PA­TRICK FREYNE

The mes­sage of the Tele­tub­bies is ul­ti­mately a pos­i­tive one: sup­port nu­clear power; do not lis­ten to the evil wind­mill; heed wise Jim Broad­bent

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - POP CORNER -

I’ve been look­ing for­ward to the BBC’s gritty HBO-friendly re­boot of Tele­tub­bies for some time (Mon­day to Fri­day, CBee­bies). I was hop­ing that it’d be this decade’s Bat­tlestar

Galac­tica. I wasn’t dis­ap­pointed.

Act 1: The sun rises over a spare and des­o­late land­scape. The sun has a hu­man face, which is, de­pend­ing on what you’ve taken, de­light­ful/ night­mar­ish. There are rab­bits and trees sur­round­ing the Ne­olithic burial mound in which the Tele­tub­bies dwell, but it soon be­comes clear that the Tele­tub­bies them­selves are the apex preda­tor in this un­usual en­vi­ron­ment.

Out they come – obese, furry, haz­mat-suit-wear­ing in­no­cents with ar­cane sym­bols on their heads and a lim­ited vo­cab­u­lary.

“Tinky Winky says hello to Dipsy,” ex­plains God/the nar­ra­tor.

“Eh oh, Dipsy” says Tinky Winky.

“Dipsy says hello to Laa-Laa,” says God.

“Eh oh, Laa-Laa,” says Dipsy.

This goes on for some time.

Af­terthe nu­cle­ar­win­ter

Over the course of each episode the Tele­tub­bies toy with beloved items – a scooter, a hand­bag, a hat, a wa­ter­ing can. Ob­ser­vant view­ers, how­ever, will note that there is no sign of the in­dus­trial so­ci­ety re­quired to make such things. They are rem­nants of the old world.

In an­other episode, Dipsy wa­ters his friends’ cho­sen arte­facts with his wa­ter­ing can caus­ing them to grow big, thus demon­strat­ing the man­ner in which physics op­er­ates now.

The writ­ers are not afraid to deal with con­tem­po­rary is­sues ei­ther. In one episode, the Tele­tub­bies are dis­tracted by the emer­gence of flow­ers. Po’s favourite flower is a red flower that looks very like a poppy. The rest of the Tele­tub­bies choose dif­fer­ently coloured flow­ers, pre­sum­ably be­cause they hate the troops. Not to chip in with too much back­story, but I sus­pect that in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of

Threads (the 1984 Baftaw­in­ning pre­quel to the Tele­tub

bies) the Tele­tub­bies had good rea­son to hate the mil­i­tary.

The Tele­tub­bies are not en­tirely alone. They re­ceive oc­ca­sional di­rec­tion from the ac­tor Jim Broad­bent via a com­mu­ni­ca­tions periscope jut­ting from the ground. This leads, I pre­sume, to the bunker where he and the last of the hu­mans live.

Broad­bent’s char­ac­ter is un­named, so I’ve de­cided it’s the civil ser­vant he plays in the ex­cel­lent BBC spy drama

Lon­don Spy (BBC, Mon­day), which also started this week. It’s clear from the way he talks to the Tele­tub­bies that he likes them, but ul­ti­mately fears them and how they have in­her­ited his world. He’s no fool. He will not be lured from the pro­tec­tion of his bunker by their child­ish horse­play.

The quar­tet also, omi­nously, get sig­nals beamed from a nearby wind­mill. The way it’s shot sug­gests that this is a clue to what has hap­pened to the world we know. Yes, it was the wind­farms. The wind­farms went men­tal, thus end­ing the age of man and ush­er­ing in the age of Tele­tubby. The com­muni-

Jez and Mark: the morally weak and the weakly amoral

cations from the evil wind­mill usu­ally in­volve the hu­man chil­dren who are trapped in the Tele­tub­bies tele­vi­sion stom­achs. Th­ese brave tots are doomed to re­play the same ac­tions again and again. But the Tele­tub­bies don’t mind. They enjoy Beck­et­tian lev­els of rep­e­ti­tion. For ex­am­ple, in the third episode this week, Dipsy chooses to re­peat­edly ride the lift in their hovel rather than an­swer the tele­phone to Jane Hor­rocks. He an­swers it even­tu­ally.

Jane Hor­rocks just wants to tell the Tel­letub­bies to dance. The hor­ror has driven poor Jane Hor­rocks mad. I hope she’s in the bunker where Jim Broad­bent can look af­ter her.

Most Bri­tish chil­dren’s pro­grammes have a strong ide­o­log­i­cal mes­sage at their heart. Bob the Builder, for ex­am­ple, is a Thatcherite paean to free-en­ter­prise and self-suf­fi­ciency, while Fire­man

Sam is a cut­ting satire of pub­lic spend­ing and the in­ter­fer­ing nanny state (in Bob the Build

er’s world, trou­ble­mak­ing urchin Nor­man Price and the other flammable free­loaders of Sam’s home, Pon­ty­pandy, would be left to die as na­ture clearly in­tended).

The mes­sage of Tele­tub­bies is ul­ti­mately a pos­i­tive one: sup­port nu­clear power (as rep­re­sented by the baby face at the core of the sun); do not lis­ten to the evil wind­mill; heed wise Jim Broad­bent as he speaks from his cave of sor­row; and trust that you’ll al­ways be able to build a life for your­self in the ru­ins of your par­ents’ world. Eh oh, in­deed.

Tragedy re­peated is com­edy

Speak­ing of Beck­et­tian dystopias, has an aca­demic ever sug­gested that the two acts of Wait­ing for Godot are back-to-back pi­lots for a sit­u­a­tion com­edy? If not, I bags that the­sis and an hon­orary doc­tor­ate from Tele­tub­bies’ Univer­sity.

Com­edy is tragedy re­peated in 30-minute chunks. The ever bril­liant, also re­turn­ing Peep

Show (Wed­nes­day, Chan­nel 4) is ar­guably 24 times bet­ter than Wait­ing for Godot be­cause it has thus far re­peated its de­press­ing con­ceit – that its POV he­roes are barred from hap­pi­ness by their own dys­func­tional per­son­al­i­ties – 48 times.

It’s still very, very funny. Mark (David Mitchell/up­tight/ ashamed/morally weak) and Jez (Robert Webb/de­luded/ shame­less/weakly amoral) re­unite for Su­per Hans’s stag party (and yes there are mild spoil­ers ahead). Jez is liv­ing in Su­per Hans’s toi­let. Mark is work­ing for John­son in the bank and avoid­ing his new Wil­liam Mor­ris-ob­sessed flat­mate by play­ing Candy Crush on the toi­let (“This is the con­fus­ing high­point of western civil­i­sa­tion”).

By the end of the first episode, they’re back liv­ing to­gether in co-de­pen­dent mis­ery, be­cause, frankly, we wouldn’t enjoy them if they were happy. Oh, and Su­per Hans starts the episode “on the juice” and ends up back on the co­caine.

Pre­dic­tion: if we ever get an episode of Peep Show from Su­per Hans’s point of view, the sun will have a smil­ing baby’s face.

It’s clear that Jim Broad­bent likes the Tele­tub­bies but ul­ti­mately fears them and how they have in­her­ited his world. He’s no fool. He will not be lured from his bunker by their child­ish horse­play

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