It's tradition in Quebec media to review each year's end-of-year special from Radio-Canada, the Bye-Bye. It went a bit crazy two years ago when Véronique Cloutier and Louis Morissette decided to take their first crack at it. So much so that there wasn't one to end 2009.
So you can imagine how much everyone was anxious to see what would happen when Cloutier and Morissette decided they would throw themselves into the gauntlet again and host the Bye-Bye 2010.
I watched it, along with my family, on New Year's Eve, and followed the reaction live on Twitter. My first thoughts were that it was pretty impressive, that they weren't overcompensating by pulling their punches compared to 2008, and that it wasn't likely to offend anyone ... or at least, no one not working for Quebecor.
The consensus was that the production values were good (particularly makeup and prosthetics, which in some cases made the actors barely recognizable as themselves and instantly recognizable as their targets), the parodies were well done, and the music videos were great, but the jokes fell flat, which is kind of the most important part.
The first professional reviews came quickly afterward (Richard Therrien's was up in less than an hour). But many others waited because they were to go in newspapers, and many of them published neither on New Year's Day nor on Sundays. It would be more than 48 hours before some people would read anything about it.
Here are some of the reviews that came out:
- Therrien's blog post and later print review in Le Soleil gave the Bye-Bye high marks, calling it "excellent" and saying it achieved its goal of making up for the 2008 show.
- 7 jours had a review by Patrick Delisle-Crevier that was picked up by Agence QMI. It was more of a recap than a review, but the headline said "mission accomplie", which seems pretty clear.
- Rue Frontenac's Pascale Lévesque gave it "two thumbs up", particularly for some of the jokes at Quebecor's expense and a wink in the direction of locked-out journalists.
- Le Droit's Valérie Lessard thought it was well done, though she found the segments on Enfants de la télé and Joël Legendre sounded a bit too much like they were plugging these projects rather than just making fun of them.
- The Gazette's Brendan Kelly bemoaned the lack of controversy, and agreed with others that it was better than 2008 but not an all-time great.
- Steve Proulx wrote on his Yahoo! column that the entire concept should be thrown out the window, and that Infoman's special was much better than "du sous-Marc Labrèche"
- Le Devoir's Stéphane Baillargeon found the show too simplistic, echoing the sentiment that Infoman was the better special and that celebrity impersonations should be left to Marc Labrèche
- La Presse's Hugo Dumas noted that the "guerre des médias" wasn't put on hold for this special
- La Clique du Plateau had a simple list of the good points and bad
Of course, none of these really mattered. What mattered was the review of Michelle Coudé-Lord, the arts editor at the Journal de Montréal.
The headline on Monday morning was "Un Bye-Bye prudent", which was a positive sign. It began with some compliments toward the show and its hosts. But then, as if on cue, Coudé-Lord took issue with them making fun of TVA for reasons that I'm sure are entirely unrelated to the fact that Quebecor owns TVA and the Journal de Montréal:
Encore une fois, la formule du couple vedette de Radio-Canada est restée la même, on tape sur les émissions de TVA plus méchamment que sur celles de Radio-Canada et on devient extrêmement mesquin envers Julie Snyder et Céline Dion.
Le sketch Des nouvelles de Céline fut le plus dur de la soirée.
Véronique Cloutier en Julie Snyder et Louis Morissette en René Angelil... s'en sont donnés à coeur joie.
«On va vous offrir la visite de l'utérus de Céline; Denis Lévesque va recevoir le placenta de Céline ou j'ai signé un contrat de trois ans d'amitié entre toi et Julie Snyder...» C'est mesquin, totalement gratuit et surtout pas drôle. Un numéro qui, espérons-le, a fait du bien au couple Cloutier-Morissette.
The next day in the Journal de Québec, Jean-Jacques Samson went one step further, taking issue not only with the Céline Dion/Julie Snyder parody but with Jean-François Mercier making comments about shale gas exploration. To many people, these were among the funniest parts of the night, but to him it was unacceptable vulgarity, apparently all part of a Radio-Canada conspiracy to use our tax money to attack the right wing of Quebec society.
