TV UK, 27 August

There have been enough August TV repeats to wear the tapes out.

Rob Lyons

Topics Culture

People often complain that there’s nothing on TV. In August it’s actually true.

You get the impression that this is the month when anyone with any authority in TV goes on holiday, leaving a junior videotape operator in charge with instructions to just show repeats and 20-year-old films.

This can be a dangerous business. If they rerun Only Fools and Horses one more time, the tape will wear out and it will be lost forever. Not only would we lose any evidence that in its early days it was actually quite funny, which it ceased to be around 20 years ago, but it would only encourage them to make another excruciating Christmas special.

At a time like this you have to give thanks for the Olympics, even if the BBC’s coverage is about as risqué as Songs of Praise – even down to sharing a presenter (the godly world record holder in the hop, skip and jump, Jonathan Edwards). With the Olympics, you get real drama: El Guerrouj finally winning an Olympic gold to hang with every other possible 1500-metre title you can think of, the barnstorming machismo of the men’s 100-metre sprint, and the Greeks finally winning something (the women’s 400-metre hurdles) to get the hometown party going.

Unfortunately, there are a limited number of awe-inspiring moments of physical achievement. Too much of the rest is guff.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Ben Stiller’s latest film, Dodgeball, in which a bunch of hopeless misfits compete in a pointless sport where the aim is to not get hit by the ball. The championships are shown on the fictional channel ESPN8, with the tagline ‘If it’s nearly a sport, we have it here. No, if it’s nearly a sport, it’s in the Olympics.

So Wednesday night saw a kind of stock car race for bicycles in which two members of the same team play tag while trying to avoid falling off. This was called the Madison. We got a bronze – a performance matched in a form of windsurfing called the Mistral. Are these real events, or new cars from Vauxhall?

Unfortunately, I seem to be making a habit of catching the windsurfing and missing out on much better things, like a 17-year-old kid beating the living daylights out of a chap from Korea. I’m sure this kind of thing happens all the time, and there’s probably a video called True-Life Assaults on Koreans out there somewhere. The Olympics gives us the opportunity to watch with a clear conscience, as long as it’s done in a boxing ring.

What a good thing that, after a night out on Tuesday, I could come home to an episode of The Sopranos, lovingly taped by Her Indoors. If summer is the time when you show reruns, or dump shows you don’t really care about, why has The Sopranos been put on now? The normal occupant of this column is up in Edinburgh, along with all the TV executives who aren’t holidaying in Tuscany – why would they put on a show they cared about if they won’t get a chance to watch it?

In the latest episode, Uncle Junior, the nominal head of the family, is starting to lose his marbles, wandering off lost, and repeating things he only just said. Tony is upset: why does he always repeat the nasty things? ‘Don’t you love me?’ he asks.

No, Tony, I don’t think they do.

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