Tuesday, January 30

Big Brother's Block Buster

In the first of a series of reviews lamenting the end of Celebrity Big Brother, Lucien Mettommo casts the movie

So Celebrity Big Brother has ended. And as we all suspected, us English just don’t cut it when it comes to being generally sound. We all know it: The top three finishers in the latest series all hailed from foreign climes.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s because the majority of English people in this series would be unwelcome at a Millwall game. Escorted, they would be, from the ground by Robert Kilroy Silk for being too bigoted and overly tanned to be acceptable in the circles of racist society. For Heaven’s sake, Teddy ‘I like Dentist chairs’ Sheringham even dumped Miss UK, Daniele Lloyd over her antics.

Anyway, let’s not linger on the reality of the situation. Isn’t it better that we indulge in a little CBB fantasy and wonder instead which real Celebrities would play the main characters in this year’s show if the spectacle was turned into a Movie?

Let us begin with the winner:

Shilpa: The darling of the show who united the general population and a quarter of the World’s peoples against the spectre of racism and xenophobia. For her truly gracious and diplomatic speech at her victory, she should be played by Sylvester Stallone (or Poppadom or Boubadoop, whatever). Not only is he the darling of Hollywood after he courageously defied the considerable number of sceptics to make a half decent boxing movie at the age of 137, but he also single handedly ended the cold war in rocky 4 with his (barely comprehensible) words.

Jermaine: His unflappably calm demeanour and otherwise Buddha-like qualities, mean that Jermaine would be an obvious fit for Morgan Freeman… and, you know, they are both black. In fact, the film could be entirely narrated by Freeman, in his own God-like style. He could say things like ‘They didn’t expect Leo Sayer to last a night in Shawshank (oh I mean the BB house), but the curly haired entertainer defied them all…”

Dirk: Well surely the Face-man could only be played by one man: Dirk Benedict. The coolest American ever to grace these shores, he was a true legend. He was ‘Face’ and for that reason alone he deserves to play his own character.

Ian: Good old H. I think everyone thought the guy was a bit of a loser before the show started, but he really turned out to be a pretty nice chap. He was also brave to come out as, you know, a bit gay before he entered the House – rather like a dodecahedron coming out as slightly edgy. His wacky antics, if not amusing, were at least a distraction, and, for this reason, his character should be played by Murdoch, or ‘Mad’ Murdoch McLeod as he is known on the A-Team. I’m not trying to reunite the A-Team (although I wish could if only one of ‘em wasn’t dead). I just think Dirk is so cool, he needs a sidekick. Even if he is a crazy fool.

Danielle: Miss UK could only be a vacuous Hollywood bimbo. Fortunately, these are ten a penny in LaLa Land. In the end, it’s a toss up between Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton. But Lohan wins out, just because I want Paris to play Jade’s mother’s dead arm.

Jade: I think we should all realise that Jade is no racist. She just doesn’t have the intelligence to develop normal moral responses to intense situations. And for this reason, she should be played by George W. Ouch… political satire.

Cleo: Kenny Everett’s dance partner? What the hell does Kenny Everett’s dance partner mean? And who the fuck is Kenny Everett? The slightly ageing ‘celebrity’ still clinging desperately to her lost youth, whilst never saying anything of substance, should be played by Madonna.

Jo: Or ‘pram face’ as she is known to friends. Her features have been haggard by endless chain smoking. Her charm is unmistakeably absent. There is really only one woman who could play this character, and this is Pam St Clement or ‘Pat from Eastenders’. They could basically be twins.

I don’t care enough about, or indeed remember, the rest. Although I would like Todd Carty or ‘Mark from Eastenders’ to be in it as he looks like he needs a break.

Monday, January 29

He’s so alive

The return of Richard Hammond from near death and Louis Theroux from self-imposed obscurity meant that Sunday night saw the very welcome return of two BBC documentary stalwarts, says Mark Lewis.

