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Saturday, 26 January 2008

Britain's Got Talent, ITV1

Thursday-Saturday 13-15 June 2007
Did we like it?
It probably should be called Britain's Got Sob Stories but, aside from the tales of dead and sick relatives, the live programmes in this talent show series have provided us with the feelgood TV event of the year, uncovering some great acts and forcing us, reluctantly, to put our cynicism on hold for a few days.

What was good about it?
• The judges had the sense to avoid filling the final with singers. There are plenty of opportunities for them on TV. It may have been unpopular to ditch Tony (dead brother) and Damon (everyone alive and well) but we're glad that unique acts have been given the chance to shine instead. It's not as if the singers have all sunk without trace: operatic tenor Paul Potts and adorable girls Connie Talbot and Bessie Cursons made the final.
• Damon Scott's puppet act, The Kombat Breakers and The Bar Wizards prove that variety need not remain dead and buried.
• There was plenty of eye candy on offer – the Crazeehorse bloke with megapecs who lifts up his wife, the member of The Free Runners who went topless and one of beatboxers Crew 82, who sadly hid behind the others most of the time.
• Amanda Holden has been far more likeable then we could ever possibly imagine.

What was bad about it?
• Our favourite act – baton twirler Craig Womersley failed to make the final. He made the biggest impact by far (and had the good sense to ditch the sequins and get more street for the semi final). We were also hoping Peter Kay-in-the-making Jake Pratt would qualify.
• After an exhaustive talent search, it is bewildering that places in the semi-finals went to warty Madonna impressionist Caroline Boyes, those stupid line dancing dogs and "magician" Dr Gore.
• The distasteful skimpy outfits worn by the troupes of little girl dancers.
• The Piers Morgan-Simon Cowell rows became uncomfortable. Both are odious chaps but at least Simon has the ability to spot talent, even if he then forces them to become bland money-making machines.
PS We'd have preferred the Barstewards to have won the final, because they'd liven up the Royal Variety Performance. But we're not too upset about Paul Potts winning.
Britain’s Got Talent, ITV1, Tuesday 12 June 2007
Did we like it?
Some of the acts undoubtedly have fabulous talent, but it’s a pity the same cannot be said about Simon Cowell. Or that anything at all can be said about Amanda Holden. And the only things we can say about Piers Morgan bring out our worst sarcastic tendencies.

What was good about it?
• Despite our reservations, a number of the acts are genuinely talented. The difference between this and, say, X-Factor is that the applicants are allowed to demonstrate imagination and creativity rather than just sing Angels with the emotion of a botoxed face and the spontaneity of a broken toaster.
• The best of the acts.
Saturday's best: The baton twirling lad and preteen comic Jake.
Sunday's best: the boy who sang (surprise, surprise) Unchained Melody, the rapping gran and the woman who danced with an angle grinder.
Monday's best: drag act The Kit Kat Dolls, Crazeehorse's acro-balancing act, the Free runners from Essex and amazing six-year-old singer Connie.
Tuesday's best: Crew 82’s beatboxing, George’s robotic dancing, the cocktail making and Tony’s delicate original composition about his late brother captured in about 10 minutes a billion times the potential of all three series of X-Factor.
• Ant & Dec. Like an SAS team called in to perform a perilous rescue mission, ITV have enlisted their most reliable and talented presenters to ensure the safe-keeping of one of their crown jewels. However, we’re getting a little tired by the number of comments they are making during the acts – some are amusing, but others are banal.
• The glorious Piers Morgan. Not since Josef Stalin stamped a regimental boot and said to ugly Adolf, “I won’t stand for any more of your tyrannical annexations of sovereign European states, I’m joining the side of the angels – great Great Britain!” has one man achieved such glorious redemption in the eyes of the great Great British public. Piers also gloriously mirrors Uncle Joe’s divine diplomacy in the way he handles Simon ‘Adolf’ Cowell.
• When Piers gloriously managed to get precocious drummer Cameron through, he mocked Cowell with “the public roared their approval”, to which old grumpynuts snapped back: “Like I care!” In this moment Piers ascended to the glory of TV panellist heaven as he had exposed Cowell’s greatest insecurity – that the love of ‘his public’ might one day pall.
• And that smile he used when reminding us of his glorious history as a tabloid editor during which time he promoted Take That and Bros to the glorious zenith of the showbiz world. That, he claimed, was his main role as an editor as if exposing atrocities and educating readers was just a minor function.

