Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer bounced back onto BBC2 on Wednesday night with their resuscitated 90s panel show, Shooting Stars. The hosts' questions ("Jeremy Kyle is king of the Gypsies: true or false?" and "Name someone with a face") were pleasingly snigger-worthy. But watching this pair of greying coots trot out familiar catchphrases and routines prompted more groans than guffaws. The One Show's Christine Blakely suffered through Reeves hackneyed letching and thigh rubbing, while Mortimer's unadventurous brown shirt and sallow complexion screamed, "I'm too old for this! Call me a cab." It was half an hour of predictable, awkward irreverence. What was fresh, edgy and hilariously perturbing 15 years ago now seems stagnant.
It feels unkind to crucify Vic and Bob for their uninspired revival. Few comics have the self-awareness to admit that it's time to get out, or the talent to successfully update. And it's not their fault that they keep getting hired. It's a commissioner's job to keep things moving, and resurrecting a programme without insisting on a fresh twist is timid and idle. But it's typical of how broadcasters now like to do business. New talent is dumped on multi-channel while terrestrial is reserved for pricey, tired and tested turns. Instead of promoting exciting unknowns in top slots on proper channels, quality properties like The Mighty Boosh and Pulling are left to suffocate on BBC3.
Mainstream programming has become relentlessly nostalgia-driven, which means too much effort and money goes into keeping duff, out of date acts (French and Saunders, Lenny Henry, etc) on the payroll. Even The Office, whose creators loudly talked up their decision to take it off air before it went bad, is getting in on our lazy nostalgia obsession: watch out for the episode marathon and premature cast reunion on BBC2 this Sunday.
Reeves himself recognised the "stale" state of British TV comedy in a recent interview. He likes The Mighty Boosh, but thinks comics like Michael McIntyre are old fashioned. Quite right. And nothing, he says, has ever come along to replace Shooting Stars. Again, he' got a point. So you can understand why, having identified a slump, V&B; are desperate to help snap us out of it. They just haven't noticed that Shooting Stars itself is a little old shtick.
Commissioning editors need to grow a pair and demand that established comedians freshen up. Or better still, they should dump the old boys and hand primetime over to the newbies.