Reality tv

Why did C.J. Sansom approve this moronic Disney+ Shardlake adaptation?

What would C.J. Sansom have made of the Disney+ version of his novel series about 16th-century crookback lawyer Matthew Shardlake? Sadly, because he died just a few days before its release, we’ll probably never hear the full story. But this comment from the show’s producer offers a hefty clue: ‘Chris [Sansom] has been enormously generous and he wants more people to read the books, and this is such a good way.’ Sounds very much like Sansom accepted this atrocity of an adaptation as a necessary evil: his books had been stuck in development hell for nearly two decades (possibly, because his labyrinthine whodunits about monastic reform and court politics in

How can anyone resist The Piano?

One challenge facing any novel, drama or film about the Holocaust is to restore its sheer unimaginability. In Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark – filmed, of course, as Schindler’s List – when news reaches Krakow of what’s happening in Auschwitz, Keneally pauses for some editorialising. ‘To write these things now,’ he says, ‘is to state the commonplaces of history. But to find them out in 1942… was to suffer a fundamental shock, a derangement in that area of the brain in which stable ideas about humankind and its possibilities are kept.’ The Piano shamelessly seeks to move us – and shamelessly succeeds In The Tattooist of Auschwitz, the same fundamental shock

Fans of torture, dolly birds and fat lines of cocaine will love The Gentlemen

Guy Ritchie only does one thing but he does it very well: slick, violent, sweary, black comedy capers about the unlikely intersection between toffs and the criminal underworld, invariably starring ex-footballer Vinnie Jones as a loveable tweed-wearing thug. If you were hoping for something different from The Gentlemen, prepare to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you can never quite get enough of shotguns, stately homes, frantically crowbarred-in but still-quite-amusing one liners, rival gangsters, vast quantities of claret (in both vinous and sanguinary forms), torture, dolly birds, travellers, slightly annoying solecisms, fights, gambling and fat lines of cocaine, then this will be your cup of tea, guvnor, and no

I watched it so that you didn’t have to: ITV2’s Big Brother reviewed

Big Brother is Nineteen Eighty-Four rewritten by Aldous Huxley. The detail that George Orwell got wrong is that far from being terrified and brainwashed into submission by Big Brother, the populace would embrace the all-seeing eye as their route to fame, prosperity and freedom. Some of the populace, at any rate. We met 16 of them – there were 30,000 applicants, allegedly – on ITV on Sunday night, mugging and pratting around and enjoying their newfound semi-celebrity en route to entering the new-look Big Brother house, vying to win a £100,000 prize and, presumably, a career in minor-league showbiz by abasing and humiliating themselves in public. Into monopede DJs with

Historically dishonest: Netflix’s Eldorado – Everything the Nazis Hate reviewed

If you don’t subscribe to every last detail of the LGBTQ+ agenda, then basically you are a Nazi. This was the subtle message of Eldorado, a documentary that pretended to inform us about the real-life background sexual milieu to Cabaret and Babylon Berlin, but was really much more interested in promoting its political view that Weimar Germany with its sexual promiscuity, rampant drug use and anything-goes view on ‘gender’ represented some kind of paradise on Earth which we should seek to emulate. A voice-over told us what to think: ‘They feel intimidated by this rapid change. The pace of change is a source of frustration to just about everybody. If

Fairly desperate: BBC1’s Unbreakable reviewed

On first impression, you might have thought that Unbreakable was just a fairly desperate reality show cobbled together from I’m a Celebrity, Mr and Mrs, Taskmaster and It’s a Knockout. After all, the format is that people of varying degrees of fame – from Simon Weston to, er, the bloke who presents MTV’s Celebs on the Farm – arrive with their partners at what presenter Rob Beckett calls ‘a big posh gaff in the country’. Once there, they’re made to perform a series of game-like tasks as Rob looks on and guffaws. Naturally, the series does make a few cunning tweaks to its obvious forebears. Unlike in Taskmaster, for example,

