Monday, 1 September 2014

X Marks The Rot

It might still be August, but my mind’s already on Christmas. Not that I’m in any rush to wish my life away, but the moment those unmistakable opening titles begin, I’m reminded of the fact that this show is going to dominate the TV schedule until it’s thrown up the next Xmas Number One. Depressing stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

In its 11th year, the writing is clearly on the wall, and I don’t mean that derogatory graffiti about Louis in the gents’ cubicles. With three failed attempts at selling the format to an indifferent American audience under his belt (or chinstrap; whichever’s closer), Simon’s returned with his tail between his legs. In typically disingenuous style, Cowell announces that this is “A job so important that I simply had to come back.” He could equally be referring to the less than stellar line up of winners we’ve had since he went stateside. James Arthur’s career had the same shelf-life as an undercooked soufflé, and Sam Bailey is surely just months away from her first big Butlins booking.

Hoping to relive the glory years of the show’s popularity, Simon’s brought back Cheryl (Don’t say Cole, don’t say Cole) Fernandez-Versini, who poses seductively on a motorbike outside Somerset House. In addition, Mrs O has been replaced by Mel B, whose speaking voice still sounds like the klaxon from Hans Zimmer’s Inception score, but with a Leeds accent that could pickle an egg. She’s been asked to pose with a glass of champagne on a private jet, despite having all the sophistication of an Artex ceiling. “I was in the biggest girl group of all time,” she barks, every time a camera is on her.

And then there’s Louis, speeding through London’s streets like he’s in an outtake from Fast & Furious 6, and boasting about twenty years in the business. Surely there’s a footnote in the Highway Code about filming VTs whilst in control of a moving vehicle. Louis casually threatens that he’ll never leave the show; effectively invoking squatter’s rights on the judges’ table.

As is customary at this time of year, the publicity machine has been ramping up, filling the tabloids with pointless non-stories about fall-outs, rumoured resackings and staged auditions. And a complicit press has covered it all so thoroughly, that we’re even afforded a montage of the coverage – serving no other purpose than to give the PR agency a handy show-reel they can run at their Christmas party.

The only real change to the format is a large LED screen in the holding area, so the nervous auditionees can see a live feed of how their competition is faring in front of the judges. So now, there’s kind of a live audience feel to the performances, but on a camera relay – kind of like an abuse victim testifying without having to appear in court.

It’s almost time for the first commercial break and we haven’t seen a single audition yet, so here’s Debbie Gibson circa 1987, and Audrey off Little Shop of Horrors. They call themselves Blonde Electric, and they’re the most irritating twosome since an Irish obstetrician said “Congratulations Mrs Grimes, it’s a pair of cunts.” As they babble and giggle in their American accent, Mel B rolls her eyes at the annoying personae they seem to have adopted, and my irony meter goes off the scale. Simon compares their version of Do It Like A Dude to people dragging their nails down a blackboard, and Louis declares “I think people are going to like you.” Because seriously, when has he ever been wrong before? Cheryl, on the other hand, simply can’t find the words. Which is odd, since she’s usually quite the articulate raconteur. In the end, it’s left to Simon, who laments that this could be the worst mistake he’s ever made. But in a career that includes Pudsey the Movie, I Can’t Sing and Robson & Jerome, I’m amazed he’s even able to draw up a shortlist.

Outside in the holding area, the nervous hopefuls are commenting that there are lots of guitars because, well, there’s a lot of guitars. Simon’s already sick of it, moaning “I could merge fifty of these people and they’d all sound the same.” Of course they would – that’s what merging is.

Our next young hopeful is a scrawny proto-Bieber called Reece Bibby. He strums away on his guitar and offers a tedious acoustic presentation, prompting Louis to salivate: “The word for you is potential.” I’m legally prevented from suggesting a word for Louis, but I’m sure you can imagine.

Chloe O’Gorman is a pair of sentient eyebrows that sings 24 hours a day. She’s only about 30% as good as she thinks she is, but Louis is more impressed by the fact that “She made eye contact with all of us.” Lauren Platt tackles a big song from the end of Hairspray – presumably as practice for the second rate theatre gigs she’ll be taking when this all falls apart, and we’re treated to a visualisation of some of the uninspired tweets sent out by the hopefuls while they were waiting. Most of them are variations on "I don't even wanna win it. I just wanna meet Cheryl," suggesting that the next generation is suffering from a shortage of worthwhile life goals. One weird little Irish lad tells us that he loves life, animals and Cheryl Cole, presumably not in that order. He’s picked That’s My Goal which Simon reacts to as if he’s never heard it before. Poor Shayne Ward. One girl stumbles slightly as she enters the room. Despite the best efforts of our judges to laugh in surprise, it’s no Sharon Osbourne walking into a door. Still, I’m sure we’ll be seeing it replayed twice a week until December.  

