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To a Place Where Long-Haired Mavens in Topshop LBDs Sing Auto-Tuned Songs of Despair

By Caspar Salmon | TV | December 16, 2010 |

By Caspar Salmon | TV | December 16, 2010 |

Gentle reader, I want to take you on a journey. Shh. Be brave. Take my hand. It won’t be so difficult if we go together. Come with me as we leave the fair and green hills of the BBC, past the dazzling city lights of Channel 4, to another land — a harsh and unforgiving place, a dark underworld, where goblins with hair putty and beige Gap waistcoat-and-tie combinations lurk behind plague-riddled trees, and where long-haired mavens in Topshop LBDs sing auto-tuned songs of despair. Yes. Today we’re taking a trip to ITV, the channel where a gibbous moon burns at night with the weight of all its glitter, and where poor people crowd by the side of the road, screaming with a mad passion that reveals their gaping gums, “I’m going to be the next Simon Cowell! Just you wait and see!” — even as Lord Cowell’s carriage trundles past and splashes them with a gloopy mud made up of all the karaoke songs ever sung, diluted with tears and cheap mascara.

Be strong dear reader. This trip shall fortify us, in the long run. And if, in years to come, you should be sitting in your house, and you should sniff your clothes wonderingly, and remark to yourself, “What is that smell? Is that… is that still the motherfucking smell of prime-time ITV?”, please do not blame me. I’m not happy about this either. So let’s all hold our noses with one hand, and hold hands with the other, and investigate “The X Factor,” which concluded this week after what seemed like decades of invading every single piece of news coverage in the land, and “Take Me Out,” the Rohypnol-sponsored dating show for boys and girls everywhere looking for their Warholian 15, a quick rut, and a lifetime of grudge-bearing matrimony. OK. Deep breath. Here goes.

The X Factor

I decided only to watch “The X Factor’s” last two episodes, because you actually don’t need to watch the show to know what’s happening on it, in this godforsaken land. I know the name of every contestant by fricking symbiosis; they’re in the newspapers and my Facebook feed — everywhere. And I watched it about four years ago, so I know how it works. It never changes: inane, terrible contestants, and bickering, stupid, tone-deaf judges. Chuck in some emotional manipulation, a lot of bad music, a sackload of fireworks and glitter, and bingo. So anyway: the final. Having endured nine full minutes of filler and pyrotechnics, I caught the first group performance and could not believe the dearth of talent; it was shockingly poor. One contestant after another came out who would have got chucked out of primary school for butchering “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” Then there was, after an ad break and five minutes of gushing about him set to violins, a performance by eventual winner Matt Cardle. The idiot chose to sing a song by Dido. Not just that: the worst song by Dido, which is the sort of stunt that really takes a particularly evil sort of mind. And then Cowell and his moron cohort complimented him on his “brilliant” song choice. What sort of planet do these people live on? The worst thing is that he sang it so, so woefully. My usual litmus test for this sort of thing is to measure their singing talent against my own, and I’m afraid to say I’m 17 times the singer that eventual winner ‘Matt Cardle’ is. How has this been allowed to happen?

More performances: Next up is “Rebecca,” who is a pretty crappy, strained singer but who is black and therefore has her phony soul mannerisms patronised by the judges (who wouldn’t recognise a good song if it smacked them across the face — which is exactly what a good song would do if it ever, by some strange accident, happened to be in the same room as them). “Rebecca” sings on a revolving stage. She’s rather bad. More screaming, more fireworks, more tears, more emotional “journeys.” An ad break, promoting some horrible things no-one would ever buy. Then a performance from “One Direction,” a boy band who have turned the nation’s females into jellies if they’re under 16, and potential paedophiles (cute English spelling! —DR) if they’re over 16. “One Direction” look like five gay toddlers whose liberal and indulgent parents have allowed them to style themselves. Not a single one of them can hold a note. They sound truly, truly horrible. They can’t even sing together. They choose to sing ‘“Your Song.” I stifle a gag reflex. The judges praise them as brilliant. More screams, more confetti, more hysteria. Lather, rinse, repeat as needed.

Then it’s “Cher Lloyd” — a tiny imp of a woman whose make-up is too heavy for her to walk properly, who is apparently given to “rapping.” She performs a harrowing medley of “Clap Hands” and “Get Ur Freak On,” which is diabolical and hurts my soul with its badness, but is nevertheless a change from the earnest claptrap dribbled forth by the other contestants. I find myself rooting for the terrible imp-woman, strictly by default.

