What is that feeling? Not tiredness exactly, more just a weary acceptance that things are never going to change. It’s the feeling I imagine you get just before you drown, where you realise that you’re not going to be able to swim any more and so you just give up.
It’s a feeling, we’re used to. When we see gross corruption or growing inequality. When we say to ourselves: “this is not the olden days, we live in a modern time that should be full of wonder and betterment and innovation, and instead things just seem to be getting worse.” In Mark Fisher’s wonderful and downbeat book Capitalist Realism he distills this new kind of ennui. It’s not just that we can’t fight against capitalism, but that we can’t even conceive of or imagine any other system which could take its place.
It’s how I’ve felt as the slow dribs and drabs of information have trickled through about the reviving of “one of the touchstones of 90s TV”, the “anarchically unpredictable” TFI Friday, hosted by Chris Evans. In the late-90s, it came to set the bar for a new kind of youth television, and now it’s coming back, just without the youth. The revived show airs tonight (Friday) at 9pm on Channel 4.
Let me be clear, I think TFI Friday was a great show. I was pretty young when it was first on but I’ve watched a lot online since then and I love the way dispenses with so much of the framework of television. This is a world where we have to deal with Graham Norton’s awful monologue jokes and the limp, deeply unfunny sketches, or the sideways look at the election every channel tried to do a version of (the worst of which was a Jack Dee vehicle during which I’m sure the concept of time ceased to exist), so the idea of doing something that just feels funny the way your funny mate is funny makes a lot of sense. TFI booked some exciting artists, and pushed the boundaries of taste in a novel way.
But the return of TFI Friday isn’t going to be groundbreaking TV, it’s going to be a bunch of old white millionaires laughing at themselves while they rub their tired and expanded guts. It promises the return of noted producer-puncher Jeremy Clarkson and a purely technical ‘Oasis reunion’ between Liam and Bonehead. In prep for the show Chris has been doing a series of Youtube videos with celebrity guests. In a bastardisation of the concept of comedy, titled "The TFI Epic Monday Challenge", Chris cackles hysterically as he challenges a group of middle aged men on a yacht to get chocolate from their forehead to their mouth without using hands, like people you hate do at Christmas. In another preview video, Chris has this hilarious back-and-forth with noted Conservative party member Kirsty Allsop.
This isn’t going to be car-crash pre-pub TV, it’s going to be just another entertainment format where annoying pricks mutually massage scripted banter from each other’s veteran mouth holes. Maybe that’s ok for a one off nostalgia fest but, as has already been announced, the one off could just be softening the ground for a full run next year.
Doesn’t that make you feel like you’re drowning? Like time is standing still? Like things will never be better than Shaun Ryder saying something mildly unexpected in a fake pub? None of the reasons that people liked the original TFI - young bands, an uncertainty of what may happen, a taking-back of TV from a different generation - can be true of the new format.
So, is it my generation's fault for not creating anything as good as TFI? Is it fuck. We’re creating things as good as TFI Friday all the time - be it last year’s groundbreaking music series Four To The Floor on Channel 4, to the unique interview tehcnique of Nardwuar, to Big Narstie's Uncle Pain monologues, to the genius format of Literary Death Match to PC Music’s perfectly insane take on a TV channel, to Red Bull’s genuinely thrilling Culture Clash. And it’s great that we can make outstanding late night TV and internet funnies. But why is primetime entirely closed off to us? The best you can hope for is a three minute slot on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe. Otherwise it’s just more nostalgia, more Kirsty Allsopp and Gok Wan, more fucking Jools.
The saddest thing is this isn’t the first time Chris has tried to bring back TFI in one guise or another. In 2005 his production company created OFI Sunday for ITV. It was widely criticised for being horrendously indulgent, only featuring guests Chris was mates with, based around obtuse in-jokes that were only funny to him. It was a ratings disaster and cancelled after five episodes. Chris currently performs a watered down version of TFI Friday on the One Show, where he shows up once a week to do badly thought-out real people bits like talking to couples that met on Valentines Day - it’s the sort of thing even Eamonn Holmes would balk at.
Even TFI Friday was just a straight rip-off of his Radio 1 breakfast show at the time. It was the same “zoo” like format where the production team all had roles, the same shtick. Chris Evans has basically had one idea in his entire career and he’s repeated it every time he’s skint or bored, always with evermore diminishing returns. Why do we have to put up with that? Why do we have to keep swallowing the rotting hand-me-downs of previous generations? Is it so bad to want your own future?