Mel’s starting to get a bit upset about all the attention that Cheryl’s receiving: “What am I, chopped liver?” To be honest, chopped liver was five years ago; now she’s had so much filler she’s more of a liver parfait. So far, Cheryl’s had nothing to do, other than smile ingratiatingly at people fawning over how beautiful she is. Here to shake things up is Amy Connelly, who last auditioned six years ago, and made it all the way to the random beach house that Cheryl rented for the week. “Ooh, wow. Hello…” she says tentatively, as she looks down at her production notes. The caption tells us that Amy’s now working as a Betting Shop Assistant. As job titles go, it’s good, but it’s no Amusement Park Squirrel. The song’s a tuneless dirge, but it’s enough to reduce Cheryl to Demi Moore-style tears.

As Simon declares that he’s feeling optimistic about the auditions, it’s the perfect time for Shayden to squeakily wheel in his Yamaha keyboard and run through a range of terrible own-compositions. He introduces his performance with a sob story about his ex. Simon empathises: “You’ve taken that pain and you’ve now put it into songwriting?” Clearly, where pain is concerned, Shayden believes in a problem shared. Although Simon sticks around long enough to take in a double album of material, Cheryl decides she needs a piss and heads off to the bathroom, striking fear into the hearts of toilet attendants everywhere. Of course, Simon had to say “at least it can’t get any worse,” prompting the editors to cue a selection of the worst auditions from this year’s bunch. There’s a toothless old woman in a cheap wig, who strips down to a leotard, and Angelina Robinson, whose song verges on performance art, as her mother cuts huge slices of cake and brings in a Chinese takeaway for the judges.

Chloe Jasmine is from Sussex, and seems to be playing the kind of posh English girl you might find pouring Diana Rigg’s tea in the Great Muppet Caper. She fills her spare time with everyday things, like polo, croquet and swan-grooming, and it all feels like it’s been created to fuel a class war in the waiting room. Before she’s even sung a note, Twitter is awash with comments that she’d already starred on Sky’s modelling show The Face. To be honest, I’m more distracted by her red teeth – this is either her first time applying lipstick, or she was feeding on a production assistant just before her audition. Asked how long she’s been singing, she makes a surreal comment about “dignifying a baby’s cry as an aria.” I’ve no idea what she’s talking about, but I know that the only natural thing about her are the fibres in her tweedy outfit. The judges love her ‘authentic bluesy voice’ – because no-one understands the true struggle of a blues singer like some plummy tart who went to boarding school. Outside, the tension is brewing, as onlookers theorise about a life of privilege: “Champagne, caviar…asparagus.”

And finally, there’s Jay James. Thanks to the investigative journalists at Sunday People, we know that he’s already supported Rebecca Ferguson, and slated the X-Factor as the wrong way to make it in the music industry. To be honest, none of this matters, since I’m more concerned by his tendency to claw his face while he sings. It doesn’t help that he’s had some alarming dentistry, giving him the appearance of Daffy Duck whenever he showed his teeth. As the judges fawn over him, they ask why he’s so emotional. Unfortunately, we cut away before he answers "Because I sold out my principles and agreed to come on a show I've already slagged off in the press."

As the judges say goodbye, Mel B is off to pin her earrings back on Orville’s nappy. Meanwhile, Cowell and Cheryl embrace, with her shirt riding up to reveal that epic tattoo. It looks like she’s got a John Lewis scatter cushion stuck down her blouse.

Sunday Night

If Saturday’s show didn’t make you question your life choices, tonight is bound to have you Googling DIY wills before the hour is up. The editors are clearly in a more playful mood tonight, juxtaposing Dermot’s announcement “We’re looking for the next big thing” with a crash cut to a plus-size version of Little Mix. Let’s call them Maxi Mix. We also see Cheryl wandering forlornly down a corridor, moaning “That was one of the worst auditions I’ve ever been in.” Surely it would be churlish of me to type ‘Cheryl Tweedy Popstars The Rivals’ into YouTube? Tonight, Louis has been stealing some styling tips from Simon, unbuttoning his shirt so low that we can practically see his frenulum. And Mel, well, she’s still here.

