Saturday, October 29, 2005

Saving Private Ryan

I actually missed the start of Five's new celebrity reality show 'Commando VIP' the Wednesday before last, due to having an urgent appointment with Trinny & Susannah. But fortunately for me, Five have refused to let the matter drop by following last night's final edition of 'Hot Tub Ranking' with the all-new 'Commando VIP Uncut', a not-to-be-missed chance to catch the first two episodes with none of the swearing bleeped out. Of course, if a penis is uncut, it means you can't see the dickhead, but with 'Commando VIP' that doesn't apply. Jason Cowan is in almost every scene.

The programme takes six minor celebrities to "a secret military training establishment" (or 'a bog in Scotland' if you want to be more precise), and attempts to turn them into Royal Marine Commandos in the space of a couple of weeks. It sounds slightly implausible already, but when you realise the line-up includes a former member of Steps, you begin to see just how barking it is. Not that Lee Latchford Evans doesn't appear tough, but he has spent his career standing next to H, so it's not exactly difficult.

Joining Lee in the commando boot camp is Nigel Benn, who remembers his time in the army as a 17-year-old fondly. He tapped the side of his head and said "It's a long time ago, but you still don't lose it up here". Which sounds so unlikely coming from a boxer. Benn's fellow pugilist, Steve Collins, was also in the line-up, as was actress Heather Peace (and I'd certainly be willing to give her a chance), who's apparently supremely qualified for an assignment like this, due to her role in SAS drama 'Ultimate Force'. Although let's not forget she was previously in Emmerdale for a year - something the programme failed to mention.

Bringing up the rear (of the year) was Jason Cowan, or 'the best buttocks in South Lanarkshire', as I'm sure he still likes to be known. Jason started by announcing "I'm probably the fittest person here", before going on to state that "this might not be tough enough for me, to be honest". This from the man who couldn't get out of dressing gown for ten weeks on Big Brother.

And last but not much more than least, was Ryan Dunn from American TV show 'Jackass'. Private Ryan turned up looking like Grizzly Adams, or, if you prefer the words of SAS veteran and Commando VIP instructor Dave, "like a bag of shite".

But undeterred, Ryan and the other five set about basic training with Royal Marine instructor Morgan Johnson, who dropped them in at the deep end by giving them canoes and making them paddle out onto water a good three feet deep. Nigel, who's faced some of the most fearsome men in the world inside a boxing ring, appeared to have an unconquerable fear of cold water, and started making a strangulated mewing sound which led Ryan to comment "I thought someone had killed a cat behind me". It wasn't so much a cat as a pussy.

Next up was a 10k march with loaded backpacks, a task which had Ryan developing an urge to speak to his agent, before the recruits embarked on their first mission - to rescue a downed pilot from behind enemy lines. Which basically involved paddling down a river, picking up a bloke from the bushes, and running through some Hollywood-style explosions whilst being shot at by extras with paintball guns. The result was Steve being named "top recruit" by the instructors, and "an arrogant piece of shit" by Ryan. Just a slight difference of opinion there.

Day two saw Private Ryan saving himself by refusing to climb every mountain. Making him slightly softer than Julie Andrews. It did mean, however, that he was forced to face a firing squad of his celebrity colleagues. All successfully hit him in the stomach with a paintball gun, except Lee, who managed to miss and hit his nipple. The assault over, Ryan was allowed to go back to bed while the others climbed a mountain with 30kg backpacks. Suddenly Ryan didn't look so stupid after all.

On the third day, the recruits faced their toughest challenge yet - two hours of educational videos in a scout hut. I thought they were going to break at one point, but they made it through, only to be captured for a chance to experience life as a POW. Which to Jason is probably a sound effect from a Batman film, but to everyone else is a prisoner of war. All six were subjected to sleep deprivation and all-night interrogation, four of them choosing to remain silent, Steve deciding to argue back, and Ryan essentially talking bollocks for three hours.

Heather was the first to break, quickly followed by Lee, who blamed his withdrawal on an old sporting injury, saying "It's annoying, because I'm prepared to go through a bit more". You have to feel for the man. He wanted to carry on with the torture, but he was getting a bit of a twinge. The guy had no alternative.

