Life Sorry if I'm a bit drowsy today but I watched Comic Relief almost to the bitter end last night which is as late as I've stayed up in months. It's a certain sign of age that even just watching television into the wee small hours leads to aches and a lack of focus the following day. Despite what the string of celebrities said throughout, I'm not sure it was the best ever relying a bit too much on running clips from the Little Britain stage show and the admittedly funny Catherine Tate material. There wasn't anything that scaled the heights of the sudden appearance of TFI Friday channel hopping or the first Celebrity Big Brother.
The highlights? Well The Apprentice was wildly amusing and curious in its stripping bare of personalities -- obviously there's a question of how much was staged, but it confirmed everything you probably thought about the celebrities -- that Piers Morgan is an oil slick with the cold dead stare of a killer ("If you don't buy a ticket, I will ring the Mirror tomorrow with information about your life which will have serious consequences for your future should you have one"), Alistair Campbell's portrayal in The Queen was spot on -- ruinous overconfidence -- and Trinny Woodhall is like a benevolent force of nature. I think Cheryl Cole probably surprised me the most -- she seemed to have a level of irony I wasn't expecting -- there was a wonderful look to camera when Trinny said she'd learnt her excercise techniques from a Russian trainer she stays with in Austria.
The low light's included the Borat material which managed to shock but seemed stilted and wasn't helped by a bewildred looking stuttering Graham Norton. I'm not sure what was going on with the magicians in the Paul O'Grady section and Fame Academy got it's usual short shrift at its climax after weeks of build up. Oh and the Mr Bean thing is getting a bit tired now isn't it? But really everyone will probably spend the next few months talking about Tony Blair's appearance. Did you ever think you'd see the man who runs to country doing that!?! Forget Iraq, that's going to be his legacy, endlessly repeated in biography programmes for years to come. Expect some wag in the commons to say 'Am I bovvered' to him by the end of the week.
Dumped at about two in the morning was a good contribution from Armando Ianucci in the style of Time Trumpet in which the history of Comic Relief was transmogrified into a hateful place filled with such weirdness as Jonathan Ross pissing on the audience and Chris Evans pushing the head of an audience member into a vat of acid. Despite the presence of Adam Buxton and Emma Thompson amongst the regulars it was fitfully funny, but what it did demonstrate was how over the years the show has drifted from in studio material to clips particularly in the early evening and a presentational style far closer to what might be expected from US cable telethons.
In days past the show was still resolutely about the comedy, whilst nowadays that tends to only fill about a third of the material with the rest of the running time being taken up by appeals and celebrity versions of well known shows. Mostly entertaining to be sure, but overall the effect is less funny than I remember. Before the production was resolutely introduced by comedians, the likes of French and Saunders who were naturally funny, whereas that's also changed to appearances by Davina McCall and (ugh) Kate Thornton who are very good at shouting into a microphone but are hardly a substitute for Griff Rhys Jones (who was absent for the first time ever last night -- Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were also awol perhaps for obvious reasons).
What hasn't changed though is the show's ability to highlight the state of British comedy at a certain point in time. Where once there was The Fast Show now we have Mitchell and Webb and The Mighty Boosh all dying on their arse in the studio by presenting material that was far too esoteric for the crowd -- not that they should feel too bad -- it happened to The League of Gentlemen last time. See also Russell Brand on his first presenting gig for the charity and by all accounts was the best of the night, turning his mistakes into comedy and lightly taking the piss out of the audience. Oh and Peter Kaye whose slot was far more inspired that the last with a studio filled with celebs and glorious juxtapositions -- I never thought I'd ever see Gary Wilmott, Dusty Bin and a be-kilted David Tennant in the same frame -- it looked like an illustrated guide to the history of Saturday night telly.