Stevi Ritchie is tonight’s first hopeful, and has a most distracting countenance. Half Star Trek alien, and half Eugene Tooms off X-Files, midway through squeezing himself face-first into a drainpipe. He works in a Call Centre, where his colleagues attempt to ignore him like that half-flushed stool in the staff toilets. There’s no faulting his enthusiasm, as he makes his way down the judging table, dishing out compliments like a paedophile giving away sweets at the school gate. He’s picked an Olly Murs track for his audition, but it has a longer intro than the average Pink Floyd album track, so he dances awkwardly on the spot for about twenty minutes, before eventually launching into a terrible vocal. His self-deprecating approach wins the judges over, despite his performance sounding like the cruelest part of foie gras manufacture. Mel congratulates him on “having a little ‘me’ party,” which is something she often does. I imagine they’re the only ones she gets invited to now.

Time for some contractually obligated ego-pandering now, as we swoop round the holding area, listening to the contestants opining about the influential judges. “Mel and Cheryl know what they’re talking about,” argue two young hopefuls, before we cut to a painfully engineered chat between the two girl band alumni that disproves their theory in under twenty seconds.

The shadow of Glee hangs heavy over our next hopefuls. All in their late teens, Only The Young are a mixed sex four-piece who all live together. But not like that – they’re all as sexless as Barbie and Ken’s underpants area. None of them have particularly good voices, but they blend well enough, with a performance that’s part SClub 7, part Wilson Philips, and part diabetes risk. 

This is clearly the ‘groups’ slot of the show, as we’re introduced to a steady stream of eager young hopefuls standing in a row, wearing jeans tight enough to dislocate their kneecaps. Concept are so utterly generic, they’re less a group, more like a selection of fabric swatches from a boyband factory. Overload are no better – their sole distinction being a floppy-haired “studmuffin” who’s caught Cheryl’s recently married eye. Arize are slightly more interesting – an R&B three piece who know all about tight harmonies, but less about lipstick application.

Finally, we’ve got Kitten and The Hip, who I keep wanting to call Pinky and The Brain. A curiously mismatched May-to-December couple, she’s giving off a Jodie Marsh vibe, and he looks like he should be selling groceries by the punnet. The whole audition is awkward, but it scales new heights when Scarlet drops her hubby at the first sign of progressing as a soloist. 

The next segment is dedicated to contestants from overseas. We see a pair of over-styled Canadian gays, and someone from Orlando, before we’re introduced to Océane from Paris. Her Mariah Carey impression is bordering on lunacy, but there’s no denying she can hit all the ear-splitting notes. Just not in the right order.  Other comedy foreigners include the appalling Jimmy Cheung from Hong Kong, who goes straight to the final show’s gag reel, and Jan Cichorz who performs what can only be the sound of a sinkhole opening.

Of course, just when we’re thinking that Nigel Farage might have a point, and we should be tightening our border controls, here’s Andrea Faustina from Rome. His interview isn’t up to much (although “I like pugs” could well be the new “I am Groot”) but his vocal is pretty impressive. With a voice that’s rich, soulful and strong, I can almost forgive his abominable outfit. Simon tells him “I think you could be really special,” but neglects to add, “now burn that fucking sweater.”

OK, we’ve done the young ones, and the groups, so all that’s left is the ‘overs’ category. Cue a parade of women over thirty, with great voices, but an unmistakable glimmer of desperation, rather than star quality, in their eyes. But when it comes to the Last Chance Saloon, it’s clear that Lindsey from Girl Thing is hoping for a lock-in. We’ve recently seen her fairly tragic story on The Big Reunion, and it’s no less uncomfortable second time around. Having been (mis)managed by Simon once before, and spent most of the last fifteen years living the kind of existence that Ken Loach would consider ‘too depressing,’ it’s odd that she’s willing to put herself through all that again. The vocal is poor and emotions run high on the judging table. As a Greek chorus of onlookers in the waiting room comment on how we’re supposed to be feeling, Mel and Cheryl try to empathise. Thankfully, Simon sees sense and tells Lindsey that it wouldn’t be fair to get her hopes up. His dress sense may not have improved during those three years Stateside, but it could be that our Tinman has finally found his heart.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Welcome To The Dee List

You know that feeling. A removal van pulls up outside your house, so you peer out from an upstairs window and watch as the belongings are unloaded. Ugly couch, white pleather bar stools and a CRT TV. It’s pretty much all you need to know about your new neighbours. And that’s pretty much how I view Big Brother now. I’m usually curious enough to give it a couple of hours’ attention; just long enough to decide I want nothing more to do with the new inhabitants, before switching over to the Family Guy marathon on BBC Three.

