Magazine article The Spectator

Spoilt for Choice

Magazine article The Spectator

Spoilt for Choice

Article excerpt

You may remember when families watched television together. The Forsyte Saga was on, you drew the curtains if it was light outside, and you all sat on the sofa and gazed in silence at the flickering grey image. If you missed it, you missed it.

These days you can tape it, or your cable company allows you to haul it back from the ether whenever you want. Comedy shows on television now are mostly extended ads for the coming DVD. My son -- who prefers to watch on his own, because he can choose what he wants on screen and there's nobody talking at him -- can channel-hop constantly between cricket and a rerun of Friends, with a third channel on standby in case both the others have commercials at the same time. Do the advertisers realise how easy it is to get away from them these days? Did anyone see that ghastly ad for some car in which an Asian family moved next door and the kids were all condescending about their parents? It ran through the whole Ashes series. I bet nobody in the land watched it more than twice. Why should you? You could catch a whole two minutes of The Simpsons between overs -- three minutes if a batsman was out.

A television critic used to be describing a shared experience, like a meal he and his readers had enjoyed together. Now we're the guests dashing away from a party, pointing out the best bits of the buffet for a new arrival: 'That green dip is quite nice, and the mini-Scotch eggs aren't bad. Sorry, got another bash. . .' So how can you choose the best of the year when there are 129 channels (it may be more by now), mostly broadcasting 24 hours a day? It would be like choosing your favourite pebble on Brighton beach.

But even now, amid the noise and the static, it's possible for some programmes to emerge ahead of the others. I thought the best programme of the year was Bleak House on BBC1, not least because Andrew Davies had curbed his desire to modernise the dialogue. Not an 'oi, leave it aht' to be heard. The acting, the editing and the cinematography were superb and the standard was maintained triumphantly for the whole eight hours.

The second best drama was The Rotters' Club (BBC2), a wonderfully funny and sensitive telling of Jonathan Coe's novel. …

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