Sunday, July 24, 2005

Pantomime Demons

My new favourite website is TVgasm, mainly because the writers provide hilariously catty reviews of various American tv shows that makes up for the fact that nobody else I know watches them.

A particular favourite of Tvgasm is the unfortunate Julie Chen, hostess of Big Brother US - I had been intrigued by Miss Julie when I read in the Guardian that Big Brother US had a host who was "carved out of wood", and they were not wrong. Tvgasm refers to Julie as the Chenbot, and hangs on every stilted word she utters, describing in exact detail the many awkward silences that occur when she tries her hand at adlib interviewing, her flubs and her Adventures in Fashion that so often go wrong (body glitter and camel toe anyone?) Fortunately, the Chenbot is often wired into an autocue which uses the same script almost every week, so get ready for Julie to say "But first..." 8 times an episode or to use parentheses when talking... "Eric (the fireman from Las Vegas) is this week's Head of Household." I love the Chenbot - without her Big Brother would be NOTHING!

Julie's muted, mechanical style is very much in contrast to the host of British Big Brother - fizzing Davina McCall (probably the only person associated with the show who is not the object of hatred for the entire nation). Davina is everso everso excited to be hosting Big Brother - and she mugs and gurns to the camera, playing ring-master to the booing crowd, ensuring that they're all suitably whipped up into a frenzy of hatred for whoever gets evicted. While Davina pokes (gentle) fun at the housemates, she's always there to offer a sisterly arm of comfort when they're booted out, whispering in their ears "It's all a pantomime" whenever the boos get particularly murderous. It's all a laff innit, for Davina, and we can't take anything that seriously when she's in control, because of her British use of irony. Davina is so totally up for it herself that she'll interview contestants in her bikini. She's such a trouper that even when suffering from the flu she'll just pop a couple of Asprin and soldier on. Heavily pregnant? That won't stop her either - she's had two babies during the show's 6 year run and the understudy has never had to be called in once.

I wish that Julie and Davina could do a "Wifeswap" for a week - Julie Chenbot would be pelted with tomatoes by the blood-thirsty crowd who would chant "Camel Toe! Camel Toe!", sending her poor circuits into overload, while Davina's hypertastic delivery would fall flat on its face with no studio audience and nobody to assure that it's all a pantomime.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Corrie's Trashcilla is probably one of the funniest comedy characters ever created. Recent adventures have included installing a sunbed in her living room (and spending 8+ hours a DAY on it), as well as her feud with the non-English speaking boss of the fish and chip shop where she works. Permanently hard-up, her latest scam involves stealing a neighbour's mobility cart in order to go shop-lifting in Selfridges. While the store muzak plays In the Halls of the Gobin King, Cilla and her stooge stuff padded bras and other "items" in the motorised wheelchair, and manage to outwit the elderly store detective. However, Corrie being the MORAL show that it is, all acts of outrage and evil will be punished in a Karmic-esque way. The rules are that a small amount of wrongdoing will instantly be punished (usually with comedic overtones), while greater evil takes longer to get resolved (but generally results in the perpertrator dying in spectacular circumstances. As Cilla only engages in petty acts of mischief, the only come-uppance we can expect for her is perhaps an ABSO. Hopefully. Last night's episode climaxed with the mobility cart going hilariously out of control and her ending up in the Manchester Ship Canal. Her cartoon-like thwarted expression said it all.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

First there was Footballers Wives. A campsy, glam-fest which took all of its storylines from the front pages of real-life tabloids, hardly needing to pump them up any further. It was all diamonique faux-opulence, long cat-nails scratching down the swollen buttocks of neanderthal footballers, their mullets newly high-lighted, while a telephoto lens peeked through a hedge. Awful, but fun in a kind of leafing through OK magazine while waiting to hear the results of your syphillis test, kind of way.

But now, the spin-off Footballer's Wives Extra Time seeks to plumb depths that even the Footballer's Wives didn't dare go. Even more fast paced, late night, shorter, uglier, more edgy (that translates to jerky camera movements and close-ups - probably so they can hide the fact that the budget is lower), and with a cast of characters from a somewhat different caste - inner-city ghetto hell to be precise. It's all a bit like a Victorian Penny Dreadful, with sterotypes galore - brassy tarts with bad hair, scarred gangstas, drug-addict toffs etc, and the dialogue is often unbearable, particularly when the gangsta refers to his girlfriend as "Little Bird". However, FWET does not shy away from tackling the "issues of the day" (or rather, the issues of last year), so we have dogging, botox, kiddies on E and rather a lot of mobile phone use. Quite sensibly, all of the original characters from Footballers Wives appear to have jumped ship, so we are left with some "People Vaguely Connected to Footballers Wives" - however, I can see why the writers thought that title wouldn't work and went with "Extra Time" instead. I hope that the franchise continues to dumb-down and devolve. So Extra Time should get its own spin-off series, which could just consist of women with large breasts making unintelligble grunting noises while a neon light flashes on and off. Or have I just descibed the contents of most digital tv channels anyway?

