Monday, January 20, 2003 by

Being dubbed a flop by the rest of the world, RI:SE is taking its revenge by speaking ill of it. First came the comprehensive failure of its debut last April, where by deciding to go for a “soft launch” the programme merely succeeded in providing no obvious reasons why all those who tuned in on the first day should ever watch it again. Each subsequent relaunch also failed by neglecting to demonstrate any immediate evidence of an improvement, and therefore left viewers feeling short-changed and insulted at being told there’d been a change when clearly the overhauls had proved nothing.

Now has come what you’d think – and hope – is the final throw of the dice. RI:SE has decided to stop regarding life as an uplifting brew of pastoral landscapes where technology harmonizes with nature and everyone’s so nice that there’ll even make cups of coffee for you. Instead the world is a place of freaks, of crazy character personalities both famous and infamous, and where the obvious meeting point of where-it’s-at cultures, lifestyles and fashions is on the top floor of Whiteley’s shopping centre in Bayswater. A shot of this location greeted viewers at the start of the first transmission from RI:SE‘s new home. Remote, grimy, and shrouded in the darkness of the pre-dawn, it was the last thing you wanted to see on a TV screen first thing in the morning.

Edith Bowman, the one survivor from last year led us rather self-consciously throughout the new set, and also behind the scenes, through the make-up suites, the green room, and even the production gallery. Not only did this feel rather desperate, as if to try and convince the viewer that RI:SE‘s credibility was somehow demonstrated by the number of corridors you had to walk down to get from hospitality to the studio, but it also displayed a rather half-arsed grasp of perception, as if we were supposed to be impressed with the fact that the programme’s shower facilities hadn’t been built yet.

In fact, the show’s entire new location failed to translate into anything endearing on screen. With its cavernous interiors, cold wooden floors and spiky furniture, the studio had an air of icy functionality. No feelings of warmth or welcome seemed to reach through the TV set and encourage you to feel accommodated, reassured, or safe amongst friends. Instead a horrible clinical, sterile fug emanated from the walls, which mixed with the ridiculously artificial and incredibly noisy “happenings” at the breakfast bar to create a very sickly confection. Just a quick glimpse of the set made this viewer feel almost tense and nervous, as if stumbling upon an overlit and ultra-shiny operating theatre, the purpose of which can only be guessed at from the presence of suspiciously gentle beeping and whirring machines. It’s the old fear of being taken in by appearances – that beneath the dazzle and veneer lurks something altogether more unpalatable, even sinister.

Cue Iain Lee. In almost any other context on any other channel you’d surely have considered him one of the last people most suited to pilot a live, daily breakfast programme. Cynical, unsympathetic, spiteful and something of a bully on camera, you’d have thought Lee’s previous TV performance militated wholly against the medium of early morning telly, where talking at rather than down to viewers is vital, and large doses of humility, sincerity and infectious enthusiasm are essential. But this is RI:SE, where the illogical and unfathomable run free, and where history has repeatedly suggested how neither Channel 4, Sky or Princess Productions seem able to learn that the very worst thing you can put on breakfast television is somebody who cannot help but appear to be obsessed solely and wholly with themselves.

Sure enough, all those familiar Iain Lee traits and foibles, honed with grisly precision on The Eleven O’clock Show, were in evidence again here, but writ large upon a canvas suffocating in its scope and pretension. So we had the assumption that not one second of airtime must pass without it being filled with the sound of his voice (“Make yourself, er, comfortable because I’ll be back in, erm, a bit for a bit more … “); a predilection for scoring points off his fellow presenters; and above all the preposterous presumption that the practice of substituting calculated offensiveness for telling proper jokes is laudable and hilarious.

None of this came as much of a surprise given Lee’s track record, but was all the more objectionable for appearing to be so more blatant and unrestrained. RI:SE‘s format, which has always been fatally locked into the performance of its presenters, has now given Lee permission to exercise his base prejudices to their limit, and in turn exorcise charm and respect from any scene in which he appears. Moreover, by appearing to dominate every shot he is in, and refuse to concede any limelight to his peers, Lee is equating the programme, its identity and tone and aspiration, wholly with himself and no-one else. It’s now Iain Lee’s RI:SE, in other words, and you must watch and experience the programme on nobody else’s terms but his.

Of course it’s not just the presenters and set that have been changed for this new model RI:SE; the running order itself has had a complete overhaul. Sadly, however, this latest incarnation failed to offer up yet again any distinctive elements to generate enough buzz to make it a programme that demands to be watched. There was also nothing here which other shows and channels had already done, which isn’t itself unusual, except RI:SE singularly failed to do any of them any better, and all of them far worse.

The news bulletins were isolated completely from the rest of the show, and delivered by an anonymous woman simply called Zora, who looked as if she was reading a poison pen letter on her autocue rather than the headlines. These updates were so marginalized as to lose all significance and perhaps by design were immediately forgettable. That staple of breakfast programming, the paper review, has become a premier feature to a greater degree than even The Big Breakfast attempted during its later lamentable years. It was even rolled out in two sections, both as tedious as each other. The first came replete with its own “host” who simply handed the newspapers to Iain Lee who then read out headlines and went, “Oh, really” or, “And why not?” repeatedly. The second found Iain and Edith at a table, again looking at the headlines, but this time Iain went, “This is fantastic.” We can do this sort of thing at home, and probably have 20 times more fun into the bargain.

There was also an OB outside the shopping centre that involved a bloke interviewing, of all people, a flower seller. “Iain’s Top Five” was a Letterman-esque rundown of five topical words which were themselves supposedly to be inherently funny, but somehow were not. Guests dressed the set in the same way as the anonymous crowd of twentysomethings at the breakfast bar, sipping cappuccinos and talking way too loudly to each other. Never mind the way this screwed up the sound levels for the entire show, it was a device totally ill-suited to TV at this time of day, being simultaneously exasperating and soporific; plus the way the camera kept randomly cutting away to a long shot of the bar, i.e. an assortment of unknown heads, assumed we cared about these strangers. Finally there was the simply rank “Textecution” game, which took an age to explain, even longer to conclude, and which by inviting viewers to text in the name of one of five contestants they disliked traded in the lowest of all emotions: hatred.

The last half hour, hosted independently by Mel Geidroyc and Sue Perkins, was an improvement, but only truthfully by way of being more focused and organized. The pair’s self-conscious patter, endless courting of the frivolous, plus their melodramatic matronly turns of phrase exhibit their professionalism, sure, but also the fact that they’re doing exactly the same act they did five years ago, only less convincingly and without the subtlety. Quite why they’ve felt it necessary to let themselves be seen as reluctant saviours of such an unsalvageable wreck of a programme is a crying shame.

It’s difficult to get truly angry about a programme like RI:SE anymore. Instead, with the show continuing to resemble such a vapid, soulless product, anger gives way to a more potent yet equally pronounced sadness. How can failure exist, and continue to exist, on such a grand scale? It’s then you notice that the centrepiece of RI:SE‘s set comprises two chairs positioned in front of a French window – the arrangement pioneered by The Big Breakfast, and to which that programme always ended up returning after each of its bungled attempts at a relaunch – and you cannot help but conclude that the excitement, innovation and wonder that have characterized the bulk of breakfast television’s 20 years on air seem to have been snuffed out for good.


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