It appears that TV is in limbo at the moment with a summer stuffed full of sports there’s very little to watch for those of us who have no interest in that sort of thing. Luckily I’ve rustled together a few highlights from the last fortnight with a mix of comedy, drama and one of the most-talked about shows of the year so far.
We start with yet another run of Channel Five’s latest Z-list extravaganza that is Celebrity Big Brother which this series has certainly defined the first word of its title. Although Five have always recruited a bunch of their housemates from the constructed reality world this series seems to have taken this to new levels. Amongst the ‘famous fifteen’ we have Marnie from Geordie Shore, Lewis from Towie, Stephen Bear from Ex On the Beach plus Chloe Khan and Katie Waissel both of whom are best known for The X-Factor. There are also some celebrities whose fame is questionable including ‘love rat’ Grant Bovey, local radio DJ James Whale and Heavy D from Dave’s Storage Hunters UK. The American contingent are also mainly made up of reality TV stars with Renee from Mob Wives, Making the Band’s Aubrey O’Day and Adriana’s brother Frankie Grande representing those from the other side of the pond. In fact it comes to something when one of the most famous faces in the entire house is Fatboy from Eastenders who is seemingly hoping to play the nice guy after several negative press stories led to his dismissal from the soap. The most notable housemate by a country mile is Christopher Biggins who reportedly took one of the shows biggest pay deals to appear on the show. He was certainly the housemate who the audience took to the most and voted for him to be the secret boss of the house who supposedly in charge of casting the first round of nominations. In fact the rest of the house was aware of Biggins’ role and had to keep up the pretence that they had no knowledge of his secret boss status. Whilst this task suggested to me that the producers wanted this series to have a light-natured feel to it the housemates made it clear that they weren’t going to let this happen. Stephen Bear, who apparently is most famous for being Vicky Pattinson’s ex-boyfriend, appears to want to get into a confrontation as many times as possible as he is well aware that this will get him more camera time. Similarly the surgically enhanced Chloe Khan has latched onto this and has constructed a rather cynical relationship with Bear to ensure she’s not lost in the shuffle. Marnie and Lewis have done something similar and there have been suggestions that they already planned to have a showmance before going into the house. In fact I thought initially that there was more chance of a relationship between Marnie and the much older Bovey after the pair partook in possibly the most awkward example of flirting that I’ve ever seen.
Whilst the flirting between Grant and Marnie was quite fun to see, the majority of what has happened in this series is anything but. In fact the last couple of series of Celebrity Big Brother have been quite hard to watch at times as the housemates are a lot more aware of the cameras than they ever were in the Channel 4 days. Whilst the famous faces on Channel 4 may have got into the odd argument here and there, there have been several times in the Channel Five incarnation of the show where I felt physical violence was a possibility. Again it is Bear who may well snap at some stage and to be fair I don’t blame him after Aubrey spat in the food that she made for him which was dressed up as some sort of prank. I have to say that I felt that Big Brother was quite lenient on both Aubrey and Bear, letting them off with both formal warnings for their harmful and violent behaviour. It was even odder that both of these stars retained their places in the house when Biggins was kicked out of the house following some controversial comments. Whilst I can understand why Channel Five kicked Biggins out of the house I don’t think his actions were any worse than that of either Bear our Aubrey. Without Biggins the house has also lost its star player and watching a bunch of people I’ve never heard of arguing is what I already get from the civilian version of the reality show. I remember when CBB used to shine a light on what some genuinely famous faces were liked when put in a confined space with several of their peers. The likes of Jack Dee, Germaine Greer, Mark Owen, Michael Barrymore and Dennis Rodman are massive names were compared to the fifteen that we’ve got in the house in the moment. In fact, apart from the ejected Biggins the only other person in the house that I would consider a genuine celebrity is former Page 3 legend and ‘Touch Me’ singer Samantha Fox. But unfortunately the lovely Miss Fox is not enough to convince me that watching this series of CBB religiously will result in any sort of entertainment. In fact I do believe that this run of Celebrity Big Brother will only attract the hardcore fans as the casual viewers such as myself will be put off by the faux relationships and the genuinely offensive violent behaviour. In my opinion, if they can’t get actual stars to fill up the house, then Channel Five should only put Celebrity Big Brother on once a year as otherwise they end up with disappointingly underwhelming runs like the one they’re currently airing.