Next to go was Ryan, who decided to confess all and blame everything on Lee, and after another four hours, the interrogators stepped up the pressure and inflicted on the three remaining recruits a level of torture not seen in any civilised western society. Yes, that's right, they started playing 'Tragedy' by Steps on a continuous loop. Jason coped remarkably well. But then he did endure Nadia's laugh for two months in the Big Brother house. Let's face it, the man's coped with far worse.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bea in Your Bonnet

It's a sign of the times that being a single mother doesn't preclude you from taking part in a show called 'Wife Swap'. And hey, why should it? A lot of shows with the word 'celebrity' in the title feature people I've never heard of, so why not an episode of Wife Swap with only one wife? And so it was with last night's sixth series finale, featuring an unemployed mum of four who stated "I like my house buzzing". Which makes sense when your name's Bea.

Bea Livesey, it turns out, has been single for seven years and still likes an occasional night out with the girls, despite being 38. Which is clearly outrageous. Bea is mother to four children, including the beautifully named Chelsey - a variant on the more usual 'Chelsea', which makes it so much more classy.

Actually, I should stop right there, because I think you'll find they're not children. Oh no. As Bea herself said, "I don't like calling them children neither. I call them little tomorrows". Which is lovely. And completely ignores the fact that most of them are on ASBOs. Or probably will be by tomorrow.

Bea's family live on microwave meals, keep rabbits in the bedroom, and leave the ironing to 7-year-old Charlotte. All of which is in slight contrast to the Lloyds of Birmingham. Wife Sue believes firmly in John Major's 'Back to Basics' campaign (so she's used to backing lost causes), and when it comes to washing and ironing, "wouldn't dream of Simon ever doing anything like that". Simon, her husband, owns his own health club, and spent most of the programme shamelessly chasing free publicity by wandering around in a t-shirt advertising their address.

Sue's pet hate is "badly ironed clothes" (her views on child poverty and third world starvation aren't known), but she does like her kids to play golf, and states "If I were to bump into the Queen tomorrow, I would be more than comfortable". Unfortunately she was heading for Manchester at the time, so it didn't seem likely.

Having arrived at their respective homes, Bea got off to a good start by knocking a bowl out of Sue's fridge and smashing it on the floor, while Sue merely stood in the doorway of her new home and declared "there's poo everywhere". Fortunately Bea had left her a manual full of worldly wisdom like "I don't want a man, I've got a vibrator", and "It's bullshit to dictate to your children. If you put a load of restrictions on them, they'll tell you to fuck off. And they'd be right". I only hope that when I have kids (sorry, 'little tomorrows'), I'll be able to back them up like that when they tell people to fuck off.

In situations like this, first impressions count for everything, and Sue's 11-year-old daughter Rebecca was straight in with a critique of Bea, saying "I think Dad's a bit disappointed that she drinks tea". Which suggests he has high standards, when in reality he's just an alcoholic looking for a drinking partner. Bea, for her part, was busy making a salad, which Simon described as "dry", "bland", and "not very good". But hey, at least there was one less bowl to wash up afterwards.

The next morning, Simon received his usual breakfast in bed, and gave Bea instructions on how to use the vacuum cleaner, before complaining that the sound of the hoover was drowning out the TV. I don't think he'd quite thought that one through. Sue, meanwhile, was still coming to terms with her surroundings, stating "I've never seen such a repulsive sight, ever... I can't believe that in this day and age, I'm standing here looking at such a shit-hole". Which is the kind of thing you normally only hear on 'Changing Rooms'.

A quick water fight in the garden, and week two began with Sue finding dog shit in the bed, and Bea stocking up on ready meals. A dining room table was soon installed in the Livesey house, and after a quick fight over a rabbit, Sue took the kids to a golf club. Back in Birmingham, Simon was busy repeating the words "nobody tells me what to do", and getting uppity every time Bea asked him to stop drinking, before stating that his philosophy in life is that "you can have a point of view; we discuss it; and then you agree with me". He must be one of those new men I've been hearing about.

The week ended with Bea organising a sleepover for the kids, during which she helped them paint handprints onto the dining room wall, presumably as some kind of tribute to The Blair Witch Project, while Simon, ever one for the carefully considered statement, described the evening as "armageddon". Not that he's over-reacting at all.

The final night was a time for reflection. Sue asked Bea's little tomorrows what their favourite change had been. The answer was unanimous: "the new table". Though probably only because they knew they could flog it down Cash Converters the moment she left. Sue's children, meanwhile, were making enthusiastic noises about the handprinting sleepover, which had been a total success. The lessons of the exercise were clear.

