Noise to Signal

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I'm not sure how often we turn people on to new things here at NTS. Usually, when we babble on about a topic, we know it's something that some or all of you are already interested in (yes, I'm talking about Doctor Who). But I'd like to take a break from all of that for a moment, in order to enthuse wildly about one of my favourite TV shows of the moment, and one that I can hopefully bring to a few more people's attention. It airs on a channel you probably haven't heard of - or, if you have, it's probably because it's run by Al Gore - called Current TV, which can be picked up on Sky and Virgin Media here in the UK, but whose content can also be viewed online. Of that content, which mostly consists of sub-ten-minute segments called "pods", easily the most significant is the thing I want to talk about - a weekly half-hour media and news review show called infoMania.

At first glance, there's nothing particularly exciting or groundbreaking about infoMania. Similar in format and style to the likes of The Daily Show, it takes an irreverant and sardonic look at the week in news, but with a specific focus on media - taking in the corporate news media's political coverage in addition to entertainment (particularly TV, but also film and music), new media, advertising, magazines, technology, and so on. It's quite heavily internet-orientated - with specific sections on viral videos and the like - and pitches quite deliberately at a "young, media literate, socially aware demographic". So far, so formulaic. But what makes infoMania stand out has little to do with the format, or any kind of innovation - nor is it really the show's close ties to the internet and its availability online either in its entirety or in individual segments. It's simply the quality of the material. It's sharp, clever, self-aware - and most importantly, very, very funny. Simply put, if you're tired of The Daily Show but you still want a decent quality satirical look at the week just gone (albeit one with a heavy, if not entire, slant towards the US - and sorry, but Mock the Week doesn't really compare), then infoMania is something you should really keep your eye on.

(Of course, if you don't want any of that, then I can't help you, but you should still watch the Target Women segments, as they're pretty much the best comedy currently on TV. But more on those later.)

Anyway, I thought it'd be an idea to present an example of each of the individual regular segments, with a bit of explanation and commentary so that you can see for yourself whether it's your cup of tea. If you're interested in checking out the show in full, then going here will give you a listing of all the most recent material - which includes most of the individual segments, but also the weekly half-hour show, which airs every Thursday evening in the US.

Conor Knighton

The slightly smug actor-turned-writer-presenter Knighton is the show's anchor - its Jon Stewart, or, if you will, its Angus Deayton - and much of the show involves him standing in a newsreader/weatherman fashion delivering autocued links and gags. To be honest, Knighton's sections are usually the least laugh-out loud funny - but that's fine, he's not really there for the gimmicks. That said, he does a nice line in tearing apart bad reality shows, and sections such as "We've Got You Covered" (a summary of recent magazines, including the suspiciously HIGNFY-esque "How the F**K is this a magazine?!?" segment) are pretty entertaining. Really, though, Knighton - as slick and assured a presenter as he is (and he does have his moments, as above) - is really just the warm-up guy for the likes of...

Sergio's White-Hot Top 5 (Sergio Cilli)

With a laconic, deadpan delivery and a keen eye for the absurdity present in pop music videos and lyrics, Sergio Cilli's sections in which he runs through a different website-based music chart each week are among the show's most consistent high points. You never really get a sense for what his music taste actually is - whatever it is, it's probably not the sort of thing you'd find in iTunes "most downloaded" lists - but it doesn't particularly matter, as the segments aren't really about music taste at all. They're about commenting drily and wittily on the sheer ludicrousness of much of current pop music. The shots are often cheap, but they usually hit the mark, and Cilli is effortlessly likeable.

Tech Report (Ben Hoffman)

Hoffman's segments are sometimes patchy, but when he hits the mark, his "creepy fat sweaty tech nerd" persona is one of the funniest things on the show. A recent edition on "text dating" was particularly excellent, but one I wanted to pick out was his segment on iPhone applications. Here, his schtick of ironically playing the weird moron works perfectly, and the "it's a beer" and "WOOO!" gags in particular have me in stitches.

Viral Video Film School (Brett Erlich)

Jim Halpert lookalike Erlich, who shows up dotted elsewhere throughout the show on occasion, is one of infoMania's associate producers, and although the Viral Video Film School isn't always the best section in terms of material - not least because by the time he turns his eye to a lot of things you're already sick of them, and of course they're mostly beyond parody - it's helped by the fact that he is one of the best performers. His deliberately rambling delivery is often extremely amusing - and there's also something neat about the way these segments are edited, chopping his lines together in the manner of a badly-cut video blog, but in an actually-very-slick way.

Target Women (Sarah Haskins)

While the other sections of infoMania combine to make it an (occasionally very) amusing diversion, it's this final feature that really makes the show worthy of your time - even if you can't stand the idea of a bunch of smug Ivy Leaguers taking cheap shots at the entertainment media. Sarah Haskins' Target Women features are in the show just about every week (it's a disappointing week when they're not), and they focus on the relentless stream of godawful, downright insulting TV advertising aimed specifically at women. From chocolate to yoghurts to online dating to jewellery, there's an absolute wealth of material out there that means that even if the tone is pretty consistent, the segments never become repetitive. Haskins herself is a brilliant writer/performer (alright, yes, and I'm a little bit in love with her) and skewers her targets expertly. I could honestly pick any one of the segments to demonstrate how good they are - but thankfully, I don't have to, because all the best ones were included, along with some great new linking material, in the half-hour Target Women Super Special that aired opposite the Super Bowl this year. So you can watch that, instead. WATCH IT.

Other stuff

In addition to the regular and longer segments, other little snippets are often dotted throughout the show - usually as ad break bumpers, and usually sticking to a different general theme each show (for example, during this week's Valentines Day special, the theme was clips of news presenters being strangely complimentary towards one-another). One such regular segment is Ben Hoffman's "Strange Sh*t on Craigslist" pieces, which rarely fail to give me a quick chuckle.

So that's infoMania. Not the greatest satirical TV show in existence, but nevertheless a reliably excellent source of wit and amusement every week. If you like what you see here, then you're bound to get hooked on the weekly show. Give it a shot.

About this entry


Well I was just having a browse and came across this excellent write-up, and amusingly we found the show completely by accident coming back early from the pub on a Friday night about a fortnight ago and really enjoyed it. I know it’s currently going out on Fridays at 10pm in the UK which I think might be a first run, but I’m not sure.

By Brig Bother
May 25, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

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