This week's edition was the usual mixed bag, starting off with folks watching The X Factor as Andrea Faustini was performing. Best reaction of all was in Durham as the Moffats worked on their air-grabbing, a singing affectation straight of karaoke where the singer raises one hand as if grabbing some air, pulls it in before letting it go and grabbing some more again. Needless to say, The X Factor isn't taken that seriously.
Here's Andrea Faustini:
Far more freaky was the Black Friday news story on British TV. As was widely reported, hordes of desperate shoppers went nuts over a few bargains in this most-recent American import.
It was quite sad to see people stampeding over each other just to save a few quid off a TV, and the reaction of the Gogglebox couch potatoes was a resounding sense of horror that people would get so carried away with such a thing. 'We've already imported Halloween from them,' one viewer cried. More horrifying is the fact that we Irish embraced the US version of a festival we actually invented.
The bizarre claims that North Korea performed a cyber attack on Sony was followed by some really fun moments as the various groups watched Liam Neeson in Taken ('How many can he kill without getting exhausted?'), while UK PM David Cameron was referred to as 'David Camera On'. Oh, how I laughed.
But the best remarks of the night were kept for I'm a Celebrity . . . as former Tory politician Edwina Currie was met with a series of semi-slanderous remarks, the best being 'Did she do anything Major?'
Gogglebox? Giggle Box more like.
Not nearly as funny but just as much fun was The Story of Funk: One Nation Under a Groove. And what made this a remarkable documentary was that it crammed so much into one hour. Beginning with the truly ground-breaking James Brown, who badly needed a form of music that could match his inordinate dancing skills and energy, it all kicked-off with his Cold Sweat, one of the great man's many signature tunes.
Here's James Brown on Soul Train. Hit it!
After that the pace was relentless as funk entered the mainstream through the utopian Sly and the Family Stone, whose Larry's Graham explained that his invention of the slap bass method was down to his mother. She said there wasn't going to be a drummer in their band any more so he compensated by 'playing the drums on the bass'. So now you know . . .
Funk also played a part in politics as, even more so than today, there were major racial tensions in the USA. Cue James Brown with Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud). Sly and the Family Stone (a rarity those days as it was a multi-racial group) at Woodstock knocked down a few more barriers, and before you could shout 'Shaft!' the new sound was funkin' everywhere, with bands such as Ohio Players, Kool and the Gang (when they were, well, cool). Even some pale-faced Scotsmen got in on the act, when The Average White Band stumped US race stereotypes by looking like New Jersey JCB drivers and playing like The JB's.
Not being a fan, the George Clinton/Funkadelic segment couldn't end quickly enough (this was, to me, black music's self-indulgent equivalent of Prog Rock), before things got nice and beige again with Earth, Wind & Fire and the chart-friendly version of Kool and the Gang.
After that we were treated to a slice or two of hip-hop, which wouldn't exist if it wasn't for funk, and a bit of Prince before Blurred Lines (without a mention of Marvin Gaye's Got to Give it Up) and other Pharrell Williams-related material brought us up to date. I think they could've made a three-parter out of this but never mind. The hour flew by in funk-tastic fashion.
17 Kids and Counting (Tuesdays, Channel 4) is back and it's a refreshing change from the usual reality shows, where people either seem to be stuck in one pitiful rut or other, or else come across as so stupid they make the rest of us look smart.
Here's the trailer:
But if you want to watch something that makes you angry about – how are they termed? – wasters who breed kids to sponge off the state? – this is not it at all. What we have here is a couple, Sue and Noel Radford, who are both hard-working and love having and rearing children.
Running their own bakery business while tending to the needs of Britain's largest family isn't the kind of hectic lifestyle anyone could associate with sloth, but the truly uplifting thing about this show is the love that is clearly shared amongst them all without a hint of dilution or the flight of a single hair. Remarkable.
In this opening episode of the new season, Sue and Noel are still keen to add to their brood now that the eldest two have moved out – one to live around the corner with her boyfriend, another further afield for college – and when super ma Sue gets pregnant again, it's a joyful time in the house.
Sadly, Sue's pregnancy ended after just 21 weeks when the baby died in her womb. The entire family was devastated, and a tear-filled funeral was held for the stillborn Alfie Thomas Radford.
Sure, the Radfords seem to be addicted to having babies, but with the parents working so hard to put food and the table and bring up their children in a loving and caring environment, you'd have to be made of granite not to root for the Radfords.
After all, size isn't everything.