A case of love and hate in this week’s TV so let’s kick off straight away with some laughter.
We start with a triple bill of comedy and the return of a comedy franchise which helped launch Channel 4′s reputation as the alternative choice. The Comic Strip debuted on Channel 4′s opening night with Five Go Mad in Dorset a parody of the Famous Five from there they spoofed a Hollywood version of the Miner’s Strike in The Strike and The Bullshitters a spoof of cop shows such as The Professionals. The last time The Comic Strip moniker was used was in 2005 with the romcom spoof Sex Actually which wasn’t well promoted and didn’t too well with the critics. Six years later the group are back doing what they do best and that’s combining political satire and a popular movie genre to make something a bit different. Original cast members Nigel Planer, Jennifer Saunders, Robbie Coltrane and Rik Mayall are all present and correct but it is Stephen Magnan who takes the lead role in The Hunt for Tony Blair. The story is done in the style of a film noir with Blair on the run after the police finally catch up with him, in flashback we are told that he killed both John Smith and Robin Cook and during his journey he also dispatches of a drunken socialist played by Ross Noble and Mayall’s Professor Predictor a mock-up of Dr. David Kellyhere presented as a novelty act at a nightclub called The Chilcot. Blair is presented as a guitar-toting social climber who solves problems by bumping people off and then justifying it as a perfectly reasonable solution. For me there were two brilliant sequences in the whole thing the first was when Blair goes to meet Bush who is represented as a dodgy prohibition-era gangster who bullies Tony into following him into Iraq with threats of violence at the hands of Donald Rumsfeld if he refuses. The other is a brilliant spoof of Sunset Boulevard with Saunders’ Margaret Thatcher in the Gloria Swanson role and John Sessions as the dutiful butler. We see in this scene that Blair is willing to go through anything to escape even if it means sleeping with Thatcher. As a comedy it only made me laugh a couple of times most of that was during the aforementioned Thatcher scenes but also Noble’s section was fairly amusing as was Harry Enfield’s hostile Alistair Darling, Planer’s slimy Peter Mandleson and Tony Curran’s furious Robin Cook. What they did get right here was the film noir style from the characters to the music, the flashbacks and even the atmospheric fog this felt like a classic film from the 1940s and 1950s and as a fan of the genre I approve. While the blending of the styles felt a little uneasy at times overall this was definitely a return to form from The Comic Strip while not always laugh-out-loud this had enough good fun at the expense of Blair and the film noir genre to satisfy comedy fans and I was definitely one of them.
The second big comedy release of the week was the new, and possibly last, series of Harry Hill’s TV Burp. Yes with the news a couple of weeks ago that Hill was getting tired of watching marathons of Snog, Marry, Avoid and wanting to work on an X-Factor musical. Talking of The X-Factor, it is now tradition that Hill’s show is broadcast immediately before the live finals. So was there any new stuff to welcome what possibly could be Hill’s swansong? The short answer is no. The long answer is it this usual mickey-taking out of the soaps, the reality shows and Downton Abbey. Suffering the brunt of episode one’s pastiches was Baking Made Easy’s Lorraine Pascale who does set herself up for a fall by telling stories that really don’t go anywhere most of them involving cheesecake. Coach Trip’s senior nudist Stephen was also focused on for a dead look in his eye which made Hill reckon there was someone else living in him trying to get out. Now I watched all the episodes of Coach Trip and I never picked up on this and that’s one of the beauties of TV Burp sitting back and going, ‘yeah actually you’re right.’ Take his weekly X-Factor feature in which he focused in on the judges introducing their guests such as Gary with Robbie and Kelly with Jennifer Hudson then he comes to Louis with Sinitta and shows the acts trying to muster even a modicum of enthusiasm. So will the show carry on if Hill leaves? Well certainly if the writers stay then some of the surreal material will remain but there’s a sense of fun that Hill brings that is unique to his character. I can think any comic or presenter who could convincingly pull off the weekly mid-show fight or the final sing-song even though a lot would think they could. So if indeed this is Hill’s final series then it should be the last generally and I welcome the debut of The X-Factor musical.
