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Television

Not all crap TV is all that crap

House of DVF, for example, offers strange and terrifying insights into womankind. The Apprentice has its moments. And the X Factor has become remarkably watchable

29 October 2015

9:00 AM

29 October 2015

9:00 AM

Girl is back for half-term so I’ve been able to watch nothing but crap on TV this week. Some of you will say, ‘Oh come on! You pay the bills, so you get to control the remote.’ But that’s not how things work when you’ve got a teenage girl at home. Especially not one whose ankle you have been responsible for breaking. So crap, I’m afraid, is what I’m going to have to review.

Not, it must be said, that the crap has all been crap. House of DVF (E! Online), for example. I’ve mentioned it before and the reason I’m mentioning it again is the matchless insights it offers into the strange and terrifying world of womankind. It’s like an uber-chic version of The Apprentice where, instead of having Lord Sugar pump £250,000 into your no-hope start-up project, the prize is to become ‘brand ambassador’ to the magnificent Belgian-born, New York-based fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg.

Perdition catch my soul but I do worship DVF. I love her designs, I love her manner — a beguiling mix of imperiousness, coquettishness and bruised wisdom — and I love the way she is always totally right about everything. In another life, I’m going to go back in time and marry her before that upstart German prince does. Or, should she be unwilling — as I’m sure she will be — I’ll humbly accept reincarnation as her footstool.

Yes, The Apprentice (BBC1, Wednesday) still has its moments, especially now the bullet-headed hell creature (or so he pretends; deep down, I suspect, he’s a pussycat) Claude Littner has been drafted into replace Nick Hewer and spit bile on all the vile candidates. But Littner, entertaining though he is, has nothing on DVF’s even scarier familiar, the red-haired, green-eyed, impossibly beautiful Jessica Joffe, daughter of a German film director, with a cut-glass accent and withering hauteur born of her education at an English girls’ private school and the ruthlessness of a king cobra.


I worship Jessica too, by the way. And she does have a softer side. One of the candidates is a sweet blonde Californian called Ally from the Valley who has lots going for her — looks, charm and enthusiasm — but threatens to be crippled by what Simon Schama would probably call her ‘suburban’ tastes. So, like an Olympian deity briefly taking human form, Joffe deigned to visit Ally in her squalid hotel room (‘Good God, is that a vibrator on her bed?’ ‘Dad. You idiot! It’s a hair brush.’) and kindly helped her jettison half her wardrobe.

With The Apprentice, now on its 11th series, you feel it’s all a bit random: anyone could win, they’re all a bit annoying and rubbish, and it’s really just formulaic, reality TV contrivance. House of DVF on the other hand is the real deal. Taking its cue from DVF herself, it has an aesthetic and a purpose. DVF’s mother survived Auschwitz; Diane herself has gone from Seventies style icon to near-bankrupt to global brand; so you don’t just get tears and glam and bitchery, you get a weekly lesson in how to live your life. Be absolutely committed; surround yourself with talent; style is everything; and let’s have none of that whiny self-pity: just concentrate on being more feminine and enjoy being a woman. Useful lessons for any teenage girl, I think.

My big surprise of the week is how remarkably watchable X Factor (ITV, Saturday) has become. Girl tells me that, in response to falling ratings and the more professional performers on The Voice, it has been forced to up its game, partly by wasting less time auditioning comedy no-hopers, partly by ramping up the cruelty with the six-seat challenge.

There are six seats on the stage and if the judges like you, you get to sit in one of them. But that doesn’t guarantee your place in the next round. If a better performer comes along, someone has to go. And that’s when the fun starts. The panel members crane to look at the baying audience who, like their antecedents in the Colosseum, have very strong views about which total loser deserves to die horribly. Instead of giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, they use their fingers to gesture the seat number of the person who must go.

It gets crueller still. Sometimes, a judge will choose to eject a contestant deemed by the audience to be a stayer. At which point the mob will jeer and snarl and shriek — angry grannies, snarling teenies — until the presiding judge, if he or she has any sense, will recall the contestant and sacrifice someone else in their stead. While all this is going on, the contestants on the chairs sit transfixed and unnerved by the blood-crazed yells, counting the number of fingers being held up and whimpering — they’re mic-ed up, of course, so you can hear them — ‘Ulp! It’s me next…’

Then Boy came back from school and that was nice too. I pretended to be a proper dad like other boys have. We watched the rugby.


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