The Channel 5 continuity announcer promises “the famous, the fabulous and the filthy,” but forgive me for lowering my expectations somewhat. The audience at Elstree is in good voice, but I have a sneaking suspicion they’ve been locked in here since Friday’s finale. Emma’s looking lovely as always, but her awkward stance makes her look as if she had to drip dry in the onsite Portaloo.  There’s no point showing us around the house, because it’s been on our screens since late May, so let’s dive straight into our new housemates.

About as surprising an appearance as Emma herself, White Dee from Benefits Street has been talked up as a housemate for 12 months now. Despite sounding like outtakes from Cher’s Believe, Dee seems pretty easy to get along with, unless you happened to nick her regular table at the Gala Bingo. Making a mockery of Emma’s earlier comment about Champagne and Michelin starred restaurants, Dee has opted for an unforgiving grey sheath that makes her look like a giant, 43 year-old pupa. Apparently, Dee turned down a role in an ‘X-rated spoof of Benefits Street.’ I’m not sure why – this one might have been played for more laughs, but I’ll bet that everyone who appeared in it still got fucked.

With Wikipedia permanently open in my browser, I can happily tell you that our second housemate is James Jordan, one of the dancers from Strictly Come Dancing. James was recently sacked from the BBC One flagship, and likes to think it’s because he’s the ‘Bad Boy of Ballroom.’ That sobriquet is a lot less exciting when you consider he could have earned it by refusing to wax the parquet. Like many of his contemporaries, James spends most of his time pointing out just how incredibly heterosexual he is, before inviting us to admire his arse. Just don’t get too close – he’s been on the Immodium all day, which at least explains why he’s so full of shit. In the house, he has no idea who Dee is, so makes a point of telling her he’s been on TV for eight years. Of course, Dee knows exactly who he is, because, as the Government would like us to remember, people on benefits live for fags and Sky+.

Claire King is unusual, in that she’s both recognisable and talented, having made her name as the superbitch in Emmerdale. With a smoky laugh that sounds like the faulty transmission on an Austin Princess, she’s trying to compare Emmerdale to Dynasty and Dallas, but she’s not convincing anyone. I don’t remember Krystle and Alexis ever coming to blows over a partially birthed calf. She’s not too worried about criticism, reckoning she’s old enough and ugly enough. That’s a little harsh – if I’m honest, she just looks like she’s here as Helen Lederer’s stand-in. “I’m just a grumpy old woman,” she argues, clearly pitching for a slot on the Loose Women breakfast bar.

David Mackintosh considers himself to be an international heart-throb, having ‘starred’ on the recent unsuccessful reboot of Gladiators. “I’m a muscle-bound eccentric who loves life,” he opines, before launching into a weird anecdote about crashing a van full of dead badgers. “I’m there because I’m an interesting person,” he argues, missing the fact that the casting team was given a tight brief to find someone with the exact same silhouette as Foghorn Leghorn.

Kellie Maloney’s life changed several weeks ago, when a story appeared in one of the tabloids about her gender-swap. Now, I’m assuming that’s the same story she took to the papers ahead of her imminent entry into the Big Brother house. Formerly known as boxing promoter Frank Maloney, Kellie is doing an incredibly brave thing – not least because no-one should have to learn to apply eye-liner in front of a judgmental nation. Even so, she’s looking good, and from behind is completely indistinguishable from Claire King. Kellie seizes on James and says “Are you the dancer? Can you teach me to dance?” I’d advise her to practice walking in heels, before she tries tackling a paso doble.

Audley Harrison is a boxer with size 17 feet and the kind of irrepressible spirit that’d give Kriss Akabusi a migraine. His VT is all very agreeable, which is why I’m more focused on the fact that he’s going into the house dressed as one half of Milli Vanilli. Marcus Bentley tells us that Audley has a degree in sport science and leisure management, which basically makes him Gordon Brittas with a decent right hook.

