TV UK, 23 January
Kenyon's investigation of the state of the London Underground fails to go deep.
Kenyon Confronts (BBC1, Wednesdays at 7.30pm) is an early evening, lowbrow, light entertainment show, which passes off consumer outrage as investigative journalism. This week’s programme at least had some amusing footage of workshy workmen on the London Underground.
In the run-up to the introduction of Ken Livingstone’s controversial congestion charge for central London traffic, Kenyon investigated the state of the Tube, ahead of the equally controversial (not least with Livingstone himself) Public Private Partnership (PPP) regime. What private enterprise has already been introduced certainly hasn’t instilled ‘market discipline’. Kenyon’s undercover reporter joined a maintenance gang whose main activity seemed to be dodging work. The foreman advised his new recruit just to stay out of sight.
For several nights in a row, the gang descended into the Underground to replace a single sleeper, and we were treated to grainy footage of them lazing about on the platform, kicking the odd rail and shaking their heads. Sometimes they couldn’t get access to the tunnel they needed to get to, sometimes the job hadn’t been prepared as expected, but invariably somebody would suggest, ‘Let’s fuck off home, then’, before anything was done. On that particular job, they clocked up around 700 man-hours instead of the 60 that should have been needed.
No doubt it’s a bleedin’ disgrace and all that, but the story of one workshy maintenance gang ought to be little more than a footnote in any investigation of the state of the Underground under PPP. Maybe a footnote is all that can be expected from an early evening, lowbrow, light entertainment show, but Kenyon was wilful in his failure to investigate any further. He explained that PPP is too complicated for anybody to understand, so he didn’t try.
Instead, he stood outside Tube stations playing his grainy footage on a mobile jumbotron, and collaring commuters to demand outraged responses. Then he tried to doorstep the Underground bosses, failed miserably, and again resorted to the jumbotron, with about as much expectation of any outcome as Michael Moore or Mark Thomas taking on the global corporate conspiracy. The intention was not to explain or to challenge, so much as to grumble, like a weary commuter, ‘Typical, innit?’.
In this week’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Sky One, Thursdays at 8pm), a giant worm burrowed under the streets of Sunnydale, tearing up the sidewalks. This was the result of demonic caprice, of course, rather than Public Private Partnership. The new season’s Big Bad is still a mystery, though it seems to involve a synthesis of all Buffy’s previous nemesiseses (Buffyism).
For the first time though, there has been a direct reference to God and ‘It, the Other’. Neither has any sympathy for Spike, the lovesick but till now technically evil vampire who has had his soul restored in the vain hope of impressing Buffy. Now his mind is full of voices, all of them telling him to go to Hell. Love is a bitch.
The absence of cosmic justice has been a running theme of Buffy since the start. Buffy has been saving the world for years now. She has never been rewarded with genuine happiness, and now people are mistaking her for her sister’s mother. Typical, innit?
Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).