The Day Today Review
As with so many other comedies that originated on Radio 4, On The Hour was brought across to television with its team intact, having been given a pilot episode and a run of six shows to establish itself. Unlike so many other comedies, which made the leap to television, The Day Today was much more than a retelling of jokes from On The Hour and in as much as that earlier programme speared Radio 4 with a tip laced with poison, so The Day Today looked at BBC2 shows like 40 Minutes, Newsnight and DEF II and cruelly exposed them, trousers around their ankles and being sneered at by über-Paxman, Christopher Morris.
The real genius of The Day Today - and like On The Hour, the show is a work of genius - is twofold, both in its attention to detail and, like the US satirical newspaper, The Onion, such a love of language that entire sketches can be reduced into four or five words. Where, for example, The Onion can summarise entire articles with headlines like, Owls Are Assholes, NASA Baffled By Failure Of Straw Shuttle and, best of all, Amish Give Up: 'This Is Bullshit', Elders Say, so The Day Today offers such headlines as Bearded Cleric In Oily Chin Insertion, Crazed Wolves In Store a Bad Mistake Admit Mothercare and, returning to one of their favoured subjects, Portillo's Face Felt Like Guts Says Girl.
Not that these quotes cover The Day Today's most memorable moments, such as a sketch in which Alan Partridge prepares for the World Cup. Over a series of clips of shots on goal, Partridge lets rip with, "Striiiker!", "Eat That!", "Shit! Did you see that?!" and, most famous of all, "Eat my goal!", which inspired the much-played song by Collapsed Lung. Yet throughout the series, as well as much of Chris Morris' subsequent work, particularly the Radio 4 collaboration with Peter Cook, Why Bother?, the language has a level of invention that puts this alongside not only the greatest comedians but many of this country's greatest writers.
Then again, The Day Today was like no television show before it, many of which had glossed over the details in pursuit of a quick laugh. What The Day Today understood was that it is only in getting absolutely everything right, including the smallest details, that the show would be considered a success. Had you turned over to The Day Today five, maybe ten minutes in, with no prior knowledge of it, a moment or two would have passed in which you would be convinced this was a real television news show...then the doubts would creep in, "The police can't shoot dogs and pedestrians, can they?" It's only on realising that The Day Today is slight exaggerated that it opens up but otherwise, there was a painstaking attention to detail.
For example, in a preview of Attitudes Night, The Day Today looked back on a series of shows on BBC to examine changing attitudes. In Frampton Row, the first weekly series to use swearing, the purchase of a paper ends with, "Here y'are, ya big hairy cock. Ta ra, Sam!", which is met with the response, "Ta ra, ya shitter!" Not only is the language richly inventive but in only slightly exaggerates what you know to have been acceptable and only in its final seconds.
Elsewhere, it is the small moments, which can almost be missed, that stand out. Following Scrutineer, in which the host is fellated - very fashionable among young people - there is Channel 4's Kiddystare, in which a group of adults look on as naked two-year-olds romp for their pleasure. Attention to detail? The Day Today team remembered to put the '888' for subtitles in the corner of the picture when previewing both Scrutineer and the completely silent Kiddystare. They could have been forgiven had they dropped a detail or two but no matter the picture quality, the forced aging of the material, clothing or inflections in the speech, everything is just right. Even their habit of slipping in fake credits, usually to rock stars, is not allowed to pass with the blurry, faded credits to Hanging From Studio B12 (1953), listing Parliament/Funkadelic man George Clinton as the show's Home Office Advisor.
Equally worthy of comment is the dazzling knowledge of subjects covered in the news. Be it the intricacies of government, television, newspapers, religion or music, The Day Today quickly jumps between ideas and jokes with ease. Even in an otherwise slight four minutes in the second episode, Rok TV, The Day Today fit in the Euro-Dutch accents from MTV Europe's first years, Richey Manic's 4 REAL carving on his forearm, gangsta rap, the similarity between Charlie Drake and Mick Hucknall and perform a note-perfect take on Nirvana for an advert promoting panty-liners.
No matter the BBC's recent search for Britain's favourite sitcom, The Day Today was a greater comedy than all of them and as good as television has ever been both for the astonishing writing and performing but also for being so fond of television that it simply could not have existed as The Day Today on any other medium. For those reasons and for leaving only these six episodes, this is essential television and, in the near future, will be looked back on as the classics of television are now.
