January 28, 2010

Coming of Age

Coming of Age
2 out of 5 stars


Sometimes, TV can’t be taken too seriously. Yes, it’s great that Mad Men’s back for a third series, that those angsty Skins kids will be snorting and self-harming their way to university and that Paxman’s perennial sneer is forever imprinted upon the hollow soul of the BBC, but sometimes it’s nice to lose yourself in half an hour of complete banality. Yes! From the makers of ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’ comes the second series of ‘Coming of Age,’ a yoof sitcom that follows the oh-so-hilarious tribulations of five sixth form students.
However, we are being led to believe that the monster that is Recession-bot 3000 wants the BBC to take television more seriously. The Policy Exchange recently concluded that the BBC should cut the amount that it spends on popular entertainment and shows for 16 to 35 year olds and concentrate on providing a better quality output instead of chasing ratings. It also stated that money spent on reaching 16 to 35 year olds would be better placed on E4 and Channel 4 than it is on the BBC at the moment. Of course, being the cynic that I am, I tend to disagree. The BBC is a multi-faceted organization, with a platform for intellectual programming on BBC4, (‘Alice Sommer Herz at 106: Everything is a Present’ anyone?) popular entertainment on BBC1 and BBC2 and youth programming on BBC3. Heck, they even have BBC Parliament. If the Policy Exchange is concerned with wasted money, they should look no further than BBC Parliament. I don’t know why anyone would want to sit around and watch the televisual equivalent of a bunch of bleating walruses flogging themselves, as if we need any convincing that our parliament is little more than some perverse foreplay. I digress.
I spoke to Tim Dawson, the writer of ‘Coming of Age’, this week. Tim is a man who is, as one short search on Google reveals, widely applauded for achieving success as a scriptwriter at a young age. The first series of ‘Coming of Age’ was commissioned when he was just 19. Now, this makes me a little jealous. I am fast approaching the big two-zero and I have little more to show for myself than a dirty bedroom and a dubious collection of Victorian masks. Of course, I asked him the obvious question: what is the best way to break into the industry? He dutifully replied, “I had dinner last week with a very respectable writer who show ran Cheers in America and we were talking about this. He said no-one’s written a great script that hasn’t been made. So that’s all you have to do – write a great script.” Simples. So young, so wise...
More to the point, I asked whether he thought that programs such as ‘Coming of Age’ are vital to maintaining the diversity of viewers that the BBC should be striving to attract to which he responded, “I think BBC3 is an exceptionally entertaining and adventurous channel which I’m delighted Coming of Age is a part of.  The future of the BBC lies with the younger generations, therefore it’s imperative that we are catered for adequately.”
Which I agree with, in part. I wholeheartedly support BBC3 for employing new, fresh talent like Tim, but I also believe that it shoots itself in the face with a lot of the programming choices that it makes. It is home to the much maligned ‘Dog Borstal’ and programs that we have to look forward to include ‘I Believe in Ghosts: Joe Swash’. This might just be my own personal taste, but the prospect of watching an hour of someone who used to be in Eastenders walk around a house is totally unappealing, not entertaining and unlikely to attract viewers.
But I’ve been wrong before. You may or may not remember my denouncement of ‘Miranda’ a few weeks back, but Tim shocked me when he revealed that, “Miranda was both a critical and ratings success and is returning for a second series on BBC Two.” The further revelation that “My Family regularly draws 6 million viewers and 22 new episodes are currently in production” was even more shocking. I had no idea that it was still on TV, let alone that it was still inordinately popular. Tim refutation that the sitcom is still popular is drawn from “simple logic: if a genre is popular it is by definition relevant.”
‘Miranda’ and ‘My Family’ are both programs which are outmoded and feel stale. I truly believe that they only exist to be derided by joyless beasts such as yours truly, novice television critic. But why shouldn’t they be on TV if people are watching them? Who am I to say that people can’t watch TV that makes them happy?
Whilst I’ll admittedly be snorting along with the Skins kids, imitating Paxman, buying a vintage 60s ad-men suit and avoiding the BBC sitcom at all costs over the coming months, I concede that programs like ‘Coming of Age’ have their place. Tim asserts that “I think there’s plenty of room for us all.”And why not? ‘Coming of Age’ is fun enough, heck, I even laughed with it. It completely lacks pretension and is reassuringly human. If you don’t want to take television too seriously, ‘Coming of Age’ is the perfect show for you.

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