the pursuit of British yoof
0 K, it's partly my fault. A couple of years ago I wrote a piece here about Ruby Wax, lamenting that a very talented performer and writer had never quite found the right niche on British television, and signed off with the promise that I would write something for her myself. I failed to do this, and now, despairing of ever receiving that call from me, she has accepted a voice-over job as the Pope in the upcoming BliC3 animated sitcom Popetown.
Perhaps you haven't heard about this. It's a Simpsons-style cartoon, scheduled for 10 half-hour episodes. in which bureaucracy and corruption are satirised in the context of a fictional Vatican in which the Pope is "an infuriatingly childish 77year-old whose every fickle whim must be indulged" (BBC press office). Greg Dyke has already been in receipt of a strongly-worded letter from the Three Faiths Forum, and doubtless more objections will follow, though whether the Beeb has deliberately hyped up the outrageous nature of the show in order to generate publicity for its largely unwatched "youth" channel is unclear.
So let's think for a moment about whether we should or should not be offended by this concept. The thing is a co-production between CHX and a French outfit called Moi J'Aime La Television, which itself raises an interesting issue: for France is a Catholic country, and so a satirical show about the Vatican would fall, over there, under the general heading of "anti-establishment". Here in established Protestant Britain the very idea has unpleasant overtones of persecutions past.
Then there's the question of how the humour will work. I think we can assume that Popetown is not aimed at the Catholic community here, Who might enjoy a comedy which relies on in-jokes to which only RCs would be privy. And the "young adult" audience for which BBC3 was so stupidly and needlessly set up is unlikely to be terribly well-informed about the Vatican, even down to where it is, let alone why it's there or who works within its bounds. If, as the BBC insists, it's all about the farce of power-juggling office life, then the setting will refer merely to what little young, notionally Anglican perception of the Holy See there is. The only reason for setting the thing in Rome at all will be the ignorant, schoolboy, giggling desire to shock to which lazy satirists have been prone since time immemorial.
Then there's Ruby. A Jewish woman voicing a senile Pope. Wot larks! And Jerry Hall, that wellknown character actress, in a major role as a fameobsessed nun. The biggest question is surely how this infantile tosh got commissioned in the first place. All right, I haven't seen it yet, but if the scripts are actually witty Popetown will fall flat on its face because its audience won't understand it, whereas if it's as bad as it looks from the publicity it will fall flat on its face because even what there is of the BBC3 market requires to be engaged, somehow, by what's going on on the screen. The only way it can fly is by pandering to the prejudices of our undereducated youth, in direct contravention of the BBC's remit to educate. But ultimately the truth remains that idiotic ideas like this could only sec the light of day in a technology-led environment in which we have far more television channels than we can possibly fill with stuff that's worth watching.
So we can expect Popetown, one way or another, to disappear (insofar as BBC3 constitutes appearance in the first place) without trace, remembered only by historians of television as a curiosity of the early 21st century madness of channel proliferation. I hope so. anyway.