The First: As Price Charles volunteers to put himself in prison to highlight the poor conditions in Britain's jails, US death row prisoner Chapman Baxter chooses to go out from his in the manner of the King, gobbling down drugs and cheeseburgers until his weight triggers the electric current. Elsewhere, sports presenter Alan Partridge looks back at a summer of sport, wistfully remembering watching bare-knuckle boxing between two naked men in a barn in Somerset whilst BBC2 celebrates Attitude Night, featuring archive footage of Frampton Row, a studio hanging and Kiddystare, in which naked two-year-olds romp for the pleasure of adults.
Big Report: "Where now for man raised by puffins?" As politics reels with news of racist dances at the constituency of the junior health secretary, The Day Today's chief reporter, Peter O'hanraha-O'hanrahan, comes live from the meeting in which German finance minister Rheinhardt walks out, having apparently said to his colleagues, "Ich nichten lichten!" or, "I don't like it." Later in the show, The Day Today hands over to Rok TV, showing footage of US rapper Fur Q, a previously-unseen advert for Panty Smiles sanitary towels featuring Nirvana and a special appearance by the corpse of Ian Curtis before the show signs off with the newspapers, "Catholic Herald: Eating Turkey at Christmas Is Like Nailing An Egg To The Cross".
Meganews: As London Transport admit that packs of wild horses are roaming the underground, the home secretary plans on entering the tunnels to shoot the horses 'with a special gun...", the nation is plunged into crisis as prime minister, John Major, punches the Queen during their monthly meeting. As The Day Today show a film held by the BBC and only to be shown in times of crisis - "This is Britain, and everything's all right...It's okay; it's fine" - the Queen leaves Buckingham Palace for Downing St. where she will be permitted to return a blow to the PM. Following The Day Today's introduction of the BBC's new soap, The Bureau, set in a bureau de change, they report on Burt Reynolds' theft of a dodgem from Islington before setting off on a low-speed car chase on the M11.
Stretchcast: As the police are accused of stuffing prisoners with garlic and eating them, having tenderised them with a Bow Street Bastard, Peter O'hanraha-O'hanrahan loses the news outside of the Houses Of Parliament after letting the Minister For Ships leave during an interview. The Day Today report on the IRA's use of bomb dogs in London, including the cordoning off of a man who was thought to have eaten a bomb dog and receive a statement from Sinn Fein, having inhaled helium to sound more ridiculous. Elsewhere in the show, out-of-body experiences are investigated whilst Alan Partridge looks forward to a summer of sport with the World Cup. Eat my goal!
News: With a little provocation from The Day Today, it's war! Somewhere in the Pacific, cats packed with explosives orphan a young boy whilst, back in the studio, bomb-cams sit on smart missiles, showing the back of the enemy's throat as the missiles strike. Elsewhere in the show, reports come through of the pound having been stolen from The Bank Of England needing a new currency for the UK based on thousands of the Queen's frozen eggs. With clamping of the homeless, Paul Boateng offering his views on hip-hop stars Uzi MC and Norman The Tosser and a report on Schlemmel's Disease, with doctors saying that all their proposed treatments, "are rubbish", it's left to The Day Today to celebrate their efforts by offering a video called This Is Our War, featuring deaths, arrests, bombings and over a thousand pop classics.
Factgasm: With reports coming out of Buckingham Palace that the royal family culled over forty members of their staff, The Day Today also reports from Hampshire on a train that has been stuck for two days. With commuters forming factions - one wears blue ink on their heads, the other worships fire - a local farmer is captured having already heard the driver of the train killed and eaten. Elsewhere, there is a transport success as workers finally finish cobbling the M25 and The Day Today visit a management training course in which one employee will never be the same again...
Given the age of The Day Today, the picture ratio is in 1.33:1 and although it lacks the sharpness of many recent comedy shows, most of which have a adopted a style closer to film, the brighter, more plastic style of The Day Today is better suited to its twisted take on television news.
The transfer is good and the quality of the image is clear and not obviously affected by noise or blemishes.
Avoiding the remixing of the sound into 5.1 surround, The Day Today is presented in 2.0 stereo and sounds good, being particularly clean in the comparison between the dialogue and the exaggerated linking music between features.
