Unspun With Matt Forde | TV review by Steve Bennett

Unspun With Matt Forde

TV review by Steve Bennett

A bold commission from what was once the home of the repeat, an ultra-topical political show recorded the night before transmission.

Unspun wit Matt Forde is being touted as Dave’s answer to the likes of American opinion-formers like The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It’s certainly embraced the tried and tested desk-and-guest format.

And what a week to launch, with the Keith Vaz scandal and David Cameron stepping down, though the show prefers to play the politics rather than the people, with just a couple of one-liners about these talking points before we plunge the opening section dedicated to grammar schools.

Then on to the junior doctors’ dispute with Andy Zaltzman – Oliver’s old mucker – finally finding a TV home for his trademark brand of smart, convoluted satire. Here he delivered his sarcastic lecture full of contrived metaphor from outside his garage, like a 1970s Open University lecturer on his day off. With his distinctive style, more of Zaltzman would definitely be a good thing, as getting on his wavelength pays dividends.

Maybe it’s the UK’s broadcasting laws about impartiality, but generally Unspun lacked the attitude and bite of its US counterparts. And despite running for an hour, twice the length of the others, the topics did not seem to be covered in depth, just a few minutes dedicated to each.

But even with limited time, Forde scored a few valid point, such as the bland sloganeering of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ without Theresa May defining what that means in practice, but again the topic was dropped before getting in too deep.

Truth trumped the written gags, with one of the biggest laughs coming from the fact that the Jeremy Corby digital manifesto launch was advertised with a blackboard. And its website was bust. You couldn’t make it up. Nor the fact that Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte threatened to eat ISIS terrorists, or the bizarre far-from-medical report Donald Trump released about his health. Trump, of course, is the gift that keeps on giving for satirists, but just this one joke about him in this whole show. 

Perhaps Unspun  show can never be too vicious to the Parliament that feeds it, and indeed in a cosy arrangement has genuine MPs in the house band (should that be House band?). MP4 is a cross-party group formed a decade ago by SNP’s Pete Wishart, previously keyboardist with Runrig and Big County, and all four of them contribute some minor insider Westminster wit.

Additional contributions came from Francesco De Carlo in Rome, with more on the referendum, and Phil Wang as the ‘Asia Correspondent’ with a nicely arrogant report on how China is buying up British companies, one of the better contributions to the show. But not a single woman, despite Dave always getting the rap for such bias.

The litmus test for any topical comedy these days is: can it beat Twitter and come up with better jokes several days after the event than social media can do immediately? Possibly not, judging by their opening gag: ’David Cameron wants to spend more time with his children … just as soon as he remembers what pub he’s left them in.’ Or an ancient ‘pages stuck together’ gag about a sex survey. That research produced a lot of cheap jokes – so much for sticking to the policies.

Owen Smith had been due to guest, but he dropped out at the last minute. Forde joked the would-be Labour leader feared the media were portraying him as a bit of a lad… and had chosen to go to Spearmint Rhino instead.

Instead, we got former Home Secretary Alan Johnson, who is usually good value on the heavyweight political programmes and proved so here, too. opening with a good ‘drummer’ gag of his own (well, maybe it wasn’t entirely his own, but still landed) before plugging his books and being diplomatic on not blaming Corbyn for the Brexit result.

Forde is an affable and capable host who knows his stuff, as a former Labour activist who’s dedicated his comedy career to politics, with hit live shows and podcasts to his name, and is quick-witted in the interviews. But we could see more of his spot-on political impersonations.

But this fell short of the laughs of that old warhorse Have I Got News For You let alone its Stateside inspirations, even though it was  – as Johnson called Corbyn on the show – ‘perfectly pleasant’.

Could Unspun be a hit? It’s probably a hung vote; but it took the Daily Show years to get it right, so we – and Dave – need some patience with a weekly show.

Review date: 14 Sep 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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