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Douglas Is Cancelled: Hugh Bonneville’s culture war show is skin-crawling
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Douglas Is Cancelled: Hugh Bonneville’s culture war show is skin-crawling

Something happening in TV a lot is what I like to call the “coffee order scene”. It doesn’t always have to be a coffee order, but it normally is: an exasperated person who was born in a year when they could experience ecstasy before 1996 and buy a property before 2000 walks into a coffee shop and orders a “large coffee, black”. They look around the coffee shop like a panther is prowling after them through the woods.

The barista has a tattoo and a haircut. They will clarify that the person ordering means a “venti”. We see a palpable change in blood pressure. “Do you want any cream with that?” No cream. “Any alternative milks?” No alternative milks. “Any syrup?” They notice that the barista has pronouns printed on their name badge. “Just give me the damn coffee!” they say.

The scene is meant to show that the person yelling about coffee is the reasonable one in this situation. It’s the world that’s gone mad. It’s these damn alternative milk people who are the problem. He/him indeed! Twitter dot com indeed!

I bring this up because Douglas Is Cancelled (Thursday, 9pm, ITV1), the new one from Steven Moffat, is trying to do a lot of things at once – some of them almost successfully! – and one of the things it is doing is trying to show the unpassable boundary between people who grew up playing in the street (ie Boomers, generation X and a little bit of Y) and people who grew up playing the Sims (ie late millennials and zoomers).

They do this with a series of “coffee order scenes”, where a young person says something cartoonishly young person-coded – for instance: “Don’t lie to me, I’ve already got anxiety today!” – and the older person rolls their eyes, says something stoic and sensible, and the younger person gets upset. Loads of that. Four episodes of that.

Douglas Is Cancelled follows Hugh Bonneville’s Douglas – a nationally beloved newsreader with just a touch of the dinosaur about him – as he is, and this bit will shock you, cancelled over a misogynist joke he was overheard telling at a wedding. His wife is a wickedly evil tabloid newspaper editor who always gets a taxi home from her skyscraper office while talking about phone-hacking, so naturally they had to cast someone with curly hair to play her, and went for Alex Kingston.

Their daughter is 19 and keeps saying “microaggression” out loud, so you’ve got that going on. His co-presenter is the coldly talented Madeline Crow (Karen Gillan), and Nick Mohammed makes what I’m assuming is his legally required appearance as “guy whose jokes never land”. Ben Miles is doing a slimily dead-on impression of a TV producer who got divorced but wasn’t sad about it, and Joe Wilkinson is there to pad out a few minutes before an ad break.

Vague stabs at themes include: cancel culture and #MeToo, sexist and sexual power dynamics in the workplace, the London media bubble and “young people tweet too much without knowing what they’re tweeting about”. This is probably up your street if you experienced ecstasy before 1996 and bought property before 2000, but as someone who has trapped a Sim in a swimming pool before, it left me cold.

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Thing is, I do think there is something interesting to be said about the generation gap between people who read Bridget Jones as a weekly column in a newspaper and people who watched the film on DVD as a child. There is a divide, and one that’s potentially fascinating to explore, but doing it by imagining cartoon versions of young people and how those easily offended snowflakes would act around actual grownups (get their phone out and start recording it, probably!) doesn’t strike me as a particularly interesting or funny way of doing it.

I’d also question the choice to have all three of these cartoon young people, in a series that tries to say something about gender dynamics in media, be women. But maybe I’m picking out the wrong parts of Douglas – what can I say, I drink oat milk – and if you can look past all the “young people love emailing HR” stuff and every single line they gave Alex Kingston, there are some interesting titan v titan dialogues, fascinatingly skin-crawling grey-area-in-a-hotel-room scenes, a four-hour-long morality swamp, and Hugh Bonneville doing that character he always does.

Source: theguardian.com