Meanwhile, has Gay Sean from Coronation Street finally pulled? I do hope so. When he arrived at t'Street I had high hopes. However, he has kept his legs firmly crossed and seems more happy to be "one of the girls", while flirting half-heartedly with Jason (taken sadly). Don't they have the Internet in Wetherfield? I look forward to a storyline where Sean discovers broadband and becomes a casual sex addict overnight.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Big Brother UK is a deeply flawed programme. There is no real "game" to speak of - contestants aren't allowed to discuss nominations for example, no real reward (the prize of £100,000 won't buy a house in most parts of the country nowadays). Instead, contestants (who are picked for their immaturity, egocentricism and poor social skills) are forced to carry out a series of silly parlour games that involve "dressing up", while the British public vote off whoever they find most threatening (attractive women generally do badly - while Scottish contestants always seem to do quite well - even the unpleasant ones) - and Endemol gets revenue from all those phone votes. Almost every contestant is booed on eviction (due to editing techniques that depict everyone as monsters) and if the tv footage starts to drag by, the producers attempt to spice things up with alcohol or inducing conflict via food deprivation. It is all rather fruitless, reminding me of a particularly nasty playground.

Fortunately, just as things seem to reach their lowest point, America starts broadcasting its own Big Brother - a much more sophisticated game, where social skills and strategy actually count for something. Here, the public are wisely kept out of things - the least offensive or nicest contestant does not always win. (The Season 4 finale was a Showdown of Hate between two of the meanest girls ever.) There is also a substantial prize at stake, and the games actually mean something - no more dressing up as a chicken in order to win beer - instead the contestants compete against one another and the winner gets to decide which of his/her fellow competitors are up for eviction, which is made brutally apparent during a face-to-face nomination meeting. Footage is sharply edited, no time wasted with the laconic British narrative "Day 56: Kemal is in the diary room..." More happens in 1 episode than in 2 weeks of the British Big Brother. And each series introduces a new twist, so the game doesn't get stale. This year, the 14 contestants are all paired with a close friend from the outside, in secret. My favourite contestants so far are Howie and Janelle. Howie (trainee weather-man) has rather too much confidence in his charms (his party piece is kissing his own, admittedly huge bicep), while other contestants have suspected he's slightly retarded. Janelle - a "VIP cocktail waitress", while appearing to look like a bimbo, is actually Grand Chess Master Janelle, and engages the male players in games of chess so she can gauge how intelligent they are. Other contestants include a hunky Iraqi, a bubbly gay man who keeps lying on top of the Iraqi, a testosterone-soaked fireman and a sharp-talking lesbian. Hurrah for American tv - they really know how to do game-shows.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The relationship between Craig and Anthony is about the most interesting thing on Big Brother at the moment. Craig (the camp repressed gay one) is in love with Anthony (the so butch-he's camp "straight" one). The two are inseperable and constantly touching each other. Anthony recently told Craig he's never had a friend like him before and he never expected that he'd be his favourite person in the Big Brother House. When Anthony gets drunk and "cavorts" in the pool with the girls, Craig is mortified and tearful. In one notable speech he announced "I'm the bitch, I'm the submissive!" and warned Anthony that he's the only person who's allowed to look after him. Although they have not had sex, there have been several sublimated sexual incidents, usually involving water fights or sun-tan lotion "Anthony! You got it in my eye!"

I suspect that if the cameras were switched off for 24 hours, the relationship would reach a new level of intimacy. It reminds me of those close friendships between men that develop in closed-off institutions, like prisons or ships in the Merchant Navy. Fifty years ago Craig would have been a steward on one of those big cruise liners while Anthony would have worked in the boiler-room. They would have shared a cabin, which Craig would have kept beautifully (little touches like frilly curtains around the portholes), making all the sandwiches and cups of tea like a good "wife". And even though Anthony would have a girl in every port, it'd be Craig who'd keep him warm on those long nights at sea.

One of the strange by-products of gay liberation in the 1970s in the West, is that it's forced more people to take sides. People don't choose to be gay or straight, but they can choose to live a gay or straight lifestyle. And with those lifestyle choices come polarisations. So in cultures which have not experienced gay liberation, homosexuality is very prevalent among men like Anthony, the fact it is not talked about or labelled as gay, makes it possible. Ironically, once the cat is out the bag, it becomes more difficult for "straight men" to enjoy a blow-job from a mate. As Kinsey found, bisexuality is much more prevalent than we think, although bisexuality is discussed much less often in our society than homosexuality (or even something relatively rare like transsexualism - I've done studies that back this up incidentally). Perhaps though, once Gay Liberation or (whatever the movement has morphed into) has achieved its goals and it is finally utterly acceptable and OK to be gay, then people like Anthony won't mind whether the cameras are turned on or off. Let's hope so. Those boys are missing out on an awful lot of fun.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

I have been in Cornwall all week darlings, walking along beaches, doing Sudoko puzzles (I'm shamefully addicted - I'm turning into Carol Vooderman) and watching DVDs of the Golden Girls. I didn't hear about the bombings until very late into Thursday afternoon. I was very proud of the way that people have reacted to the bombings. The British stiff upper lip is a force to be reckoned with. I for one can't wait for my next trip to London so I can go on the London Underground. And I'm feeling very "Westernised" at the moment, so I think I might look at some gay porn, read some feminist poetry, access an atheist website and perhaps listen to some gangsta rap. All at the same time even.