How TV Ruined Your Life

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How TV Ruined Your Life
How tv ruined your life.png
Title card
Written byCharlie Brooker
Presented byCharlie Brooker
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series1
No. of episodes6 (list of episodes)
Executive producerAnnabel Jones
Running time30 minutes
Production companyZeppotron
DistributorEndemol UK
Original networkBBC Two
Original release25 January (2011-01-25) –
8 March 2011 (2011-03-08)
External links

How TV Ruined Your Life is a six-episode BBC Two television series written and presented by Charlie Brooker.[1] Charlie Brooker, whose earlier TV-related programmes include How to Watch Television, Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe and You Have Been Watching, examines how the medium has bent reality to fit its own ends. Produced by Zeppotron, the series aired its first episode in January 2011.[1]


The format of the series is similar to that of some of Brooker's other works, such as the abovementioned Screenwipe and Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe, with Brooker effectively narrating from a living room set while watching TV. In this series, however, each episode focuses on a particular theme, which Brooker considers to have significantly impacted or have been significantly impacted by TV. Each episode is loosely chronological, starting with earlier TV programmes and adverts, with Brooker commenting on the changes in these over time. A number of clips relevant to the subject and time period at hand are shown, which Brooker usually criticises for being hyperbolic or overly fanciful. Each episode contains a few sketches or fake news broadcasts satirising a particular aspect of the topic discussed. For example, in the first episode, Fear, there is a sketch parodying hyperbolic disaster docudramas, wherein mundane items – first pens, then keyboards, then people's 'voices' – begin to get "hot", scalding their users and plunging the Earth into a new dark age before causing it to explode. He ends each episode with a concluding overview of what he sees as the current attitude TV and the public has towards the subject.


The series was reviewed mildly positively, with some criticism of the series' topic (criticism of television), some positive remarks about specific segments, and some abuse in jest from Brooker's colleagues at The Guardian: "Ha! I mean, boo! I hate him."[2] In the Scotsman, it was noted that "though so far Brooker hasn't been pulling any punches", some of Brooker's topics were deemed too broad, some of his targets were called "too familiar", like his mockery of 1970s public service safety announcements, and Brooker himself "may be heading towards one of those programmes he has so savagely parodied."[3] The Metro enjoyed Brooker's making "merrily sardonic hay", and found his skewering of some TV fearmongering "spot on", but found his targets pretty easy, "nicking TV news ('like looking directly in the face of terror') with flesh-wounds when once upon a time he would have gone for the heart", and described the show as "cobbled together."[4]


