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Monday, 27 July 2009

Whatever It Takes, ITV1

Some dramas are just so bad it’s unclear if their putrid state isn’t a contrivance incense viewers to the point where the piquant fury becomes an alternative form of viewing pleasure (such as in a hateful Big Brother contestant), which can also take the form of butchering it in a review. But even a stoical dissection feels like an act of gracious pity towards Whatever It Takes, like a stayed whiphand over a cowering puppy.

It was, on the face of it, a morality tale, a contemporary Dante’s Inferno, in which the hapless Daisy (Amy Beth Hayes) endures a odyssey in which she plummets rapidly through the numerous planes of parasitical celebrity Hell after committing a ‘sex act’ on a married footballer that gets in the tabloids. All of which could have been an enlightening journey, but there was no Virgil to console or question, merely exploitation through the yapping avarice of amoral impresario (is there any other kind?) JJ Merrick (Shane Ritchie).

In Merrick there at least were the faint vestiges of wit and intelligence to suggest this might have been a perspicacious parody of celebrity life rather than the flaccid facsimile it ultimately became. His name was derived from John ‘Elephant Man’ Merrick, while his acerbic asides to the camera could have shaded in the vacuums that hover around the popular comprehension of the way parasite celebrities are deified and then damned (and then deified again when it’s revealed the damnation was just a ploy to resuscitate their fame).

The flaw was that there was nothing shocking in Merrick’s actions. For example, his efforts to install Daisy as a patron of a breast cancer charity after learning it killed her mother induced nothing more cold apathy – every single stiletto-heeled step on the path that Daisy took was a predictable stride into the footprints carved out by Max Clifford and his ilk for Jordan, Abby Titmus and Jodie Marsh (who made an undistinguished cameo).

And each of the steps was viewed through a tabloid prism with each character possessing the psychological depth of a minor EastEnder. Daisy was ‘compelled’ to succumb to JJ’s stratagem for her corruption after she was sacked from the police force and disowned by her father, who was a high-ranking puritanical copper; and so from a position of prudish resistance we next saw her posing topless for a lads’ mag.

Her ‘celebrity’ boyfriend soap actor Matthew (Gary Lucy) coerced her into snorting cocaine by mocking her that she was reluctant because of her former life as a copper, the sort of cripplingly feeble psychology akin to “Are you a real man?”

The superficiality was like a contagion among the cast. Daisy’s best friend-cum-manager Fiona betrayed her to the tabloids through a mild sense of jealousy, while a broadsheet hack who interviewed Daisy and then mutilated her in print was motivated by envy of her youth. Granted, had she been a fashion journalist this would have been a more than complete portrayal, but she was ostensibly based on Carole Malone, and such an ephemeral sketch didn’t capture the News of the World’s hatchetwoman’s baleful abhorrence.

And ‘realism’ was added like maggots to a corpse by the inclusion of genuine figureheads of the parasite celebrity propaganda. ‘Chantalle’ and the aforementioned Jodie Marsh popped up, but worst of all was Dave Berry hosting a celebrity TV show, a man whose voice sounds like a pair of fingerless-gloved hands warming themselves on an oil barrel fire on an industrial picket line, with his wearied face rusted and chipped from interring a thousand cadavers into the sodden earth.

This baffling gallery of grotesque ciphers gouged a deeper mystery about who the target audience was. Was it those who suck up every last morsel of gossip about parasite celebrities, who could savour all their favourite storylines being compacted into 90 minutes of glossy drossy drama? Perhaps, but are they capable of concentrating for 90 minutes when the end of a brief paragraph is a chore? Furthermore, wouldn’t they be offended that they were being vilified for sponsoring such a worthless cause?

Or was it aimed at the more discerning viewer, one who weeps at the inundation of culture by parasite celebrities and gains a sense of feral, sadistic joy when witnessing the denigration of the parasitical totems, even if such vengeance is gained through fictional doggerel such as this? Possibly, but most of them would have been watching a repeat of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party on BBC4, a play that contains some of the best dialogue of 20th century theatre, and in doing achieve a real sense of pleasure rather than the tin bucket happiness available here.

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