Finally we have the latest in Sky’s new collection of new home-grown comedies and their first attempt to do a pre-watershed sitcom. The programme is Spy a screwball comedy which stars Darren Boyd as the hapless Tim a single father and computer store worker who quits his job to find a new career so his Marcus will finally be proud of him. Due to a mix up at the job centre Tim ends up sitting an exam for MI5 and passing it due to his love of sudoku-esque mental problems. When the higher-ups at the agency find out the mistake they still let him in with the proviso that he doesn’t let it slip although he does tell his friend Chris he decides he can’t tell Marcus so tells his son that he ended up with a date entry position. Spy is an interesting mix of old school knockabout comedy and if it wasn’t due to some of the risqué elements of the plot could easily be at home on children’s TV, or at least in my era of kids telly when it was still decent. Darren Boyd plays yet another loser-in-life and Tim comes across as a really likeable chap even if he is a bit daunted by life. Robert Lindsay is also great as the MI5 head honcho simply known as The Examiner with an Alan Sugar beard and a pronounced Northern twang his interactions with Boyd are some of the programme’s best also worthy of a mention are Rebekah Staton’s fellow trainee agent Caitlin and Matthew Bayton’s Chris a computer store worker who hates people and always has messages on his ‘can I help you?’ name tag. The one joke that got really old really quickly was that of Marcus the overly mature son who goes for jogs and constantly berates his father for his predictable nature and for the fact that he let his mum go off. The actor who played Marcus, Jude Wright, was given the impossible task of making this brat of a child likeable in some way and never managed to pull it off so much so that I began to dread the moments when he appeared on screen. There were some major laugh-out-loud moments mostly due to Boyd being a great physical comic the pinnacle of this was when he tried to sit his exam in silence but was prevented from doing this thanks to the incredible amount of mascots he’d bought with him. There was also a fairly funny sequence in the job centre which would be familiar to anyone who has ever sought their advice while job hunting although some of the jokes felt out of place in a pre-watershed comedy namely those about Marcus’ mother not winning custody of him because of her pill addiction which seen as a comic trait rather than a serious issue. Overall though Spy was a decent sitcom which played for laughs and mostly got them thanks to Boyd and to a lesser extent Lindsay with enough to appeal to both kids and grown-ups this could hail the return of the family-friendly sitcom I’m just surprised that Sky One was the channel to do it.
It’s not a comedy but a programme that always makes me chuckle, especially if I see it on the TV at the gym complete with subtitles, is The Jeremy Kyle Show. With all of its ‘All Talk Over Each Other’ and ‘Incoherent Shouting’ the only subtitled programme which overtakes its laugh count is any rolling news coverage especially anything on Sky News. Kyle though is certainly on a roll as of late, having run out of benefit-cheats to badger over parenting issues and drug abuse he is heading over to tell off rednecks in an American version of the show. But before that happens, Kyle hits primetime with a fairly sub-standard gameshow entitled High Stakes. Explaining High Stakes isn’t as simple as telling someone how Pointless works – you have to get the lowest scores in order to advance but a lot easier than Holding Out for a Hero which I’m still not sure I understand. Kyle starts by introducing a contestant the first of whom was a Northern radio presenter who likes to refer to himself as DJ Top Banana. Essentially the contestant has to cross a board with each line representing a sum of money from £1,000 to £500,000 each line of seven squares has a growing number of traps and if the contestant steps on this trap they won’t be able to win the money on that line and will go back two steps down the money ladder, with me so far? To help them overcome the traps they get ten clues which are questions referring to the numbers so for example, ‘you must avoid the year that the first Harry Potter book was released’ so in a line between 92 and 98 you would have to avoid stepping on the number 97. However you don’t have enough clues to make it across the board without taking a least a few risks which neither of the two contestants realised even though Jane from Wolverhampton did go away with a sizeable amount of cash. So it combines the money ladder of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and the risk/reward feature of Deal or No Deal? However the way this differs from the majority of gameshows is that Kyle is allowed to help the contestants especially when Jane seemed to know nothing about what the top score in darts was but luckily Jezza was able to reel off a magnitude of darts-related info and Jen was confident enough in his answer. I have to say I was just relieved that Kyle’s influence was limited to a series of ‘lifelines’ which would’ve added more complications to the rules that we just didn’t need. I’m guessing Mr. Kyle had it written in the contract that the show be just as much about him as it was about those playing. The most worrying thing was that the family and friends of whoever was playing seemed to have been locked into an underground bunker maybe Kyle got his shows confused and wanted to limit the lowlifes to one at a time. Even if this and the US show workout I hope that ITV1 continue to air his original series to at least give me a giggle while I’m on the treadmill.
One of the trends of British TV in 2011 seems to be modelling as we’ve already seen Channel 4′s The Model Agency and E4′s Dirty Sexy Things and this week we had two programmes related to the world of modelling. First up was ITV2′s Models, Misfits and Mayhem a fly-on-the-wall look at the London School of Modelling its students more importantly its staff. The school is headed up by principal Debbie a tiny, shouty woman who attempts to be authoritative but just can’t pull it off due to an obvious soft demeanour and lack of poise. A lot scarier are some of her staff members particularly drag-queen Mr. Fierce who refers to himself as a woman and teaches etiquette. Walking in front of the modelling candidates he seems more like a concentration camp interrogator than an employee at a fairly small modelling enterprise. Demetri, the king of make-up, is an also an interesting character a wall of a man who comes across as a mixture of Nick the Greek from Lock, Stock and an avant garde make-up artist. To me Demetri would be more at home terrorising small-time business owners in East London than he would making up the students to look like they’ve had a heavy night and just fancy a cupcake which to anyone is a weird theme. It’s not long before the students are asked to strip off and there’s the obvious resistance from a couple of the girls – Louise who has a family and Serina a woman from a proud Indian family and would struggle to get an arranged marriage if she appeared in nude shots. Another employee Frank tries to comfort Serina saying that if she did some nude shots she may even get a couple more wedding offers possibly not quite understanding how arranged marriages work. Model Mentor and general horndog Matt also sees this nude shot as an opportunity to cover pretty Rebecca’s nipples with rose petals usual a sacking offence but again Debbie doesn’t seem that bothered. The final of the show sees some of the models getting campaigns for sporting wear manufacturers and the others being cut. I have to say there wasn’t a lot to mark out this programme apart from Roger Lloyd-Pack’s sardonic narration channelling Come Dine With Me’s Dave Lamb and taking the piss out of these people who do have an incredibly high opinion of themselves. At the end of the day I learnt that models really live a self-contained world in which they believe their own hype and even though they are taught good manners end up beligarant and spoilt. In fact if any of these do get some high profile glamour slots and turn into a pseudo-celebrity living in a world of their own.
