I Love 1999

Saturday, November 3, 2001 by

Was it really only 16 months ago? In July 2000 BBC2 screened I Love 1970, the first instalment of what turned out to be a 30-part series – and whilst it’s almost too neat to refer back to this first edition as I Love reaches its climax (at least within it’s current format), it is instructive to measure how far the series has come (or fallen) since then.

“From start to finish I Love 1970 showed much the same sense of an attention to detail and careful research that there was on the Top Ten shows – no tired old clips wheeled out for the 100th time, no tired old celebrities wheeled out either.” That summation from OTT’s review of I Love 1970 has almost taken on its own quaintness – its own nostalgia. Since then the I Love strand has exhausted itself (and so it seems has the now lacklustre Top Ten). Where once it was an entertaining curio it is now a cliché – a recognisable franchise ripe for parody (cf. the upcoming TVGoHome series on E4). It’s the new “docu-soap”, the new Driving School, destined to be remembered as “what everyone was watching in 2001″.

Moreover, as I Love has charted out the 1990s, it’s transformed itself into everything it once wasn’t. The clips are now tired. The celebrities have become the same-old faces, now placed as sign-posts signifying what we are about to see/are seeing/have seen. Although in part it’s been a victim of its own success – establishing a durable format that has now became over-familiar – the ’90s series has lacked the depth of research evident in the ’70s and ’80s editions. It seems that there is no longer much love for the source material.

And whilst we’re dwelling on the problems of the series as a whole, it is worth noting that documenting the ’90s has proven deeply problematic for I Love as many predicted. It’s plainly the case that the recent past eschews being catalogued in terms of trends, crazes and moments shared en masse. We’re happy enough to reformat our childhood years into recognisable, communal touchstones, but when it comes to the recent past it’s all too much a part of who we are today. We don’t want our present selves sub-divided into neat little sections. We don’t want our current preoccupations or interests defined for us by Gregg Proops – it’s too complicated, too personal and grown-up for that. The process undermines our own sense of individuality and its irksome. Whilst we’re happy to have the ’70s dished up in the form of sub-headings that trigger happy memories, we’d rather the recent past was left to mature a bit before it enters the catalogue.

Thankfully I Love 1999 proved to be a slightly more stylish foray than recent episodes, but still failed to throw much at us that would stick in the mind after the credits had rolled. Building the programme around The Blair Witch Project proved to be a sound decision providing the episode and, more importantly, the year with a firm identity. Indeed, the section on Blair Witch was quite interesting, chiefly in that it featured a pundit getting dewy-eyed over a website – a TV nostalgia first perhaps, and certainly a juxtaposition that will surely be used somewhere to lambast this final edition.

Whilst the appraisal of Britney Spears was run-of-the-mill, the section on The Big Breakfast was slightly odd due to talk in the past-tense about the programme’s poor ratings – yet that’s the state of affairs in the present day too. However, it was great to hear Kelly Brook’s side of the story regarding her ill-fated tenure on the programme. Her recollection of telling her mother (upon joining the show) that she was going to be herself and everything would be “OK” was quite endearing. Best of all, for those of us who’ve grown to loathe the BB, was that the programme was by common consensus held to have acted contemptuously in its treatment of Brook.

For Russell T Davies it was a busy night as he bobbed onto screen here to contextualise Queer as Folk and would repeat the act just an hour or so later on Channel 4′s Top Ten. Alas there was little here to satiate those who already had more than a passing interest in the programme, bar the revelation that Davies equipped the character of Stuart with a jeep because a gay character in Byker Grove had driven one. It seems Davies’ long background in children’s telly has continued to advise his work ever since. Gina Yashmere, meanwhile, wanted to tell us that Stuart was a “cool guy”.

A section on Red Bull was business as usual and then we had a surprising finale centred around Baz Luhrmann’s hit Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen). This mawkish and overly sentimental track received a nicely taut summation, taking us from its origins in a Chicago newspaper to its realisation by Luhrmann as a tribute to his dying father. Throughout this sequence flashes from I Love the Seventies and Eighties began to appear. Drawing from what now must be a large cache of Super 8 style footage, I Love 1999 suddenly became self-reflective. Married to the music it flashed up various idents from the first episode onwards marking its own tribute to the I Love series as whole.

Faced with a footnote like this we could only reflect upon the history of the programme itself. It was a nice touch, an appreciation of the common ground shared by us and the programme. A history that spans back both 30 years and 16 months.

The I Love series, taking in all 30 episodes, has been a fantastic achievement even if the final 10 did cause us some concern. BBC Manchester should be congratulated for one of the most enjoyable TV “events” for a long time. However, with TV nostalgia set to eat itself here’s hoping this is where the story ends.


Comments are closed.