However it’s not all bad news for Channel Five as there was something actually worth watching on the channel this week thanks to the return of gritty cop drama Suspects. Now apparently in its fifth series there was a change in the chain of command as the show’s boss Martha Bellamy was found murdered at the start of this week’s opener. Bellamy’s murder was due in part to actress Fay Ripley filming the new series of Cold Feet but it did allow for a sorely-needed injection of new blood. The new boss was revealed in this episode to be DCI Daniel Drummond (James Murray) who was different to Martha in more ways the one. Other new characters included DS Alisha Brooks (Lenora Crichlow) and TDC Gary Roscoe (Perry Fitzpatrick) both of whom added a new dimension to the group. But it was the established characters DS Jack Weston (Damian Moloney) and DC Charlie Steele (Claire-Hope Ashitey) who were the centre of attention with both reacting to Martha’s death in different ways. Predictably the murder of Martha and her school teacher husband was the primary case the team were investigating during this first episode. After believing that the probable perpetrator of the murder was someone who wanted revenge against Martha the team were later stunned that it may actually have been her husband who was the reason for the crime. This was after footage emerged of him causing problems in a seedy club overseen by Mo (Neil Stuke) who himself later came under suspicion for having a hand in the murders. There was a twist in the tale after drama involving the murder weapon and Jack’s dodgy past revealed that Drummond had some sort of relationship with Mo which led to the destruction of some pretty vital evidence. This ending suggested to me that Suspects was trying to focus more on its characters rather than just the crime stories that had previously taken centre stage. I certainly care more about Jack and Charlie than I did in previous years as those behind Suspects were more interested in creating a realistic almost documentary-style like police drama. Whilst these elements have been retained, due in part to the fact that lot of the drama’s dialogue is improvised, this first story was certainly more engrossing than previous instalments of Suspects have been. The acting has also improved with Moloney impressing as the grieving Jack and the always reliable Stuke playing a superbly slimy villain. Whether Suspects will retain this momentum once the team have found Martha’s murder remains to be seen but I have to say that I’m more than impressed by Channel Five’s best kept secret.
I’m also surprised by the fact that there are three Five series worth discussing and even more shocked that the third programme is a sitcom. In fact, in its almost twenty years on air, Channel Five have produced very few sitcoms with the only ones I can remember being co-productions with other networks. Written and created by Chris Gau and Michael Orton-Toliver, Borderline is a mockumentary set around the border control of a fictional Northend Airport. Of all of the comedy formats I feel that the mockumentary must be one of the easiest to produce as the characters can spout of expositional dialogue without it feeling out of place. Borderline also does feel like the sort of show that you would see on Channel Five ordinarily with it smacking of the likes of Holiday Airport UK and UK Border Force. The characters that Gau and Orton-Toliver have created are also believable enough and resemble those sort of people you’d see on a low-rent documentary. So for example you have the pencil-pushing boss Proctor (Jackie Clune) who in the opening episode is keen on enforcing the latest mandate from the Home Office. There’s also Clive (David Elms) who is perfectly suited to the job and Grant Brodie (Jamie Michie) who is known for detaining a lot of passengers purely based on their ethnicity. Just like any workplace comedy, Borderline has a couple of characters who don’t want to be there with Tariq (David Avery) having aspirations to be a DJ and Andy (Liz Kingsman) wanting to be anywhere other than the airport. While I thought that the characterisation of the central five figures was strong, Borderline lacked anything in the way of amusing material that felt original. Anything that was done during Borderline had been done better elsewhere in the likes of The Office, W1A and the incredibly underrated People Like Us. In fact Borderline feels rather old-fashioned when you consider the fly-on-the-wall documentaries that the show spoofs aren’t as prominent as they were at the turn of the century. Of the cast I enjoyed the performances given by Clune and Elms both of whom inhabited their characters well and tried their best with the weak material. Whilst I do applaud Channel Five for having a go at producing a sitcom I didn’t find anything particularly memorable about Borderline. The most damning thing I can say about the show is that I didn’t laugh once and that’s not good for the first episode of a sitcom which is meant to make you want to stick around for the rest of the series. However, in terms of Channel Five’s output, one out of three ain’t bad and I have to praise them once again for the incredibly gripping Suspects.
Moving away from Five but staying in the world of sitcoms we have a new offering from E4 in the form of ensemble comedy Wasted. Created and written by Jon Foster and James Lamont who previously worked together on Cuckoo and The Armstrong and Miller Show, Wasted follows the fortunes of four youngsters who wile away their days in the fictional West Country village of Neston Berry. The first episode begins with the return of Kent (Dylan Edwards) who has unsuccessfully tried to make it as a DJ and now is trying to weasel his way back into his old life. His return his met with great acclaim by his best friend Morpheus (Danny Kirrane) who runs a weird souvenir shop alongside his sardonic sister Sarah (Rose Reynolds). The back of the shop is home to Alison (Gwyneth Keyworth) who runs a new age healing business and whom Morpheus has a long-standing crush on. The opener sees Morpheus try to impress Alison by hosting a pub quiz after she reveals her secret desire for Jeremy Paxman whilst Sarah attempts to become a drug dealer with very negative results. Just like with Borderline, a lot of what happens is Wasted is quite cliched especially the scenes in which Morpheus has a drug overdose while hosting the aforementioned pub quiz. However I do feel that Foster and Lamont have perfectly conveyed the feeling of living in a small town where there is very little for the young folk to do. Wasted has probably garnered the most publicity due to the fact that Sean Bean makes several cameo appearances as a manifestation of Morpheus’ subconscious. Whilst Bean’s appearance may feel like a gimmick these dream sequences do add a new dimension to the sitcom and make it stand out from the crowd. Bean also seems to be having a great time with the dialogue he’s been given and I’m sure he’s happy in the fact that as he’s a figment of a character’s imagination he won’t be killed off. I found all four leads to be energetic and believable in their rolls with Kirrane being especially on form as the sympathetic nerd Morpheus. Whilst Foster and Lamont’s sitcom isn’t perfect I feel that it features the best representation of young people in a sitcom for a long while. Whilst it’s still a little rough around the edges I thought that Wasted shows buckets of promise and is perfectly suited to the young audience that E4 is aimed at.