I have to admit, my reaction watching the show for the first time was that it did take a lot more shots at TVA shows than those of Radio-Canada (the fact that it spent so much time parodying TV shows is something a few critics have pointed to as a weak spot). Wanting some qualitative data to back that up, I rewatched it and scored each sketch. Making fun of Quebecor TV shows got a +1, Radio-Canada shows (or the hosts themselves) got a -1, and I adjusted those based on how deep the digs were.
The segments, in chronological order:
- A parody of Rencontres paranormales on TVA - targets the show and host Chantal Lacroix (+1)
- A bunch of jokes comparing politicians to annoying family members at a holiday party (0)
- On a échangé nos maires (parody of On a échangé nos mères on Canal Vie, which is just Wife Swap dubbed in French) - targeting the mayors of Montreal and Quebec City (0)
- A parody of Marie-Mai's C'est Moi, targeting the Marche Bleue, the campaign to use taxpayer money to build a hockey arena in Quebec City, and a brief dig at Pierre-Karl Péladeau wanting to own it all (+1/2)
- A parody of Julie Snyder's interview with Céline Dion on TVA, targeting the Dion family, Snyder and the relationship between them. Because Dion these days seems to be as much a product of Quebecor as Snyder (or at least that's how it's portrayed), and it's filled with digs at TVA, I'll mark this (+2)
- A parody of Le dîner de cons, targetting Stephen Harper (0)
- Dubois en promotion, a parody of Dubois en réalité on V targeting the show and Dubois's career (0)
- A parody of the Bastarache commission targeting the commission, lawyer Suzanne Côté, and Jean Charest (0)
- A parody of Lady Gaga's Bad Romance, targeting Liberal party fundraiser Franco Fava and Charest (0)
- A parody of a Jean Coutu commercial, targeting BP (0)
- A sketch involving André Caillé exploring for shale gas in the back yard of the "king de V", Jean-François Mercier (0)
- A parody of Les Trois Accords's Elle s'appelait Serge, making fun of Joël Legendre for being a "girouette" with regard to Quebecor to sell his recipe book. (-1/2)
- Lance et crampe, a parody of Lance et compte on TVA, targeting the show and ... being old (+1)
- A parody of a musical commercial for Déménagement La Capitale targeting Jean Charest (0)
- A parody of a Toyota commercial targeting its braking problems (0)
- Les Arrièrés, a parody of Les rescapés on Radio-Canada, targeting Cardinal Marc Ouellet and the Catholic church (0)
- A sketch about Chilean miners as a parody of a Swiffer commercial (0)
- A second sketch about the Chilean miners targeting Occupation Double (TVA) contestant JoÈve (+1)
- On prend toujours un arrière-train, a parody of On prend toujours un train on Radio-Canada, targeting Anne-Marie Losique and her new adult pay TV channel, including a dig at V's Zéro à $1000 (0)
- A parody of Taxi 0-22 featuring poker champ Jonathan Duhamel, targeting Rogatien's political views but not really making fun of the show itself (0)
- Another parody of Taxi 0-22 featuring figure skater Joannie Rochette (0)
- Just after midnight, a joke about Quebec's sales tax going up to 8.5% (0)
- A parody of a Nissan commercial, targeting the G20 summit and its fake lake (0)
- Les restants de la télé, a parody of Les enfants de la télé on Radio-Canada, targeting Cloutier, Morisette, Antoine Bertrand, Kevin Parent, Pauline Marois and Clotaire Rapaille (-1 1/2)
- Marc Hervieux singing Shakira's Waka Waka (0)
- A sketch making fun of Xavier Dolan (0)
- On bouche une case horaire la semaine, a parody Ça finit bien la semaine on TVA, targeting the show, Mélanie Maynard, Guy Nantel, Patrick Huard and Anik Jean (+1 1/2)
- A parody of a Subway commercial targeting Scott Gomez's salary (0)
- A music video featuring Canadiens coach Jacques Martin being auto-tuned (0)
- Le vrai bafouillateur, a parody of Le vrai négociateur on LCN, targeting the show and host Claude Poirier (+1)
- A sketch about the marriage of Grégory Charles, targeting the entertainer (0)
The net total: +7. Seven segments made direct jokes at the expense of Quebecor shows or personalities (as opposed to simply using parodies of shows as a conduit to make jokes at other people's expense), and the only ones at Radio-Canada's expense were one making fun of Joël Legendre (and that's not even really a Radio-Canada thing) and the stuff about Les Enfants de la télé, the show produced by Cloutier and Morissette that would have been really weird if they didn't parody.