OK, I’ll spare you a complete run-down of the rest. Suffice to say that there are duets — with Rihanna, X-tina, and Robbie Williams, and they’re all ghastly. No words exist that might get across how plain and incompetent Rihanna makes “Matt Cardle” look. Imp-woman gets eliminated after 90 whole minutes, and the remaining three are set to fight it out during another program for ANOTHER 90 minutes. Britain’s advertisers must have sold their children for a slot.

The second programme consists of ad breaks, filler, songs by Take That — whom I never thought I’d be so happy to see — and more filler. Oh, and some musical “performances” from the contestants, and then the vote. “Matt Cardle” wins, and everyone congratulates him (and, hilariously, alert Youtube lip-readers have picked up on another contestant from boyband “One Direction” mouthing, “Think how much pussy you’re going to get!” to him at this point of the evening), and during his celebrations he accidentally punches Dannii Minogue (Kylie’s even less talented sister and a judge on the show) smack in the face. That was a good moment.

My conclusion — because Pajiba orders that I reach a clear decision on every programme I review, and I fear that I’ve been a little oblique — is that the “X Factor” is unrelentingly dreadful. But more than this, it is more dreadful than it need be; it’s not even that funny anymore, and it’s so, so long and drawn out. Another objection to it is of course that Cowell has killed music and elevated fame-hunger to a valid career path — but more than this I’d have to question the show’s relentless pursuit of ugliness and its shameless celebration of the mundane. I found it so, so depressing to try and immerse myself in this world, and didn’t know how to clean my mind afterwards.

Take Me Out

The next item on my gruelling regime is the unapologetically vulgar and lowbrow “Take Me Out,” which is also a bit too long to enjoy fully as a hilarious freakshow, but which is still more manageable and entertaining than the “X Factor.” The reason I selected it for this week is that a lot of my friends posted status updates saying, “Hooray for the return of Take Me Out!”, and “The new Take Me Out is as ghastly as ever!”, etc — and I thought I’d give it a chance.

The way it works is this: 30-odd desperate and extremely similar-looking women (small dresses; straight, long hair; fake tans) stand behind little podiums and buzz a beeper when presented with a man who is trying to date them, when they want to show that they’re not into him. The last woman with her beeper unbuzzed gets to date the chap. The fellow himself is never very inspiring, and the women say things like, “He looks like David Beckham!” if they like him, and “I don’t want to go out with someone who works on a farm!” if they don’t. Those comments would be met with a “wooh!” from the audience and a “miaow!” from the audience, respectively. The audience is composed of women who look like the female contestants and men who look like the male contestants. David Beckham is a constant reference point for everyone, and is seemingly recognized by all as an incontestable paradigm of achievement and godlike beauty.

The whole thing is presented by Paddy McGuinness in the manner of a man who is anxious to get away from proceedings because he’s been paid to take someone out with a smashed bottle in a set-up pub brawl. He is resoundingly and committedly charmless in his dealings with everyone, which would be funny if there weren’t a desperate sort of aggression to him. He makes jokes like, “He’s on fire…. (mimes striking a match) TSHH!” (which I fully realise isn’t actually a joke, but bear with me) and the audience laughs hysterically, but less because it’s funny than, I suspect, because 19 of McGuinness’s mates are standing nearby looking threatening with knives and cudgels, and McGuinness himself is staring angrily around the studio, as if Russell Crowe were playing the lead in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

The whole thing is totally demoralizing and momentarily makes you want never to touch or even flirt with anyone, ever again.

The sad thing is that ITV was doing so well, when it got “Downton Abbey” going earlier this year, but this new slate reverts to type, playing to glossy formats that are essentially highly shiny freakshows. ITV must diversify if it wants to get more viewers, and stop relying on these cheap reality formats. It isn’t snobbish to want to to see creativity and wit at play on television, and ITV must start catering for the more discerning viewer (I mean me).


Alright, hush up, all you “Misfits” shippers. I wasn’t going to talk about “Misfits” this week, because you’ve all had your dose for the last four weeks, and you’re getting spoiled. And I really won’t be talking about “Misfits” that much, save to say that it was brought to my attention (via Simon) that Howard Overman, the creator of it, is bringing Dirk Gently to BBC4 this evening. There’s been a slightly flat (in my view) trailer for the show, airing recently, but I think overall it should be good. I can see Overman’s chaotic humour jiving well with Douglas Adams’ tone, and Stephen Mangan is an inspired choice for the lead. In an interview on Radio 4’s “Front Row,” Moverman also hinted very unsubtly that there would be a third season of ‘Misfits’ (which, duh). So, positive news on all fronts. Stay posted for an update on “Gently” next week.

Caspar lives in London and bravely considers himself to be in his late twenties. He enjoys many things, the listing of which would make him sound like an unbearably pretentious douche.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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