Sunday, 8 February 2009

The reason why the French invented existentialism

There is a distinct note of panic in the CFO's voice as he calls me in from the kitchen.

"Bébé? Please hurry. Don't leave me here alone".

There is a very good reason for his terror. In a minute "Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde" is starting on France 2. The remote control is not in his hand. If I don't come back, he might end up seeing a few seconds of it.

French tv is terrible. Saturday night tv the world over is terrible - a hideous, biblical punishment for anyone who is pathetic enough to be home on a Saturday night. But, oh, the worst thing in the whole world ever, is Saturday night on France 2. Saturday night on France 2 is designed to make you feel so bad about yourself and the fact you are at home a Saturday night, that after a few minutes, death seems preferable. You will question, despairingly, the series of choices that have led you to this moment. But there are no answers, only the menacing sound of an accordeon starting to play rugby songs.

The evening is hosted by this creature.

Patrick Sebastien for whom no evening is complete without a pair of false breasts, seven hundred off-colour jokes, some spandex and a multitude of joyful rugby songs. "Patrick Sébastien, toujours prêt à faire la fête" says the official commentary on France 2's website. Well, yes. To our eternal torment, yes. Reader, I do not believe in hell. But if it exists, Patrick Sébastien is running it and he wants us to get up and dance. I like to think, grand visionary that he was, Sartre was imagining Patrick Sébastien when he wrote "l'enfer, c'est les autres". If he were alive today, I am confident he would be lighting another Gauloise, getting Simone de Beauvoir to find his socks and intoning "l'enfer, c'est le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde".

Your evening will feature ALL of the following:

- an accordeon solo. Actually, make that five or six accordeon solos;

-clowns doing their immeasurably disturbing clown stuff. But French style (WORSE! Marcel Marceau didn't just appear out of nowhere, you know);

- several "risqué" circus act with bare breasted ladies and men in leotards;

- hilarious cross-dressing antics;

- communal singing of ribald rugby sounds to collective hilarity;

- surreally unfunny comedy duo "Shirley & Dino";

- a singing piece of sponge (I know - that could be good! Trust me. It isn't.);

- a wide range of French comedians. French comedians are the reason why existentialism was invented. The French needed a vocabulary, a discourse, if you will, to deal with the horror of their comedians. Yes. It is true. I will write you a thesis on it if you so wish.

The CFO and I are made of fairly stern stuff when it comes to television. We have not gone out on a Saturday night for very, very many years and we bear the scars. The weirdly immobile face of Charlie from Casualty holds no fear for us. We can watch Antiques Roadshow with equanimity, even a modicum of enjoyment. The CFO in particular has an endless appetite for bizarre Channel Five shows in involving large pieces of exceptionally dull machinery ("The World's Greatest DAMS/DUMPER TRUCKS/CORKSCREWS"). I have seen my share of Australian soap opera and I love something called "C'est du Belge" where you get to see around the hunting lodges of the Belgian aristocracy, and find out about the best way to prepare your speculoos. We aren't what you would describe as 'demanding'. But Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde is a quantum leap further.

I am telling you this as a public service. If you are ever invited by a French person to watch anything described as a "divertissement" or featuring Patrick Sébastien, just say no. Listen to this and you will no longer doubt me.

I defy you to tell me about a worse tv programme than this. Go on, go on, go on.


Lisa said...

I am going to take your word for it. I've just been listening to a cacophony of squabbling children, punctuated by siren and invectives hurled via Grand Theft Auto. I don't think I can take much more without alcohol. (She said, spying the bottle of red wine in the pantry.)

A Woman Of No Importance said...

I totally agree, JW - Death by accordion is not for the faint-hearted!

Franco/Belge TV always appears to me as if it got stuck in somewhere in the Seventies, with worthy chat and debate shows, and variety spectacles, and German TV (other than via cable) is absolutely no better. ...Cue Lederhosen! It could be worse... honest!

SUEB0B said...

I went appears from the YouTube list that he has other songs about sardines and napkins?!?

