In the UK: Wednesdays, 10.30pm, BBC4
I think it’s fair enough to say we do loves a bit of Charlie Brooker round here. I think it’s fair to say that’s quite a common feeling.
But I think it’s also fair to say that he’s spreading himself a bit thin. He’s writing two columns for The Guardian a week; he’s on Have I Got News For You every so often; he’s got his regular Screenwipe show on BBC4; he’s got an upcoming TV reviews show for Channel 4; he’s just finished making Dead Set for E4.
Phew. That’s a lot.
Now he’s doing Newswipe for BBC4, in which he tries to tell you the news of the week, but really – as the show’s title suggests – is really just Screenwipe but dedicated to TV news.
And it’s really not very good. See? Spread too thin.
If you’ve ever watched Screenwipe, you’ll know pretty much what Newswipe is going to be like. It’s got Charlie’s pieces to camera from his flat, where he talks to the TV and the viewer while passing scathing comments on clips. It’s got a guest poet. It’s got a guest reporter. It has a guest expert. It has various members of Zeppotron’s production staff doubling as actors. It has a “… of the week” that takes the piss. And it has various mini-documentaries where Charlie explains some aspects of TV production.
So far, so familiar.
Some of this is very good. Charlie makes some very valid points about TV news; his guest expert, Nick Davies of Flat Earth News fame is knowledgeable and made equally good points; and Charlie’s various scathing comments are funny in the standard Brooker way.
Some of this is very bad, however. The guest reporter’s slot was so bad, I wasn’t sure if she’d come in drunk or not to film it; and the poet wasn’t funny (he never is on Screenwipe either). So I ended up winding through some of it, because I couldn’t be bothered to sit through it.
More to the point, this doesn’t so much feel like a news programme as a news review programme. There isn’t much that’s actually news. Where Brooker tries to give news, it’s only in the context of what news programmes did and didn’t do, which – and I know I’m on shaky ground here – isn’t so much reporting or news gathering as, erm, blogging.
There doesn’t appear to be any real attempt to bring new news and where it tries to do news analysis, it feels even more insubstantial than the news programmes it ridicules. While no one would be any the wiser for Five’s explanation of the credit crunch with trains, all anyone’s the wiser about thanks to Newswipe is that Five isn’t good at credit crunch explanations – and the reasons why Five isn’t good at credit crunch explanations. Good for media types, probably not so good for everyone else.
So this would have been great as a one-episode special of Screenwipe, but do I really want six weeks (or whatever) of Charlie Brooker just pointing out that news programmes are a bit silly and shallow at times? Probably not.
Still, Screenwipe evolved from its first episode so maybe Newswipe will find its feet in a few episodes’ time – or by its second series. Otherwise, we’re going to have to accept there is such a thing as too much Charlie Brooker.
Here’s a trailer and a clip for your enjoyment. You can watch the whole episode on the iPlayer and on YouTube too, if you hunt around a bit.