Thursday, March 30, 2000 by

The Radio 1 series Blue Jam (1997-99) was Chris Morris’s timely abandonment of the tired formulae of “satire”. It had to happen.

Brass Eye would have been impossible to surpass on its own terms, the Tory government whose final desperate years had been so perfectly defined by On The HourThe Day Today and the ‘Eye had fallen. At a time when Ol’ Dirty Bastard can cover Phil Collins’s Sussudio, you can understand Morris thinking that characters like Fur Q, with his gangsta-rap take on Easy Lover, would now seem tired and predictable.

So Blue Jam was created, 18 hour-long programmes where the soft, gentle music of Serge Gainsbourg, the Alessi Brothers, Stereolab, Plone and, brilliantly, John Lennon’s No. 9 Dream (among others) sucked you in, before sketches which seemed to normalise the most disturbing human impulses (doctors fighting their patients, a middle-aged couple burning their house down and talking calmly of killing their children, the infamous “fights” organised between babies). It was arguably the most disturbing of Morris’s projects, because with Brass Eye you somehow expected to be shocked, because of the ridiculously, parodically upfront, in-your-face presentation, and the amount of hype that had surrounded it beforehand. Blue Jam crept out with very little hype, and you’d listen to it, almost relaxing … then you’d hear some of the most chilling statements ever made on British radio.

So now it’s been transferred to TV, under the title of jam. Having already heard some of the music used (the instrumental version of, I think, Jim Reeves’ I Won’t Forget You and Morcheeba’s The Sea) on the radio show, and having heard some of the sketches in their audio form, the first two episodes were slightly predictable at times. The TV version of the “The car was four foot long … fucking Noddy!” sketch, from series one of the radio version, looked exactly as I’d imagined it would, which may show that Morris’s actions have become relatively easy to predict.

With each episode half the length of the radio show, extended sections of music have sadly disappeared. Which is a shame – the new Saint Etienne single, How We Used To Live, is perfect for such quiet subversion, and I’ve always wished he’d use Marshall Hain’s Dancing in the City (the line “… and steal your soul away” could be, if played over the right image in jam, as scary as anything ever recorded).

Things like “marrying yourself” and being “buried in your prime”, while still unsettling, are ultimately Morris-by-numbers (although the use of Abide With Me in the latter sketch has worked its way into my mind). But there have been great moments, especially in the superior episode two – the man leaving his wife giving birth and having sex with the midwife, the recurring use of the rude, incompetent doctor who gets away with it because of his reassuring, calm, quiet manner, and “The Gush”, with its loss of all sexual control. All quintessential and superior Morrisism, which makes up for the weaker moments and makes me realise why I’ve anticipated this series for so long.

It’s just important that we have what is almost Cubist television, which plays havoc with the rules of appearance, manners, shape and form. The use of Minnie Riperton’s Loving You in episode one, with the “squealing” middle eight sung over and over again by a grotesque-looking woman being continually beaten by a naked man in some kind of rainforest, was incredible. As a brutal recontextualisation, soiling and forever polluting every “innocence” we imagine in the past, it topped even his perversion and dirtying of the Alessi Brothers’ Oh Lori on the radio show.

Whatever my personal feelings might be (and I thought series three of the radio show was substandard, and quite predictable in places), I’m glad it exists, this anthology of weird normality, this compendium of universal pathology. It makes you think that there are other ways of being out there, that there are lives a million miles away from what most of us would regard as “normal”. And, however unpleasant the fact might be, the thought is, in the most twisted way imaginable, comforting.


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