Remakes are tricky, especially if the original is in living memory. Newsnight tried to pull this off on Monday and, like El Mariachi and Battle Beyond the Stars, even included some of the original cast. The original starred Russell Brand and Peter Hitchens, sometimes billed by his stage name, 'the hated Peter Hitchens'. The remake replaced the original British celebrity addict with an American name, perhaps to aid international sales (much like The Quatermass Experiment movie), but Peter Hitchens agreed to revisit his part.
I have met Peter Hitchens and found him quite pleasant off set but when the cameras were on I found him a bit silly. On occasion, I find myself agreeing with him, but there is usually a later paragraph where it all goes awry. He is much like David Icke, there are moments where I nod, then I turn the page and go, "ah, perhaps not". Some write that they find it hard to comprehend that he is the brother of Christopher Hitchens, but there is similarity in their tenacity, certainty of themselves and intransigence, even if Peter doesn't have the same corrosive wit and flamboyant intelligence. I found myself sharing more of Peter's views on the latest Gulf war than Christopher. What is implied by those that can't imagine their genetic ties is, "how come I agree with one and not the other?"
I find Peter's self-aggrandising, self-declared sobriquet of "the hated" an amusing addition, as if revealing that this is all music hall really. It's like a comedian declaring that they are "edgy".
Matthew Perry has all the good guy credentials that this TV bout likes to trail, square jawed, the product of a beloved sitcom, he had it all, then fell into the abyss, but has now risen again.
The redemption story and the heart of gold.
The fallen champion now clean and back for the prize bout.
Baroness Meacher is there too, but like so many Hollywood flicks, she may have been cast, but the fireworks are really expected between the two male leads. (though as it was she actually gave the sanest and most factual answers)
The referee is Paxman. Let the games begin. Biting and sniping allowed, no enlightening, the crowd want a fight that allows them to depart none the wiser and as certain of their opinions as when they went in.
So Matthew Perry said nothing in particular, a loose statistic, a bit of hubbub, a sort of blurry positivity about drugs courts. Peter Hitchens started reasonably logically -
"If you want to stop people being drugs user then the best thing to do is make sure they don't start in the first place"
Then, he got to the nub of his hubris, fear will stop the drug dabbling. If ferocious punishment hangs over us all, then there will be no needle and damage done.
Addiction is a fiction. Peter Hitchens seems an alien to empathy. It would have bee interesting to hear a hint of the research that has led to this conclusion, and it was one with dogmatic certainty, but none came forth.
Paxman looked jovial, jabbing to create the maximum entertainment from something that would have no educational value.
It descended into a silliness of name calling, flat jokes and po-facedness which is often considered to be a perfectly acceptable substitute for evidence.
"He must know what he's talking about look at his serious face and furrowed brow."
The winner was Twitter trends and Newsnight's iplayer hits. Baroness Meacher came out reasonably unscathed, trying to offer actual information. I would like to have heard more, but this was just a soapy celebrity spat.
Is it better to have fewer people watching, but actually be fed something to chew on, or have a bigger audience who leave with every preconception intact?
The shallows seem so safe, but by playing in the shallows, by not offering the risks of depth, will TV just evaporate. Even the most important stories will be dealt with with such frivolity, no one will care. All life must come with a laugh track, the canned laughter of daytime sitcom, the joy of My Family.
This blog post first appeared on Robin Ince's personal blog HERE.
New tour for 2014 - Sheffield, Norwich, Nottingham, Salford and the rest, plus tours with Josie Long and Grace Petrie and Skeptics in the Pub visits. Details HERE
Happiness Through Science DVD (w/ Prof Cox commentary) HERE