Clarkson shouted, James May quietly contemplated whether Clarkson was a bigger twat than wine ponce, Oz Clark, and Richard Hammond didn’t die. The first two we could have indifferently contemplated. The final one we have to be pleased about if only in the hope that it will arrest Hammond’s transformation into Clarkson’s Mini-Me.

On the evidence of the new series of Top Gear (Sunday BBC2, 8pm) ‘Hamster’ was a little thinner; perhaps a bit more fragile, but otherwise pretty much the same. Alas that probably means he will restart his transformation into a fat, curly-haired middle-aged man, despised by anyone who’s ever seen a copy of The Guardian. It also means the welcome return of Top Gear, and the scoop footage of the accident in which Hammond nearly died.

Inevitably the commentary he shot before his crash took on resonance not usually associated with the fripperies of the show. He. still. had. that. Clarkson-esque… staccato delivery, which is always more entertaining than apposite. But phrases like ‘this could be the biggest accident you’ve ever seen in your life,’ and ‘I’m so alive, I’m so alive,’ made him more right… than a 1930s Munich Bier Keller.

He could have been so wrong.

Not so wrong, however, that he could have featured in one of Louis Theroux’s weird weekends.

In The Weird World of Louis Theroux (Sunday, BBC2, 9pm), the unassuming assassin looked back over ten years of exploring unusual characters and persuasions.

It was rather like a long-running sitcom running out of ideas and rolling out a past clips show. (The show reminds us perhaps of the sit-com’s past glories but usually presages a decline in the quality, ending up with Fonzie jumping over a shark in a speedboat).

We hope that it will not be the same for Louis, whose never-let-it-go interviewing style has facades stripped quicker than paint in a Ronseal advert. A rapper, we are told in Theroux’s dad-at-a-disco-style, is ‘also a full time gangster and pimp.’

‘I been doing this since I was 11 years old,’ replies the rapper, pushing a gun into the waistband of his trousers. ‘This is who I am. You un’stand what I mean? For real.’

‘But you could shoot your testicles off.’

This is cringe comedy, which predates The Office and Extras, but because it is delivered in a conceptual documentary also managed to catch the zeitgeist of programmes like Wife Swap. Like the Channel 4 stalwart, the programme caught the imagination, not because of the freaks, but because of the humanity.

The fearless questioning and commentary sets people up for the TV freak show and invites us - mostly rather cruelly - to laugh at them. But Theroux’s genius is allowing for snippets of his victims’ humanity to shine through, layering his programmes with undercurrents of melancholy.

We hope it will survive into next week’s new series.

Monday, January 15

A lot better than working

Big Brian Yates takes a break from a lousy week of work and discovers BBC4

How good is BBC4? In the middle of a week of shit at work, I took some time off to watch Hotel California, from Byrds to Eagles: what a treat! Chris Wilson’s documentary film, tracing the flowering of rock music in LA in the sixties and seventies, featured no one going ‘on a journey of discovery’ (with shots of aircraft taking off and landing to prove it), no simplistic, over-dramatic statements repeated every two minutes, no ego-driven presenter shouting at the camera; this was like reading a grown-up’s book, but with moving pictures . . . and fabulous music.

Then, on Friday, after the shit had hit the fan at work, I needed to watch something, anything, in the half-time interval of Sky Sport’s rugby coverage. A quick channel surf offered me In Concert With . . . (BBC 4, 8.30pm), which turned out to be half an hour of classic BBC footage from 1970 of mighty rock legend Neil Young playing some new songs. The audience sat politely in their amusing seventies fancy-dress as Young sat hunched over his guitar or piano, face screwed into a racing-cyclist’s mask of pain and concentration, pouring out the emotion. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as he slashed at his acoustic guitar and launched into another unknown number. It was Heart of Gold, one of the 50 greatest songs ever. The director pulled one or two fancy seventies tricks, shifting the camera angle and focus to place the giant head of a resting guitar alongside the musician, or overlaying a psychedelic purple Neil Young over the cowboy-brown one and subtly merging them together, but he mostly kept it simple. Thank you BBC4 for bringing a tortured genius into my living room on a Friday night!