“What’s the big deal about big boobs?” asks the cosmetically augmented Lauren Goodger as she thrusts her man-made mams at the camera. Her whole VT is a senseless collage of meaningless phrases and pouts that look like she’s disgorging a dinner plate. She’s excited about the chance to appear on a show where she can just be herself, but even the TOWIE viewers are scratching their extensions at that one. As she enters the house, we’re told Lauren was once ‘proposed to in a pub car park,’ which makes me wonder whether that’s a euphemism for the thing she was seen doing in that “intimate video” she mentioned earlier.

If you thought we’d already hit rock bottom, allow me to peel back the underlay and introduce you to George Gilbey – a man who watches telly. Like we’re all doing now. There’s a part of me that wishes Gogglebox was on right now, so we could initiate some kind of meta rift in the space time continuum. As it is, we’re stuck with George sipping gingerly at pints and telling us that wearing no underwear makes him quite ‘Western.’ He’s so nervous that when he pours himself a glass of Rosé it’s like watching Ted Striker trying to overcome his drinking problem.

Our next housemate is a quarter of B*Witched. Edele was the lead-singer in the denim-clad Irish foursome, and seemed to have the biggest problem with everyone when the group reformed for The Big Reunion. She never came across as being particularly likeable, and this VT isn’t exactly swinging things in her favour. Emma seems particularly disengaged during Edele’s interview, probably because the humidity is doing weird things to her hair.

Ricci tells us that he’s “probably best known for the Geordie Shore.” I’m not sure where else his notoriety might come from, unless he’s also featured on cautionary posters in every GUM clinic across the North East. Like Lauren before him, his VT is all about “bringing the party” and obsessing about parts of his body. He’s particularly proud of his six-pack, whipping up his Hollister top to finger the ridges. It’s great that he knows how to do sit-ups, but since the rest of him is so unremarkable, it’s like buying a new car just for the alloys.

Stephanie Pratt is the sister of the universally loathed Spencer, who stupefied audiences last year with his self-involved delusions. Stephanie has appeared on The Hills and Made In Chelsea, and could give Reece Witherspoon chin envy. She’s determined to prove that she’s not ditzy, and seems to be participating in Big Brother for the ‘social experiment’ because she once studied an anthropology module. She reckons that travelling on the Tube is fun, which means she’s never had to use it, and she seems to think that creating a line of belts makes her a designer.

The last three housemates have been separated out in the interests of Big Brother’s first big challenge. Dee has been selected to pose as a distant relative of the Queen, and if she can fool the next three housemates for 24 hours, they’ll all win a luxury food budget. The show’s stylists have simply wrapped her in a window display from Bensons For Beds and backcombed her hair into a beehive, so the Americans may take some convincing.

First up is Leslie Jordan, a genuinely hilarious comedian, raconteur and actor, who most people will recognise from Will & Grace, where he played Karen’s nemesis Beverley Leslie. I also remember him as someone who once got barbecued by Jason Voorhees, but that probably says more about me. As he greets Emma, it’s a lot like seeing Ronnie Corbett playing Elton John in a Comic Relief sketch. We also quickly get a sense that his line about falling out of his mother’s womb into her high heels is a lot like Dolly Parton’s “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.” I’m going to bet this won’t be the last time we hear that one.

Angelique ‘Frenchy’ Morgan once appeared on a reality show about dating Brett Michaels, and seems to have been stitched together from the pieces they cut off Donatella Versace. She tells us that everything about her is fake, and I’m wondering whether that includes her accent, since she talks like a drunk Inspector Clouseau. “Obviously I like cock. I’m ze worst and ze bitch.” she admits conspiratorially. We also discover that she’s more comfortable when she’s naked, but I imagine she’d be the only one, since she looks more like a Gerald Scarfe sketch than an actual woman.

Our final housemate is Gary Busey – formerly a successful Hollywood actor, and now Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion on bath salts. Like a set of sentient dentures that have been left overnight in a glass full of crazy, it’s a miracle Gary even got on the plane, never mind made it through Big Brother’s psychiatric evaluation. His interview with Emma is the most uncomfortable thing I’ve seen all year, and I watched every episode of The Voice. I keep reminding myself that this is Gary Busey sober, and wondering if, maybe, we’re all doing it wrong. As Gary staggers towards the house, he insists that Emma accompanies him, and the producers cut her microphone feed, just in case. By the time Dee re-enters as the Duchess of Solihull, it’s clear that there’s one housemate she won’t have to struggle to convince. The state he’s in, you could probably introduce Gary to a ficus and tell him it’s fifth in line to the throne. Mark my words,; no good will come of this.   