The cruelty of reality TV was part of the appeal

Jade Goody appeared on Big Brother in 2002. She was a short, loud, blonde-haired woman who broadcast her every thought and feeling, either in her thick Cockney accent or with her unforgettable face. She became a star. In 2007 she appeared on Celebrity Big Brother, where she made racist comments about her fellow contestant, the Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty. Effigies of Goody were burned in India; the Sun called her ‘the face of hate’. Hoping to redeem herself, she agreed to appear on Indian Big Brother, where she was told she had cervical cancer with the cameras still rolling. She died less than nine months later. It was a three-act

Some of the best social commentary around: Celebrity Book Club with Steven & Lily reviewed

When I was ten years old I had a babysitter who was a beautiful graduate student at an Ivy League university who loved to read celebrity gossip tabloids to ‘turn her brain off’. After I’d finished my homework, she and I would watch the only reality TV show I’ve ever loved, The Hills, and read magazines about Brangelina. This all ended when I was with my mom at the grocery store and I tried to buy a tabloid, and my mother, a Woman of Taste, asked what on earth I was doing. I said, copying my babysitter, ‘it’s to turn my brain off’, and my mom flipped out and made

The genius of Caveh Zahedi

365 Stories I Want To Tell You Before We Both Die is a podcast that experimental filmmaker Caveh Zahedi started at the beginning of this year. Each episode is a short story, ranging from six minutes to 30 seconds, told directly to the audience. Zahedi has been a quiet star of the American indie scene for decades. His films are almost always autobiographical, and his podcast, with episodes titled ‘My Least Favorite Person’ and ‘My Therapist Insists I Tell Suzanne About the Prostitute’ and ‘What Richard Linklater Said To Me About Why I Was a Failure’, is no different. The subject matter ranges from past sexual experiences, failed film projects

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn

This week I want to put the boot in to Gogglebox (Channel 4, Fridays). Not the mostly likeable, everyday version, whose stars include our very own and much-loved Dear Mary, where ordinary-ish people are filmed reacting amusingly to the week’s TV. I mean the recent celebrity special, featuring former Oasis singer Liam Gallagher, a cricketer, a footballer, Ed Sheeran, Ozzie and Sharon Osbourne, the actress formerly known as Jessica Stevenson and Jeremy Corbyn. The last couple were filmed together sitting on a yellow sofa at a smart-looking terrace address in Edinburgh. No explanation was given as to what the leader of the Labour party was doing with the former star

Saints and sinners | 19 October 2017

Any rival reality-TV makers watching Channel 5 on Thursday will, I suspect, have been both mystified and slightly embarrassed at not having thought up Bad Habits, Holy Orders themselves. After all, the concept is a blindingly obvious one. Take five young women whose primary interests are selfies, booze and clubbing and make them live like nuns for a month. And not metaphorically either: the five are staying with the Daughters of Divine Charity at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Swaffham, where days filled with prayer, reflection, manual work and wholesome play end at a 10 p.m. bedtime. The first episode began by taking perhaps unnecessary care to make

When in Rome… | 12 October 2017

I know I keep saying that in Decline of the West terms we’re all currently living in Rome, circa 400 AD. But now, on TV, there is actual proof of this in the form of a truly appalling reality series called Bromans (ITV2, Thursdays). Bromans is like a cross between Love Island and Carry On Cleo, so shamelessly low, tacky and brain-dead that it makes Geordie Shore look like Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation. Basically, a bunch of ridiculously buff lads strip off and participate in crap gladiatorial contests in which no one dies (thus entirely defeating the object), while their hot blonde girlfriends smoulder pointlessly in scanty outfits, and say stupid

In praise of braindead filth

Melvyn Bragg on TV: The Box That Changed The World (BBC2, Saturday) was just what you would have expected of a critical appreciation of 75 years of TV, filmed at Bafta and presented by one of the BBC’s pre-eminent house luvvies. As an antidote I had to switch over to ITV2 to watch Love Island. Yes, I hate Love Island too — every episode leaves me feeling soiled. It’s a mating game show, in which couples compete to shag one another in Majorca for a £50,000 prize, and, with ratings of around 1.7 million, it’s probably the most talked about programme on TV, which fashionable people are pretending to enjoy