Swapping done, the two women made their way home, stopping only to describe each other's lives as "crap", at which point Bea immediately got rid of the table and Sue called in the decorators to remove the handprints. Marvellous. That's what I call learning from your experience.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Multicoloured Swap Shop

If there's one thing which guarantees reality show success (apart, that is, from desperate b-list celebrities hoping to boost their flagging (or in some cases non-existent) careers), it's the word 'swap' in the title. In the past three years we've had 'Wife Swap', 'Holiday Swap', 'Gender Swap', 'Age Swap', and of course 'Flip Flop Cop Swap'. Well ok, I might have made up that last one. But I'm sure it's only a matter of time. Anyhoo, proving this to be true, last night Channel Five gave us 'Race Swap', which sounds like an opportunity to see Michael Schumacher winning the Tour de France, but was in fact a light-hearted make-over session featuring the kind of racial integration not seen since The Black & White Minstrel Show.

The programme saw the welcome return of Sam Fox to our screens, a woman who, according to the opening voice over, "is famous as a former page 3 girl and a pop star". One out of two - close, but no cigar. Sam of course has already done a real life 'sexuality swap' in recent years, but on this occasion was paired with ageing Olympian, Linford Christie, and the two challenged to switch racial identity in an effort to fool their nearest and dearest. It was a lot to ask, because as Sam herself pointed out, "when you think of me, you think 'Britain'". Well, Britain and knockers, surely?

Fortunately the pair had a triumvirate of experts to assist them in their task: prosthetic make-up artist Neil, image consultant Vanessa, and vocal coach Louise, who had her work cut out with Linford, who seemed to think his best chance of playing a convincing white man lay in his ability to talk like he had the kind of breathing problems not seen since the death of Darth Vader.

But undeterred, the team set about transforming Linford into a classic English gent, and Sam into a reject from the Kumars at Number 42. Having been measured up by Neil and Vanessa, Linford wasn't best pleased to hear that he'd be "majorly covered in rubber", but Frank Bough must have been straight onto the phone to his agent, demanding to be booked for the next series. Neil soon set about making casts of their heads, while Louise got to work on their acting ability. Or lack of it.

Her aim with Linford, we were told, was to "disguise the athletic poise" and "make him look overweight", something Steve Ovett has managed all on his own, and sure enough, after a day of intensive training, the results were there for all to see: Linford announced "I feel like a right dick", and threatened to walk out.

Over in the bimbo camp, things were going a little better, with Sam doing a fine attempt at the Indian accent. If they ever bring back 'Mind Your Language', she's got a job for life. Although she did seem limited to shouting "Sanjay!" in a loud voice. It was enough, however, to prepare Sam for her first test - phoning a wedding planner who only deals with Asian customers, and convincing him that she was an Indian mother-in-law with £100,000 to spend. He seemed quite willing to believe her, but then if you're being offered a hundred grand to throw a party, you're not going to tell the customer they sound like Alec Guiness in 'A Passage to India'. And besides, he commented afterwards that "her English was particularly poor", so you can't tell me he didn't twig who it was.

Linford's test meanwhile, was to call "a close friend", Dr Bernie Henry, a researcher at the Department of Materials at Oxford University. No, I don't know how they became friends either. But despite talking like he had a life-threatening sinus infection, and sounding marginally less convincing than a Les Dennis impression, Linford somehow managed to fool the good doctor. Which just goes to show that not everyone at Oxford is a genius.

A couple of weeks later and the prosthetics were ready. Sam Fox's make-up (right) was actually quite impressive. Linford Christie's looked more like something out of The Evil Dead. Which had been left next to a radiator. But hey, you can't have everything.

The pair were then taken out clothes shopping, with Linford being told "You've got to think like Donald Trump" (appropriate considering the shocking wig he'd just been given), and Sam meeting a group of Hindu ladies, who told her "If you're not educated, you will have a strong Indian accent". Which explained a lot.

The ensembles completed, and with Linford looking increasingly like a Spitting Image puppet, it was time for them to take their first proper challenges. Linford was given the task of posing as a journalist and fooling his lifelong coach, Rocket Ron Roddan, while Sam was expected to play the part of an Indian restaurant manager, and serve a group of her closest friends.

Having perfected his voice beforehand, Linford took the last minute decision to chuck it all out the window and do an impression of Marlon Brando with laryngitis, while Sam seemed more intent on hamming it up as an Indian version of Manuel from Fawlty Towers. The two mounds of rice in the shape of breasts were a master stroke on Sam's part. Although, as she's only too keen to point out, she's known for so much more than just her tits.

