The really wild show

Russell Brand's "anarchic" comedy is as carefully coiffed as his hair

<strong>Russell Brand's Pon

A fun thing to do (if you've really nothing else to be getting on with) is to imagine Russell Brand in front of his bathroom mirror. His hairstyle is supposed to reinforce his image as a television anarchist: the barnet is wild, and so is the mouth, and anything - anything! - could happen while he is on air. But this is, of course, an illusion. Most of the time, Brand has a director and a script to keep him on the straight and narrow, and his hair, I'm afraid, is just the same. The more you look at it, the more artful it seems. A luxuriant curtain, it's straight and smooth at the front, and I like to think of him brushing (and, perhaps, running a little product through it, for extra shine) before he moves on to his crown, which he obviously backcombs until it resembles an ethereal halo as seen in a painting by some medieval Venetian. Job done, does he then finish the whole thing with a blast of Elnett hairspray? I'd be willing to bet you good money that he does.

Russell Brand's Ponderland is the latest attempt by Channel 4 to find a vehicle for the station's outrageous star, and this, too, reeks of Elnett: however fast Brand talks, however many rude words he uses, it's still a teased pompadour of perfection, every line worked to within an inch of its life by its writers. This is not to say that it's not funny, because it is. But with its use of a studio audience whose titters sound weirdly like a laugh track (were they so timid that Channel 4 had to overdub them afterwards?) and its Clive James-style use of archive film, it has a manufactured quality that is somewhat at odds with Brand's increasingly worked-up Frankie-Howerd-meets-Ozzy-Osbourne persona. You laugh, but it's a pretty safe kind of laughter; Brand's observations - his "ponderings" - are on such familiar territory that you could draw a straight line from here back to The Two Ronnies without any trouble at all.

The subject of the first show (22 October) was childhood. Brand duly noted that, as a boy, he was terrified of rabies, of quicksand, and of swallowing chewing gum (which would cause a merciless gummy web to form inside you). Also, that he has never been able to forget the jingle for the Coco Pops ad ("it's the screensaver of my mind"). And remember when you used to be sitting in a lesson and you'd suddenly see a dog running round the playground, and the classroom would descend into mayhem, as if it were a fire-breathing dragon that was out there rather than, well, a Jack Russell? On the page, this stuff is predictable, the late-night talk of thirtysomething friends after too many bottles of wine. Yet Brand does bring something to the party: not his rolling-eyed Lord Rochester delivery - that's just annoying - but rather his taste for the surreal, like when he talked about using a scrunchie to make a wigwam, or identified the colour of his father's penis on a paint chart (I can't expand on this joke in the pages of the NS; it wouldn't be right).

Will he be able to keep it up over six shows? I doubt it. But the trouble with being even remotely talented these days is that television will flog you till you drop. I thought this as I watched Andrew Davies's latest adaptation for BBC4. Is he being spread too thinly? Or is something more sinister going on? I'd been looking forward to Fanny Hill because John Cleland's banned novel was one of the three books my father used to lend me when I was a teenager, in an effort to get up my mother's nose (the others, FYI, were Portnoy's Complaint and Hubert Selby Jr's Last Exit to Brooklyn).

What a disappointment. All the sex was there, but Fanny (Rebecca Night) herself did not get to describe it, which meant that the joy of the book - it is her unrepentant lasciviousness that distinguishes her from, say, Moll Flanders - was lost. If Russell Brand can go on about the colour of his father's you-know-what, why shouldn't a fictional character also be allowed to wax lyrical on such matters? I do hope it's not because she's a girl.

Pick of the week

Half Broken Things
28 October, 9pm, ITV1
Penelope Wilton as a lonely woman who creates a fantasy world.

No Plan, No Peace
28 October, 10.15pm, BBC1
John Ware on just how few plans were made for post-Saddam Iraq.

31 October, 1 November, 9pm, C4
Peter Kosminsky’s new film about the shaping of a suicide bomber.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 29 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan