Thursday, December 16

Review: The House That Made Me: Michael Barrymore

Michael Barrymore's retrospective is as selfish as it is chilling, says Mark Lewis

Maybe it is what made him such a compelling performer. But nine years after a young lad was found dead in his swimming pool with violent anal injuries, Michael Barrymore’s self absorption is ghastly.

In The House That Made Me: Michael Barrymore (Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm) his lack of empathy is as relentless as his self-pity. His bloated old cheeks forcing his eyeballs deep back inside his flesh; his brow furrowed by the years of frowning over his own misfortune, Barrymore does the Who Do You Think You Are bit with selfish gusto.

“My life would have been easier if I didn’t have to be gay,” he says. He goes back to a recreation of his childhood home: “Jumping inside your own life – that’s brave even for me.” The subtext is always the same: Something dreadful has happened to me.E  Why me? He died, but what about me? My dad was violent and fucked off when I was just 11. What about me? I was gay, growing up in South East London in the 1960s. Fuck him. Fuck that dead boy! What about me? What about me?

“Nine years after losing everything, Michael is going back to the beginning to find out where the problems began,” says the voiceover man, complicit in the sordid egocentricity.

“It’s like the night the guy died in my pool,” says Barrymore, “I know my part in it now.

“I’m not frightened to say now.

“My part was I didn’t say no. If I’d have been sober and together and had not thought you have to be good and nice to everyone, I’d have said you’re not coming back to my place”

Smirking: “I was trying to be popular and look what happened. I didn’t say no, you ain’t coming back.

“I was trying to be popular. That’s my part in it. I didn’t say no.”

Neither did Channel 4.

Wednesday, December 1

Review: Miranda

Stripped of modern gimmicks, Miranda is as old fashioned as crinoline and a shampoo and set, yet still manages to capture single womanhood in 2010 perfectly says Trudi Parton

It shouldn't work but it does. BBC2's Miranda, (Monday, 9pm) following the romantic escapades of the exceedingly tall and exceedingly funny Ms Miranda Hart doesn't have any particular structural quirks to set it apart. There's no first person camera thing like Peep Show. There's nothing like that football commentator thing they do in Pete Versus Life. It's not shit like Two Pints of Lager And a Packet of Crisps. It just has a solid script and great comedy performances.

Miranda works in a shop with her girlfriends and spends a lot of time in the neighbouring restaurant where the object of her affections, Gary, works as a chef. This week's episode focuses on Miranda and Gary's doomed attempts to get it on, despite a brace of lecherous would-be suitors, one of whom just happens to be one of her pal's fiance.

So far, so terribly old school one might think. Hell, it even has canned laughter and Miranda talks to camera - yes like Ferris Bueller does in his Day Off. But why should sit coms have to have gimmicks, when they are as charming as this, and deal with the dating dilemmas that face the modern-day Bridget Joneses (yes it was that long since the books). After all, overbearing mothers and smug marrieds never really go away do they?

Miranda and Gary's first date doesn't go well, though they do have velour-covered menus in the restaurant 'you know you're somewhere posh when they look like a smoking jacket' says Miranda. Quite. After a dessert-based fire, they then decamp to Miranda's pad where the moment is killed by a bout of indigestion and the word 'Wind-eze'.

Then, after a botched session of al fresco bonking, afternoon delight ruined by leg wax stuck to the bath  and a denouement that ends up with nearly everyone naked, 'It's just like a French farce' mugs Miranda, our unlucky in love couple never make it past first base. And then it's time for the credits to roll with the announcement that 'You Have Been Watching' (yes, like they used to do in Dads Army and Hi-De-Hi!) and another thirty minutes of shamelessly underrated sit com draws to a close. No doubt the BBC will pull it like Pulling, so enjoy it while you can.

Sunday, November 28

Review: I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here

I'm a Celebrity remains the best reality show on TV, despite turning us all into callous POW camp guards, says Mark Lewis

The cruelty on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here started off like a Japanese game show. It has become like a Japanese concentration camp.

Shit inspecting demon

At the beginning, eating bugs used to be a rarity; an uber-trial late on in the programme which separated the men from the boys, then made them all eat mashed up cockroaches anyway. Now in its ninth year, eating bugs has become something the celebrities have to do just for the authorisation to take a shit.

This weekend, (Saturday and Sunday, 9pm, ITV1) a vast woman called Alison from Birmingham and a Playboy bimbo with a voice so grating she makes you want to dip your ears in a food blender, had to keep live insects the size of Hugh Hefner in their mouths for twenty seconds, while two Geordies who used to be PJ and Duncan shouted numbers from the sidelines. Had he still been alive, Commander Tatsuji Suga of the Batu Lintang POW camp would have been taking notes. And wanking like teenager.

But IACGMOOH nevertheless remains the most compelling of reality shows. Perhaps it is because you know it will only last three weeks. Perhaps it is because once you have abandoned every concept of human decency and bought into the spiteful voyeurism, you may as well enjoy it. Most of all it is because Ant, Dec et al have completely nailed the concept. Voting to keep a person in, rather than voting to kick them out, guarantees the monsters remain and the dullards go. Gillian McKeith – a woman described by Jenny Eclaire as “a ghastly creature. Ghastly!” and Shaun Ryder as “an ‘orrible, nasty fucker,” remains. “Lovely rock,” Cheryl Gascoigne (a woman so nice that had she been chief of Northumbria police, would have let erstwhile husband, Paul, have a crack at talking down Raoul Moat with a fishing rod and six beers that time) was the first to go.
Lembit (Limp Bizkit) Opik, Alison Vast, and Britt Eckland have all followed.

So as we go into the final week, here are the Television Review odds on the probably victor:

Gillian McKeith: So poisonous she teaches wickedness classes to Mephistopheles and his evil hoards, and on Saturday night, forced Ryder into such a state of tautological incandescence that he screamed at her, “not only are you full of bullshit, you’re a lying bullshitter.” Could cast a spell to force a victory.

Aggro Santos: Tremendously tedious. But with the idiot charm of a simpleton. “Do I look like a Korean?” asked fat Caucasian, Dom Joly on Sunday night. “I don’t know man,” replied Santos.


Kayla Playboy: Voice like a corkscrew drilling into your brain. But showed some mettle. And some cleavage. Unlikely victor still.

Dom Joly: funny favourite. Masterful liar, and unapologetic bastard.

Stacey X-Factor: Unpretentious, surprisingly sharp, big-chested, supposed dim-wit. Joint favourite

Shaun Ryder: Innate decency, and charming bumbling of a cleaned up drug-nut, could see him walk out in the crown. Might end up killing McKeith, though, and see him dragged out in a police van.

Linford Christie: Extreme masculinity make his trials dull to watch. Body of a god, despite being 50. Very scared of cold water.

Jenny Eclair: Good value comedienne. Could do quite well. But not as funny as Dom, or nice looking as Stacey.


Tuesday, November 23

Review: River Monsters

River Monsters? Well, there is a river, says Saul Sherry

I’m Jeremy Wade, Biologist and Extreme Fisherman.” And so begins River Monsters (Tuesday, ITV1, 7:30pm) in the midst of a flashback to something which hasn’t happened yet. There’s nothing there, just Mr Extreme Fisherman desperately trying to build a reason to paddle around on a boat.

To be fair to the Intense Angler, the boat is on the Congo. It’s not his first time here either, as he alludes to throughout the show. Years ago he searched unsuccessfully for a mythical fish so big it would drag unsuspecting fishermen to the their deaths. “Me and this river have some unfinished business”, Wade declares. At this point, we all realise that River Monsters is a documentary in the way that a jelly bean is a functioning human kidney.

Or is it? Suddenly he is delving into the heart of Africa, areas of mineral richness which have been exploited by Europeans, leading to extreme poorness. But no, it’s an associative game. Poorness leads to toughness, meaning that Wade the Zealous Gill Killer is tough. He’s the Chuck Norris of angling. The Ross Kemp of Rex Hunt’s world. 

Next thing you know he is poking around with a small half-dead catfish. Clearly a true Extreme Fisherman. “Toothed Lungfish,” he says, fingering someone else’s catch again. “Looks like it could eat a fish.” Clearly not lying about the Biologist bit either.

All this fish talk isn’t just boring me, as Captain Scale Smotherer switches again to how violent life can be. Every time he mentions how weird something is, we are treated to a burst of X-files wobbly light effects. Suddenly fish hooks are flying off the side of the boat and embedding themselves in flesh (or cloth, probably). Blood splatters across wood, it is gratuitous. Gratuitously shit.

“I’m in the Congo, searching for a giant catfish,” he reminds us. Which sums it up, really. He’s also making out this normal fishing village out to be something from the Heart of Darkness. When the fish does arrive, its an anticlimax because you are expecting Marlon Brando to pop out of the water with cotton wool stuffed in his cheeks.

Well, it’s not just that. It’s also the fact that the fish he catches aren’t huge at all. He lands two normal size fish, but is quick to point out that “two fish can mean double the power.” Extreme Fisherman, Biologist and now Physicist, it would seem.

Turns out there is no big fish, it’s just people getting snagged on their own hooks. Less River Monsters and more Angling Safety Tips, I think.

Monday, November 22

Reviews: Coppers and Panorama

Wakefield's police are about as bright as a broken 40 watt bulb, says Mark Lewis  

At just 25 years old, PC Phillipa Child already has four years' experience dealing with Wakefield’s pub and bar detritus. It hasn’t gone to waste. Using all her experience and humbling policing skills on Coppers (Monday, ITV1, 9pm) the young hotshot quickly got to the bottom of one high street distraction. “I think she’s probably had too much to drink,” she says. On reflection, the signs were there: The hang-headed screeching, the fingers down the throat, the vomit in the hair. But it took PC Child to put a name on the symptoms.

And she was only the brightest of West Yorkshire’s finest detectives. The programme opened with one of her more satirical colleagues shouting, “booyakasha, this is my car!” at the camera, cleverly appropriating pseudo-Caribbean patois in a parody of assumed police contempt for black culture.

“I love nicking people,” he says later. “If I could, I would just nick people all the time.”

“I’ll kick him in the bollocks,” observes another.

“It’s coppers as you’ve never seen them before,” says the voiceover, imagining that the old bill the general public run into are the ones emerging from seminars on nuclear physics, rather than the ones saying, “you’re not telling me to suck your cock,” to quicker witted drunks telling them to “suck my cock.”

And that, it occurs to me, is exactly the kind of discourse we should be exporting to the Middle East. According to Panorama (BBC1, 9pm) there are “faith schools” in the UK which are using Saudi Arabian textbooks to teach British Muslims un-British lessons about Jews and homosexuals.

In the spirit of cultural exchange, how about we send our own textbooks back to Saudi Arabia? Sure, it’s fairly offensive hearing that British kids are being taught that homosexuals should be killed, and Jews metamorphose into monkeys and crabs. But it is hard to imagine Al Ekhbariya TV not being equally appalled at discovering a Tricolore 4a textbook with a scene from La Rochelle where school kids have scrawled ill-proportioned speech bubbles out of the mouth of Pierre, telling Claude to “suck my circumcised cock.”

Review: All Star Family Fortunes

Family Fortunes is an idiot’s paradise, but is it harder to hate when done for charity? Saul Sherry investigates

Where Family Fortunes once had an assured place in the UK world of four to five channels, it holds an odd position now among the neon stimulant driven miasma of other, equally bland quiz shows.

In an effort to breathe life in to a stale format, the intros are edited quickly. Also really badly, and on a shoe-string budget. One family live in a London semidetached. This is the family of celebrity Heather who has really made her name on Harry Hill’s TV Burp (she’s also an Eastender, apparently.) She’s introduced with the opportunity to show off her Donald Duck impression, it’s quite good really, considering the spasmodic entertainment abortion which is coming up. The other family lives in a castle in Dublin. They are the owners of a celebrity Boyzone. Not that one who’s name you know. Their introduction is notable for the fact that his wife and sister are identical. Apparently it is also worth telling us that he owns an 11 inch telescope.

Vernon seems more pleased to see this one. “It’s Mikey from Boyzone!” he screams to camera. “FROM DUBLIN!”. Then the questions are asked, and nothing here has changed in the Fortunes fomula. “Name someone you would not expect to hear swearing,” says Kay. You. You personality fuck void. The castle dwellers quickly establish themselves as being superior to the ones from the normal house, and to compensate Heather unleashes Donald Duck again. Vernon laughs, the audience laugh, the Boyzone laughs.

At the point where Vernon is asking, “what would you do with your trousers when not wearing them?”, short of hearing something like “put them in a furnace to get rid of the evidence”, I challenge anyone to maintain complete interest in what’s going on on screen. Things perk up in the name gender reversal round, where a woman called Lesley competes against a man called Fran to think up another word for ‘big’. This is the point where the Eastender and her family start to show how shit at this game they really are. Turns out the top answer is ‘large’. Who would have guessed? For leaving the game without scoring any points, Heather gets £1,000 pounds for her charity of choice. It makes slagging the show off a little tiny bit more difficult. It doesn’t really, it just gives me something else to write down.

“BIG MONEY!!!” squeals Vernon, as a way to allude to the oncoming final round. First question: Name a way of getting across a river. I lean across to my girlfriend, “what channel is this on?” I ask. Without looking at the screen she replies, “channel shitbags” (Saturday, ITV1, 6.30pm). We are looking forward to having kids.

When it is all over, Boyzone starts to rip his brother for having said February in response to the question “name a month with 31 days”. He himself answered September. 
All in all they won around £6,000 for their charity. Which is good, it really is. It’s amazing. I just wish they would donate the money directly. And add in Vernon’s wage, the studio costs and all the advertising revenue.

Thursday, November 18

Review: Sarah Beeny's Restoration Nightmare

Sarah Beeny's latest show is so interminably self-indulgent it is practically perverted, says Mark Lewis

A mix up at Channel 4 would have
made the show more tolerable
It is hard to conceive of a programme more tedious than a Sarah Beeny-presented hour-long show about restoring Sarah Beeny’s own 97-bedroom stately home in East Yorkshire. But Sarah Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare (Wednesday, Channel 4, 8pm) manages it by being the first of a three part series about restoring Sarah Beeny’s own home presented by Beeny and her even more dreadful husband, Graham.

‘The Queen of TV restorations’ is going to have eat her own medicine or somesuch, we are told. It is the equivalent of Gillian McKeith poking through her own shit, disturbing an insect, contracting Malaria, then getting a course of fake antibiotics from a bogus GP. Only a lot less fun. It’s difficult to imagine the agony of having to project-manage an East Yorkshire, stately home restoration from a second home in West London. But somehow Sarah and Graham are going to have to push through the pain. (It puts the cuts in benefits to alcoholic, disabled, Glaswegians into proper perspective.)

And that is just one element of the torture. They also have to deal with a film crew hanging around to take whimsical shots of them standing by their new lake, and three hours’ worth of a voiceover man saying ad infinitum that Sarah Beeny has got a big, crumbly, stately home which needs restoring cheaply, and in just six months. The irony of filming Sarah and Graham choosing sinks for five minutes before yawning and complaining to each other that choosing sinks is “so boring,” is evidently lost on the pair.

They are like Jeeves and Wooster, without Jeeves. Or any humour. So removed are they from the misery of every day British life that George Osborne fancies them a little aloof. Sarah’s brother, Dicken, is actually married to Graham’s sister, Dickette. Even the Royal Family can’t manage that level of gene management anymore.

And the whole time we have to keep swallowing this clock-ticking conceit, without the voiceover man even once shouting, “you’ve had the house for ten years, you stupid posh bint. Why the fuck do you need to get it finished in the next six months?” It is like Sixty Minute Makeover for nobs called Dicken from Notting Hill.

It would take a heart of stone not to want them to fail. But the existence of this programme, makes the possibility vanishingly remote. Despite the six-month deadline, you know that Graham’s lifelong dream of being just a little wealthier is going to come true.

“Graham has dreams and I make them happen,” says Beeny at one point. “It’s a dangerous partnership.” With a show as interminable as this one it is impossible not to ponder just how far this dangerous partnership of dream-making bastardry goes. It usually ends with Graham’s mouth being too muffled to utter the safety word, and dying with a noose around his neck Caradine-style in a locked cupboard full of oranges and old roof tiles.

But even that wouldn’t be worth watching the next two episodes for.

Tuesday, January 12

Review: Delia Through the Decades

The witchcraft of delia has somehow kept her on our screens for forty years, says Mark Lewis

“If I’d have been born in Medieval times I would have been burned at the stake without any doubt,” says Delia. And who can question our black-toothed, first Millennial, fanatical ancestors? If anyone in Britain is a friend of the broomstick it’s Delia Smith.

So compelling a mage is she that, rather than just some tedious, old, frumpy, sexless aunt, her adversaries invest her with almost Godlike abilities. “When she showed us how to boil an egg, egg sales went up 10% or something,” says Rick Stein. “That’s power – real power.” It isn’t Rick. Real power is atomic weaponry or the ability to complete a Rubik’s cube. And in his heart of hearts even Rick knows it.

But her mysterious abilities blind us to her otherwise fantastical banality. In Delia Through the Decades (Monday, BBC2, 8.30pm) she has even persuaded TV to make a retromentary about her life as it weaves from the rations of the fifties through the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties, and ever forwards towards contemporary Britain. In five parts!

Fuck! We’re only a fifth of the way towards reliving that time she got smashed at a Norwich City game and made a massive fucking arse of herself. And still we watch. Because despite the interminably chirpy Stephen Fry voiceover, who gives us our meaningless 12-minute commentary on twenty years of post war Britain with that air of almost-ironic sincerity which has infected our TV screens as disasterously as AIDS. And, despite having to learn about her former career as a swimwear model, as if our evolutionary urge for lust is useful when its object doesn’t even have any sex organs. And despite even having to endure the gratuitous views of Delia’s home and her vast husband, there is just something about Delia. She’s disgusting but utterly compelling like biting your own toenails.

How else to explain that following the cookery interludes between the dull-as-Delia commentaries on her show, the only thing preventing you from cooking up your own lemon soufflé omelette flambé is the absence in your kitchen of lemon, eggs, a whisk or a saucepan?

Monday, January 4

Review: Generation XXL

C4's longitudinal study of fat kids is cynical and expoitative, says Mark Lewis

“When so many of our children are so big what does it really feel like to be growing up fat” asked the disembodied voice of some presumably chiselled porn Adonis on Generation XXL (Monday, 9pm, C4). “A long-term programme of research about obese children” was how it was billed like making it a longitudinal study somehow gives it intellectual purchase. As if it were a deconstruction of the third Reich as it related to the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche rather than an excuse to have a tut at the parents of some fat kids.

“Eeeh, look at her! No wonder he’s fat. God. Size of that one… Eating chips ‘n all.” The compulsion to patronise the poor, fat, northern slobs, buying clothing from Sports Direct, for their sedentary kids, is almost overwhelming. “I’m doing the cooking,” said one mum. “How is it my fault? It always falls back on me. It’s very hard on me.” The abject selfishness is almost jaw dropping enough to fit in all the oil soaked victuals she is serving up to her kids.

But the stupidity of the parents is even more likely to send you into spasms of po-faced paroxysms. “I were upset for her. I could see it were getting bad,” said one dad of the bullying his daughter was getting at school, as if parading her in front of three million self-righteous voyeurs on Channel 4 on a programme called Generation XXL was going to starve the bullies of material somehow.

As dopy as the parents, and as unpleasant as judging the parents is, it is not nearly as risible as the programme makers whose cynicism in subjecting the children to the public eye with their faux air of concern is more toxic than a Frey Bentos pie. Filming a ten year old girl gazing confusingly around at the saggy old ladies at a Weightwatchers weight loss group, then giving Weightwatchers the heads up so it could advertise during the commercial break is hardly the height of Reithian public service. And the concern of the narrator as he intones solemnly about the struggles of being a chubby child is about as authentic as one of its eponymous chocolate bars.

But really the innocent remarks of the nine and ten year old children reveal why this programme - however sympathetic its representation of them is - is so self-servingly cruel. “My worst worry was to get picked on and lose friends because of it,” said one poor girl. “At school it has really been getting worse.”

And when the sweetest, most likeable, boy in Britain says “I think of myself as Jake the fat boy who gets bullied,” perhaps it is time to switch it off.

Sunday, January 3

Review - Celebrity Big Brother

The end is nigh for the voyeur's programme which suffered the indignity of not being watched, says Mark Lewis

And so the beginning of the end of the show that uncovered a semi-retarded chubby bird who called a tedious Indian girl a “Popadom or Boubadoop” and died. What will we do without the water by the chat machine, the shameful midnight epiphanies watching stupid people sleep on E4, and the moments of national catharsis when Britain collectively gets together and says fuck you John McCririck? And fuck your Diet Coke.

The Celebrity Big Brother (Sunday, C4, 9pm) opening show lost no time in reminding us why it will be the first programme of the last series. Big Brother’s defining characteristic as it lapsed into insignificance in the latter half of the decade, was not how desperate the contestants were becoming, but how desperate the show was. It was, we were told all those years ago, an important sociological experiment. Maybe it had been. Certainly, it was one of the defining television programmes of the Naughties; a founding father of the voyeur’s decade. Now it is reduced to hooking up a kitchen to look like “an autopsy room” and poking fun at Christianity.

Davina McCall, gurning as usual in front of a legion of baying morons, shouted about how this CBB was going to be more evil and invasive, how there would be even more cameras and how [gurn, laugh hysterically] the contestants would be woken up by the sound of a shrieking clown. So desperate to shock has Big Brother become that she could have said there was going to be an in-bog, shit-cam to see which of the celebrities had the most unbleached arsehole, and nobody would have been surprised.

As it was, the ten no-marks, half-marks and question-marks were paraded in front of the baying morons and cheered or booed like circus freaks. “Welcome to the new BB house,” said Davina. “It’s been given a makeover to make sure the celebrities have one hell of a time.

“Hell is a real place,” replied first contestant, Stephen Baldwin, who we now know is the co-host of an evangelical Christianity radio show, and crazier than the crazy character he played in The Usual Suspects “I plan on being a representation of the light of truth.”. From then we were invited to laugh again and again at how funny religion is. "I wonder what our born again Baldwin is doing," she gurned at one point.

“But what,” she asked introducing the next contestant, “would an evangelical Christian make of a naked page 3 model?” I don’t know Davina. What would a cat make of a mouse? What would a Millwall fan make of a West Ham fan? What would Mullah Omar make of Arial Sharon if he’d just drawn a picture of the prophet Mohammed on the Turin Shroud?

In its desperation to poke fun and set up conflict, the Big Brother producers have forgotten the humanity which gave the show at times its Shakespearean pathos and joy. The unrequited love story between Anthony and Craig did not happen because the contestants were made to go without food for a few hours. Shilpa bullies, Danielle Lloyd and Jo, the hideous one out of S Club 7, did not get voted out because their fags were taken away. And Nick did not smuggle in a pencil because of sleep deprivation. These things did not happen because of the producers’ manipulation. They happened despite it.

Who’s in and the televisionreview odds.

Stephen Baldwin – creepy religious loony (cheered). 15-1

Nicola T – unspeakably awful tit-statue (booed) 20-1

Alex Reid –Jordan squeeze who tried to aggressively push the sliding doors into the house (booed) 200-1

Stephanie Beacham – desperate to be recognised former Dynasty bitch (cheered) 12-1

Lady Sovereign but most people call her Sov – rapping adolescent (confused silence) 6-1

Cisqo – thong obsessed formerly famous R&B songster (sang decade old hit and was cheered) 4-1

Dane Bowers – former Jordan boyfriend and Alex Reid New Year’s Eve punch bag (cheered) 7-1

Heidi Fleiss – former Hollywood madam and cosmetic surgery warning poster (booed) 12-1

Jonas Altberg AKA Basshunter - Swedish Tourette’s sufferer and terrible pun man (half-heartedly cheered as they tried to remember if they’d heard that song he did) 8-1

Katia Ivanova – 20-year old artist and model. Definitely not famous for having relationship with geriatric Ronnie Wood (booed) 250-1

Vinny Jones – Vinny Jones (cheered) 3-1