(Apparently the second half of the rugby was a thriller!)

Thursday, January 11

Too few twats; too many arms

David Cook can't hide his disappointment at the number of limbs in the Celebrity BB House

The most disappointing thing about Celebrity Big Brother so far isn't that none of the celebrities are of any interest at all - although they're not. It's the discovery that famed one-armed lesbian Jackie (and we're going to spell that CORRECTLY, not with that superfluous 'y') has, in fact, got two arms. OK, one of them doesn't work, but there's definitely two of them. We counted. Twice.

Now, in last year's 'normal' BB, the delicate 'keep the interesting people in, no matter how repellent' balance was destroyed by the loathsome Sezer. Jackiey, incredibly, is even worse: she looks, sounds and probably smells like the human embodiment of a local tip. "I'm not arguing!" she argued at Shilpa. "I'm not shouting!" she shouted. "I don't want to fight!" she yelled, ready to fight. "I'm listening to you!" she sniffed, not letting Shilpa get a word in edgeways. Brr. The woman makes Jade look like a saint.

Still, maybe we should keep her in. BB needs a certain level of twatness in the house, and that's sorely lacking since Donny left. ("Maybe he's hiding under the table," scoused Danielle. HE JUST WENT OVER THE ROOF, you utter, utter MORON. How could he POSSIBLY be hiding under the table? Gnngh... Incidentally, today Donny 'edited' the 3am Girls' page in the Mirror. "I'd love to meet Britney - but not until she's got rid of that cellulite on her bum!" Seriously. Rock and fucking roll.)

The rest of them, well... Cleo's mental, but the others are blander than dry Ryvita, especially Jade's boyfriend Jack who's so quiet it's quite possible he doesn't exist. It is quite fun playing the 'Does she have a tooth missing or not?' game with Jo, though, and Jermaine's perma-bemused expression is almost worth the entrance fee alone. But not quite, even though there isn't an entrance fee at all.

And that's it. Real BB can't come round soon enough. TV off.

Friday, January 5

It flew at the right time

Green Wing could have run and run but it bowed out at the top, which is more than can be said for Parky, says Mark Lewis

When you can’t decide which character you like the most in a sitcom you’ve got yourself a terrific ensemble cast. It is the genius of Friends and Scrubs and it’s the reason Green Wing could have run for as long.

But where Green Wing is the superior comedy is that it knew when to stop. Four series in, and the Scrubs characters are beginning to metamorphose like the cast of Eastenders. When storyline supercedes character, it is time to give up the plot. Scrubs remains one of the best reasons to turn on the telly but I fear one more series and Turk is going to be caught sleeping with Sharon in the Arches and be beaten up by his brother Grant.

We will miss Green Wing (Thursday, 10pm Ch4). It was a comedy to which you would gladly dedicate an hour because it wound slapstick, satire, surrealism and straight up comedy like a TV chef juggling endorsement contacts. At close to two hours, last night’s one off finale was a commitment for sure, and having been pushed down the schedule by the introduction of this year’s interminable Celebrity Big Brother it ended at close to midnight.

Feature length is not normally a phrase to raise joy in the hearts of TV viewers, but the thin spreading of melancholy over the script in this final episode was more than enough to sustain tired eyes to the end. It was set in the last few weeks of Mac’s life, but like Friends and the Office before it, the writers knew that we all ultimately wanted a happy ending.

Which is more than can be said for the latest incarnation of Michael Parkinson.

He doesn’t ignore his guests like Frank Skinner, and he doesn’t pull faces at them like Davina. But really, how hard can it be? Michael Parkinson has all the skill of a man who can ask movie stars how they make their portrayals so lifelike and laugh at the jokes of Scottish comedians.

There is no doubt that he manages those arts skilfully, I just wonder whether mastering sycophantic smalltalk means you deserve to have a nationally recognised pseudonym.