The BBC are gaining slowly improving their reputation as far as DVD releases go and early publicity for The Day Today, which mentioned audio commentaries with Armando Ianucci and Chris Morris, looked to cement that reputation. Unfortunately, however, what was eventually released is nowhere near as interesting:
Extended Scenes: There are extended versions of both of The Day Today's tributes to 40 Minutes, The Pool (13m55s) and The Office (13m40s) and those familiar with these will quickly realise what has been put back in, including Steve Coogan's impersonation of a cockroach, the pool janitor's lost and found room and David Schneider being humiliated by being asked to come back into the newsagent to pay for The Mirror that he took without paying.
Pilot Material: There are two versions of the pilot show included here, one being the original show (35m25s) and the other being a Post-Programme Update (5m13s). Whilst the studio set improved from these pilot episodes by the time The Day Today was eventually broadcast, many of the news items, features and sketches made it into the finished show.
Mininews: About the time of The Day Today's original broadcast, material that was never shown within the six main episodes were shown as Mininews, including:
- 1 (2m40s): Alan Partridge reports from Wimbledon, commenting on the fallibility of computers, just like HAL
- 2 (3m15s): With the Department of Education banning ugly children from school, Alan Partridge reports from a rugby match.
- 3 (3m26s): With dentists reducing the number of teeth they'll treat to eight, Chris hits Alan with a ball before sending him off to the races.
- 4 (3m11s): With Frank Sinatra no longer famous, Chris asks Alan Partridge how much orange there is in a dead body.
- 5 (2m50s): The Day Today Newsdancer accompanies the headlines, Speak Your Brain and Alan Partridge's thoughts about a young tennis star being trained into little more than a 'tennis machine'.
- 6 (3m14s): Chris speaks to submacrewman Chesney Christ, stationed one mile beneath the ocean. Despite Chesney telling Chris that he's working in a fast-food restaurant, Chris is convinced he's talking in code.
AV Describers: Pressing the angle button during the third episode of the series on Disc 1 will show the AV Describers who will occasionally pop up and explain what's happening onscreen in what is almost the most pointless bonus feature to have ever been included on a DVD.
Morris/Partridge Chat: Go into the pilot menu, come straight back out again and Chris Morris and Alan Partridge will begin talking about what has happened since they last met, including the death of Princess Diana. With Alan Partridge using Bargain Hunt's David Dickinson to back up his conspiracy theory, this is not a bad extra but never as surreal as anything in the main show.
State Of The Union Address (4m06s): On the Mininews menu, go to the fourth bubble, press up and then enter and you'll be treated to a Chris Morris edit of a statement to congress made by Dubya in which the commander-in-chief threaten the western world, the environment and every child in the US with three nuclear missiles.
Po-Faced Analysis (23m36s): Originally made as part of an Open University series, this is a documentary on the production of news for television and how The Day Today exaggerated the spill of graphics and music to satirise the importance with which television news is taken. Alongside the director of The Day Today, Andrew Gillman, and a number of graphics designers who worked on the show, Rebecca Front is the only actor featured.
The Day Today Cast Reunion: Watch Po-Faced Analysis all the way through and let the disc return to the main menu. Leave the controller alone and a cast reunion will fade in with Morris still in love with Valerie Sinatra, both Peter O'hanraha-O'hanrahan and Brandt in wheelchairs and Alan Partridge having to make an important telephone call. Leave the controller alone when this finishes and Morris and Partridge will return for a further chat about the environment.
The Mark Radcliffe Show: Go into the Extended Scenes menu, press down from the Main Menu choice, then Enter and you'll be treated to an interview between Mark Radcliffe and Steve Coogan in the week that The Day Today was first shown.
Whilst the range of extras isn't bad, not when compared to so many other releases, they're largely baffling. Instead of making these extras available from a top menu, the BBC have hidden these off other menus with no reason why this should be the case. Go into this menu, back up, watch this, wait for two rotations of the menu and press up? Why? Because it's what the BBC expect of a Chris Morris/Warp DVD release? They would have been much better served had they included the commentaries, a number of episodes of On The Hour and a feature on the making of this show rather than most of this nonsense, hidden away with menus.
As great as the six episodes included on this set are, the extras are a shambles, which ultimately dampens the pleasure that was experienced on receiving this two-disc set. Whilst the six main episodes are wonderful, as are the six Mininews shows and the pilot episode, this doesn't add that much more than what is already out there on VHS, which is as good a statement of disappointment as one is likely to get as regards DVD.