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Nanu Nanu Robin

"Mork calling Orson, come in Orson." As familiar to me as the taste of cheese Hula Hoops or Tizer, my favourite half hour of TV would always end the same way - as the bemused and befuddled Orkan would post his weekly report on human behaviour, long before E.T. ever reappropriated the insides of a Speak N Spell. Many people forget that Mork & Mindy started out as a spin-off of long-running nostalgia-fest Happy Days. While Fonzy was busy waterskiing over an unconvincing shark and entering the lexicon of jaded TV viewers everywhere, Robin Williams was a shot of pure adrenalin into the chest of lazy sitcoms. With his rainbow braces and a rug of uncontrollable chest hair that completed his image as a live action Tazmanian Devil, Mork brought irreverence and improvisation to a format that, Norman Lear's output aside, was usually content to lean against boundaries, rather than push them.

After four successful years, Hollywood came calling, as did the dealers. Williams famously noted that, unlike most people who took cocaine to get hyper, he used it to slow down. After all, when talking a mile a minute is your default setting, where else is there to go? His first bout of cold turkey came after the death of John Belushi, having been in the big man's company the night of his fatal speedball. Having kicked the habit (for the time being, at least), Williams launched into a largely fruitless big screen career. Struggling to reconcile his anarchic persona with the dramatic roles that appealed to him, most of his early eighties material was forgettable at best - the sole exception being The World According To Garp.

In fact, it wasn't until 1987's Good Morning, Vietnam, that he found a vehicle that played to his strengths as both a virtuoso comedic force of nature, and an empathetic dramatic actor. Despite triggering several years' worth of shrill and unfunny impersonations, Vietnam was a smash hit. It also provided Hollywood with an instant shortcut whenever they needed a combination of laugh-out-loud humour, as well as calculated moments of pathos. Awakenings, Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King all followed, achieving varied levels of success and helping Williams develop his standing as a 'serious' actor. One high profile misfire was Hook, which seemed to fly in the face of Steven Spielberg's long stated ambition to avoid casting celebrities in lead roles. The combination of Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman and a 'troubled' Julia Roberts resulted in a gaudy, interminable pantomime, redeemed only by Williams' all-too-rare flights of literal and figurative fancy - calling one unlikeable brat "You lewd, crude, rude bag of pre-chewed food dude."

Williams' next breakthrough came from the most unlikely of sources - the Walt Disney Company. Much like Spielberg, the House of Mouse had always studiously avoided stunt casting, instead allowing the animation and, more recently, the songs of Ashman and Menken, to reverse the troubled studio's fortunes. With their latest animated adventure sent back to the drawing board by a disappointed Jeffrey Katzenberg, it fell to Williams to revive the floundering project. His chaotic, heavily improvised shtick paired perfectly with the Al Hirschfeld-inspired animation style, and helped create the studio's first animated comedy. Since then, hundreds of high profile comics, from Ray Romano and Sarah Silverman, to Ellen Degeneres and Eddie Murphy, have made a beeline (sorry, almost forgot Jerry Seinfeld there) for the recording booth. The results may have varied, but the impact is inarguable.

The nineties were probably Williams' golden period, as he juggled high concept comedies (Mrs Doubtfire, Jumanji) with more esoteric work, (Barry Levinson's much-maligned Toys, and Vincent Ward's What Dreams May Come). Although the choices were always interesting and rarely predictable, audiences still seemed to connect best when he was in full comedy mode. One of his biggest hits was the Hollywood take on La Cage aux Folles, retitled The Birdcage for American audiences. Not only did he achieve his own moments of sublime brilliance (particularly the whistle-stop choreography demo), he was content to play the 'straight' man to Nathan Lane's more showy breakout role.

It wasn't until 1997 that he finally won a long-deserved Oscar for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting. Unfortunately, audience goodwill was more fleeting, as a series of mawkish flops, including Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man and Jakob The Liar, ended his incredible box office run. Unlike some of his contemporaries, who might have attempted to revisit former glories, Williams found in his exile from blockbusters a new kind of freedom. He courted darker material; thrillers and sombre character studies that no longer attempted to straddle comedy and drama. Instead, these were pared down, subtle and haunting performances. His turn in Armistead Maupin's proto-Catfish The Night Listener was a masterclass in confused melancholy; a subtle variation on his first villainous roles in One Hour Photo and Insomnia.

