It's fair to say that we don’t have much satire on TV at the moment. The only shows that I can think of are The Last Leg, The Mash Report, Mock the Week and the last bastion of satirical panel shows Have I Got New For You?
So, are we really beyond satire now? Have things become too surreal? Well, I’m not so sure. In no particular order, here are ten shows that I think need a revival in these turbulent times:
Dead Ringers (TV) 2002 – 2007
Even though we still have Dead Ringers on the radio, where it has become a permanent and beloved fixture in the Radio 4 lineup, Dead Ringers had in fact originally made the move from radio to TV back in 2002.
There it remained, satirising TV, celebrities, and politics for five years. The troupe consisted of Jon Culshaw, Jan Ravens, Phil Cornwell, Kevin Connelly and Mark Perry, with a huge all-star behind-the-scenes writing team, including Simon Blackwell and Jon Holmes.
One of the greatest things about Dead Ringers was how accessible it made satire. Balanced nicely with parodies of current TV shows and even pop music, Dead Ringers had its finger on the pulse of popular culture. My favourite sketches used to be the Menzies Campbell sketches where the former Lib Dem leader was depicted as an old grandpa on a rocking chair.
Although obviously one big problem with satire is that it dates very quickly, not all sketches have. Take a look at this classic sketch parodying Question Time, and look out for John Finnemore asking a question.
Ballot Monkeys 2015
Back in 2015 (which isn't that long ago, but feels as if it’s a million years ago politically), Channel 4 commissioned Ballot Monkeys. It was a sitcom following the campaign teams for the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems and UKIP aboard their campaign buses in the run up to the 2015 general election.
The teams managed to fall out with themselves, leading to complete meltdowns. What it really highlighted was that most of the time the teams hated their own parties more than that of their rivals.
Written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, it featured an all-star cast including Hugh Dennis, who headed up the Tory team, and Ben Miller, who led the Lib Dem team, and ended up having a nervous breakdown.
The show managed to throw shade at everyone. In a particularly clever move, it was recorded very close to transmission, to make sure that it had up-to-the-minute satire.
It became so popular that a spin-off Power Monkeys was commissioned. However, without the focus of the election, and a new focus on Russian diplomacy it didn't have the same spark. But wouldn't it be great to see another series of Ballot Monkeys in this climate? I'd love to see what the characters are up to now...
ScreenWipe 2006 – 2016
When it comes to unflinching, cutting-edge satire, you can't get much better than Charlie Brooker and his collection of shows that commented on current events. Brooker's ScreenWipe, his annual take-downs of the year, and his spin-offs, such as How TV Ruined Your Life and his role on 10 0'Clock Live (more on that later) were all platforms where he tore down politics and just about everything else on TV. But more than that, he looked at the psychological impact of what the news was telling us and what we were watching.
These days, Charlie Brooker is an international star with his satirical Black Mirror dramas. However, we miss his analysis. The last ScreenWipe review of the year was 2016. Please come back, Charlie; we need you now more than ever...
10 O’Clock Live/The Alternative Election Night 2010 – 2017
Channel 4's Alternative Election Night back in 2010 started something quite special. The idea to offer us an alternative to the normal quite dull shows that give us the results of something so important was a bit of a game changer. David Mitchell, Charlie Brooker, Jimmy Carr and Lauren Laverne were all on board, and the idea sparked 10 0'Clock Live.
10 0'Clock Live ran for three series, and was split into various segments. A political rant from David Mitchell; a ScreenWipe-type segment from Charlie Brooker; then a sketch from Jimmy Carr (he'd usually find a way to get dressed up, much like he does in 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown). Then there were serious interviews between David and a guest. I have such fond memories of 10 0'clock Live, and it is sorely missed.
Although 10 0'Clock Live ended in 2013, when the 2015 general election rolled around, Channel 4 continued its alternative election night, this time with David Mitchell and Jeremy Paxman. They broadcast throughout the whole night from 9pm - 6am. The unlikely team proved successful and they returned again in 2017.
These election nights managed to strike the perfect balance between comedy and serious analysis. Amazingly, their election night coverage beat ITV's and Sky's in the ratings. With many pundits saying another election is likely soon, I'd wager we're most likely to see them again. Start learning those words to Mr Bombastic, Mr Paxman. Just watch the video and you'll see what I mean…
Bremner, Bird and Fortune 1999 - 2010
Although Rory Bremner had previously made his name on his own with The Rory Bremner Show and Rory Bremner, Who Else?, a team up with the 'two Johns' Bird and Fortune proved to be his most successful vehicle, and pushed him into focusing on satire alone, rather than mixing it up with celebrity impressions.