Talking of which Katie Price is also back with a new show and she is also after new model talent to nurture for her new management company Black Sheep. Episode one focused on the auditions which saw Katie going around the nation’s shopping centres finding the next generations of women willing to get their boobies out for five minutes of fame and men who are willing to go through several levels of humiliation. Katie is joined in her shopping centre quest by slightly creepy slap-head TV executive Glen Midlam and Bayo Furlong a man who shouldn’t be asked to judge anybody’s else style as he has a weird thing on his head where a normal haircut should be. Katie and co. seemed to mainly attract a lot of delusional no-hopers who obviously are after something to do now The X-Factor auditions are over and who provide the most entertaining segments of this debut programme. There was Warren ‘Wazza’ Hudson a Little Britain approximation of a local radio DJ and Norwich’s local celebrity naked butler Rocco Gigino who proved that you really don’t have to do a lot to be famous in Norwich. The contestant that worried me the most was Dr. Sarah-Anne McIntyre a philosophy professor with a Phd who would rather be Katie’s pupil than do something worthwhile and academic luckily Katie didn’t understand why she was there and accused of taking the whole thing as a joke so told her to jog on. But mostly this was people strutting around in their pants for some sort of gratification from the former Jordan while being wolf-whistled by baffled shoppers who’d just popped in to get some comfortable jumpers from Debenams. However this was Katie’s show and Signed by Katie Price applied a weird Memento-esque structure in which we journeyed between present time, four weeks ago and two weeks ago in which the production team was explaining what they needed from her and the discussion about what the winner of the show would do with her business manager Andrew and her brother Daniel. I have to say this confused the hell out of me and I really didn’t care about her meetings with the production team as I would rather see twenty-something women in their lingerie, really can you blame me? Katie Price-fronted show are ten-a-penny these days and usually they focus on the woman herself going around trying to hold onto her fame. At least the spotlight was occasionally on others and seemingly she was trying to help the next generation and passing on her very limited skills-set onto them. Usually in these shows the contestants get a lot more screentime than the judges however this being Katie’s show she will only let herself come first and this may well count agains it. I can tell you I won’t be watching any more of these but in an entry into the modelling competition cannon it doesn’t take itself too seriously and seems to be aware of its own silliness which I did appreciate.
Talking of Jordan her gay Mafia, Alex Reid’s words not mine, make-up artist Gary Cockerill and DIY expert Phil Turner are one of the five couples participating in the new series of Celebrity Coach Trip. Yes more Z-Listers are touring around Italy and France with Brendan again we have the usual collection of WAGs, glamour models, Big Brother contestants and Lembit Opik. The only proper famous person is Michael Barrymore, who is accompanied by his old-school producer friend Maurice Leonard, and even he hasn’t been relevant for about ten years. In fact the most famous person on the coach seems to be Brendan the tour guide who was getting asked for his autograph while on the French ski slopes with a dejected Barrymore hovering around in the background asking young people if they have any idea who he is. The format of Coach Trip, couples have to vote each other off day by day, allows for bitchy and catty comments but at the same time the trippers have to stay in favour with their fellow passengers. Possibly top of the bitch list are Gary and Phil voting off Alex Best for having a shiny face and meaning that her and Opik were the first couple to be red-carded. Other highlights mainly include Barrymore’s theatrics getting him to do anything vaguely involving performing, the couples had to mime during one of the activities, mean that he generally goes over the top. Saying this Maurice gave his partner a run for his money in the attention stake when he revealed some rather fetching y-fronts during a beach volleyball session. However couple of the show are BB Boys Brian Bello and Spencer Smith who you may not remember as he was eliminated fairly early in the series airing nine years ago and his biggest contribution to the show was providing the late Jade Goody with the set-up for her infamous East Angular line. Despite not being famous Spencer is fairly sarcastic and balances out the purely idiotic Bello who seems to have moronic views on everything from stuffed octopi to cable-cars. Although the show is only in its infancy John McRirick and his wife the Booby have just joined the coach which still has to pick up Stan Boardman, Stavros Flatley and Wagner from The X-Factor before it finishes its run and I for one am loving it.
Are you sick of all these models? Did you Love the comic strip? Do you think TV Burp should carry on without Harry Hill? Leave your comments below.
Next Week: Holy Flyig Circus, Paul Merton’s Adventures and Derren Brown: The Assassin.