Old Dogs, New Tricks, BBC1

by | Aug 17, 2006 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

The ‘Old Dogs’ bit we can handle as grizzled bloodhounds Esther Rantzen and Lynn Faulds-Wood hunted down con-artists with their trademark relentless zeal; it’s the ‘New Tricks’ part we have trouble with as these new tricks consisted of those nauseatingly disorientating editing shots favoured by derivative Yoof TV and the sham, staged dialogue between the pair, popularised in such shows as Top Gear and Location, Location, Location.

What was good about it?

• The tests conducted by Professor Monique Simmonds that revealed the diet pills contained substances that could be harmful. This elevated the investigation beyond the mundane indignation of Esther and Lynn of lazy women trying to lose weight the easy way being conned out of money.

• When all the extraneous gloss was stripped away, both Esther and Lynn relished the chance to doorstep companies they suspected of immoral behaviour. In Jersey, Esther kept going back to remonstrate with a manager of the firm who despatched the pills even though he claimed to be oblivious as to the effectiveness of the pills.

• About half-way through food and nutrition expert Dr Susan Jebb made the most welcome statement of the show: “The only way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories or do exercise to burn it off.” We’re sure this is something that has been repeated ad nauseum for the past century at least, so why do some people still believe that there is a magic pill to take away all their weighty woes?

• Esther taking the same feline delight as a tiger ripping apart a dozy cow as she tore through the flimsy Dr Whitton, whose face had appeared on the leaflets appearing to endorse the potency of the two pills that had got her hackles up. As the bumbling, sweating chemist gave Esther a tour of his factory, she asked what a bin full of blue pills did. Dr Whitton mumbled some vague answer about them being “herbal”, before a grinning Esther surmised that he didn’t have a clue what they did.

• Lynn, meanwhile, burst in on Michael Brown, whom Dr Whitton had named as the customer ordering one brand of the pills. She immediately opened fire with the consumer journalist’s stock questions of how does he justify selling products that don’t work to “vulnerable” people. Brown, though, denied being behind Elixir of Life, the company that were advertised on the leaflets.

• Adam Buxton’s narration. He could almost feel that tongue in his cheek.

What was bad about it?

• It’s the second BBC to get it’s title from the cliché ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, while referring to Esther and Lynn as ‘dogs’ can be a bit insulting. And the ‘New Tricks’ surely don’t refer to ‘new’ scams, as con-artists do now what they have done since the beginning of capitalism – they exploit the stupid, the vulnerable and the lazy.

• The horribly static conversations between Lynn and Esther that seems to be the ‘trendy’ way to present consumer shows these days. At no point did either of them address the camera but instead communicated the progress of the investigation through scripted dialogue with one another. Of course, this ends up being appallingly insincere and stilted and threatened the credibility of the investigation.

It began as Esther let herself into their office and saying to Lynn, “Hey sweetheart, look what I’ve got!” She then brandished a leaflet for dubious slimming pills, and we were then supposed to believe it was at this moment, with TV cameras present to capture their collective rage, that they resolved to smash the company producing these pills.

• This style further blights the programme through its wholly inappropriate fast-editing technique that includes the blurred close-up, the shaky camera the peculiar angle; all of which supposedly suggest a grittier authenticity to Esther and Lynn’s work but end up making it look like an interlude on Transmission With T-Mobile.

• At a ‘soiree’ hosted by Lynn and Esther, women who had been suckered by slimming pill fraudsters were invited to recount their wretched tales. As Lynn and Esther chatted to the women, the room was illuminated with flattering golden sunlight while cameras tumbled across the oestrogen-fuelled firmament occasionally being trapped by the crushing gravity of Esther or Lynn’s indignation, before orbiting them for a little while to capture each wrinkle of rage.

• It was at the soiree that Lynn noted to Esther of their guests that they “are not stupid people”. And she was quite right, they certainly weren’t stupid; but here Lynn was trying to absolve them of all responsibility for their actions as though the useless slimming pills were forced into the women’s hands by the unscrupulous companies. On the contrary, it’s because the women aren’t stupid that they should know better than to trust the scurrilous hyperbolic literature on a marketing pamphlet.

• Another instance of the artificial nature of the investigation occurred when Lynn and Esther were having a picnic. Sat about two feet apart, Lynn’s phone rang. Esther felt the need to inform Lynn, who was sat closer to the phone, that it was ringing. On the other end was Professor Simmonds, who had been conducting laboratory tests on the authenticity of the slimming pills. Of course, with the professor was a camera, a camera that captured her gulping nervously at the staged vignette.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

17/08/2006

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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