Being Quizzical

This blog was never supposed to be for me to write down random thoughts that occurred to me. That’s what Twitter is for, apart from anything else. But some thoughts are longer than 30 or so words, and I still feel the need to write them down. So I’ll pretend it’s a serious TV review.

The problem is, I think I might be TOO quizzical. Some family members have been telling me this for years, but today’s unlikely catalyst for self-analysis is Sir Christopher Meyer, whose series “Networks Of Power” was recently rerun on Sky Atlantic.

We’ve got to the stage of Christmas where I feel that trying to work is more pointless than not, so I embark on a general tidying-up, and one of the things to tidy is the 20% of the Sky+ Planner that isn’t really there for Mrs Q and me to watch with a cup of tea and too many Mint Cremes. Meyer’s series falls into this category, partly because it’s politics, but also partly because we both started watching one last night and very rapidly reached our collective tolerance point for gratuitous references to “beautiful women”.

I tried again this morning, probably due to a sense of duty that this is the kind of thing I should watch if I want to know what’s going on in the world, as opposed to any real hope that it would be genuinely revelatory. But Meyer’s first meetings were in a cliched black Mercedes with a cliched ex-KGB bloke, and then with a socialite journalist in a flat which managed to be minimalist yet convey opulence, who tutted about ranks of military vehicles “spoiling the view”. Fortunately for Sir Chris, she arranged a meeting with “a young woman – beautiful of course”, who was apparently his next step on the road to meeting the people who matter.

At this point, the quizzical bit kicked in. Firstly, was this all bollocks? Secondly, how had the rest of the world reacted to it the first time it was shown? Because what I was seeing was a sub-Palin rehashing of stereotypes, laced with plenty of excuses for leering (albeit mainly in voiceover – presumably less likely to get a slap that way).

I flicked through the episode guide to see what the others promised. My fear that Meyer was leading us – or being led – up the garden path was not in any way allayed by the presence of Louise Mensch in the London episode. Here, in the one place I know anything about, our host talks to a (then) Member of Parliament who is renowned for, to put it kindly, inconsistency and a lack of empathy. How can I have any confidence that he’s presenting a balanced picture of the other places?

At the time the series was released, Decca Aitkenhead of the Guardian interviewed Meyer. Unsurprisingly, his producer (unnamed and unable to stand up for themselves) is blamed for the “beautiful women” thread – more pleasingly, the interviewer captures my concerns perfectly with the sentence “There is a curiously fictional quality about Meyer’s charisma”. That’s exactly it – there isn’t any real sense that the man or his subjects are anything other than parts of a story that someone wished to construct.

It’s unfair, of course, to condemn a six-hour series on the basis of the 30 minutes that I managed. But that’s the problem – once the quizzical chip takes over, I can’t “enjoy” the rest of the show, because I’m constantly working out which bits are embellished or “editorially framed” (like Top Gear putting the scenery shots in in the wrong order in their “races”).

I don’t know if that’s a fault or not. It makes some things quicker to watch but less edifying than they might have been. Sometimes it might be nicer to disconnect it, but I don’t think “Networks of Power” warrants much further investigation.

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