Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Welcome To The Dee List

You know that feeling. A removal van pulls up outside your house, so you peer out from an upstairs window and watch as the belongings are unloaded. Ugly couch, white pleather bar stools and a CRT TV. It’s pretty much all you need to know about your new neighbours. And that’s pretty much how I view Big Brother now. I’m usually curious enough to give it a couple of hours’ attention; just long enough to decide I want nothing more to do with the new inhabitants, before switching over to the Family Guy marathon on BBC Three.

The Channel 5 continuity announcer promises “the famous, the fabulous and the filthy,” but forgive me for lowering my expectations somewhat. The audience at Elstree is in good voice, but I have a sneaking suspicion they’ve been locked in here since Friday’s finale. Emma’s looking lovely as always, but her awkward stance makes her look as if she had to drip dry in the onsite Portaloo.  There’s no point showing us around the house, because it’s been on our screens since late May, so let’s dive straight into our new housemates.

About as surprising an appearance as Emma herself, White Dee from Benefits Street has been talked up as a housemate for 12 months now. Despite sounding like outtakes from Cher’s Believe, Dee seems pretty easy to get along with, unless you happened to nick her regular table at the Gala Bingo. Making a mockery of Emma’s earlier comment about Champagne and Michelin starred restaurants, Dee has opted for an unforgiving grey sheath that makes her look like a giant, 43 year-old pupa. Apparently, Dee turned down a role in an ‘X-rated spoof of Benefits Street.’ I’m not sure why – this one might have been played for more laughs, but I’ll bet that everyone who appeared in it still got fucked.

With Wikipedia permanently open in my browser, I can happily tell you that our second housemate is James Jordan, one of the dancers from Strictly Come Dancing. James was recently sacked from the BBC One flagship, and likes to think it’s because he’s the ‘Bad Boy of Ballroom.’ That sobriquet is a lot less exciting when you consider he could have earned it by refusing to wax the parquet. Like many of his contemporaries, James spends most of his time pointing out just how incredibly heterosexual he is, before inviting us to admire his arse. Just don’t get too close – he’s been on the Immodium all day, which at least explains why he’s so full of shit. In the house, he has no idea who Dee is, so makes a point of telling her he’s been on TV for eight years. Of course, Dee knows exactly who he is, because, as the Government would like us to remember, people on benefits live for fags and Sky+.

Claire King is unusual, in that she’s both recognisable and talented, having made her name as the superbitch in Emmerdale. With a smoky laugh that sounds like the faulty transmission on an Austin Princess, she’s trying to compare Emmerdale to Dynasty and Dallas, but she’s not convincing anyone. I don’t remember Krystle and Alexis ever coming to blows over a partially birthed calf. She’s not too worried about criticism, reckoning she’s old enough and ugly enough. That’s a little harsh – if I’m honest, she just looks like she’s here as Helen Lederer’s stand-in. “I’m just a grumpy old woman,” she argues, clearly pitching for a slot on the Loose Women breakfast bar.

David Mackintosh considers himself to be an international heart-throb, having ‘starred’ on the recent unsuccessful reboot of Gladiators. “I’m a muscle-bound eccentric who loves life,” he opines, before launching into a weird anecdote about crashing a van full of dead badgers. “I’m there because I’m an interesting person,” he argues, missing the fact that the casting team was given a tight brief to find someone with the exact same silhouette as Foghorn Leghorn.

Kellie Maloney’s life changed several weeks ago, when a story appeared in one of the tabloids about her gender-swap. Now, I’m assuming that’s the same story she took to the papers ahead of her imminent entry into the Big Brother house. Formerly known as boxing promoter Frank Maloney, Kellie is doing an incredibly brave thing – not least because no-one should have to learn to apply eye-liner in front of a judgmental nation. Even so, she’s looking good, and from behind is completely indistinguishable from Claire King. Kellie seizes on James and says “Are you the dancer? Can you teach me to dance?” I’d advise her to practice walking in heels, before she tries tackling a paso doble.

Audley Harrison is a boxer with size 17 feet and the kind of irrepressible spirit that’d give Kriss Akabusi a migraine. His VT is all very agreeable, which is why I’m more focused on the fact that he’s going into the house dressed as one half of Milli Vanilli. Marcus Bentley tells us that Audley has a degree in sport science and leisure management, which basically makes him Gordon Brittas with a decent right hook.

“What’s the big deal about big boobs?” asks the cosmetically augmented Lauren Goodger as she thrusts her man-made mams at the camera. Her whole VT is a senseless collage of meaningless phrases and pouts that look like she’s disgorging a dinner plate. She’s excited about the chance to appear on a show where she can just be herself, but even the TOWIE viewers are scratching their extensions at that one. As she enters the house, we’re told Lauren was once ‘proposed to in a pub car park,’ which makes me wonder whether that’s a euphemism for the thing she was seen doing in that “intimate video” she mentioned earlier.

