iwith the 40-year-old format the future of TV satire? Channel 4 revived the iconic 80s Friday Night Live comedy show this weekend for a one-off show on the broadcaster’s birthday. Here was the owner Ben Elton, bereft of the mullet but still shiny from the jacket. Here he was Stavros Harry Enfield, trading in his doner kebabs for “orgasmic coffee,” four decades later. But here too there was a transsexual comedy superstar of the day Jordan Gray, stealing the headlines with a poignant moment that evokes the spirit of the Thatcher-era series’ heyday. Hence the social media and critical clamor that demanded: Bring this show back, it’s as electrifying as ever.

Maybe it was just nostalgia. No doubt viewers of the 1980s vintage – myself included – felt a strong surge of nostalgia when Elton’s alt-comedy buddies (Ade Edmondson, French & Saunders, Stephen Fry) posted a well-wishing video earlier in the night. Nothing was more exciting than this show (originally broadcast as Saturday Live) when I was an impressionable young comedy fan. Emma Phillips. Dangerous brothers. Emma Thompson is doing stand-up! Denis Healy (ask your parents, young people) writes poetry! During the endless reign of the Tories (can you imagine?) the revolutionary energy of a new generation and their irrepressible humor at the expense of the status quo was infused into this show.

It’s not entirely fair to ask if the anniversary edition lived up to the hype; that’s not exactly what he was trying to do. Can any show with that high of a sixty-something quotient be considered cutting edge? But Friday Night Live had to pay tribute to first generation heroes with outstanding roles Joe Brand and Julian Clarywho both got TV breaks on this show, as well as Elton and Enfield, the latter not only as Stavros but as a moving Thatcherite Loadsamoney too.

Harry Enfield is back as Loadsamoney. Photo: Ash Knotek/REX/Shutterstock

It’s hard to keep your mouth shut when he takes the stage with a wad of bills in hand. “Look at that, you fuel beggars!” Age hasn’t dampened his swagger, even if the routine lacks scalpel wit. Brand and Clary also had charm for old time’s sake, but seemed to lack athleticism. Several sketchy interludes (impressionist Ronnie Ancona in the crowd, the ever-so-humble Olivia Colman; Kaivan Novak’s Fonejackergym challenge prank) were more about variety than comedy.

To explain the hype surrounding the show’s revival, we have to look elsewhere – to Elton’s performance, to the choice of newcomers taking part and to the fortuitous timing of the show coming at the end of a crazy week in UK politics. Liz Truss’ jokes at the No. 10 party went down like a clap and were a gift for Elton. He joked that the chaos of 2022 made him miss his old nemesis Mrs Thatch, who made the satirist’s job easier because “at least you know she’ll still be in power at the end of the programme”.

While Elton was as vocal as ever about the Tories, you could almost believe the last 34 years had never happened – until he returned later in the show with a jeremiad against the repeal culture and the people who complain about it the most. Contradictory? A little. Invigoratingly relevant and open? Very much so. If Friday Night Live wants to claim 21st-century satire (and there’s a gap in the market now that Mock the Week satirized it last), it’s going to need, as Elton puts it, “a little politics” like this. And why not put a 63-year-old man who did it for the first time? Because while the most creatively exciting moments on Friday Night Live 2.0 have been delivered by young people plucked from the live airwaves, political satire isn’t necessarily their forte.

So we had the show’s most talked about, Jordan Gray, touting her voracious ego in song before shedding her clothes and playing the last notes of the tune – well, let’s just say her fingers weren’t involved. The TV moment is undoubtedly attractive. But the song works better, in my opinion, as part of Gray’s the five-star show Is It a Bird?, whose viewers were waiting for a revealing finale. Then it was Rosie Jones with five minutes to be disabled and sneaky and winner of the edinburgh comedy award Sam Campbellwith a shaggy dog ​​story about being kidnapped by a cabal of train drivers.

Jordan Gray shortly before her
Jordan Gray just before her ‘hot TV moment’. Photo: Ash Knotek/REX/Shutterstock

Friday Night Live has always been about more than satire. But its fame depended on its spicy relevance. The closest these beginners came to it was with Tanya Moore and Michael Odewale’s spoof news segment – ​​which was cute enough, if out of place in the spoof news tradition that links the Two Ronnies to The Mash Report and beyond. Then it was Mawaan Rizwan with his joke song Are You Checking Me Out Or Are You Just a Racist? I Leo Reichwhose narcissistic Gen Z personality could be this generation’s Loadsamoney, even if his five-minute slot only allowed us a glimpse here.

With talent like Reich, Rizwan, and Campbell to play with, maybe Friday night (or even Saturday) live will really see a full-on revival. It remains a bulletproof format, more flexible than Live at the Apollo, with a touch of TGI Friday-style anarchy and stage space not just for comics but for bands as well. Given regular slots like their alternative comedy predecessors, it would be fascinating to see how these young guns develop their act and relationship with the audience week after week on screen.

But perhaps there is something to be saved because of the intergenerational relationship of this special edition. Elton still has chops, half a life. So does Enfield, as does everyone watching another anniversary special this week A box of love in your living room on BBC Two, will be sharply reminded. Given the rarity of overt political satire today, perhaps the surest way to honor the militant spirit of the original is not to displace these old stage performers, but – in tandem with these fantastic new generation talents – to sign them up.