THAT WAS THE BOX – February 2014 (Week One)
The latest in Channel 5’s freak show….sorry, alternative lifestyle documentaries, highlights relationships where the age gap is bigger than normal. The couple in the title were Edna aged 78 and her husband Simon, who is 39 (pictured above). Simon appeared to be channelling Will McKenzie from ‘The Inbetweeners‘. In all seriousness, Simon suffered from health problems that would probably have hindered him finding a relationship with a woman nearer to his age, and I suspect that Edna was more of a carer than a wife to him.
For me, the most fascinating couple were Joan (69) and her toyboy Phil (29). Joan looked like an ageing Barbie, and did not want to come across as mutton dressed as lamb. However, her dress of choice was short, leather and covered in studs. Phil was a rather immature lad, who came across like a sulky teenager and apparently suffered from epilepsy, and yet he was addicted to computer games – two things I would not imagine to be very compatible. The couple met online, after Joan was widowed and had fulfilled her dying husband’s wish, for her to have a boob job (?). There was no chemistry between Joan and Phil, except that of a mother with her son who is slightly embarrassed by her.
I’m not quite sure what the purpose of the programme was, to be honest. Okay, the age gaps in these relationships was quite weird, and it was shocking that young William, who was in a relationship with Marilyn who was 25 years older than him, had been physically attacked because of this. I don’t recall anyone beating up Michael Douglas for being with Catherine Zeta Jones, who is 25 years younger than him. In fact, interestingly, the men in the show who were with much younger women did not seem to feel the need to explain themselves as the women did. Same old double standards I guess. The programme smacked of Channel 5’s usual exercise in finger-pointing and laughing at the “weirdos”; but at the end of the day, true love is hard to find (trust me, I’m eternally single), so if these people have found partners who make them happy, then good luck to them. Who are we to judge?
This is the new show from Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith from ‘The League of Gentlemen‘ and ‘Psychoville‘, and with a pedigree like that, it was obvious this was not going to be ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys‘. This week’s series opener was called ‘Sardines’ and centred around a game of the same name, played in a large country house. The show offered quite a cast – Katherine Parkinson, Anna Chancellor, Anne Reid, Julian Rhind Tutt, Timothy West, Ophelia Lovibond, even man of the moment Luke Pasqualino (D’Artagnan in ‘The Musketeers‘). The premise was simple – a dysfunctional family and their friends slowly became crammed into a wardrobe, whilst playing Sardines at a party – all except for Shearsmith who played a camp character called Stu who persuaded Pasqualino’s young and dumb Kev to hide under the bed with him.
As the cast grew, the dialogue took a sinister turn, with revelations of child abuse and incest, and the end was quite a surprise when it transpired that one of the characters intended to seek revenge for childhood wrongdoings. Up until then, I felt as though I had been watching a dark comedy. When this twist came, I suddenly had the revelation that this was ‘Tales of the Unexpected‘ for the 21st Century (if you’re too young to remember ‘Tales of the Unexpected‘, they’re all on YouTube!). If the other shows in the series can keep up the momentum of this one, I predict it to be a big hit, as it’s unlike anything else on our screens at the moment.
After the success of last years ‘The Big Reunion‘, it was inevitable that ITV2 would make a new series. When I read the line up, I did fear they were scraping the barrel a little. I mean, last year we had Atomic Kitten, Liberty X, Blue and 5ive. This year we have Eternal, 3T, Girl Thing (me neither), Damage, A1 and a new ‘boy’ band made up of pop flops Gareth Gates, Dane Bowers, Kenzie from Blazin’ Squad, Kavana and Adam Rickett of ‘Coronation Street‘ fame. It looked pretty dire on paper, but by the end of episode one, I was hooked. This week’s show concentrated on boyband Damage, who are probably now most famous for the fact that Jade Jones (Mr Emma Bunton) used to be a member, and Girl Thing, a band put together by none other than Simon Cowell –hot on the coat-tails of The Spice Girls. The most famous former member of Girl Thing is Jodi Albert, who appeared in ‘Hollyoaks‘ for many years, and now is the wife of Kian Egan from Westlife.
The story of Girl Thing is all too familiar of acts associated with Mr Cowell. Large amounts of money were thrown at them, in the hope they would emulate the success of The Spice Girls; and when it didn’t happen, they were suddenly unwanted and cast aside by Cowell and his people. How many times have we seen the same fate befall X-Factor winners? Even though they weren’t familiar as a band, it was the human interest element of their story that gripped you. They were banned from having boyfriends, and when one of them fell in love with a guy, the resentment this caused culminated in physical violence. It was also interesting because the fate of the girls was so varied. Two of them are now married to wealthy men and living the good life, whilst another – Lindsey – is back living on the same council estate from where she came, and a single mum to two young daughters.
Damage’s story was also pretty tragic. They had more success than I ever remembered, and like a lot of successful young men, whatever money they made, they quickly wasted away. Like Jay Brown last year, who refused to rejoin 5ive, it would seem this year’s maverick is Damage’s Coree Richards (why is it always the hot one?). Coree found himself in a dark place involving drugs and ended up in prison, and there is a lot of resentment and unanswered questions from the other guys, and I have a feeling that when they are reunited, it is not going to go smoothly.
As someone who once dreamt of being a pop star, I watch ‘The Big Reunion‘ and thank the heavens above that it never happened. The programme shows stardom for what it really is like, and everyone seemed to end up unhappy, skint and in some cases, with substance abuse problems. Quite why they want to reunite I’m not sure, seeing as they’ve all gone on to do much more rewarding things, like becoming mentors to young kids, or bringing their own children up.
One of the highlights of ‘The Big Reunion‘ for me is Andi Peters’ commentary. The little barbs aren’t obvious, and you have to be on the ball to catch them. But for me, anyone who, when talking about Dane Bowers, says in a deadpan voice;
“He duetted with Spice Girls lead vocalist Victoria Beckham.”
He should be given the job of commentating on the ‘Eurovision Song Contest‘ when Graham Norton retires!
I love Chris Lilley and I think he is a genius. There I’ve said it. ‘Summer Heights High‘ and ‘Angry Boys‘ are up there with my favourite programmes ever, but unfortunately Ja’mie King, the horrible schoolgirl, isn’t one of my favourite characters and I’m not sure if she is going to be able to carry a whole series on her own. One of the novelties with Lilley is his ability to play several characters in the one show. With ‘Summer Heights High‘ we had the wonderful Mr G, Jonah and Ja’mie. In ‘Angry Boys‘ we had the likes of twins Nathan and Daniel Sims, S.Mouse the rapper and Gran, the prison warder. But with Private Schoolgirl, the whole show is centred around Ja’mie in her final year at Hillford, the exclusive girls school.
There is no getting away from the fact that Lilley is fantastic at playing a seventeen year old girl – especially seeing as he is a man pushing forty in real life. Only the fact that Ja’mie is about a foot taller than her clique of mean girl type friends, gives it away that it’s actually a man. But Lilley has the mannerisms, voice and demeanour of a teenage girl and parts of the show – especially the scene where Ja’mie is trying to flirt with her father and persuade him to let her have a party so she can invite Mitchell, a hot Year 10 boy from the neighbouring grammar school, was inspired. But I would be much happier if next week’s show concentrated on another character. I’m not sure six or eight weeks of watching a bitchy girl putting people down, being fake and manipulative and doing silly dancing, is going to hold people’s attention.
Oh, and if you watch it, I bet you, within a fortnight you will be using the word “quiche”.