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The greatest satire is vicious and no show was as cruel – and consequently, as funny – as Brass Eye.
Building on his BBC news parody The Day Today, creator and star Chris Morris refined that show’s elements into a format so controversial that, ultimately, members of parliament called for it to be banned.
Not since Fawlty Towers (1975) had a comedy cut such a swathe with so few episodes. The initial run, in 1997, consisted of just six episodes: Animals, Drugs, Science, Sex, Crime and Decline, each exploring topics beloved of the British tabloid press with its insatiable hunger for moral outrage.
Sketches featuring fake newscasters and documentary makers expanded upon – or, more commonly, obscured – each subject, but the true highlights were what got the show’s makers into the most trouble.
Posing as genuine journalists, they persuaded celebrities and politicians to hold forth about each show’s theme, often inducing them to read out prepared statements whose absurdity would have been obvious if the clueless marks had spent even a moment thinking about them.
This was precisely the show’s point: in our news culture, we want to be outraged more than we want to be informed.
With 2001’s one-off Paedophilia, Brasseye didn’t so much push the boundaries of taste as demolish them. Offensive? Absolutely, but never without purpose.
This unforgettable indictment of all that’s wrong in our news culture was fueled by righteous anger.