Back in the late nineties, Louis Theroux was an original documentary maker who injected a sense of lightheartedness and fun into his high-spirited yet lowbrow series ‘Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends’. Alongside presenters like Daisy Donovan and her show ‘Daisy, Daisy’, Theroux seemed to be intrinsically linked with the spirit of the late nineties, a time when British documentaries slowly became less stuffy and less pretentious. Even though this would eventually lead to a completely amateur aesthetic (like that of Stacey Dooley or Reggie Yates for example) back in the late nineties and early noughties this style was very refreshing.
Like Nick Broomfield minus his intrusive microphone, Louis Theroux used to get involved in his subject matter, sometimes getting into the nitty-gritty of the subject. I recall him once participating in the casting process of a porn film, and it was this type of engagement that added to Louis’ unique and reinvigorating documentary style. More recently however, Louis Theroux has become the very antithesis of his late nineties self; looking on at his subject at arms-length, most of the time stood about motionless and expressionless. Gone are the days of the nude Polaroid.
Putting all this praising of the past aside, there are a few things that Mr. Theroux has been responsible for that need criticising, the main thing being his choice of topics. ‘Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends’ sported a tone that subtly belittled the subject, in fact Theroux specialised in not only making the topic seem foolish but also in making the people involved look either stupid or strange. When you look back at ‘Weird Weekends’, the programme seemed to demonise very specific sections of society, and on the cusp of the millennium Theroux almost conspiratorially “tackled” every issue, topic, or demographic that would later be hyped-up and then looked down upon or vilified by the media. His show included; conspiracy theorists (‘UFO’ & ‘Survivalists’ episodes), pro-black Americans (‘Black Nationalism’ episode), masculinity (‘Wrestlers’ & ‘Body Building’ episodes), religion (‘Born Again Christians’ episode), Free Love and non-procreational sex (‘Porn’ & ‘Swingers’ episodes), Hip-Hop music (‘Gangsta Rap’ episode), TV presenters and entertainers from the 1970s (‘Paul And Debbie’ & ‘Keith Harris’ episodes) and let’s not forget everybody’s favourite hate-amalgam Jimmy Saville. Coincidentally, Theroux did shows on two celebs (Saville and Max Clifford) who would later be the subject of various sexual offence charges, the man must be jinxed.
Short of Muslims, immigrants, gypsies, and people living on benefits, Theroux pre-empted almost every single target that would be decried by the mainstream media throughout the noughties and teenies, but more recently he’s moved onto more “serious” subjects. So after his convenient mockery and bringing down of 70s celebs, twentieth century pastimes, and alternative thinkers, Theroux has recently made a slew of disheartening yet pointless documentaries about bleak topics such as prison, terminal illness, and alcoholism, but without Louis giving a point of view or an injection of his usual personality to the subject, his BBC Two specials from 2003 to the present day have lacked the uniqueness he used to bring to the genre.
Theroux has aged since he first popped-up on our screens over a decade and a half ago, and that seems to have brought out a more subdued personality. To add to this progressive vapidity, his subject matter and even his aesthetic is now very dreary and sometimes unwatchable. I mean if you’re going to mope about with a camera crew in a maximum security prison or hospital for the terminally ill, then at least have an opinion on the institution itself or maybe comment on the construct of life, don’t just stand there and make a non-threatening, no-point-of-view having, typical BBC documentary. When watching his recent shows I really do miss the messy-haired Theroux from the nineties, smirking and introducing himself as “Louis from the BBC” trying to mask his deadpan mockery of his subject matter by shielding himself with the once respectable broadcaster. His chirpier incarnation seems to be long gone these days, slowly Louis Theroux is becoming a forgettable face on television. The more he makes his morose one-off shows for the BBC, the more he becomes another bland presenter in the non-committal documentary crowd.
On a side note, like some kind of retrospective clean-up and censorship of the past, Theroux’s documentary ‘When Louis Met… Jimmy’ can’t be found anywhere; deleted from YouTube and unavailable on Netflix or iPlayer. It’s strange that you can watch (in misery I might add) all his shows about ‘Mega Jails’ and ‘Transgender Kids’ but you can’t see him befriend an alleged paedophile and necrophile rapist, we wouldn’t want a darling of the contemporary British Broadcasting Corporation to look like he gets along with the disgraced figurehead of the past now would we?
Back-tracking from his earlier, better work seems to be a common theme of Theroux, he even made a kind of apology in regards to his friendship with Saville recently on a BBC Two special called, err… ‘Saville’. This show (and others like it) seem to be declaring that paedophile rapists only existed in the past, there’s absolutely none in the present day BBC, or any other mainstream broadcaster for that matter. It’s completely idiotic to think that this type of behaviour doesn’t still occur today, like we’ve somehow solved the problem by retrospectively deleting certain ‘Top Of The Pops’ episodes from BBC Four. We’re all probably watching a famous TV personality every week on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, or Sky that’s doing exactly the same thing now that Jimmy Saville allegedly did in the past, but since it hasn’t been “uncovered” or admitted to, the public will act as if all contemporary celebrities are squeaky clean. But I digress.
Going from bad to worse, Theroux’s latest “documentary” titled ‘My Scientology Movie’ (which is currently available to watch on Amazon Video) I have to say is absolutely appalling, in fact I’d go so far in saying that this is one of the most disappointing documentaries I’ve ever had the misfortune to watch. The premise of this “movie” is simple enough; Theroux (along with the rest of the mainstream media… again) tries to denounce a religion, this time Scientology. But because he can’t get access to mainstream Scientologists or the Church Of Scientology itself, instead of either abandoning the documentary or trying harder to gain an introduction or entry to the religion, almost as if he has some kind of pressing deadline, Theroux begins to hire Z-List actors to “play” people he can’t get to. Theroux could have just interviewed Leah Remini since she seems to be the go-to anti-Scientology celebrity these days (and I use the word “celebrity” lightly there), but instead of a genuine investigation and uncovering of the facts, we have a bunch of talentless nobodies pleased as Punch to portray famous members of the religion like Tom Cruise and even leader David Miscavige even though their acting skills are like that of Louis Theroux playing an officer in the gay porn flick ‘Take A Peak’.
I can’t stress how bad Theroux’s ‘My Scientology Movie’ is, he might crack a half-arsed smile now and again but gone are the days of “flirty fishing” with The Family. Watching Louis argue over who owns a certain section of road with a Scientology rep (yes, that actually happens) instead of giving actual evidence of wrongdoing, the whole debacle is the most dull and mediocre pile of garbage to ever call itself a documentary film. And that takes some doing when it comes to a modern day BBC.
Louis Louis, Oh No, You Gotta Go.