My wife is a wonderful woman, but she’s not without her faults. For instance, she owns an album by the Dixie Chicks. She’s also got a weakness for British TV.
Before we go any further, I should note that there is nothing wrong with British TV, as a matter of fact, British TV is responsible for some of the best comedy moments ever, (Monty Python, The Office, The Young Ones). Alas, the Brits crank out more than just absurdist humor. They also produce a lot of costume dramas and murder mysteries.
I’ll deal with the last category first. Our TiVo is clogged with British murder mysteries. They have names like Murder City, Midsomer Murders, and Murdering Murder Murderess Murder Murder. Julie’s favorite is Midsomer Murders, a show where a frumpy detective named Barnaby solves mysteries in a rural English county. The body counts are extraordinarily high in this show. One person gets pushed off a rooftop at the start of the show, and before the hour-long program is over, a half dozen eccentric country folk have met an untimely end. If the show is, indeed, an accurate picture of English country living, one can assume that the entire population of rural England is murdered every year. Leading cause of death in the countryside: blunt force trauma to the head. Candlesticks are especially deadly out there.
Then you’ve got the costume dramas. If there are powdered wigs and elaborate, uncomfortable costumes to be had, Julie will consider it entertainment. It helps, also, that she has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the British (and French) monarchy. She’ll be watching a show on Queen Elizabeth and be spouting off facts about who hated who and what sorts of intrigues were going on in court.
I spend a fair amount of time making fun of Julie for her viewing habits, but I’ve realized that there’s no small amount of hypocrisy in this. You see, I’ve got a favorite British costume drama as well, and the new season just started this week. I’m speaking, of course, of the British House of Commons; specifically a weekly 30 minute ritual known as Prime Minister’s Questions.
Every week, the Prime Minister is dragged in front of the House and subjected to a 30 minute grilling from the MPs (that’s what the Brits call a Member of Parliament… it’s amazing what you can pick up on C-SPAN). While that may sound as dull as a presidential press conference, rest assured it’s not. It’s huge fun. (Although not quite as fun as the South Korean National Assembly, which sometimes resembles a pro wrestling cage match.)
This show has everything. For starters, there’s plenty of drama. There are a few hundred MPs, but only three who matter. First you’ve got Tony Blair, once the Labor Party wiz kid who led his party out of the wilderness. Now he’s an embattled leader defending an unpopular war in Iraq and his close ties to an unpopular leader on the other side of the Atlantic. He’s still one flash debater, but he’s slowing down a bit, and he may have just been stabbed in the back by his #2 guy, Gordon Brown.
While the ruling party is squabbling over who gets to take Tony’s place next year, the Conservative party, once the refuge of pasty old white men who flogged their servants, now has a n
ew leader, David Cameron. Cameron, whose youth and dashing good looks remind many of Tony Blair in his prime. Cameron, who is boldly leading his party into the political center. Cameron, whose embrace is tender, but still firm enough to let you know he’s a man… perhaps I’ve said too much. Whatever the case, he’s one fine debater in the Commons, unlike his predecessor Michael Howard, who had the demeanor of your grumpy Uncle Angus.
Then there’s good ol’ Menzies Campbell (Ming to his friends), the leader of the Liberal Democrats.
The Lib Dems are the third party looking to play with the big boys. They were once led by a man named Charles Kennedy, who had a very silly Scottish accent. I miss Charles Kennedy.
Each week, Cameron finds some saucy way to ask when Blair is stepping down, Campbell asks Blair why new-Labor is morally bankrupt, and Blair spends his answer time explaining why he’s better than them.
Then you’ve got the rowdy backbenchers. They ask Blair lots of silly questions and yell “here, here” a lot. A typical exchange might go a little like this:
Backbencher: Mr. Speaker, will the Prime Minister explain why he opposes giving aid to sacked auto-workers in my constituency? Will he also explain to me why he is so heartless, and so stupid? Will the also explain further why he is so ugly?
(“Here, here! Here here!”)
Blair: I would remind my honorable friend that the party opposite opposes the aid as well, that the party opposite strangles puppies, and that my honorable friend was pictured in The Sun Wednesday French kissing a Latvian hooker!
(“Here, here! Here here!”)
I’ll take 30 minutes of this over a whole season of Survivor.
The other big draw for PMQ (the cool kids call it PMQ) is the accents. In America, we usually only hear two types of British accents, the BBC newsreader accent, and the “My Fair Lady” Cockney accent. But there’s so much more out there. If the Prime Minister takes 30 questions each week, you’ll probably hear 25 different accents, from Stuffy-Old-Aristocrat, to Sounds-Like-He-Was-In-The-Beatles, to Sounds-Like-Those-Guys-In-“The-Full-Monty.”
But the real prize accent is the Scottish accent. It makes me giggle. I just can’t help it. I badly want to visit Scotland, but I’m afraid I’d laugh at everyone. I’d be kicked to the pavement before I could explain, “it’s an affectionate laugh!” Several months ago, a Scottish MP (not to be confused with a member of Scottish Parliament) said the words “Tesco Superstore,” during PMQ. I just about peed myself with joy. Just try it, try saying “Tesco Superstore” with a Scottish accent. It’s big, big fun.
Every now and then I wish we had something like this here in the US. I’d love them to haul President Bush into the House of Representatives once a week and give him a good grilling. Of course we’d get it all wrong. The House is run by the President’s party, so they wouldn’t ask any good questions. Furthermore, no matter who is in power, we’d find a way to make the whole process sleazy, mean spirited, and basically no fun.
The Canadians have a version of PMQ, but it’s pretty boring.
So the Brits are the only game in town, and that game is back on this week. Play on, Brits, play on!
Labels: brits, politics