If you thought we’d already hit rock bottom, allow me to peel back the underlay and introduce you to George Gilbey – a man who watches telly. Like we’re all doing now. There’s a part of me that wishes Gogglebox was on right now, so we could initiate some kind of meta rift in the space time continuum. As it is, we’re stuck with George sipping gingerly at pints and telling us that wearing no underwear makes him quite ‘Western.’ He’s so nervous that when he pours himself a glass of Rosé it’s like watching Ted Striker trying to overcome his drinking problem.

Our next housemate is a quarter of B*Witched. Edele was the lead-singer in the denim-clad Irish foursome, and seemed to have the biggest problem with everyone when the group reformed for The Big Reunion. She never came across as being particularly likeable, and this VT isn’t exactly swinging things in her favour. Emma seems particularly disengaged during Edele’s interview, probably because the humidity is doing weird things to her hair.

Ricci tells us that he’s “probably best known for the Geordie Shore.” I’m not sure where else his notoriety might come from, unless he’s also featured on cautionary posters in every GUM clinic across the North East. Like Lauren before him, his VT is all about “bringing the party” and obsessing about parts of his body. He’s particularly proud of his six-pack, whipping up his Hollister top to finger the ridges. It’s great that he knows how to do sit-ups, but since the rest of him is so unremarkable, it’s like buying a new car just for the alloys.

Stephanie Pratt is the sister of the universally loathed Spencer, who stupefied audiences last year with his self-involved delusions. Stephanie has appeared on The Hills and Made In Chelsea, and could give Reece Witherspoon chin envy. She’s determined to prove that she’s not ditzy, and seems to be participating in Big Brother for the ‘social experiment’ because she once studied an anthropology module. She reckons that travelling on the Tube is fun, which means she’s never had to use it, and she seems to think that creating a line of belts makes her a designer.

The last three housemates have been separated out in the interests of Big Brother’s first big challenge. Dee has been selected to pose as a distant relative of the Queen, and if she can fool the next three housemates for 24 hours, they’ll all win a luxury food budget. The show’s stylists have simply wrapped her in a window display from Bensons For Beds and backcombed her hair into a beehive, so the Americans may take some convincing.

First up is Leslie Jordan, a genuinely hilarious comedian, raconteur and actor, who most people will recognise from Will & Grace, where he played Karen’s nemesis Beverley Leslie. I also remember him as someone who once got barbecued by Jason Voorhees, but that probably says more about me. As he greets Emma, it’s a lot like seeing Ronnie Corbett playing Elton John in a Comic Relief sketch. We also quickly get a sense that his line about falling out of his mother’s womb into her high heels is a lot like Dolly Parton’s “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.” I’m going to bet this won’t be the last time we hear that one.

Angelique ‘Frenchy’ Morgan once appeared on a reality show about dating Brett Michaels, and seems to have been stitched together from the pieces they cut off Donatella Versace. She tells us that everything about her is fake, and I’m wondering whether that includes her accent, since she talks like a drunk Inspector Clouseau. “Obviously I like cock. I’m ze worst and ze bitch.” she admits conspiratorially. We also discover that she’s more comfortable when she’s naked, but I imagine she’d be the only one, since she looks more like a Gerald Scarfe sketch than an actual woman.

Our final housemate is Gary Busey – formerly a successful Hollywood actor, and now Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion on bath salts. Like a set of sentient dentures that have been left overnight in a glass full of crazy, it’s a miracle Gary even got on the plane, never mind made it through Big Brother’s psychiatric evaluation. His interview with Emma is the most uncomfortable thing I’ve seen all year, and I watched every episode of The Voice. I keep reminding myself that this is Gary Busey sober, and wondering if, maybe, we’re all doing it wrong. As Gary staggers towards the house, he insists that Emma accompanies him, and the producers cut her microphone feed, just in case. By the time Dee re-enters as the Duchess of Solihull, it’s clear that there’s one housemate she won’t have to struggle to convince. The state he’s in, you could probably introduce Gary to a ficus and tell him it’s fifth in line to the throne. Mark my words,; no good will come of this.   