What was bad about it?
• As everyone knows, before the acts get through to the TV stage they are filtered to remove the mediocre leaving just the good and the egregiously terrible. This means that even as you’re introduced to an act it’s pretty obvious which camp they fall into (only Neil Diamond-to-George Formby cabaret impressionist Richard Bates has seriously divided the judges – and that was more to do with Morgan's quest to nullify Cowell), stripping much of the tension away from the judge’s deliberations. The buzzers don’t help matters, either: if the act has been buzzed by all three they won’t qualify and vice-versa.
• It also ostensibly seemed that the judges were split on the merits of 14-year-old drummer Cameron with Simon branding him as boring, and Piers championing him. The whole scenario had the noxious odour of being stage managed when Ant & Dec popped out from stage right to perform their classic hit Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble to sway the simpering Amanda into putting Cameron through to the next round where, incidentally, he doesn’t have a prayer.
• Simon Cowell has been an obsolete obelisk of awfulness for some time now, and his crass attempts to generate audience genuflection towards his every word is stealing the limelight away from the deserving acts. For the talented Crew 82, witness his enervating efforts to create melodrama. “Guys, absolutely… (cue a pause for a longer duration than some empires have stood) … brilliant.” Because of his smarmy selfishness the applause are more fervent than those that greeted the climax of Crew 82’s act.
• Yet his inability to communicate anything beyond the most basic articulation was exposed with his evaluation of the wonderful dancer George, 13. “One word,” Cowell declared, “brilliant!” Which was the same dumb acclaim he’d delivered to Crew 82. But he is perhaps aware of the dubious credibility of his praise as he instantly qualified and compounded the ‘brilliant’ with: “Seriously – brilliant. You are a phenomenal talent. Really.” A delighted George exclaimed: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard Simon say ‘brilliant’ before.” He obviously wasn’t watching 20 minutes earlier.
• Meanwhile, any act that has a synthetic-sympathetic introduction will definitely make it through. “Crew 82 – four friends from Leeds”, “Thirteen-year-old street dancer George is hoping to make a better life for him and his family”, and “It’s been a tough time for Tony who recently lost his brother to cancer”. But we wager there were plenty of less talented people who had suffered a parallel sadness in their lives who were weeded out at the non-TV stage so the judges didn’t come across as heartless bastards.
• Amanda Holden’s pointlessness. She was introduced as "one of Britain's most-loved actresses" and, Ant told us, “Amanda’s looking lovely today” – the empty compliment that is said about a someone who has no other function other than to impress others through their appearance. She even used the phrase “It’s genius!” to describe Crew 82 (who were good but not that good), a phrase that people should only be permitted to utter five times in their life rather than as an ineloquent exaggeration to mask their cerebral limitations.
• Some of the editing is very bizarre, especially concerning audience applause. From time to time, the ovations appeared to be unrelated to the act that was supposedly being lauded and often the clapping was abruptly cut off like a miser slamming his heavy oaken door shut on a bunch of jolly carol singers. Often there are so many of the reaction shots that we hardly get to see what the audience and judges are reacting to.
• The false narrative in which the viewers are supposed to swallow the conceit that rather than the truth of the decent acts and appalling acts being dotted arbitrarily about the day, they come in separate waves of the good and bad. After a succession of dreadful acts Ant confided: “All is not lost in Manchester!” The alternative theory is that the acts have been arranged by the production team to appear in waves of good and bad thus reducing the authenticity of the show even further.
• The way in which the judges have clearly been directed to make a facial expression to sum up their initial impressions. Frequently after only a few bars of a song, or a few dance moves the camera will cut to Simon with an obviously fake visage of astonishment/derision, the same applies to Amanda but she is obviously a better actress. Piers, meanwhile, seems genuine. The consequence of this is that we often see more of the judges’ frozen visages than the act themselves, and combined with the incessant cut aways to Ant & Dec, this diminishes the act’s impact.
• Richard Bates’ qualification for the next round, despite Simon’s protestations, was accompanied by one of those lifeless record company sponsored ‘uplifting’ songs (think Westlife’s You Life Me Up), the kind that causes razor blades to scuttle into the dark corners like cockroaches when the bathroom light is turned on fearful that their master will slash their own wrists in despair at the insipid sterility of human imagination.
• The worst of the acts. Most involved animals or magic but other horrors included a nervy knife thrower, a Homebase version of Pet Shop Boys and a man playing the ashtray.

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