Monday, April 28, 2003 by Graham Kibble-White
“So what about that SARS then, eh?” Well, that’s not quite how Armando Iannucci kicked off the first episode of Channel 4’s new late night topical revue, Gash, but it was as near as damn it.
To be compared to your own body of work is surely an occupational hazard. Nonetheless Iannucci must be aware that with Gash he’s potentially revisiting territory adequately mapped out by his earlier Friday/Saturday Night Armistice series. Perhaps it’s fortunate, then, that whilst the Armistice was always fairly enjoyable telly, in terms of legacies there’s little to remember it by (bar Double Take which is making a lot of mileage out of the Armistice’s old “hidden camera” segment). Unfortunately, however, that’s not the only shadow jutting out across the landscape. There’s a fair more sinister shape here too in the form of The 11 O’clock Show. For Gash’s sins it’s in the same slot and shares the same remit as the risible “news alternative”, and that’s a grim inheritance indeed.
Thankfully, then, Gash avoids the sniping, plain unlikable nature exhibited by The 11 O’clock Show, making instead for the mild surrealism often essayed by Armistice. In its demolition of public figures and events it’s upbeat rather than snide, and that’s refreshing. However – and this is the pitfall potentially suffered by all topical shows – you can’t quite help but feel there’s also a whiff of desperation about the programme with its scatological attempts to land on as many communal and current touchstones as possible. Let’s talk about Saddam Hussein. DING! Let’s talk about SARS. DING! Let’s talk about 24-hours news coverage. DING! As such, Gash hit all the barn doors, but didn’t come out with any memorable gags. It’s parody of a news report filed via video-phone was a case in point. OK, we get the point, but we’re not actually laughing.
Nevertheless, despite the lack of funnies, this reviewer still found Gash to be amiable viewing. Iannucci himself is an engaging character onscreen, his line of thought is always interesting and surprising, even if he does rely a little too often on the old standby of – well – saying something that just sounds a bit stupid. Alongside this, there was the interesting dynamic of watching Iannucci plus guests Dominic Holland and Nick Wilty engaged in a kind of three-way sparring session; each trying to amass a respectable amount of funny-lines based around the subjects to hand. To his credit, Iannucci probably got the lion’s share here, often capping off a train of thought started up by one of the others.
So what’s the final verdict? Well, it may not be agenda-setting stuff but this I’ll still probably follow the series throughout the rest of the week. Like so much regular viewing on telly, Gash’s main strength has to be its ubiquity. Already it’s marked out as the programme I watch before the lights go off and I make my way up to bed. And for me, there it will stay, because despite the efforts of Armando Iannucci, my conversations are still far more likely to start: “So what about that I’m A Celebrity then, eh?”