The real deal | 27 April 2017

The other day I had a very dispiriting conversation with a TV industry insider. It turns out that everything you see on reality TV is fake. It’s the ‘everything’ part that really bothered me. Obviously, we all sort of know that most TV is faked: that close-ups on wildlife documentaries are sometimes filmed in zoos and that the meerkat they pretend is the same meerkat is actually three different meerkats; that the chance meetings with colourful characters and experts are all prearranged and that when they answer the door and act surprised it’s often the third or fourth take; that the glamorous parties and realistic, totally unstilted dialogue on Made

The frock that rocked a nation

When was the last time a TV show really rocked a corrupt government? Was it one of the legendary investigative shows — 60 Minutes, Dispatches or Panorama? In fact, it was a tawdry reality show. For all the efforts of hard-digging investigative journalists, one of the biggest recent scandals that came to light as a result of TV exposure was all down to the American wedding reality show Say Yes to the Dress. No, really. It almost brought down the government of Angola. The show is a masterpiece of its type. Set in New York’s legendary and exclusive Kleinfeld bridal store, the concept is simple — every week, glamorous brides

Shall we dance?

‘Blimey! How on earth did they think of that?’ is unlikely to be anyone’s response to Our Dancing Town (BBC2, Tuesday). A few years ago, The Great British Bake Off was adapted into The Great British Sewing Bee by the simple process of fitting another domestic activity to the same formula. Now — after what I imagine was a brain-storming session lasting approximately 30 seconds — the BBC has taken the idea, structure and tone of Gareth Malone’s singing programmes and applied them to a series about dance. Enthusiastic evangelist for the life-changing potential of his chosen art form? Lots of initial sceptics dolefully shaking their heads and insisting that

Greenhouse or group hug?

The unacknowledged subtitle of Channel 4’s new reality series Eden (Mondays) is Die, Hippies! Die! Obviously they’re not going to admit this because that wouldn’t be right. But I’m sure Channel 4 is hoping that a terrible Lord of the Flies-type scenario will unfold for the 23 victims who’ve volunteered to get back to nature on a remote Scottish peninsula for 12 months, in which they hunt one another down with sharpened sticks, with hideously watchable consequences. In episode one, my money would have been on Anton as chap-best-placed-to-survive. Middle-aged, stroppy and northern, an adventurer by trade, Anton very quickly decided that he absolutely could not cope with the bunch

Would I break my neck for a bit of TV fame?

Not long ago I was asked if I wanted to participate in a Channel 4 reality show called The Jump. Rather embarrassingly, I’d never seen it, but my agent’s description of it sounded quite appealing. A bunch of micro-celebrities are taught a variety of winter sports, including skeleton, bobsleigh, speed skating, giant slalom and ski jumping. Once they’ve mastered the basics, they’re flown to an Austrian ski resort where they compete against each other in a D-list version of the Winter Olympics. A lot more appealing than Celebrity Big Brother, I thought, and less risk of ruining your reputation (yes, George Galloway, I’m thinking of you). However, there was a

Will you survive the Delingpole Era? See below…

  Things I am going to ban when, by popular acclaim, I am elected your Dictator For Life in 2016.   1. Onions where the brown skin doesn’t come off easily. You know the ones: where the papery outer layer clings so tightly that you have to pick it off laboriously with a sharp knife and it takes forever. I hate these onions so much. I’m pretty sure they’re all foreign, though I may be mistaken.   2. Slimline tonic water. (See also: Diet Coke; semi-skimmed milk) ‘Oh? Is it really? Sorry about that. I think it’s all we’ve got.’ ‘Aspartame? Oh, is that not good?’ ‘Not sure I can

I’m a Celebrity is like The Simpsons: good if you’re thick; even better if you’re not

The best bit in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! (ITV) will be when the prisoners finally revolt and turn on their evil captors, Ant and Dec. The sparky Geordie comedy duo will be imprisoned in a semi-submerged, rat-infested cage like the one in The Deer Hunter, fed on a diet of liquidised kangaroo bottom and wombat testicle, and released only to participate in a series of amusing challenges, such as a recreation of the Lemmiwinks episode from South Park, involving two giant funnels, a bunch of inserted eucalyptus leaves and a pair of ravening koalas. Though it hasn’t happened yet I’m going to keep watching every night,