Playing It Straight, Channel 4

by | Apr 8, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say of you liked it

An intriguing twist on the tired old dating game show in which beautiful Zoë must discern whom among her flock of fluttering peacocks are the Prince Charmings come to sweep her off her dainty little feet, some of whom are undercover gays seeking only to fleece her of the £100,000 prize.

What to say of you didn’t like it

Avaricious little bint with no conception of humanity outside the pages of Heat seeks hunky STRAIGHT man with no mind of his own, muscles sculpted like the Carpathian Mountains and who bathes daily copious vat of his own vanity for fake six-week relationship, a cheap shot at TV fame and a share in £100,000.

What was good about it?

• The primary intrigue is working out whom among Zoë’s suitors are gay and who is straight like guessing the killer in a Hercule Poirot mystery but here the cast of suspects are bronzed toned hunks with a skill for posing, self-cleansing and using hair straighteners rather than embittered little old ladies with a skill for slipping arsenic into the vicar’s tea. But that’s enough about Cilla for now.

• Alan Cumming’s smooth, sardonic narration.

• As Zoë isn’t bright enough to spot the gays among the straights, it’s a task you have to do for yourself. Just as Raphael was branded as gay because of his mannerisms, so builder Ben was branded as straight because he is so macho he could have been raised by a pack of sheet metallers and taxi drivers in an East Ham working men’s club, and because of this he is probably gay.

• Also we believe that Jonny is out to swindle the whole £100k, as he says “gays” with such unconvincing homophobic venom and generally tries too hard to act like how he thinks a straight man should behave (“The tell tale signs are the fashion and if they’re effeminate”). While Danny B remarked: “I’m reasonably comfortable approaching, erm, girls.”

• Neurotic ad director Alex looks like a handsome version of Ruud van Nistelrooy and bitchy Peter resembles sprinter Maurice Greene.

• The cocky blonde boy is hot.

What was bad about it?

• The twee musical interludes in which a pub singer dresses up in hackneyed Mexican attire, replete with sombrero, to play a little flamenco guitar ditty to sum up the goings on in El Rancho Macho.

• It’s little more than a mundane updating of Blind Date but here the sexuality is concealed rather than the appearance.

• Zoë’s futile efforts to prove how profound she is. “I’ve only been in love once. But I don’t think it was real love; it was young love.” Such self-delusion is akin to a swimmer thinking they are a deep sea diver after graduating from a plunge to the bottom of a rainy puddle to the shallow fathoms of a garden pond.

• And her futile efforts to prove she is intelligent. “Some of the men will grow on me like a fine wine.” The last time we checked wine had not transformed into some ecological phenomenon that had evolved the capacity to “grow” in its inert liquid state.

• The way in which Zoë fell into the lame trap of evicting the two campest suitors, who were of course both straight. Raphael, the Versace sales assistant with more shoes than Imelda Marcos, an effete voice, and a tub of Vaseline, was obviously such a stereotype of homosexuality he had to be straight. And second evictee Pritesh proudly used hair straighteners.

• The signs that flash up on screen when the suitors are talking to camera: “Warning some of these men may be lying.” An extraneous additive as firstly, each viewer will be fully aware of the nature of the show; and secondly, especially as we’re in the run-up to a General Election, the novelty of people lying on TV has worn rather thin.

• While we usually like June Sarpong, in her brief appearances she materialises like the Cheshire Cat, seemingly inflating outwards from her big smile, and then proceeds to act like a flirtatious brothel madam teasing 10 schoolboys about to lose their virginity to one of her “girls”.

• As with many dating shows Playing It Straight proffers to offer the ideal environment in which Zoë can “find true love” or her “perfect partner”. Such assertions are as illusionary as dramatic filmic special effects; people often find their “perfect” partner in the same way as they get measured for a coffin – a snug, functional fit with little discomfort and an eternity of awkward silence to look forward to.

• We didn’t find out who initiated the game of water volleyball; if we did we would immediately label that lad as straight as volleyball, like rounders, hockey and Frisbee throwing, is only ever played by men to impress and involve young ladies. Largely because they’re very dull.

• Keane’s Everybody’s Changing was played in the background.

• The sections in which Zoë relates her feelings to the camera are utterly tedious largely because she comes across as genetic throwback to that dead branch of humanity which became extinct because of their sheer stupidity after they tore out their own lungs to provide balloon animals for their children.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


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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