Put the Now Show out of its mediocrity

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The show was great but is now banal and complacent. It’s time for Radio 4 to ditch it.

I can understand why the commissioners at Radio 4 want to keep the Now Show going. It’s an institution. It began airing when Clinton was in the White House and has clocked up a remarkable 44 series since. It is one of the channels most recognisable programs and the live recordings are very popular. And most of all it has produced some phenomenal comedy.

Take this wonderfully vitriolic skit about BT by Marcus Brigstocke:

Or John Finnemore cutting to the core of the Eurozone crisis in the funniest way possible:

Or loads of stuff from Mitch Benn:

Nonetheless, the show’s existence should not be dragged out into a second Clinton presidency. When I listen to new episodes my main impression is how stale it’s become. After two decades, Punt and Dennis seem to be on autopilot and lacking in new ideas. A joke whose punchline can’t be guessed by the halfway point is a rarity indeed.

I meant to write this piece a week ago. However, last week’s episode made so little impact that by the time I began drafting, I’d forgotten what was in it. So this week I made a particular effort to remember what I heard. And you know what? I still can’t find much to say about it. It keeps going for half an hour because it needs to not because it wants to. The best part was Mitch Benn returning for a song about the recent spate of celebrity deaths but it felt like something produced by a Mitch Benn tribute act rather than the man himself. In recent years the best parts of episodes have often been the guest comedians. This week Jessica Ransom had some good material about Sam Smith incorrectly claiming to be the first LGBTQ person to win an Oscar and she was the only person to bring any sense of freshness (or indeed diversity to the proceedings). But she meandered and was undermined by her doubts about whether or not to skewer her subject. For the remaining twenty or so minutes Punt and Dennis just seemed to be avoiding dead air. They seemed out of their depth trying to do a Stewart/Colbert style interview with an academic expert on AI. Overall, it just reinforced my impression that the show now aims for polite chuckles rather than proper laughs, and can only get those with jokes that are apparently delivered by rote.

Despite this the Now Show remains one of the greatest shows in Radio 4’s history. Nonetheless, if something has ‘Now’ in the title, it can’t seem stuck in the past. If Punt and Dennis have mentally checked out, they should be encouraged to actually do so. The Now Show might seem like a dependable staple but these days its achieving consistency mostly in mediocrity. It’s time for the BBC to go on the hunt for a new format with some new talent and a renewed edge.

Cable from Korea #3: decidedly fishy

Visiting Jagalchi fish market

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When I was eight or so, I insisted on my parents decorating my bedroom with fish wallpaper. They agreed to this, presumably in part because they loved me but I suspect mainly because it was an easier request to comply with than getting me a pet shark – which I was also constantly asking for. Suffice to say my younger self was really – and randomly – into marine biology. I wish I could have taken him to Jagalchi fish market.

Strangely given that I live in the mountains, it is a little odd that I can get there on the metro. But while Busan may reach up into the mountains, it’s the sea that defines it. For example, the roads are packed with lorries carrying shipping containers bound for places like Barbados. It even has a Maritime Museum. So it’s fitting that one of the main tourist attractions is somewhere selling fish.

 

Like an enormous amount of fish. There are dozens of stalls on two floors (plus the streets outside) each with shelves, tanks and boxes jammed with all kinds of aquatic life. As well as the kind of things that come to mind when someone says fish, I also saw octopuses, lobsters, crabs the size of coffee tables, plaice, eel and some rather gross looking sea worm things. There’s also a floor of seafood restaurants and a whole other market devoted to dried fish. But that’s less interesting because by the time fish are dried they don’t squirm, gulp or in the case of one enormous crab appear to be climbing out of their tank.