“True or false: Bill Cosby was the first black man?” “It was false, it was Sidney Poitier.” Or the spectacle of bespectacled Mark Lamarr defending himself armed only with a toy plastic shield as Vic Reeves hurls towards him pendulum-fashion a stuffed, life-size grizzly bear. Or Vic and Bob presenting the losing team with consolation prizes of semi-circles drawn on Perspex squares in felt tip and heralding them as ‘Valley Location Tools’. Three of the most brilliant moments from the history of Shooting Stars, moments that foster false expectations of this new series.
One of the most favourable traits of time is to rinse away the memory of the dross, the lame, the trite and the mediocre. Just witness the rainbow-flavoured revival of the 80s. While much of it is just a marketing campaign to flog records to dumb teenagers, at its roots is the hazy impression of the 80s as an era of wistful innovation, where everyone in the Top of the Pops studio is having a much better time than you.
But this is only an impression. For those who had to live through it, the 80s was mostly a cultural holocaust, with many of the worst atrocities taking place in music. But this has all been scoured from the mind with the advent of the oxygen of a conceited revival, so that even those who endured that sulphuric decade can smile under the delusion that Stock, Aitken and Waterman didn’t exist, or that the only song Marillion ever released was Kayleigh.
The same impression exists for Shooting Stars; a portion of the original series in the 90s and the early part of this century was forgettable bilge. Which is why it’s little surprise that much of this first episode was only sporadically amusing.
There were the usual supernovas of brilliance: “True or false: Jeremy Kyle is the king of the gypsies?” “It’s false; he’s just their puppet master.” A famous face mocked-up as Hitler was revealed to be Simon Cowell. “Name someone with a face?” “True or false: Fiona Phillips is a witch?”
And while Vic and Bob continually take aim at easy, and deserving, targets this has always been part of Shooting Stars; witness the hilarious endgame when Jarvis Cocker had to throw mini-cheeses at a giant poster of a grotesque Judy Finnigan.
Shooting Stars also shares anticipated humour in common with its spiritual brethren The Fast Show. With Ted and Ralph there was rarely a moment of unexpected wit, it simply built into a conceit where Ralph would have to suppress his undying love for his gardener and with Shooting Stars there’s the an analogous anticipation in the inevitable appearance of the indecipherable club singer, Bob insulting Ulrika, George Dawes’ unsettling song and Vic’s courtship of the young lady to his right.
In this episode it was Christine Bleakley, who was charmed by Vic’s scrawled pen tattoo on the small of his back, that he revealed some more by pulling his pants down a little further to reveal an oil slick skidmark.
The lazy sense of anticipation might also explain the damp introduction of new regular guest Angelos Epithemiou, a ‘burger van owner’ who dripped unfunnily all over the show like rancid fat. In the next episode his cumbersome, creepy courtship of Ulrika might be as comic and predictable as Vic’s of the lady to his right. He did show promise with his Ulrika fantasy about her dressed up as a prison warder watching him slop out daily, and may be funnier with time once their adversarial relationship is more established.
But there can be no such excuses for some of the incalculably weak elements. Most apparent were the pallid showing of the guests DJ Ironik, Paddy McGuinness and Bleakley who could have pretty much been replaced with rotting corpses, while Ulrika has the comic timing of a broken clock prescribed Prozac.
Or maybe the fracturing flaw is most keenly observed in the hosts. Much of Vic and Bob’s puerile prattle has lost its sheen – “Is Enid Bryton the most popular children’s author in Japan? No, it’s Ray K Rowring”; Coercing Bleakley in the Dove from Above to say, “Can I have ‘Apu’, please?” or the clips round which featured a parade of people falling into a paddling pool in a You’ve Been Framed spoof.
Perhaps it’s because both Vic and Bob are over 50 or that their enduring audience has matured into humourless old goats, but it’s most likely that Shooting Stars always had its share of drab nonsense that been filtered out by the passage of time. If, come the end of the series, there are enough funny moments to make you smile, then it has retained its sparkle – if however, all you can recall is the odd belly laugh and a slithering sense of disdain then Shooting Stars may truly have burnt itself out.