What’s on the Box?
I have always found that what’s on the box abroad can be a curious thing. Foreign language aside, television culture from one country to the next can differ so much, from the way the News is presented to the amount of time set aside for children’s shows, from the types of reality competitions that are held to the adverts shown in the breaks. Television has become the most common form of popular entertainment and a glance at the TV screens of a nation could perhaps even help you better understand its people.
Russian TV is no exception. I am no expert on the subject and can’t even say I have watched huge amounts of Russian broadcasting, but I have certainly observed one or two things that stand out during my trips here over the past few years.
If you flick through Russian channels, it seems that at least one of them will always be showing either the News or a topical debate programme, no matter what the time of day is: there are many. I found myself watching Open Studio (Открытая Студия) on Channel 5, a political debate show. The biggest difference I could see from British equivalents (aside from it being a bit more shout-y) was that the presenter and interviewer made no attempt to either remain neutral or play Devil’s Advocate (much to the chagrin of the poor American journalist being quizzed on Syria). Of course News programmes and debates in Russia will present stories and headlines with a different spin and a different biased to our own shows – it is, after all, no secret that that is how the media works – but I was, albeit only mildly, surprised that the person acting as mediator for the debate did, well, no such thing.
Laugh Out Loud
On to a more cheerier topic: comedy. There are of course many stand-up comedy shows shown across Russian networks, but I have to say my favourite is Уральские Пельмени, or, when translated literally, Ural Dumplings. Of course, anyone with a basic knowledge of Russian cuisine will know that this translation is inadequate and doesn’t express the specificity of a Russian dumpling, and the same is true for the programme. This programme strikes me as distinctly Russian, both in style and humour. Shown on the CTC channel, it shows the eponymous comedy troupe from Yekaterinburg performing to a live audience in a theatre. Their sketches consist of funny scenarios and slapstick humour depicting Russian stereotypes, and all of the scenes are written by their performers. It is Russia’s live and contemporary answer to The Two Ronnies and, despite my best efforts, always gets a laugh out of me.
Another show to make you laugh but sometimes to make you cry is The Kitchen, or, Кухня. This drama-cum-comedy series is, I have to say, my absolute favourite. With already six series and a film to its name, the show takes you to the kitchen of Moscow’s top fictional restaurant, Claude Monet, and follows the trials and tribulations of the kitchen staff’s private and professional lives. It too is full of slapstick comedy, but is combined with a sort of soap genre, getting you involved with the characters and their stories. This show was introduced to me by my Russian teacher in London and not only became my favourite thing to watch but also a great tool for improving my Russian comprehension, as the language spoken is often what could be considered “real Russian”. Plus you get to learn some great ways to insult people from the celebrity chef that runs the kitchen – Victor Petrovich Barinov.
Then there are the shows you laugh at, not with. Battle of the Psychics (Битва экстрасенсов) is a particularly good example. Britain has its fair share of reality TV and talent competitions, but I am yet to come across one that has a panel of non-psychics judge a contest of people who claim to have paranormal powers. I have never laughed so hard as when they stood there trying to predict who had been eliminated that week, before getting it wrong and the presenter just telling them. Surely if their powers were so strong, they would already know the winner?! Definitely a show to look out for…
Okay, so I am still trying to work out what I’ve learnt about the mysterious Russian soul from taking a glimpse at these TV programmes. I suppose each person will infer what they will… But all I know is that even if it is simply in order to improve aural skills or because you enjoy the feeling of being perplexed (as I often am when watching Russian TV), switching on the box might be worth a go. Perhaps, though, it’s best to avoid House 2 (Дом 2), Russia’s answer to Big Brother – I’m not sure any Russian I know would agree that that is an accurate representation of Russia and her people!
Ellie, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Moscow