Parky, however, has sown his own demise by taking the ITV shilling. Judging by last night’s Michael Parkinson’ Greatest Entertainers (Thursday, ITV, 9pm) he will have suffered the Trevor MacDonald disease within weeks and will be topping and tailing someone else’s report on the unwatched Tonight programme.

This was textbook ITV: pay big money for a star an then flog the career right our them in ill-fitting vehicles. Michael Parkinson’s Greatest Entertainers was the chat show equivalent of Ross Kemp’s Ultimate Force.

It was the last death throes of a fading TV aristocrat whose consummate professionalism and good fortune landed him some of the most sought after guests on the planet. Now he was reduced to telling us over two hours that Fred Astaire was a jolly good dancer; Frank Sinatra could sing a bit, and Billy Connolly had been on his show a lot.

So farewell then, Parky. You’ll be missed by people’s mums. Probably even more so than Green Wing.

Wednesday, January 3

This Life, But Not As We Know It

Helen Parton finds the ten-year reunion of one of her favourite shows a little hard to swallow.

It was billed as event TV, equalling the denouement of who shot JR but unfortunately This Life + 10 (9pm, BBC2) was more like the first episode of Eldorado: a hell of a letdown. Maybe it’s because this time the characterisation was so clunky as we see our favourite 90s quintet return at the funeral of motorcycle courier (turned dental hygienist!) Ferdy. Anna the successful barrister was believable enough and Miles the ex-pat hotellier sort of fit while Warren had clearly been driven to becoming a life coach after spending so many years as Bergerac’s sidekick on Midsomer Murders.

But Milly the stay at home Mum and Egg the successful novelist? Apparently the scene when Egg is speaking about his book at a press conference was series creator Amy Jenkins’ starting point for this ten-year reunion special. But clearly Jenkins had forgot Egg only wanted to write for a living for about two episodes in the original series, and then found that cooking was far more his forte. As it was, the closest we got to that was Egg being compared to Jamie Oliver for having his life filmed by twentysomething documentary maker Claire. Ah yes, here was a plot device crowbarred in so we could have some more talking head scenes, seeing as nobody was seeing a therapist anymore.

Though God knows they needed to now more than a decade ago – Miles still in love with Anna, Anna having biological clock issues, Warren popping a series of Holby City’s worth of pills. The fact was there was too much ground to cover in eighty minutes and everyone unbelievably dusted themselves off as each mini disaster unfolded – Milly falling off a horse – oh it’s OK, she’s fine and cackling maniacally, Warren overdosing– duh, he only took the one sleeping tablet. Even Miles’s country pile being repossessed wasn’t that bad – at least we didn’t have to see his ghastly cream damask sofa anymore for one thing.

He managed to keep his Portishead and Massive Attack CDs from 1997 I hear and that brings me to another thing – This Life’s music was always spot on and that bit of nostalgic trip hop aside, it’s all gone a bit Pete Tong. We have Egg listening to old Killers and Strokes, when clearly he’d have either gone Q-reading muso with Arctic Monkeys, Dylan, Snow Patrol and Jamie T on repeat, lurched into James Blunt dirge or refused to believe a good record had been made post-Britpop. And don’t even get me started on this particular cringe-inducing exchange. Egg: “Her last boyfriend was one of the Kaiser Chiefs!” Miles: “The what cheeses?”. The TV script equivalent of “Is it raining, I hadn’t noticed.” I’m sure you’ll agree.

I know all the actors schedules are jam-packed these days- Jack Davenport is now playing a swashbuckling Miles in Pirates of the Caribbean in Hollywood having done a turn as a comedy Miles in the truly dreadful Coupling and Andrew Lincoln and Daniella Nardini keep popping up as variations of Egg and Anna in ITV specials, but surely even they knew that forcing the viewer to wolf down a big helping of a one-off instead of say a sensibly sized two parter, would give all concerned televisual heartburn, not to mention a little heartache for what had been top notch, must see telly and was now as dodgy as Miles’ new haircut.