Anyhoo, challenge number one successfully completed, Linford moved on to his children's school, where his partner Mandy spotted him within three seconds, and before he'd had a chance to open his mouth. There was still time for him to mentally traumatise his kids though, with 4 year old Tate looking genuinely disturbed, and mumbling "You're not my daddy" in a shaky voice. But hey, I'm sure it's nothing that can't be sorted out with a few years of therapy.

Sam meanwhile paid a visit to the radio studio of her old mate (adopt the voice of Smashy & Nicey when you read that), Pat Sharp, where she disrupted his show by sitting on a stool and singing 'Touch Me' in an Indian accent. Sam was convinced that he "didn't have a clue it was me", and announced that she deserved an Oscar.

And the verdict from Pat? "I just thought you were a fucking lunatic". So he obviously knew who she was all along.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Bunch of Rankers

Channel Five have never really had a reputation for cultured, high-brow television programmes, but as Catherine Tate would say, are they bothered? Apparently not, as for the past couple of weeks they've spent Friday nights broadcasting 'My Secret Body', a show where naked people spread their legs for the camera and talk about body hair, and following it up with the consistently wonderful 'Hot Tub Ranking', described by Ben Frow, controller of features and entertainment at Five, as "a fresh and sexy entertainment show based on the premise that beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Or alternatively, a low-budget attempt to say the word "wank" a hundred times in half an hour.

The premise of 'Hot Tub Ranking' is simple. Take a Japanese hostess who pronounces her 'w's as 'r's, give her a script peppered with the word 'ranking', and get her to introduce pretty girls in their knickers. The five ladies (seen above in their formal evening-wear) then have to rank each other (that pun will lose its novelty value by the end of this paragraph) on various body parts, whilst being watched by "three sexy boys" who, according to hostess Mia, "will also be ranking" (told you) behind a soundproof one-way mirror. If a guy's ranking matches a girl's ranking, that girl receives £500. Which makes it very close to prostitution.

Amongst the slappers on parade were Darah, 25, who stated "I have a body to die for". Well she certainly made me lose the will to live. And Loli, a 20-year-old blonde with "very dirty eyes". She should invest in some Optrex. Among the more deluded contestants was Charlene, 22, who declared "I'm the sexier, hotter version of Jennifer Ellison". Frankly she looked more like Jennifer Saunders to me. Oh yes, I was ranking along at home.

In Round 1, Mia informed the girls, "you will be ranking on each other's faces" (are you getting bored of this yet?), which gave the men a chance to sit around giving considered opinions like "nice tits" and "nice arse", while the women turned on each other. Giving her verdict on Ashley's face, Charlene cheerfully pointed out "It's very 'Plain Jane'. I wouldn't put you up too high", before deciding that she herself ought to be number one. An opinion shared by all the other girls - they also each thought they should be number one.

When the results came through, only three of them had guessed correctly. Helen had confidently placed herself in second position, conflicting slightly with the boys' opinion that she was the outright dog of the group.

Round 2 was the bum, giving the girls the chance to strut about on national TV in next-to-nothing, with Mia declaring "Ashley's bottom is a sure-fire cure for the blues". Although I'm not sure it's undergone any clinical trials. One of the three rankers behind the glass commented "just imagine passing those cheeks" (I'm still not quite sure what he meant by that), while another stated "I like a slim ass". Personally I prefer a fat donkey, but each to their own.

The girls were no better this time around, with only two correct placements, and Darah in position number two. She was naturally thrilled to learn that the boys had ranked her in last place with the verdict that she had "too much junk in the trunk". Yes, her bum did look big in that.

A short commercial break later and "it's time for round three - the breasts", and who had, as Mia put it, "the perfect handful". The boys were getting into it by now, listing the pros and cons of each girl's assets. In the words of one, "Ashley's are good, but they might hang down" (that's gravity for you), while another stated that "natural ones never feel as good". So he's obviously more used to inflatable women.

Continuing their pitiful record, the girls got none right whatsoever. But Mia was still able to look flat-chested Loli in the eye and say "small ones are more juicy" without a hint of embarrassment, which was a delight to see.