Bremner, Bird and Fortune gave us no-holes-barred pure satirical comedy. This was a show for people who knew their politics. It ran for 16 series, but finished in 2010. Following the sad death of John Fortune in 2013, no more episodes were produced, but it would be nice to see what Bremner and Bird would make of the political scene now.
I always enjoyed the song parodies the best - there was a fantastic rendition of David Cameron singing 'Common People’, and here, from the last days of Gordon Brown’s premiership, you can see him attempting to emulate Susan Boyle singing 'I Dreamed A Dream'.
The Day Today 1994
The Monty Python of satire shows, The Day Today changed the landscape of modern satire. Chris Morris played his role as a news anchor perfectly straight, and it also introduced the world to Alan Partridge. Despite being 25 years old, it's still genius, and you'll usually see clips being used on Twitter to satirise today's news.
The gang recently reunited to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the show, so although a return seems very unlikely it's possible, just as long as they haven't lost the news...
The Thick of It 2005 – 2012
Armando Iannucci's The Thick Of It was essentially the modern-day version of Yes Minister but with a lot more swearing. Peter Capaldi's Malcom Tucker (the much feared No.10 director of communications) expletives-filled rants became iconic and the show had an all-star cast of performers and writers, including Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell on the writing team and Roger Allam, Rebecca Front and Chris Addison in the cast.
Could The Thick of It ever return now though? When Armando Iannucci was asked about it recently he said this:
"It's not on my agenda, no. If we came up with an episode where the Prime Minister was coughing throughout her speech while the letters on the wall behind her were falling off, you'd think 'no, that's just basic'. We'd shred that storyline,"
He's got a point.
Spitting Image 1984 – 1996
You might say that Spitting Image is the most famous satire show of all time. It became one of the most watched series of the 80s and 90s and even spawned an unlikely number one record with the Chicken Song...
But after all these years, should a return to puppet-based satire be attempted? Well, there was an attempt back in 2016 with ITV's Newzoids. It was a valiant effort, using a combination of puppetry and CGI, but it ended up more like a reboot of 2DTV than Spitting Image. ITV have pretty much moved away from comedy output these days, but if they ever decide they want to bring back the puppets, I'm sure that we'd all like to see them give it a go.
The Comic Strip 1982 – 2016
The Comic Strip, originally a super-group of comedy performers (consisting of Adrian Edmondson, Rik Mayall, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, as well as many others), has a long and varied history. Starting with their loose parodies of the Famous Five books, such as the first, Five Go Mad In Dorset; each Comic Strip episode stands alone as a mini TV movie. Over the years, the cast, writers and even the channels have changed numerous times, but satire has remained at its core.
It used real and quite unbelievable facts about politicians and exaggerated them to great length. For example, John Major's father Thomas Major had previously been a circus acrobat, so you can imagine what fun they had with that! A 1992 special for Comic Relief saw John Major trying to run away from his dad's circus to start a new life as a Tory MP.
More recently, we saw The Comic Strip Presents...The Hunt for Tony Blair, a parody of a black-and-white 1950s detective noir movie. It sees Stephen Mangan play a skittish Tony Blair absolutely perfectly as he goes on the run from no-nonsense cop Inspector Hutton (Robbie Coltrane).
Will the comic strip return again? A few years ago a new one popped up on UKGold: Red Top, which satirised Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks. So you never know where, when and what the comic strip team will present next...
The New Statesman 1987 – 1994
The New Statesman was ITV's answer to Yes Minister, and what a great answer it was! Rik Mayall was Alan B'stard, the despised Tory MP, across 4 series as we followed his career. In a case of life imitating art the final series follows this storyline:
A special Conservative party conference is called to vote on Britain's continued membership of the EEC (European Economic Community). Alan leads the campaign to leave. John Major resigns as PM, and a snap general election is called. The Conservatives then split into two - a Pro-European Federalist Party and a new Patriotic Party led by Alan B'stard. B'stard then makes the case for "Brexit". It's quite extraordinary!
The original writers of The New Statesman (Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran) had expressed interest in bringing back the show a few years ago, with the son of B'stard, but it was eventually shelved as they couldn't find anyone to step into the great Rik Mayall's shoes. You can read a little bit more about that here.
What do you think? Would you like to see any of these satirical TV shows back on our screens?
Written by Rhianna Evans