Coming full circle, his most recent role was in a new sitcom called The Crazy Ones, where he played the head of an ad agency alongside Sarah Michelle Gellar. The show was cancelled in May after an inauspicious first season, although network executives had expressed delight at having Williams back on TV after all these years.

Early reports suggest that Williams may have taken his own life after a long struggle with depression and a relapse into alcoholism. He was always matter of fact about his demons, often incorporating them into his rapid-fire stand up material. Perhaps he believed that old adage about laughter being the best medicine. After all, when I was sixteen, I wrote him a fan letter, to which he replied just a couple of weeks later. Inside the envelope was a signed publicity still from Toys, onto which he'd scribbled 'Make fun, not war.' In these troubled times of conflict and intolerance, I can't think of a more appropriate epitaph.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Meet the Young Conservatives

There was a time when a new series of Big Brother carried with it a sense of occasion. In the final days before the premiere, the red tops would speculate about who was going in, and we’d all start practicing excuses for turning down social engagements, just in case it got really good. But ever since its Lazarus-like reappearance on Channel 5, the format has reached an exhausting level of ubiquity. Emma can do her best to sound excited about the new line-up, but anyone who’s been on holiday for more than a couple of weeks would be forgiven for thinking that it never actually went off the air. From must-see TV, to inexplicably omnipresent fixture. Kind of like Last Of The Summer Wine, if Nora Batty punched a hole in those wrinkly tights with an empty wine bottle.

Maybe Endemol has started to get the message, as the show starts with a weird moment as Big Brother announces a system failure and attempts a reboot. Meanwhile, Emma’s doing her best to get a largely disinterested audience engaged in what’s going on. “Welcome to Big Brother Power Trip,” she announces, fully aware that she could be talking about her one-woman media takeover. “I’m so excited,”she shrieks, but given how often she has to do this, her hysterical reaction is a little like me wetting myself about renewing my travelcard.

The walkaround the newly redecorated house is as rushed and shambolic as usual – with a standout moment being the shot of Emma demonstrating how to use the toilet. Somewhere, someone’s taking some high-res screen grabs and will spend the rest of the week on Photoshop. The entire house seems to have been kitted out in Perspex, as though they’re planning to imprison Magneto in there. It’s also worth acknowledging, who’ve managed to hit a new low in poor quality sponsorship idents. Looking like she should be advertising premium chatlines at 2.30 in the morning, the chatty croupier in a Primark party dress offers teasing snippets of insight along the lines of “Just wait till they all get to know each other.” It’s all so incredibly cheap and low-tech, I’m almost surprised they didn’t just use a zoetrope instead. 

Time to meet the hamsters who’ll be spending the next four months in this glorified Habitrail. First up is Tamara – she’s a “global oil and gas headhunter,” which is LinkedIn-ese for ‘recruitment consultant.’ Despite telling us how fearsome and intelligent she is, the statement “I revel from authority” suggests she’s unlikely to be vying for Stephen Fry’s slot on QI. She seems quite insistent that no man can tame her, and it looks as though most of her tops suffer from a similar struggle. Clearly cast as this series’ villain, Tamara thinks she’s better than everyone, but given the low bar of previous line-ups, her assertion may yet prove pertinent. In a final flurry of tabloid baiting, she announces that she’s looking for a ‘man buffet,’ so I’d advise her to steer clear of the mayonnaise.

Mark is a visual merchandiser for Liverpool and looks like a dumpier version of Marcus Collins, or George Michael in a pair of comedy Scouse brows. He spends all his time and money on a painfully tedious beauty regimen, but the results demonstrate a poor return on his investment. In fact, a gym membership might have been a better idea.

Here to fog the boundaries between Celebrity Big Brother and the regular edition, is Helen, who owns a salon in Bolton and once fucked Wayne Rooney. She just wants to move on and stop talking about it, so it’s interesting that she chose to bring it in the first instance. Frank and straight-talking, she thinks that she’s quite easy to not like, and I’m willing to respect her for being right on the money. She’s arrived at the house in a cheaper knock-off of Tamara’s black and white dress, so the sparks should be flying before the first Champagne cork is popped. She might look the part, but her comment “I was shittin’ it I was gonna fall” ensures that she’s unlikely to be mistaken for Pippa Middleton too often.