I kinda hate to do this to you, but Sabado Gigante is el show mas popular en todo el mundo hispanico...Oh, the horror - not safe for work even though it is apparently safe for families to watch on Saturday night...

Jaywalker said...

SueBob - that raises SO MANY QUESTIONS. The men? In white? Dancing? The audience participation? Wow. I was on my way to bed, but now I don't think I can.

Woman - Yes. I keep expecting Pan's People to spring up. Brrr.

Lisa - poor you sweetheart. The wine is virtually a medical necessity. Go go go. You have my blessing.

Potty Mummy said...

I don't know. A week ago, babysitting his niece in The Hague, Husband and I were forced to watch the Dutch version of 'The X factor'. I don't speak Dutch well, but even I understood it when one of the contestants said 'But it sounded so beautiful in my head' and that he was suffering from self delusion on a scale yet to be experienced elsewhere...

Mr Farty said...

I watched the beginning of that dancing sponge clip and was totally convinced it had built a gallows on which to hang itself. No such luck.

A Saturday night tv show even worse than LPGCdM? That reminds me - Ant and Dec are coming back.

Pass the absinthe.

Coding Mamma (Tasha) said...

Oh, I remember the horrors of French TV - it's still just as bad?! The only things I watched were Beverly Hills 90210 dubbed (the French dubbing actors were much better, I later discovered, than the American actors) and ocassional films on Le Cinq (is that what it is/was called?). Oh and Question pour un champion - had a weird addiction to that.

Pochyemu said...

The new 90210!

Rob made me watch it tonight, expressly to show me how shit it is!

Painful acting, painful dialogue, painful plotline (or lackthereof)...I mean, it really is just terribly terrible, and this comes from a person who watches Skins.

G said...

I spent this New Year's eve watching French TV. It was painfully bad. There was some kind of 6 hour show on TF1, of which the highlight was a troupe of dancing seals. Well, that was the highlight for me. I would rather eat my own testicles than suffer through that again.

Helene et les garcons used to be a favourite. That and the soft-porn movie on M6 on a Sunday night. Those were the days. Yes, I learnt to speak French thanks to a crap tea-time soap opera and dubbed German porn.

Kate said...

wait a second. you forgot one of the main parts of the show. the magic. the horrible HORRIBLE magic. and that much of the acts come from "all over the world" and therefore you have to listen to some american/brit/german/russian saying things in "french" occasionally. I have a softspot for some reason for accordions, but i FREAKING HATE MAGIC. I CANNOT BEAR IT. and what about all the talking to the "celebrities" about how great the acts are?

now should we talk about the dancing on the other french show? and how they have those women who stand on the sides near the audience and show the whole not-rhythmically inclined French audience how to do some really lame-ass "dance" (like waving arms) all in unison?

what's that italian guy who's the quick change artist? my husband thought he was giving me a treat and took me to see him at the theatre de mogador for valentine's day. it was horrific (despite my SIL's assurance that it was fantastic). even he didn't like it, and i married a man who wanted to be a clown (dead serious) and is prone to liking that sort of crap.

i must be dead inside, but i fucking hate magic.

WV is chancho which sounds to me like a Mexican clown that Patrick would bring in to entertain us with his magical cockroaches.

Kate said...

sorry for the long comment. i don't mean to hijack your comments each time. my seething hate for magic and french tv just cannot be contained.

WV - juyschip - which i think is patrick's "ami", a dutch clown with the nautical theme and barebreasted pirates

Phoenix Berries said...

You made me laugh and feel good about it even though I have a hangover. I agree that Sabado Gigante might be a contender for worst-ness, but I'm sure it never spawned an entire philosophical movement. Unless bee jokes in American sitcom cartoons count as a philosophical movement.

River said...

Do you not have a dvd player and access to good movies on dvd?

The Recessionista said...

Makes Ant & Dec's Saturday night take-away, sound positively exciting! (It starts next week by the way).

Marie said...

