I imagine it is my age, given that I was in my late teens when the decade began, but The Noughties (BBC Two) stretches and bends time like Uri Geller having a go at a spoon. This 10-part nostalgia-based clip show – yes, that is 10 episodes, for 10 weeks, one instalment for every year – picks out the cultural highlights of the years 2000 to 2009, although highlights is a word that is sometimes kinder than the subjects deserve.
Each week, two comedians will talk to host Angela Scanlon about what life was like in the golden olden days. It kicks off with the year 2000, “possibly the most hyped year ever”, so no pressure, and Ellie Taylor (The Mash Report/Mock the Week) joins comedian Geoff Norcott – who is rightwing, although he doesn’t like to mention it. After they have watched a load of old archive footage to prod their memories, they talk to Scanlon about what they recall. Part of me wonders why anyone is indulging in nostalgia at the moment. I had to sort out my phone’s camera roll recently and looking at photographs from 12 months ago was enough to bring a tear, or tier, to my eye. Watching a Labour government see in the new millennium on a wave of optimism, cheer and only minimal paranoia about computers was a little too much.
It is all fine, if you like this sort of thing, and by that, I mean watching people sitting around, chatting about how weird it was that Nasty Nick got kicked off Big Brother simply for passing notes and, as Norcott points out, trying to win a show that had to have a winner. It is vaguely entertaining, in the sense that it is an opportunity to look back at those big talking points that seemed to matter so much, that now seem so trivial, given that everyone on television these days has to sit at opposite ends of a massive sofa, or between sheets of Perspex that make it all look a bit “Dexter preparing the room for his victims”.
Through the general wash of “Oh, yes, I remember Mission: Impossible 2”, and a damning session of general knowledge questions to commemorate the launch of The Weakest Link, there were a couple of points of genuine interest, both of which involved Victoria Beckham. There was a brief, fascinating (and possibly unfair, given how much times have changed) clip of Michael Parkinson interviewing her at the height of tabloid interest in her life and marriage to David. He asked her on television if it was true that her husband wore her knickers, and then, with bracing bluntness, if she was anorexic? Did she eat? Our modern-day interpreters seemed shocked by the intrusion, and from the perspective of 2020, it is a weird relic, and a sure measure of how much celebrity interviews and the culture of fame have changed. Let’s hope they have not seen him interviewing Helen Mirren in 1975.
Beckham also provided the other highlight, with an admirably long section dedicated to retelling the story of her great chart battle with Spiller and Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love), or, as they put it, “the last of the UK’s big chart battles”. By far the most controversial thing Norcott comes out with is that Beckham’s solo-ish single Out of Your Mind is “so unbelievably awful”. In the words of Beckham herself, this tune’s gonna punish you.
Elsewhere, it is all a bit thinly stretched. The discussion is essentially the host and two guests doing their best to find something – anything – to talk about, when the clips mostly speak for themselves. There is an extraordinary and brief moment of Ruby Wax meeting Donald Trump, for instance, in which Trump quickly tires of the jokey format and leaves with what seems now to be polite but chilling menace, though instead of hearing three people on a sofa discuss the fact that we all saw Trump as a joke, I realised I would much rather just watch that programme myself.
If you were there at the time, being nostalgic for an era that feels as if it were five minutes ago is ageing enough without having to endure comedians telling you that they, too, had terrible hair 20 years ago. But if you are too young to remember Coyote Ugly, or EastEnders’ Sid Owen on Top of the Pops, then you can see what you missed, which, given the titbits on display here, hardly amounts to much. Still, people being scared of the millennium bug was funny, wasn’t it?
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