Steven is a 23 year-old turd who set up his first company in competition with his parents, and now counts them amongst his employees. Now, call me cynical, but that sounds more like a smart way to avoid inheritance tax than any sign of business acumen. He turned over his first million two years ago, but neglects to mention how much of that was profit, and he boasts “I’ve got THE car.” To be fair, he’s got A car, but from the close crop, it could be a Renault Megane. He’s also been to 119 countries – but who counts that shit? “Oh, we like you,” lies Emma through her teeth, as Steven heads into the house. Four down, and so far the men are the ones with the most ridiculous eyebrows.  

Time to stir things up a bit, with a healthy dose of controversy. Businesswoman, and Janine Duvitski lookalike Danielle is an old fashioned girl. She doesn’t believe in pre-marital sex, contraception or gay marriage, but she does believe in posing in her underwear as a part-time lingerie model. According to Marcus Bentley, she goes to church every Sunday (that’s British fundamentalism for you), but her VT seems to suggest she spends most of that time walking her dog round the graveyard.

Winston is a business development manager, which I think means that he tells Ukrainian women whether they can have £15k loan to open a nail bar.  He’s a lot like Joey Essex, but with bigger arms and “a bit more smarter.” He’s a real ladies man, and enjoys a diversity of types, from nines all the way through to tens. He also knows that, if they’re not interested, they’re most likely lesbians. When he’s not busy obsessing about “birds’ arses and breasts,” he’s contemplating the likelihood of his victory in the house: “My name’s Winston. WIN.” Presumably, he’s planning to learn how to spell the other half once he’s been crowned.

Matthew is a media graduate who’s too posh for socks. Everyone thinks he’s gay, apart from his girlfriend of six years, who’s in for a cruel awakening. Continuing tonight’s theme of ‘Cameron’s Britain,’ Matthew is yet another self-important, entitled little prick, with all the impact of a soiled handkerchief. He has a panic attack at the base of the stairs, and given that he’s terrified of failure, the next few weeks could constitute some pretty effective aversion therapy.

Kimberly is yet another business woman and Playboy model – which means we’re dangerously close to turning this series of Big Brother into The Apprentice in D cups. She’s got a law degree and an MBA, prompting Emma to observe that “Brains and beauty are a lethal combination.” She’s going in there to make porridge and sunbathe, not take out an Al Qaeda sleeper cell. Marcus attempts to regale us with fascinating facts about Kimberly’s life, but he’s mustering all the enthusiasm of a narcoleptic reading the shipping forecast.

Our ninth housemate is another pleasant looking, 23 year-old media graduate. So far, the cast of this series is making the Bullingdon Club look refreshingly diverse. Christopher is a journalist who hates celebrities like Kim Kardashian who see fame as a viable career option. Don’t worry folks, we’ve got 16 weeks to call him on his hypocrisy. Christopher admires Katie Hopkins and idolises Madonna. That’s code, you know. As he enters the house, the men all stand together in their skinny jeans, like they’re waiting for an American Apparel fashion shoot.

Finally, we’re treated to a housemate who’s over 25. In fact, she’s almost twice that. 49 year-old Pauline is a dance teacher who, in a former life, went by the name of Jazzi P and provided the rap for Kylie’s Shocked. Pauline doesn’t suffer fools gladly, which means she’s in for a miserable few weeks. She’s cast aside the sweatpants for her big entrance, and goes into the house looking like she’s been styled by the Andrex puppy. She keeps breaking out the dance moves, but to my untrained eye, it looks like she’s suffering from an inner-ear problem.

Now, we’ve got nine obnoxious twenty-somethings, who seem to think that holding down a job warrants a standing ovation, and a take-no-prisoners 49 year old. Who do you think the audience will give the power to? In a shocking twist, the viewers decide to put Pauline in control, so she’s sent off to the control room to watch some ‘top secret footage’ of the other housemates. In reality, the poor woman has to sit through all their introductory VTs, so at least we can understand her pained expression. She then has to decide who will be rewarded, and who will be punished.  In the garden, Mark and Matthew are stuck in Perspex boxes. Mark’s box is filled with cash as a reward for being nice, and Matthew is simply stuck in the air. Not to worry - David Blaine made a fortune doing that. By the time Emma hands over to Rylan, who’s now turned into Kenny Everett’s impression of Janet Street Porter, I’ve already had my fill. Six more housemates will be entering later in the week, and it’s welcome to them.