Described by Blur bassist Alex James as the result of “comedy and rock and roll having an ill-advised fumble”, Never Mind the Buzzcocks returned to our screens recently for its twenty-eighth series. Once known for the provocation of its B-List celebrity guests and general defiance in the face of controversy, the once-great panel show has been in a state of permanent decline since the departure of long-term host Simon Amstell in 2008.
Drifting entirely from its alternative roots, recent series of Buzzcocks have featured the very blandest of mainstream pop stars and careerist comedians who aren’t quite famous enough to get a slot on Mock the Week. It’s a sad state of affairs, and appointing inexplicably angry Welshman Rhod Gilbert as the show’s new permanent host certainly hasn’t helped matters.
Rhod Gilbert isn’t a bad comic – in fact most critics would tell you he’s a rather good one – but he isn’t the right fit for Buzzcocks. It might sound like a compliment to say that Gilbert has treated guest panelists with respect so far this series, but when you’re hosting a show that’s driven a Fun Lovin’ Criminal, an Ordinary Boy and even legendary Motorhead frontman Lemmy to the brink of meltdown, nicety doesn’t really cut it.
Matty Healy, frontman of annoying, angst-ridden teen-pop band The 1975, would have surely felt the full brunt of Lamarr and Amstell’s testing witticism if he’d appeared on one of their shows. Gilbert, however, gave him something of an easy ride during his appearance on this series’ first episode – a cardinal sin in the eyes of many Buzzcocks fans.
What gave Buzzcocks its edge throughout the nineties and noughties was its sense of hostility. Whether it was the unrelenting arrogance and brashness of Mark Lamarr or the awkward, subtly insulting demeanour of Simon Amstell, you’d watch an episode expecting walk-outs, angry celebrities and, above all else, hilarity. It’s that sense of hostility that gave the long-running panel show its devoted cult following. After all, you’d never see someone storming off the set of QI because Stephen Fry took a joke ‘too far’.
It’s difficult to justify being horrid, but for years Buzzcocks found the line between nastiness and good-natured banter. It was a show that wasn’t afraid to provoke reactions, and it featured an array of comedians who were willing to take a joke that one step further. That, ultimately, is what Never Mind the Buzzcocks is now sadly lacking.