In praise of Adam Buxton's BUG
With just two more episodes of Adam Buxton's glorious BUG left in the series, James tips his hat to a show that's made a successful transition from stage to the small screen...
Of all the lazy, patronising tropes in TV entertainment to appear over the last decade, one of the worst has been the transparent attempts to translate the rapid-fire, channel-flicking appeal of YouTube to the screen. Whether it's commissioning dedicated Internet-humour shows like Robert's Web, or dropping video memes into the likes of Russell Howard's Good News, it sometimes seems as though TV comedy wants nothing more than to be like the Internet.
But in all that, one show has managed to crack the formula: Adam Buxton's BUG.
Spinning out of a live music video showcase hosted by Buxton, BUG is the first TV programme that realises that Internet humour doesn't just rely on the content, but on the people around it – the creators, curators, and commenters. By rooting through YouTube comments, Buxton manages to expose and personify the sheer lunatic glee of the Internet, whether it's the barely-coherent, poorly-spelled ramblings of a madman, or the dismissive, withering superiority of the self-appointed intelligentsia.
There's a variety of tone in BUG that could kill a lesser show. Acoustic and electronica clashes against grindcore and dubstep. Surreality against reality. Comedy against poignancy. The only other place you'll find anything close to that mixture is, not unsurprisingly, on music channels - but even those tend to maintain a steady continuity of genre (when they're not just re-running old episodes of Fresh Prince, that is). On BUG, you've got no idea what you'll see next. You just know that it'll be good.
And how enjoyable, to be treated like an adult by a TV programme that isn't about grim social problems. In the past, such an unpredictable format might have scared off the commissioners, but Buxton's genuine enthusiasm for the material and audience rapport is enough to keep even the flightiest viewer engaged throughout. He may not be the sole mind behind BUG, but his stamp of approval engenders a trust that has never yet been misplaced.
With the series coming to an end, we can only hope that there's more BUG to come. The overwhelmingly positive reception suggests that there will be, and we know Sky was pleased because it brought the series forward after it was originally scheduled for this Autumn. Indeed, if you can find any problem with the TV show, it's that it barely scratches the surface of the live experience.
With that mind, we've got a few suggestions for how series two of BUG could be even better:
A longer running time
Thirty minutes used to be a long time in television, but no more. Between ad breaks, titles and credits, the actual episode content of BUG runs as little as around 20 minutes. We're barely getting warmed up before it's over! If Sky has any sense, it'll extend the format to a full 60-minute slot so that we can really get our teeth into it.
Given that it's born out of a music video showcase, it's a shame that BUG can only squeeze in two or three tracks per episode at full-length. No-one wants to see fewer of Buxton's monologues or YouTube dramatisations, but some episodes seem thin on actual music, and truncating the longer videos is just cruel! An extended format would allow them to cram in more music videos. As with the live shows, not every presentation would need its own response – sometimes the video itself is enough.
Another staple of the live shows, BUG's director interviews are a window into the creative minds of some of the world's best up-and-coming directors, with the potential to inspire and entertain. And best of all, it'd give Buxton a section where he can bounce off a second personality and be slightly more freeform in his comedy, something that always has brilliant results (with the notable exception of Paul Weller, which let's face it, was still hilarious for the audience.)
BUG's live show has dedicated entire shows to the back catalogue of artists like Radiohead, Moby and Bjork. That kind of focus wouldn't be right for every episode, but televising the specials seems like a natural evolution of the format. There are a few bands just crying out for this sort of treatment, too. Blur, Ash, the Manic Street Preachers – all bands with fantastic video catalogues, huge fanbases and at least one member who'll do pretty much anything for a laugh.
A tie-in radio show or podcast
For god's sake, someone get this man back into our earholes as soon as possible. The BBC obviously won't have much interest in promoting a Sky show, but Absolute Radio are falling over themselves to sign up comedians to front radio shows, while a podcast with sometime-6music stand-in and music video director Garth Jennings would be perfect. Why doesn't it already exist?
Anyway, let's hope that series 2 does happen, whether it undergoes any format changes or not. Frankly, I'll take whatever Adam Buxton I can get, as I suspect most of his fans would.
If you've not yet seen BUG, it's currently airing on Sky Atlantic (new episodes 9:30pm each Monday), you can view an exclusive online version of the BUG live show recorded in 2010, or you can watch some clips on the official site of the BUG TV series. (Don't miss the Counting Song!).