Outside the Box – Football on TV: A shortfall of laughs as Redknapp, Corden and co play the fools
In these bleak, recession-hit days of austerity and hardship, we are all frantically searching for ways to forget our woes and feel a little better about things. Often, we look towards our local footballing heroes for an escape, but even that’s turning sour right now. A game seemingly awash with gamesmanship, back-biting, violence and most distressing of all, the alarmingly stark rise in racially aggravated incidents leaves us drained patrons looking elsewhere for a good time.
Thankfully TV is generally quite accommodating when you want to cheer yourself up. You’re never too far away from a oft-repeated episode of a classic British sitcom or at the very least one of the 73 daily episodes of Friends. If you’re not in the mood for sitcom, the usual alternative is one of the plethora of panel-based quiz shows that clog up the schedules like a bundle of humorous hair in the dirty sinkhole of television. Football and the wider sphere of sport have been fairly well represented in this panel show format. A Question Of Sport continues into its 108th series looking as sprightly and youthful as presumably it did in 1856 when it was launched. And who can forget the masterful late night version in which they booted off the pantomime dames, wheeled in the naughty comics and changed the name to They Think It’s All Over? A symphony of sports-based glee, They Think It’s All Over has never been bettered in combining legendary sports figures like Lineker and Gower with thrilling, cutting-edge comedy. Well until it’s stuttering final series or two when all the good ones left and Ian Wright was left jabbering away to himself.
The most recent addition to the sports quiz genre is Sky’s A League Of Their Own; the knockabout, sports-based panel show presented by rotund overachiever James Corden. Now into its sixth series, ALOTO is the antithesis of the twin pillars of A Question Of Sport and They Think It’s All Over in that its no longer really a quiz, and it’s not particularly funny either. This is largely down to it’s cuddly host Corden, who seems to have convinced the nation that he is some sort of comic messiah despite the notable lack of wit or indeed talent at his disposal. I simply don’t get it. I could stand in a room with Peter Crouch for Comic Relief and call him tall, and I wouldn’t offset the money raised by clearing out the buffet table either. At times it seems that the person most impressed by Corden’s comedy is the man himself; his uncontrollable giggling spews from his fatuous features before he even has the chance to share his ‘joke’ with the rest of us.
What of the show’s other miscreants? Well my old sparring partner Jamie Redknapp seems to be having a whale of a time. This is possibly because it’s the only day of the week he steps into a Sky studio and isn’t the most intellectually challenged person in the room; that dubious accolade goes to either Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff or more likely whichever numbskull producer suggested Corden as host. But good ol’ Jamie is just happy to be away from grouchy Graeme Souness for an hour and he plays his part well too. He laughs along at Corden’s jokes and all the casual swearing, despite the fact that many of the barbs flying though the air from Corden or Scouse funnyman John Bishop are at Redknapp’s expense. He’s also willing to reveal juicy snippets from his glitzy world; for example this week he told us that Usain Bolt once mistook Redknapp for his father. Now that really is crueller than any crack I could make isn’t it?
Of course, ALOTO is not a completely joyless endeavour. Some of the sporting greats they get on such as this week’s Olympic hero Mo Farah raise the spirits. And the always amusing Bishop raises the laugh count when Corden gives him a chance to speak. The thing is, whether ALOTO started as a comedy sports quiz to rival They Think It’s All Over or not, the plain truth is that they’ve elbowed almost any trace of the quiz aspect off the show altogether and instead arse about for an hour each week. This dilutes the enjoyment for me because I could achieve the same results by spending the time looking at You Tube videos of cats playing the recorder; or Robbie Savage being levelled by referees, they’re always entertaining too. But, while there is a lack of other viable options, and with the need for a good giggle being more crucial than ever, ALOTO might just have to do for now. At least until Nicklas Bendtner returns to Arsenal from his loan spell abroad - then they’ll be plenty to laugh about.