Our Sunday web columnist Couch Potato takes a wry look at the week’s TV:
As we all know, Simon Cowell poached Alesha Dixon from the BBC to give Strictly Come Dancing a bloody nose for beating The X Factor in the ratings.
If he’d been less concerned with petty revenge, though, and instead taken notice of events in the ballroom, it would have hit him between the eyes that he was actually sneaking off with the show’s fourth best judge.
And on the strength of the last three Saturday nights on ITV1, it’s pretty clear she’s reassumed that role on Britain’s Got Talent, (fifth best if you include anonymous waste-of-space stand-in Carmen Electra).
We’re six series in now and, in all that time, no member of the judging panel has understood the programme less than Alesha.
She’s occupying her time buzzing off all the so-bad-they’re-good acts that make BGT what it is and doing herself no long-term favours.
Because, like Gary Barlow on Cowell’s karaoke contest, she is under the delusion that they’re looking for a global megastar, not making a silly piece of primetime entertainment, which is the one and only point of what is, for all its imperfections, a brilliant and funny TV show.
Ant and Dec are in their element. The theatre audiences seem to have become gloriously unforgiving and brutal this year.
And David Walliams, a one-man innuendo machine with genuine warmth, has slid effortlessly into a seat formerly occupied by Piers Morgan, who once asked a kid standing beside a drum kit, with drum sticks in hand: “And what are you going to do for us today?”, and has instantly become its best ever judge.
He alone on that panel gauges the public mood to perfection and knows entertainment when he sees it, elevating 16-year-old Ashley Elliott’s frantic xylophone recital into the highlight of last weekend’s auditions simply by doing a jig to it, and demonstrating the wit the others lack, like this cracker to boyband The Mend: “If you don’t take your coat off, you’re not going to feel the benefit when you go outside.”
The real stars, of course, are the never-ending conveyor belt of no-hope dingbats, led so far this series by shower-cap wearing German singer/wing-twanger Dennis Egel, a howling Dalmatian belonging to a 12-year-old girl murdering Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on the recorder, and middle-aged girlband Deja Vu who were so off-key that Dec asked mid-performance: “Are they doing one of their own songs?” Ant: “No, it’s Rumour Has It by Adele.”
But Britain’s Got Talent is not flawless. The new on-screen hashtags are an unnecessary distraction (#EnoughWithTheHashtags) and no doubt baffling for the majority of viewers, sob stories remain, much of the editing appears over-thought, the “bits we’re meant to like” are telegraphed too obviously, and that self-penned song No Name by student Ryan O’Shaughnessy to a female friend he’s secretly admired for six years should have been called Girl On The Platform, Take Out A Restraining Order.
There are too many same old, same old acts that have been done before and better, specifically street-dance troupes like Twist and Pulse Dance Company who had a little kid moseying onto the stage halfway through their performance, like Diversity’s first audition.
Yet they were told: “It’s got its own unique feel to it. It’s uniquely British.”
That was Cowell to a bunch of kids whose outfits wouldn’t have looked out of place on court, at Madison Square Garden, for the New York Knicks.
What has dawned on me about the show’s supremo, however, is that despite building a career and reputation around a Mr Nasty persona, he’s almost entirely devoid of an opinion of his own, changing his mind after he’s pressed his buzzer to go along with a positive audience reception more than once.
He dresses it up as benevolence: “I do actually listen to what an audience likes and what they don’t like.”
In that case, Simon, send Alesha Dixon packing, ban street dancers and, most importantly, give Dennis Egel his own ITV1 special.
And if you’re still not sure, ask the next audience you see.
Panorama’s investigation on Monday, The Great Apprentice Scandal, examined the Government’s troubled billion-pound flagship scheme to get young people into work.
And I’m glad to report this was the only such scandal on BBC1 this week, as two nights later Lord Sugar took one look at a professional wrestler, named Ricky Martin, sitting opposite him in the bottom three, realised he was TV gold and thankfully fired someone else.
It’s week three of The Apprentice, in case that wasn’t glaringly obvious, and time for the annual massacre-in-an-industrial-kitchen task, which admittedly isn’t its official title, to create a new condiment.
An easy subject for lazy TV critics to make some cheap, groan-inducing puns.
So you won’t be seeing any from me.
They’d get me in a pickle, wouldn’t cut the mustard and I don’t relish that.
Shutting the stable doors after the horseradish has bolted then (I’ve finished now, promise), it was a first victory for Team Sterling under Duane, who’s emerging as the smartest cookie, thanks to their “seasonal” pineapple chilli chutney (seasonal in the Bahamas, perhaps), the test batch of which was so toxic it’s now listed under the International Chemical Weapons Convention.
