After almost 20 years on the air, the hit BBC political comedy panel show Mock The Week is to be cancelled to make room for new programming.
This is understandably disappointing to those who are big fans of the series, many of who have predictably started a petition to keep it going. I was once such a happy viewer.
Indeed, one of my fondest memories of my long summer holiday in 2013 following leaving secondary school was watching several clips of the show on YouTube to entertain myself during that time. And no doubt the show has a large legacy – not lest of which because of the big-name comedians who became famous after debuting on the show.
However looking back, its cancellation can only be seen as putting the show out of its misery – mainly because it hasn’t been funny for years, and it is very surprising how long it has lasted, especially given how much sooner many of its competitors bit the dust in this ever-evolving world of show business.
And worse still, the series started its long decline pretty early on. After offering several funny and riveting seasons in the late noughties, the show faced a significant setback in 2009, whereby the show’s funniest comedian Frankie Boyle left. This was on the grounds that he wasn’t impressed with the show’s attempt to tone down the edgier jokes panellists were making, all the while being concerned that it was becoming a part of the general attitude of TV producers at that time which was not to ‘frighten the horses’.
From those who continued watching the show following his departure, it was obvious what he was referring to. In hindsight, much of Boyle’s humour, while doubtlessly in bad taste and often punching down too much for its own good, was often the highlight of the show.
With that out of the picture, not only was much of the show’s appeal gone, but it also had a noticeable effect on the tone. Much of the humour was reined, and a lot of bland, safe comedy filled the void (whether this was down to Boyle’s exit alone or the general attitude of the producers is unknown) of which saw the show lose much of its edge in the process.
While this left the show in a bland state it would never recover from, there were other problems that plagued it as well.
Most notably, the consistently changing panel (with Hugh Dennis – a much better actor than he is comedian – the only constant panellist throughout the show’s history) undermined the once strong chemistry that existed in the early seasons, leaving much of the banter and personal interaction on camera awkward and often painful to watch as a result. Not to mention that it made even talented comedians feel really out of place and made them look sucked of all life whenever they appeared.
Finally, it also succumbed to the fate of many of its contemporaries in the mid-2010s. Here, much of the show seemed to be more interested in propagating lame duck establishment views, especially in the cultural realm, whereby the politically correct and progressive narratives were not to be challenged or made fun of in any way. This was especially the case following 2016, whereby much of the cultural establishment adopted the #resistance mentality in order to cope – hence when Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton collapsed at a 9/11 memorial, comedian Ed Byrne joked on the show that even if she was ‘dead’, she would be better than her opponent Donald Trump. This has only been further confirmed by the likes of Briain, of who noted that Brexit was a ‘terrible idea’.
Not only did this add to a conformist attitude that has made much of the entertainment industry bland and boring, but given the majority support for the political decisions in question, it was clearly punching down, making it feel very elitist and out of touch. Case in point, when comedian Geoff Norcott joked that referendums being respected were ‘rare’ during the Brexit crisis, much of the audience audibly turned on him.
It is for all this and so much more besides that a show once laugh-out-loud could come to have some rounds that lasted 5 minutes feel like 5 decades due to how boring and vestigial it had become.
So long to Mock The Week, and the legitimately great first seasons it had. The remaining cruel irony is that while the show is over, Boyle’s aforementioned criticisms could easily be applied to the show’s biggest successes, like himself and Russell Howard, as they parrot the establishment lines on the likes of the Tories and immigration. Talk about not wanting to ‘frighten the horses’ indeed.