E4’s dystopian answer to Allen Funt’s programme

  • Featuring: Sir Michael Gambon (voiceover);
  • Episodes: 6 x 24 minute episodes;
  • Time: 2100 hours, Tuesdays (repeated on Sundays, 2330 hours);
  • Channels: E4 and E4+1;
  • Producer: Objective Productions for Channel Four Corporation.

The Luddites had a point. Not only for the amount of job losses caused by automation but also for the controlling nature in the pursuit of profit. William Morris, pioneer of the Arts and Crafts Movement bemoaned the rise of machines and how they undermined craftsmanship. J.G. Ballard recognised how modern life would lead to a dystopian vision of the future.

Today’s most accessible guide to mechanised dystopia lies in E4’s latest programme. Bad Robots. Though the façade is 2014, the belly and the guts has Bob Monkhouse’s, Jonathan Routh’s and Peter Dulay’s Candid Camera in its DNA. And it works, very well to devastating effect.

Created by Nathan Eastwood, it shows unsuspecting members of public getting to grips with technology. The first episode shows our victims facing a theory driving test, trying to send a parcel and getting to grips with automated bellboys.

It all sounds very run-of-the-mill, but the objects they face up to wreak all sorts of havoc. The automated bellboy has a poor grasp of the English language. A passport photo booth tries to peddle anything other than passport photos. An office DAB receiver plays nothing but Rednex’s Cotton Eye Joe. An automated franking machine not only overcharges, but also crushes items.

All of the machines are manufactured by the fictitious TezCorp (sounds a little familiar?) corporation. The way machines try our patience is on satirical terms. A lot of people can relate to the Royal Mail’s postal prices; many of us have sat in a photo booth bewildered by the wealth of options (99% of the time they want a passport photograph or four!).

Everybody regardless of age and class has had their fair share of technological tropes. If you don’t remember Trigger Happy TV or Candid Camera or have had your fair share of mishaps with technology it is well worth watching. Instead of Mr. Routh or Monkhouse saying Candid Camera and providing the links, each new device and/or prank is introduced as a mock-commercial.

Though a lot of the humour and reaction comes from members of the public (the real stars in the piece), there’s also an underlying point. Is technology here to serve us, or do we kowtow to the machine?

Highly recommended.

S.V., 17 November 2014.

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