There is nothing worse. I too am familiar with French Saturday night hell and I actually could barely red you post for the full-body cringe that went through my body. If anything, your post does not do it full justice, because the post was entertaining to read, thus suggesting that there might be "so bad it's good" value to be found in watching it. THERE IS NOT.

BTW it seems relevant to raise here the time I accidentally watched the beginning of French Deal Or No Deal. They made all the contestants dance while the host pointed to the legs of all of the women wearing miniskirts. I SHARE BLOOD WITH THESE PEOPLE.

Jaywalker said...

PM - ah, sweet. What is the Dutch equivalent of Cheryl Cole?

Mr Farty - I know! Me too! Sponge suicide could have been fun.

Tasha - I think Questions pour un Champion has become student cult in the manner of Blockbuster. Now half the candidates are idle studenty layabouts.

Pochyemu - really? That bad? Hmm.

G - I had forgotten about the M6 porn! With that strange symbol in the corner of the screen to warn you. Hélène. Ah, happy times. I liked 'Classe Mannequin'. But Les Musclés are right up there with PS.

Kate - I just knew you would have views. You are not dead inside. PS, however, is. Peel back his face and reveal a zombie army ready to suck your soul out. La Chance aux Chansons? The Sunday lunchtime pensioner dancing thing with Pascal Sevran?

Phoenix - just don't be tempted to check the links. Not with a hangover.

River - we've watched every half decent series there is and wait desperately for new ones. Films are too long, the CFO can only cope for an hour and my attention wanders.

Recessionista - I hestitate to say it, but yes, possibly.

Marie - I feel your pain. And indeed, do not be fooled into thinking it is 'so bad it's good' people. It isn't. It's just soul-destroying. Also, why do all 'animateurs' on 'divertissements' look like they are mummified in a mixture of St Tropez and formaldehyde?

Chantal said...

Worst television I have ever seen was in Italy circa 1984 to about 1990, specifically the reading out of the lottery numbers. This is (was? I dunno if this still goes on, I shudder to think) done by topless women with bleached blonde hair in little g-string knicker-type things in places such as town halls and churches. Yes, churches. In that bastion of Catholicism and religious fervour that is Italy. Mental.

Incidentally, is Patrick Sebastien related to Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler by any chance?

Belle said...

What a prick!

Cassandra said...

So glad tea bags arrived safely - and so quickly! Now, Jay. There's no need for this pain. It's at times like these that you SHOULD be watching Some Like It Hot. It is just FANTASTIC, you would LOVE it. Cx

BMF said...

there is something worse......... cirque du soleil. i know it's not strictly speaking tv, BUT it combines many of the worst elements of this show. at no cost go and see it. that's all.

BMF (again) said...

sorry, "le petit bonhomme en mousse"????? WHAT?

Kate said...

i don't know the sunday dancing thing. what about ecole des stars? did you see that PS thing where he disguised himself and went to a bank pretending to be arab or something? I caught a glimpse of it and very quickly changed the channel. my in laws love shirley and dino btw.

should we talk about french kid's tv sometime?

Fat Controller said...

This brings to mind one of my favourite Gary Larson cartoons:
"Welcome to heaven, here's your harp/Welcome to hell, here's your accordion".

The best/worst we can muster up here is the Danish version of 'Britain's Got Talent' i.e. 'Denmark's Got Talent'. Only, it hasn't.

Jaywalker said...

Chantal - It must be said that Italy has a talent for terrible tv too. That sounds, um, marvellously uplifting. Mickey was on French tv last night, making no sense whatsoever. Very frightening indeed. Mullet-tastic.

Belle - succinct but very accurate my dear.

Cassandra - I must. You are quite right.

BMF - just, try and forget you ever saw it. Please?

Kate - or his bizarre thing with the false bald head and pretending to have written a novel? aaaargh. Childrens tv eh? What are you thinking? Barbapapa? Mireille l'abeille? Yes. We should talk.

FC - oh dear, the vision of that has really made me laugh for some reason. Denmark's got Talent indeed. Who's the Piers Morgan figure?

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