The same can’t be said for the returning Coach Trip which has moved from a Channel 4 teatime slot to a new prime time home on E4. The new series, subtitled Road to Ibiza, sees legendary tour guide Brendan Sheeran take fourteen tourists on a coach trip around Europe culminating with an arrival on the legendary party island. Whilst the original series featured a people with a range of ages, this E4 version solely focused on youngsters most of whom were considerably attractive and spent most of their time with their tops off. Additionally the museum trips and go-kart rides of the gentile teatime show were replaced in the first episode by bucking broncos and catamaran rides. In fact the only thing that remains unchanged is Brendan himself who is still a proud international tour guide albeit with a rather younger coach full of passengers than normal. In my opinion Brendan is the most entertaining part of the episode as he gives his rather candid remarks on each of the couples and their relationships.I have to say I don’t think I would’ve bothered with the Road to Ibiza after the first episode had it not been for the shocking events of an episode that aired this week. As a long time fan of the Coach Trip format I’d never thought I’d see an episode where the majority of the couples refused to vote one of their number from the coach but that’s exactly what happened when five of the original pairings were denied to cast their vote for two travellers who left the trip early. This resulted in a strict dressing down from Brendan and a record five automatic red cards handed out to passengers who in the first episode had all been confident of making it all the way to Ibiza. Whilst I do like that Coach Trip has retained some of the elements that made it one of my favourite guilty pleasure shows I feel the emphasis on young passengers had made it lose some of its charm. Part of the joy of watching Coach Trip was seeing couples interact with those they’d never usually spend time with whilst on the Road to Ibiza you can easily see the majority of the couples partying with each other at a club. So while I may check in occasionally just to hear Brendan’s off-remarks about his passengers unfortunately this new younger E4 version of Coach Trip just isn’t made with an old fuddy duddy like me in mind.
Finally we come to what is arguably the most talked about show in the last fortnight as Channel 4 have courted plenty of controversy for their airing of dating show Naked Attraction. As you can probably guess from the title, Naked Attraction featured plenty of nudity as one person had to pick someone to go on a date with purely by looks alone. What makes is worse is for most of the selection process the picker is fully clothed and it’s not until the prospective dates are whittled down to two that they have to disrobe also. Apparently the point of this selection process is to take away all the gloss that goes into modern dating and to strip away everything to the bare essentials. Whilst this may well be the case the way that each of the naked prospective dates are revealed is incredible seedy indeed as we see they’re gradually revealed from the bottom up. Furthermore the fact they are asked to stand in plastic boxes make them seem like models in some sort of low-rent peep show albeit one you get eliminated from if the customer doesn’t like the look of your genitals. I do feel for host Anna Richardson, who seems to be the one who always gets drafted into host these sex-related shows, as she struggled to find any particularly insightful questions to ask. Due to the nature of the format she had to ask the contestants what their preference was in the opposite sex’s genitals and how much pubic hair they liked to see. Watching the first selection process in particular was cringe-inducing especially as Aina eliminated the naked men in front of her based on the way they were standing rather than any particular body parts. As much as every naked contestant claimed that the experience was liberating and they gained confidence it must be quite off-putting to be eliminated based on your looks. There was also a half-hearted attempt to make Naked Attraction seem vaguely scientific with Anna Richardson explaining why we’re attracted to certain parts of the opposite sex’s bodies however this part of the show fell completely flat. Whilst I do concede that what happens on Naked Attraction may well be an interesting experiment nothing about it suggested to me that it makes a particularly engaging TV show. In fact Naked Attraction seems purely to exist for titillation purposes and is mostly for the audience whose main critique of Sex Box wasn’t that it was rubbish but that the box wasn’t see-through. It’s a shame that Channel 4 feel they have to produce these sensationalist shows but Naked Attraction feels like a step in the wrong direction and definitely is a programme that shouldn’t have been commissioned in the first place.
That’s your lot for now, I’ll see you after the Olympics when TV returns and until then follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites for more of my thoughts on all things telly.