Squeamish About... | TV preview by Steve Bennett
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Squeamish About...

TV preview by Steve Bennett

In one of the few TV programmes that can be made in isolation, Matt Berry provides his peculiarly stressed voiceover to a patchwork of unrelated archive clips.

Squeamish About… is a follow-up to last year’s Road To Brexit in which the Toast Of London star first adopted the persona of ‘rogue historian’ Michael Squeamish to draw out the absurdity that was rarely far beneath the surface of the 2016 referendum.

Here, though, he’s even less securely tethered to his subject, the already nebulous theme of ‘entertainments’ providing only the loosest of constraints for his stream of surreal alternative facts.

The concept is enjoyably bizarre, and there are some jokes to be had with the disconnect between what he’s saying and what we’re seeing - that’s not the Angel Of The North! They are not the Beatles! Is that actually long-forgotten music hall act Declan Tilt and his Gay Dragons? 

The script, co-written with Father Ted’s Arthur Mathews, shows flourishes, especially with the comedy names, while Berry’s unmistakable vocal aeronautics – and terrible cod Northern accent – add to the Pythonesque tone. There’s even a segment on ‘vole-strangling’ which certainly feels like it appeared in Flying Circus.

But like the Pythons’ series there’s also a lot of self-indulgence around the moments of bonkers brilliance, while the lack of narrative focus – for example an atom bomb falling on Manchester to end the section on punk rock - means it’s easy for the attention to wander, even over 15 minutes. 

And some of the archive footage is so weird in its own right, you wonder if the truth mightn’t have been even stranger than fiction. Why were those  blokes submerging their heads in buckets of water as horses kicked them?

Yet the show did draw to an unexpectedly poignant conclusion as Berry deadpanned that ‘the year 2002 saw British entertainment draw to a close’. In his imagination, it’s because theatres and sport became old-fashioned, but the notion we’ll not be able to gather again for whatever frivolity is terrifically sad.

In the meantime, this irrelevant irrelevance will have to do us…

• Squeamish About… is on BBC Two at 10.30pm tonight.

Review date: 6 Aug 2020
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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