No.TitleWritten byOriginal air date
1"Fear"[5]Charlie Brooker25 January 2011 (2011-01-25)
Brooker discusses early public information films, criticising them for their often patronising and hysterical tones before comparing them to the more dramatic recent equivalents. He comments, "rather than using calm reason, most corrective television uses fear to hammer its message home", reflecting on how the nuclear scare was presented on TV – in particular, the British docudrama Threads and the American film The Day After. Brooker comments on the presentation of current affairs – "today, tuning into the news is like looking directly into the face of terror" – referring to cultivation theory to stress the dangers of this style of broadcast. He talks about the public's perception of crime, linking it to the media's portrayal of crime – in particular, the British TV series Crimewatch and the unrealistic crime-drama Wire in the Blood. Brooker similarly criticises the hyperbole of disaster docudramas such as Air Crash Investigation and hypothetical, 'what-if?' TV serials such as Aftermath. Brooker concludes with the remark that "[television] makes sense of our universe in a way that's as soothing as it is fake, and what's more, it gets away with it – and that is frightening".
2"The Lifecycle"[6]Charlie Brooker1 February 2011 (2011-02-01)
In this episode, Brooker looks into how television is marketed towards different age groups, starting with babies, children, tweens and teenagers, paying particular attention to how marketing towards the latter group has changed over the years. He compares the BBC's late-1970s/early-1980s TV series Something Else to Channel 4's mid-2000s Whatever, criticising the former's "boring" anti-establishment tone and the latter's dumbing down of topics covered. Brooker moves onto the adult age group, criticising in particular the portrayal of dads in advertising and the abundance of anti-ageing products and programmes targeted towards the middle age group, singling out the Channel 4 series 10 Years Younger and calling it "devastatingly mean". Brooker then remarks on the apparent absence of the old age group in television due to scaremongering, before concluding with: "TV has never quite got you: when you're a kiddywink, it's just a meaningless light-source; when you're young it either demonises or patronises you; when you're in your middle years it makes you feel too old by ruthlessly highlighting your flaws; when you're older than that it wipes you off-screen altogether and leaves you feeling socially irrelevant".
3"Aspiration"[7]Charlie Brooker8 February 2011 (2011-02-08)
Brooker defines "aspirational television" as programmes in which "the majority of people are thin, attractive, witty, sassy, cool, fun-loving, thoughtful and happy", and credits the origin of this style of idealised TV to advertisers "attaching fantasies to the products they were hawking", comparing adverts between decades. He notes how shows like Dallas and Howards' Way shifted perception of "tycoons and the importance of money itself", and compares early game shows to more recent ones, suggesting the former focused more on participation and "mere products", and the latter focus more on "raw money" and bitter disputes. Brooker also comments on the shifting portrayal of wealthy people: in Dallas "fictional billionaires [...] were clearly the bad guys; 20 years later, actual, living, breathing tycoons were being celebrated". He claims that because of shows like Cribs and Grand Designs, "it somehow feels like it's not enough to own a reasonably-okay house anymore". Brooker bemoans the protective idolization of children which he claims results in their consumption of "aspirational imagery [...] which make stardom seem both attainable and desirable". He comments on judgemental makeover show Style By Jury and similar before partially blaming the financial crisis of 2007–2008 on the aspirational purchasing of houses: "faced with all these unattainable dreams, little wonder so many people in so many places got themselves wedged so deep in debt".
4"Love"[8]Charlie Brooker15 February 2011 (2011-02-15)
This episode covers the depiction of romantic and sexual love on TV. Brooker begins with a criticism of TV's depiction of the singular soulmate and unrealistic beauty standards, and attributes to these that "so many of us simply don't know what to do when we're confronted by people we fancy in real life". Brooker then relates this to advertising and other media, saying that "a myth perpetuated by many televised romantic films is the notion of love at first sight". He compares films like The Notebook to real life flirting and courting, calling the former "lunatic", before criticising the depiction of male role-models in TV. Brooker then notes that "most fictional romances finish at the point of consummation [...]. When long-term couples are portrayed, they tend to either be seen as sexless, winsome twosomes like Terry and June, or warring partners who apparently despise one another". Brooker then comments on TV break-ups, in particular those shown in reality television series Breaking Up with Shannen Doherty and the "unrealistically dignified" ones shown in fictional series like Gossip Girl which "perpetuate the myth of the perfect relationship".
5"Progress"[9]Charlie Brooker1 March 2011 (2011-03-01)
Brooker discusses human technological progress and how it and aspirations of it are shown on TV. He considers the space race and "optimistic programs" it inspired like Tomorrow's World, commenting on a change in tone post-moon landing – "Having mounted a lengthy PR campaign in its honour, TV now started to wonder whether progress was such a good thing after all" – and referring to shows like Space 1999 – "a depressing vision of a future not worth bothering with". Brooker continues with the advancement of computing, and talks about the relationship between technology and humans, and its romantic image in Knight Rider and Automan. Brooker talks about video games, criticising TV for routinely portraying them as an "inherently unhealthy and otherworldly threat which glorifies violence and is probably bad for your noggin". He talks about the internet, TV's role in the hype surrounding the Y2K problem, and how TV changed with the advent of interactive media, creating shows such as The Joy of Text and the "pay-as-you-vote" Big Brother. Brooker comments on visual effects – "little wonder we now just blindly assume anything's possible" – and the growing prevalence of digital screens which has "knackered our attention span". He concludes: "TV claimed progress was a great thing, predicting a world in which we relaxed in front of screens while computerised slaves did our bidding, but now the future's arrived and those screens [...] have left us marooned here in the future, surrounded by magic, unable to focus on anything that doesn't light up and go beep".
6"Knowledge"[10]Charlie Brooker8 March 2011 (2011-03-08)
This episode is about informative TV. Brooker begins by illustrating clichés of "documentary-type" presenters such as Andrew Marr. He states "TV knowledge" started with news broadcasting, which he briefly details the evolution of as it grew apart from newspapers, suggesting its competition forced them to "zhoosh up their own content". Brooker says TV had "grander ambitions", referring to early landmark documentaries Civilisation, The Ascent of Man, and drama The Six Wives of Henry VIII. He comments on early programmes which introduced TV to the classroom, such as Look and Read, calling them "unintentionally frightening" but adding that TV "often used fear-mongering to train younger viewers to look after themselves". He uses public information film Apaches and the US Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue as further examples, calling the latter "crude, alarmist TV propaganda". Brooker comments on the blurring line between fact and fiction on TV, referring to the famous Panorama spaghetti-tree hoax and the controversial Ghostwatch. He says, "Just as documentaries were under pressure to become more populist, so was the news [...] the graphics steadily became more fearsome and bombastic, the sets more cavernous and self-important, and the delivery more theatrical", and comments on the growing focus on viewer and celebrity opinion, noting the increasing number of celebrity-presented documentaries. In his closing remarks, he says, "All TV really taught us was to believe what 'screen' said, even when they were lying [...] and the news went from a basic, unemotional explanation of the facts to a non-stop entertainment format sold on the basis of its emotive impact".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wolf, Ian. "How TV Ruined Your Life". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
  2. ^ Wollaston, Sam (25 January 2011). "TV review: How TV Ruined Your Life and Pleasure and Pain With Michael Mosley". The Guardian (UK). London.
  3. ^ Mullaney, Andrea (28 January 2011). "TV review: How TV Ruined Your Life". The Scotsman. Edinburgh.
  4. ^ Watson, Keith (25 January 2011). "How TV Ruined Your Life seemed cobbled together". The Metro (UK).
  5. ^ "Fear". BBC Online. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  6. ^ "The Lifecycle". BBC Online. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  7. ^ "Aspiration". BBC Online. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  8. ^ "Love". BBC Online. Retrieved 8 February 2011.
  9. ^ "Progress". BBC Online. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  10. ^ "Knowledge". BBC Online. Retrieved 1 March 2011.

External links[edit]