Arts

Television: Who won the debates – Punch or Judy?

I know, I know: the last thing you want to think about now is the EU referendum. But I write this column before the week to come… so this is the first (and I promise) the last chance I’ll have to comment on the referendum TV. Then we shall never speak of it again.

It was a tough one for the broadcasters. In a general election the votes split several ways and there’s room for nuance. In a straightforward choice between Yes or No, however, things became very black or white. Throw in the desire for entertainment and what you got was something more Punch and Judy than educational, at a time when many viewers complained they were looking for facts.

Who won the battle of the debates? Not ITV, which struggled to bring a panel of politicians to order on a set that looked like it was modelled on Fifteen to One. This is why the BBC’s David Dimbleby should never retire: he has the gravitas to interrupt and correct politicians without being accused of bias. His interviews of Michael Gove and David Cameron were unexciting only in the sense that Sky News had got there first – in a series of bruising encounters with Faisal Islam in which the presenter appeared rude rather than just combative. Perhaps the real star of the whole debate season was Eddie Izzard, who displayed his EU internationalism by appearing on Question Time dressed as an air hostess.

Joey Essex made a one-off special about the referendum, which was an odd watch. Back in my day, interviewers who embarrassed politicians by asking stupid questions were spoofing the elite. Think Ali G. Now, however, they genuinely know nothing and that, rather than the politician looking confused, is the joke. Referendum sitcom Power Monkeys, meanwhile, was Channel 4’s attempt to update Drop the Dead Donkey for the Cameron era – and it largely worked. Nice to see incisive satire still rolling along.

But if it was light relief you were looking for, the most fun was to be found with a bottle of brandy and Love Island on ITV2. Twenty boys and girls compete for cash by pairing off with each other, some quite sexily. We now live in Aldous Huxley’s worst nightmare.