Coudé-Lord suggests EDLT was included just so that they could go after TVA shows. I doubt they thought about it so clinically, and they made jokes at the expense of V as well, but I find it difficult to believe they couldn't take some good shots at a single other Radio-Canada program. Tout le monde en parle? C'est juste de la TV? Le club des ex? Or is it that Radio-Canada hasn't put anything new that's really good or interesting on TV other than that archive clip show?
I'll leave the judgment up to you, not that it really matters. Who keeps a scorecard watching a comedy show?
As a quantitative measure of its power, we can look at Bye-Bye's ratings, though those might come with an asterisk because they only include live viewers and not those who watched from PVRs or online.
According to Therrien, the Bye-Bye had 2.315 million viewers on New Year's Eve, and another 1.33 million when it was repeated the next day. Though the numbers were less than they were in 2008, Dumas points out that 82% of Quebec francophone TV viewers that night were tuned to Radio-Canada.
Until TVA puts serious effort into some late New Year's Eve show (it didn't even try competing this year), Bye-Bye will have a nearly unanimous audience. This year won't change that.
Credit where it's due
The jokes might not have been the best in the world, but everyone loved the production values. Sadly, the list of people involved with the show on its website is incomplete. The show that aired included names of people who did prosthetics (Stéphane Tessier), costumes (Diane Lavoie, Sylvie Beaudoin, Marie-Lynn Beaulieu, Véronique Leblond), original music (Nicholas Savard-L'Herbier), makeup (Bruno Rhéaume and Olivier Xavier, with chief makeup artist Charlotte Vézina), hair (Manon Côté and Stéphanie Tremblay, with chief Louis Bond, stylist Catherine Demers and perruquière Géraldine Courchesne). It also properly credits Pierre-Luc Gosselin, who directed the music videos.
Eagle-eyed viewers also caught the name of Pierre-Luc Cloutier, credited as "recherchiste" - who got to know Véronique Cloutier as a member of Dans ma télé, a group that recently disbanded after Cloutier decided he didn't have enough free time to devote to such a volunteer measure.
Learn from YouTube
You'd think that a show based almost entirely of individual clips would be put online in such a way that those clips would be individually accessible. Unfortunately, both the version on their website and the one on Tou.tv only offer it as one hour-and-a-half block with no table of contents.
The result is that if I'm looking, say, for that Véronique-Cloutier-as-Lady-Gaga parody everyone was talking about, I have to go to a bootleg version on YouTube. It has 19,000 views, which is 19,000 eyeballs that Radio-Canada or its Tou.tv website could have tried to sell advertising for.
Tou.tv is nice, but it's not enough to throw an hour and a half of video online and break it up at the commercials. Online video is about searching and sharing. It's about embedding into Facebook posts so people can share and comment.
Of all the things about this Bye-Bye, that ignorance of how online video works socially is what disappointed me the most.
If you haven't seen it yet, the entire Bye-Bye 2010 is on Tou.tv.
UPDATE (Jan. 19): Le Soleil's Richard Therrien says people's memories are fuzzy when they say that this year's Bye-Bye was particularly mean toward politicians.