Round 4 was entitled 'The Full Rank'. Charlene had apparently "gone cowgirl" (I'm saying nothing), while Loli was attempting to highlight the difference between 'street' and 'street corner' by dressing as a prostitute. The girls spent five minutes slagging each other off, before Mia stepped in to ask "Have you been listening to those rankers behind the window?". Clearly not - they were all in the wrong place again.

The ranking having reached its climax, there was just time for the boys to strip down to their underwear, slag off each other's backsides, and give the girls a chance to rate their penises. Now that's what I call equality.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Burning Issue

I love daytime TV. Trisha has just introduced a guest with the words "This is Angela. She says it was an accident that she set her 12 year old daughter's hair on fire".

Apparently it had nothing to do with her being drunk and dancing around the living room with a lighter.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Bach With Bite

They say the truth is stranger than fiction (so presumably 'they' haven't read Harry Potter), but why bother making a film based on a true story when you can take a bit of fiction and use it as the basis for truth? Some producers at Channel 4 clearly enjoyed last year's movie 'School of Rock' in which Jack Black attempted to form a rock band from a bunch of straight-laced schoolkids, so with a bit of word-rearrangement to avoid copyright problems, we now have 'Rock School', a reality show which is a bit like watching a remake of the movie.

Taking the Jack Black role in last night's opening episode was Gene Simmons of Kiss, who arrived in a limousine with a couple of page 3 girls, stating that "my job is to create little rock gods". Personally I can't hear the words "Little Rock gods" without thinking of Bill & Hillary Clinton, but Gene seemed to mean something else by that. Which is why he headed not for Arkansas, but for that hotbed of rock... um... West Sussex. Or, more precisely, Christ's Hospital. Which is a bit like Hell's Kitchen, only cleaner.

As Peter Southern, headmaster of the Christ's Hospital School, said, "We have been described as the best kept secret of English education". So what better way to keep a secret than to volunteer for a national TV show. Despite being proud of their conservative dress, well-mannered students, and habit of marching to lunch in yellow socks, our Pete was only too happy to help out the kids' education by hiring an American who claims to have bedded over 4000 women. Which, as one 13 year old girl helpfully pointed out, "is one a night for sixteen years". They're clearly teaching them maths at that school.

Gene's aim was to take ten of the school's most musically gifted pupils and turn them into a support act for Motorhead. Which sounds fair enough. Let's face it, it may not be part of the National Curriculum now, but it'll probably be on the syllabus for GCSE Media Studies within the year. The kids in question included the likes of Fiona, who was clearly impressed to meet Mr Simmons, stating "I've no idea who he is at all" (so it's not just Jasmine Lennard who has that problem), and Dudley, a French Horn virtuoso who also admits to playing with his organ quite a lot. But didn't we all at that age.

EmperorAnd then there was Josh, who according to classmate Jesse "isn't the most popular person in our school". Which is surprising seeing as he's ginger and speaks Elvish. Josh likes love songs and classical music, and claims that "most of rock n roll is gibberish". Which he subsequently proved by murdering the Kiss classic 'God Gave Rock n Roll to You'. Frankly even I thought that was gibberish.

Anyhoo, having screamed at the kids for half an hour in dark glasses, Gene took them off to the music room and set them to work playing The Kinks. And frankly he found a few to iron out. Unfortunately knowledge of the violin doesn't translate quite as well to the electric guitar as Gene had hoped, so he quickly abandoned the hands-on approach, and reverted to Plan B: choosing their rock names. Apparently Sting and The Edge weren't born with those titles (who'd have thought it), so a quick brainstorming session later, and the children had been transformed. Josh became 'Emperor', Kwame 'Mr Cool', and Jesse changed her name to Bagpuss. Not sure she'd quite grasped the rock n roll concept there, but she did look a bit like a saggy old cloth cat, so you can't complain.

Having been named (and in Jesse's case, shamed) the class were auditioned for the role of lead singer, a task they took to with gusto - Camilla singing an ancient hymn, Rodney performing 'Amazing Grace', and Josh doing 'Jerusalem' in the style of a man telling off a dog.

Remarkably however, Gene managed to spot some rock n roll potential amongst the Christian hymn-singing, and duly named Josh - sorry, I mean Emperor - as the band's new vocalist. He couldn't actually sing in tune, or in time, or remember the lyrics, and he did seem to strut around the stage like he was having some kind of stroke, but frankly it didn't matter. In the words of the old Kit-Kat advert, he can't sing, he can't dance, and he looks dreadful. He should go a long way.