Where To Start With... Charlie Brooker
With its third season coming next week to DVD and Blu-Ray, A Touch of Cloth has established itself as a detective series unlike any other. Based on an idea that first featured in Charlie Brooker and Daniel Maier's sketch show TV Go Home (originally named A Touch of Shit), A Touch of Cloth stars John Hannah as DCI Jack Cloth, a detective working to solve a series of grisly murders with his trusty sidekick DI Anne Oldman, played by Suranne Jones. So far, so similar to every detective show ever made. But, this being Charlie Brooker, A Touch of Cloth is actually a brilliantly written skewering of the genre, reeling out every cliché in the cop-drama book to satirise everything from Bergerac to The Bill.
This time around Cloth has some new blood on the force in the shape of Karen Gillan, playing the role of out-of-her-depth rookie Kerry Newblood (see what they did there?) and the murder they're attempting to solve is that of Jack's own twin bother, Terry Cloth. As ever, the new series is littered with the same kind of puns and gags that filled the first two series, but are they still funny? Yes, yes they are.
Charlie Brooker's career has seen him go from writing his Screen Burn column for The Guardian to presenting its televised equivalent, Screen Wipe, and beyond. He's now a regular contributor on Channel 4's 10'o'Clock Live and an ever-present on a range of panel shows, but behind the scenes he's written a lot more for television than you might think.
So, as a guide for the uninitiated, we've picked out some highlights from his screenwriting career so far...
Co-written by Chris Morris, Nathan Barley is named after its central character, played by Nicholas Burns, an odious new media type who describes himself as a 'self-facilitating media node'. A self-styled webmaster, DJ and guerilla filmmaker, Nathan is the owner of a website named 'trashbat.co.ck' (he registered the domain in the Cook Islands) who is an avid reader of Sugar Ape Magazine, a Vice-inspired send-up edited by Dan Ashcroft (Julian Barrett), a thirtysomething writer undergoing a dawning realisation that he is becoming everything he hates. Sharp, funny and perhaps even more relevant now than when it aired in 2005, Nathan Barley is a biting sitcom aimed squarely at hipster culture that features early appearances from a host of talent that includes Richard Ayoade, Ben Whishaw and Benedict Cumberbatch. For anyone who hasn't seen it, we can't recommend this highly enough.
At the back end of the 1990s, Chris Morris' Panaroma-style spoof was among the most cutting edge and controversial comedy series on air, but its best-known and perhaps most controversial episode, their 'paedophile special', was actually co-written by Brooker. Its blacker-than-black comedy features a notorious child abuser being launched into space and an attempt to round up all the UK's children into the safety of the country's football stadiums. The episode predictably generated a number of complaints, but the show's target was clearly the media coverage of such crimes and Brass Eye takes this example and stretches well beyond the boundaries of respectable broadcasting. Daring, merciless and very, very funny.
In a scenario that many of us would consider an improvement on the current Big Brother format, Brooker's concept for Dead Set sees the inmates of the house become the subject of a zombie attack. Even host Davina McCall was game enough to get involved in the show, briefly appearing in a cameo before being gruesomely savaged by one of the living dead. It's a simple idea, really, but thanks to Brooker's considerable writing talents the idea is brilliantly executed, making for a very entertaining mini-series. Well worth looking up for any George A. Romero fans who may have missed this little gem.
One of his most recent outings, Brooker's unsettling series of unconnected stories features some very disturbing concepts based largely on the culture of technology and social media that pervades modern society. These include a company that uses personal data and social media records to send text messages from - and eventually recreate - a recently deceased husband, and an animated political talk show host that sees its popularity rise to cult-like proportions and become an actual electoral candidate. Weird and wonderful in equal measure, some of its ideas are downright disturbing, but as sharply delivered as you would expect from Charlie Brooker.