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Nanu Nanu Robin

"Mork calling Orson, come in Orson." As familiar to me as the taste of cheese Hula Hoops or Tizer, my favourite half hour of TV would always end the same way - as the bemused and befuddled Orkan would post his weekly report on human behaviour, long before E.T. ever reappropriated the insides of a Speak N Spell. Many people forget that Mork & Mindy started out as a spin-off of long-running nostalgia-fest Happy Days. While Fonzy was busy waterskiing over an unconvincing shark and entering the lexicon of jaded TV viewers everywhere, Robin Williams was a shot of pure adrenalin into the chest of lazy sitcoms. With his rainbow braces and a rug of uncontrollable chest hair that completed his image as a live action Tazmanian Devil, Mork brought irreverence and improvisation to a format that, Norman Lear's output aside, was usually content to lean against boundaries, rather than push them.

After four successful years, Hollywood came calling, as did the dealers. Williams famously noted that, unlike most people who took cocaine to get hyper, he used it to slow down. After all, when talking a mile a minute is your default setting, where else is there to go? His first bout of cold turkey came after the death of John Belushi, having been in the big man's company the night of his fatal speedball. Having kicked the habit (for the time being, at least), Williams launched into a largely fruitless big screen career. Struggling to reconcile his anarchic persona with the dramatic roles that appealed to him, most of his early eighties material was forgettable at best - the sole exception being The World According To Garp.

In fact, it wasn't until 1987's Good Morning, Vietnam, that he found a vehicle that played to his strengths as both a virtuoso comedic force of nature, and an empathetic dramatic actor. Despite triggering several years' worth of shrill and unfunny impersonations, Vietnam was a smash hit. It also provided Hollywood with an instant shortcut whenever they needed a combination of laugh-out-loud humour, as well as calculated moments of pathos. Awakenings, Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King all followed, achieving varied levels of success and helping Williams develop his standing as a 'serious' actor. One high profile misfire was Hook, which seemed to fly in the face of Steven Spielberg's long stated ambition to avoid casting celebrities in lead roles. The combination of Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman and a 'troubled' Julia Roberts resulted in a gaudy, interminable pantomime, redeemed only by Williams' all-too-rare flights of literal and figurative fancy - calling one unlikeable brat "You lewd, crude, rude bag of pre-chewed food dude."

Williams' next breakthrough came from the most unlikely of sources - the Walt Disney Company. Much like Spielberg, the House of Mouse had always studiously avoided stunt casting, instead allowing the animation and, more recently, the songs of Ashman and Menken, to reverse the troubled studio's fortunes. With their latest animated adventure sent back to the drawing board by a disappointed Jeffrey Katzenberg, it fell to Williams to revive the floundering project. His chaotic, heavily improvised shtick paired perfectly with the Al Hirschfeld-inspired animation style, and helped create the studio's first animated comedy. Since then, hundreds of high profile comics, from Ray Romano and Sarah Silverman, to Ellen Degeneres and Eddie Murphy, have made a beeline (sorry, almost forgot Jerry Seinfeld there) for the recording booth. The results may have varied, but the impact is inarguable.

The nineties were probably Williams' golden period, as he juggled high concept comedies (Mrs Doubtfire, Jumanji) with more esoteric work, (Barry Levinson's much-maligned Toys, and Vincent Ward's What Dreams May Come). Although the choices were always interesting and rarely predictable, audiences still seemed to connect best when he was in full comedy mode. One of his biggest hits was the Hollywood take on La Cage aux Folles, retitled The Birdcage for American audiences. Not only did he achieve his own moments of sublime brilliance (particularly the whistle-stop choreography demo), he was content to play the 'straight' man to Nathan Lane's more showy breakout role.

It wasn't until 1997 that he finally won a long-deserved Oscar for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting. Unfortunately, audience goodwill was more fleeting, as a series of mawkish flops, including Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man and Jakob The Liar, ended his incredible box office run. Unlike some of his contemporaries, who might have attempted to revisit former glories, Williams found in his exile from blockbusters a new kind of freedom. He courted darker material; thrillers and sombre character studies that no longer attempted to straddle comedy and drama. Instead, these were pared down, subtle and haunting performances. His turn in Armistead Maupin's proto-Catfish The Night Listener was a masterclass in confused melancholy; a subtle variation on his first villainous roles in One Hour Photo and Insomnia.

Coming full circle, his most recent role was in a new sitcom called The Crazy Ones, where he played the head of an ad agency alongside Sarah Michelle Gellar. The show was cancelled in May after an inauspicious first season, although network executives had expressed delight at having Williams back on TV after all these years.

Early reports suggest that Williams may have taken his own life after a long struggle with depression and a relapse into alcoholism. He was always matter of fact about his demons, often incorporating them into his rapid-fire stand up material. Perhaps he believed that old adage about laughter being the best medicine. After all, when I was sixteen, I wrote him a fan letter, to which he replied just a couple of weeks later. Inside the envelope was a signed publicity still from Toys, onto which he'd scribbled 'Make fun, not war.' In these troubled times of conflict and intolerance, I can't think of a more appropriate epitaph.