What to say if you liked it
The cerebral McKenna is back on our screens with a new series where he selflessly donates his time and skill to helping people with seemingly insurmountable problems, phobias and illnesses. He’s like a modern day Jesus, in many ways.
What to say if you didn’t like it
The destitute person’s Derren Brown uncomfortably smarms his way through another vehicle showcasing his undeniably effective mumbo-jumbo.
What was good about it?
• Whatever your views on McKenna as a person, celebrity, or professional, his methods clearly work. The programme did a good job in detailing the private hell of this week’s three subjects and McKenna was able to significantly change and improve their lives. However cynical one may be about shows like this, it must be acknowledged that some good has been done.
• Lizzie’s debilitating love pain and Celia’s career-ruining fear of needles were great challenges, but the story of Matt, a man who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, was by far the most engaging because Matt himself was one of the few people you ever see in these shows who is instantly likeable. Good-looking, sensitive, articulate and quick-witted, Matt’s life was blighted by Tourette’s (his tale of an insensitive teacher mocking him in assembly was acutely frightening). Keen to be involved in the arts, Matt wanted to control his ticks and McKenna helped him dramatically with some seemingly simple techniques. We couldn’t help but be pleased by the more confident, happy person McKenna helped to bring out of Matt.
• The enormous phone, like a giant boomerang, McKenna used when chatting to a client from his roof.
• Paul’s hand movements were bizarre and almost mesmerising if you looked at them for too long. He never sits still, always moving, leaning forward, leaning back, and flailing his hands around in a vast explosion of semaphore. He often starts listing by numbering his fingers, but never gets past ‘one’. This was fascinating and we wonder if these gesticulations have been consciously refined or whether they are natural.
• Similarly, Paul’s accent was quite interesting, almost Trans-Atlantic, even corny at times, such as when he said to Lizzie: “You see a love and respect you hadn’t noticed before… (even deeper voice) until now.” It was almost like Troy McClure doing sexy.
• The cures seemed to involve plenty of humour (at one point Paul used Benny Hill music to accompany Celia’s visions of her needle nightmare) but also appeared to be incredibly simple – is it really this easy, or was Paul hiding a few tricks?
What was bad about it?
• The promos for the show had Paul saying he wasn’t an illusionist. But the opening titles had him throwing golden rainbow-type bars all over the place which not only made him look conceited, but also made him resemble some kind of cheap David Copperfield.
• Paul did not do the voiceover. Now, it’s clear McKenna is a very busy man, but he clearly had Sky over a barrel during negotiations for this commission, because they allowed him to be only minimally involved in the show. Having Paul explain his techniques and his thoughts more thoroughly through a voiceover would have improved the programme immeasurably. Instead we often had Phoebe Schofield’s voice intruding Paul’s treatment of the clients. Presumably because of time constraints, or possibly because Paul doesn’t want to give all his secrets away, the actual details of the cure were simplified by Schofield and showed on the screen only fleetingly. This was a shame, as the treatment is really more interesting than the problem, whereas the emphasis for the show was the other way around, possibly because Paul simply did not have enough free time to host the show as Derren Brown does.
• Celia’s hypnosis to cure her fear of needles was particularly disappointing – we heard next to nothing except the countdown to bring her back to full consciousness.
• Paul making diagnoses and helpful suggestions to Matt over the phone. It seemed far too impersonal and presumptuous – even flippant. It reinforced the feeling that Paul’s heart and soul was not in this project.
• Paul’s jargon: “Stress is a neuro-physiological state”. So it has to do with the brain and the body? Thanks for that bombshell. He would often say, “I foresee” rather than “I suspect” or “I think” or “I expect” – a word that has unfortunate connotations with crystal-ball readers that perhaps Paul should try to avoid.
• Lovesick ex-model Lizzie claiming: “All the men I met were playboys,” and lamenting that her beauty was a curse. People everywhere who would love to have had her opportunities and undeniable attractiveness simultaneously threw their Oil of Olay anti-ageing lotions at the TV screen.
• The ill-advised filming of Matt’s reading for a leading casting agent. Her back-handed-but-honest statement afterwards was pretty excruciating: “I think you have a good chance. You have as good-a chance as anyone… who is as good as you.”