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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: The net going down sounds blissful 

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS Reviews Last Night’s TV: No Scams, Spam or Trolls? Going down the net seems wonderful

The Undeclared War (channel four)

Rating: rating showbiz 4

Call Center Chaos: Britain on Hold (Channel Five)

Rating: rating showbiz 2

Don’t tell me you didn’t want it. If you are over 40, there must be days when you would queue up to vote to turn off the internet. permanently.

How lucky – no more influencers. No trolls, no Elon Musk, no Twitter wars over pronouns, no celebrity selfies, no spam, no scammers inviting you to launder their millions, no photos of your neighbors breakfast, no algorithms, no begging e-mails from crowdfunder charities, no nightly WhatsApps from people you haven’t seen in years, no silly memes, no Zoom, no guilt from strangers who want to feel better by dumping all their bad news about you.

Whoever brought down the internet on The Undeclared War (C4), be it Russian saboteurs or terrorist hackers, I’m on their side.

GCHQ doesn’t feel the same, of course. The prime minister warns that it costs the economy tens of billions a day. A small price to pay, I’d say.

Whoever brought down the internet on The Undeclared War (C4), be it Russian saboteurs or terrorist hackers, I'm on their side

Whoever brought down the internet on The Undeclared War (C4), be it Russian saboteurs or terrorist hackers, I’m on their side

This is a Channel 4 drama written and directed by Peter Kosminsky, whose previous work includes the horrific Isis thriller The State, so of course the prime minister isn’t Boris Johnson. It’s 2024 and Boris has been “expelled in a particularly bloody palace coup” by Andrew Makinde (Adrian Lester).

Aside from Makinde’s horrific statements, we saw nothing of the global chaos when the world went offline. Rather than attempting to set fire to cities and drop planes from the sky, The Undeclared War was mostly confined to the open offices of Britain’s electronic listening base at ‘the Doughnut’ in Cheltenham.


Pure disbelief of the night: Actor Ralf Little spent a lot of Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1) panting ‘No! You are joking!’

His biggest surprise came when he learned that his grandfather had been nearly killed by a Japanese kamikaze pilot in World War II. You can’t blame him for looking shocked.

Hannah Khalique-Brown plays Saara, a socially inept college student gaining work experience at GCHQ, whose brilliant eye discovers a trap hidden deep within the virus.

It has always been difficult to make computer code look exciting on TV. But Kosminsky finds a seductive way. He treats Saara’s debugging exploits as dream sequences. She’s at a carnival, looking for a portal that leads her to a school gym, where there’s a door in the ceiling, and so on.

In a red phone booth, chasing through racks of phone books, she sees the number she needs – and instantly she’s out of the dream and back at her desk in front of a computer. It’s a clever conceit, although it would probably become a visual cliche if taken over by other dramas.

What really holds our attention is Saara’s domestic life. Her father is depressed, her mother furious that she meekly refuses to stay at home at her family’s request.

It is this personal tension that makes the internet attack matter. Otherwise, I would wish the anarchist hackers the best of luck.

Another frustration of online culture is the ‘chatbot’, those automated assistants on websites intended to replace people and helplines.

Alexis Conran showed us in Call Center Chaos: Britain On Hold (C5) how to ignore the chatbots and get a real person to help you.

His method doesn’t sound foolproof. Alexis recommends typing the “I’m thinking of canceling my subscription” message and then answering gibberish on each subsequent question until help arrives.

He talked to people who claimed to have suffered severe customer service challenges, such as a woman who was on hold for an hour and ten minutes.

He can’t have looked hard for casualties because I suspect most of us can beat that record. An hour and ten minutes is almost an instant answer for my auto insurers.

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