What an incredible, perfect series to satirise and shock the nation. Brass Eye relies so frequently on the creativity of Chris Morris. His home run is this, a six-episode and one special late-90s television show that offended many and still does to this day. “While the situation is severe enough to warrant a black and white freeze frame…” Morris says, his tone unmoved and noticeably concerned. What should be immediately clear is that Brass Eye looks to mock the television journalism of the time. An ugly blend of greys and browns, infographics that have dated poorly and nonsensical usage of special effects and computer graphics wherever inappropriate or possible. Pockets of stories that need further detail, but a general public who are there to assimilate the key facts into their system and then simply move on. It’s the perfect antidote to the television of today.
While Brass Eye is clearly offensive, it has a clear reason behind what it says and what it does. It looks to provoke, but it is not meaningless attacks on the audience or you the viewer. “Undoubtedly, outrage will make an intervention”, one interviewee says. That it will. Brass Eye was mired by controversies, so bad that it led to its cancellation after only seven episodes. But that sudden cancellation merely adds to the legacy of the show. It has achieved its goal. Ruffling the feathers of those at the top, and the general public too, it is hard to make an argument for Brass Eye and its survival. It is worth it, though, because the fictional elements blend with the shocking, cutting lines. Each episode serves such an important purpose that is critical of one movement or another. One episode mocks the true-crime reconstruction reporters, while another knocks out the open opinion poll format. The studio audience wants a say in something that neither concerns nor affects them. Live formats are toyed with, the war on drugs assessed. They are criticisms well worth engaging with because the core of Morris’ craft is one of real importance.
His various news presenter and journalist characters dismantle stories that are thickly veiled attacks on shoddy governments, poor quality journalism and tabloid pressures. It is the work Sacha Baron Cohen would create with Ali G and Borat years later, but without Morris’ unique wit and abilities as a social commentator. He manages to critique the world around him without engaging with real case studies. Take his mentioning of the fictional drug, “Cake”, which is eventually assimilated into the real world by members of parliament looking to champion a general cause without actually looking into the details. It is the fiction bleeding into reality, rather than the reality into the fiction.
Satire is dead, and Brass Eye most likely killed it by reaching for the stars and staying up there for long enough. It has set the bar so high that no television show or film to follow it can best it. A perfect pocket of short, sweet episodes that bring about such a crashing series of brilliant points on how television journalism works and how it is kindled by audience and reception. It is not just Britain in the firing line, but America too. The guffawing, white-teethed American journalist talks to priests assimilating weaponry into their sermons, it is fleeting but brilliant. Much of the work in Brass Eye is. He tackles Jerry Springer, gun crime and the religious right of America in a two-minute segment that does more than any other modern satire. Brass Eye has the brass needed to rattle the cage of those at the top, but it is those in power they must stay on the side of. Morris has no intention of doing so and crashes through convention with obliterating, hilarious results.