Garnering support from his troops, he said: “Who is feeling the chutney?” (make up your own jokes) while Gabrielle, alarmingly, announced: “I’ve got Chunky Chutney!” which was not only a suggestion for the product’s name but another case for C4’s Embarrassing Bodies.
Teammate Jade pitched the condiment as “rustic but revolutionary”, although she may have been mistaking it for late-18th-century Parisian peasantry.
Of all the candidates, Stephen is fulfilling his initial promise as the biggest, most entertaining twonk, not least when championing Team Phoenix’s wrongly-spelled Belissimo ketchup: “Table sauce has mass appeal.”
“It’s passionate and vibrant.”
“It represents sun, sea, a sunset...” a bag of koalas, half a kilo of cement, a Skoda Fabia’s engine oil, Big Mo from EastEnders...
It’s red squidge in a bottle and led to a thumping defeat for Team Phoenix and nearly the exit door for Ricky Martin, who lives to survive one last condiment pun from me.
Livin’ Paprika Loca.
Lionel Richie traced his ancestors, including black slaves and a white slave owner, on a fascinating Who Do You Think You Are: USA? on BBC1.
My only complaint is that he never bothered to track down his once, twice, three times removed cousin.
Anne Robinson held it together on the final ever episode of You Are The Weakest Link – Goodbye, bidding farewell with the show’s famous catchphrase and no sign of a tear, which in some ways was a shame.
I wanted it to end with the leakiest wink.
Disappearing up their own backsides was pretty much everyone who contributed to Channel 4’s fawning Damien Hirst – The First Look, in which the controversial artist showed Noel Fielding around his Tate Modern exhibition.
The first to be sucked to where the sun doesn’t shine was actor Keith Allen, waxing lyrical about a pickled shark in a box:
“It’s an amazing thing to take a shark and put it into an artistic environment because anyone can go to a natural history museum and see a shark but you won’t consider it unless you’ve been asked to consider it in a different way.”
So while you’re considering that, consider the title of the artwork, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (ahhhh), which Hirst came up with for this reason: “I was trying to describe the fact that death doesn’t exist. If you’re alive, it’s the antithesis of death, isn’t it?”
Isn’t it, though? Isn’t it?
The artist, who insisted: “I don’t care about money at all,” which isn’t surprising given his 2008 Sotheby’s auction fetched him £111 million, is clearly fascinated with death: “Butterflies are strange aren’t they? They give us hope because they look alive when they’re dead.”
Don’t they though? Don’t they?
And just when I thought the self-important claptrap was waning, up popped Bono: “He is Oscar Wilde in so many ways. But his is the importance of not being earnest.”
Isn’t it, though? Isn’t it?
The worst culprit was Fielding, who spent the hour scratching his chin, saying things like: “You’re making order out of colour, aren’t you?” (Isn’t he, though? Isn’t he?), and pondering the meaning of half a cow in formaldehyde: “The imagery punches you in the face.”
If only, eh?
This week’s Couch Potato Spudulike awards go to:
Golden Globe nominee Damian Lewis and Golden Globe winner Claire Danes delivering an acting masterclass on yet another captivating episode of C4’s Homeland.
Dara O’Briain’s merciless treatment of the rejected candidates on The Apprentice: You’re Fired.
BBC1’s Lost Land Of The Wolves (which, I believe, in the Black Country is better known as Molineux).
And Terry Christian lasting almost 10 seconds (almost) on the Winter Wipeout course before breaking a rib on the very first obstacle, the Angry Snowballs, no doubt as the pre-race words of Amanda Byram echoed in his head: “Do you not have a clever masterplan about how to get around this unscathed?”
Three weeks into BBC1’s The Voice and a pattern emerges.
Danny O’Donoghue: “I can only fault myself for not pushing the button.”
Tom Jones: “I should have hit the button.”
Jessie J: “I really wish I had hit my button.”
Will.i.am: “I’m kicking myself in the butt. I missed an opportunity.”
O’Donoghue: “I’m kicking myself. People at home are going: ‘Why did you not press the button?’”
Rest assured I won’t be making the same mistake.
My button is big, red and turns the telly off.
Gabby Logan on BBC1’s thought-provoking Sexism In Football recalled an offensive incident involving her in a director’s box at Old Trafford during a Champions League match.
“A large section of the Manchester United fans started singing, ‘Get your **** out’, and we thought, ‘just carry on watching the game and pretend the glass is so thick we can’t hear them’.
“I thought Sir Bobby (Charlton), bless him, who was probably 72 at the time, wasn’t hearing this because he never said anything, until eventually Sir Bobby stands up and pulls his top up.”
That’s sexism for you. Us men are just treated like pieces of meat, aren’t we?