Personally, I would have brought back The Word or, at a stretch, Katie Puckrik’s Pyjama Party. But today we are faced with news that’s going to be as divisive as it was inevitable. Following its successful one-off revival, TFI Friday is coming back to Channel 4 for a full series, the twist being that Chris Evans will return to front all eight episodes. We should at least be used to Evans going back on his word when it comes to career plans. And so it would be instructive to establish a timeline of these cataclysmic last few months.
A rip opens in the fabric of light entertainment when Jeremy Clarkson punches somebody in the face. Because this happens around the same time as the UK’s most bankable TV presenter, Dermot O’Leary, quits The X Factor, Chris Evans feels the need to loudly and publicly rule himself out of the race to replace Clarkson. Because it’s 19 years since TFI Friday, Channel 4 decide to air a 20th-anniversary special of the show a year early. The broadcast goes exceptionally well, save for a bizarre final sequence, which descends into an elongated audition for the Top Gear job, complete with a cameo from Clarkson and an interview with charisma black hole Lewis Hamilton.
During said broadcast, former Radio 1 breakfast-show host Evans anoints current Radio 1 breakfast-show host, Nick Grimshaw, as his successor in any permanent revival of the show. The following Monday, Evans is announced as the permanent host of Top Gear after all, the residual goodwill towards TFI apparently paving the way for a Grimshaw-led revival, almost as if the whole thing had been planned all along. Later that week, Grimshaw is announced as the new Louis Walsh on The X Factor, the first time an openly gay man has held the position of Louis Walsh on The X Factor, making Grimshaw’s cultural hegemony almost complete. The following week, Evans steps down from The One Show, because last time he tried to sustain a weekly Friday-night broadcast alongside a BBC radio breakfast show, things went awry (also, Top Gear). And now, today, on the same morning that Kate Garraway bullied Dermot O’Leary live on breakfast TV into admitting that he would have quite liked the Top Gear gig after all, Channel 4 announces that TFI is indeed coming back for a full series, hosted by Evans. One can only hope they’re lining up Clarkson for The One Show in order to square the circle, and that someone hires O’Leary soon.
What to make of it all? Whatever you think of Evans, few people are going to try to deny he remains a brilliant live broadcaster. Whatever you think of a 90s revival, not many would deny that the TFI special was a breath of fresh air in a world of precious little music TV and anodyne, stage-managed talk shows (it’s coming to something when Alan Carr represents the punk-rock option). It trod an admirable path, managing to celebrate the past while striving for topicality; humiliated children from the original run rubbed shoulders with latterday A-listers such as Amanda Seyfried, while returning heroes Blur shared a stage with genuinely relevant newcomers Years and Years. And if the blokey backslapping remained in place, too (hello, Liam Gallagher and Roger Daltrey), it managed to come off as a charming slice of nostalgia – or, at least, it did to this viewer, who surely wasn’t alone in enjoying a revival rush of the carefree panic that was puberty. Which, of course, was the point in a 19th-anniversary special.
A whole series, though? In a world where Freak or Unique pales into quaintness compared to half of what’s on pre-watershed Channel 4 most weeknights, and a revival of the It’s Your Letters song became tiresome after the first 40 seconds, it begs the question of whether the centre can hold. Meanwhile, the underlying psychodrama behind the TFI special felt like Evans making peace with his public meltdowns. Can he really recapture that lightning in a bottle? Would he even want to? An unpredictable talkshow with interesting guests who actually say things, with actual live bands on, can only be welcome. But part of me wonders if the 49-year-old Evans doesn’t secretly wish Cowell hadn’t snapped Grimshaw up after all. I’m biting my tongue. Except to beg everyone involved not to inflict that Reef song upon us anymore. And that if Channel 4 does decide to bring back The Word, I am available.