Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

The Speaker

April 15, 2009

The Speaker BBC Jo Brand

We’re regularly told that the nation’s number one fear is the act of public speaking. People would rather die than make a speech before an audience – which seems a bit severe. It also beats spiders, confined spaces and heights in the phobia stakes, hands down. This is strange when you consider that speaking in public is something we’re biologically programmed to do. It’s like being frightened of walking down a lane, or becoming terrified when faced with the prospect of going for a poo.

Having said that, if you’d have seen the mess I made in the little boy’s room last night, you’d find yourself utterly terrified of visiting the bog.

Ultimately, there’s no denying it’s a nightmarish experience. All of my adult attempts at public speaking have, without exception, been disastrous. Clammy hands, stuttering delivery and mind-blanks combined and resulted in speeches that seemed, from inside my head at least, to be completely incoherent word-babbles serving no discernible purpose.

As a child it was easier, or seemed to be, thanks to a heady mixture of youthful enthusiasm and childish arrogance. The fact that we were called upon to make speeches semi-regularly at my rural, all-boys grammar school must have helped, and you can’t help but feel that the primary reason most people suffer anxiety when asked to orate is a lack of practice. When called upon to address the public, most people will run a mile. So credit to the teenagers, all state-school kids, who signed up to The Speaker on the BBC – an attempt to find the best public speaker under the age of 16.

So far we’ve experienced the auditions round, in which entrant after entrant clammed up, fluffed lines or hit a mental blank. Those that were deemed good enough by a giant, a kindly aunt and a Quentin Blake illustration made it through to last night’s round, in which Deborah Meaden – that glorious spinster from the Den – wore an extremely-expensive looking hat. In addition to her millinery display, she had the youngsters stand on a soapbox at Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner, riffing on an object they’d pulled from a dustbin tombola she’d set up on the side of the makeshift stage. This resulted in an impassioned speech from Jordan, who aped his own piece from the preceding round and told the gathered crowd that embracing binoculars is the only way forward. Not only for a better tomorrow, but also for a better society (as a whole).

It was incredibly moving.

In case you’re thinking of catching up by watching tonight’s episode, having lost a couple more kids later on, we’re now left with the following youngsters:

Appears to only have one speech to refer to in which he’ll make an impassioned plea for sanity so that we can move forward – collectively – not only for a better tomorrow, but also for a better society (as a whole).

Constantly looking slightly out of her depth, Fahmida is unintentionally amusing. Basing her findings on her extensive world-experience, she hates the notion of love, laughs in the face of romance and stomps on the very concept of companionship.

Shouty Duncan’s foolproof method of engagement is to shout at the audience. His shouting technique is second-to-none and, were this a public shouting contest, it’d be game over for the other contestants. Duncan’s mother appears to indulge his shouty ways, so expect more shouting from shouty Duncan in the future.

Graffiti-loving Haroon comes across as an educated Ali G and displays the kind of confidence when speaking to a crowd that can only come from some unfair evolutionary advantage. Either that or his brain’s been programmed for success by some mysterious, shadowy BBC agent.

Irene strikes me as the sort of girl who’s either grown up around adults who treated her as equals, or the type who stays in her bedroom all weekend watching sitcoms. Her attitude comes straight out of Smack The Pony or Green Wing, and for that she should be applauded.

Like Haroon, Maria totally lacks the negative self-awareness that should make public speaking an alarming prospect, making it possible for her to sail through each round with nary a glimmer of fear. Whatever it is that she and Haroon have pumping through their bloodstream that makes this possible should be bottled and sold.

Old beyond his years, Thomas comes across as having the maturity and wisdom of a 40 year old man, stuck within the body of a 16 year old. When I was his age I was flailing around and shouting at policeman, pissed on cider, so it’s hard not to look at the lad without feeling a deep sense of shame.

Kay Kay
My pick to win it. When he takes the stage, Kay Kay is mesmerising. Like a black Boris Johnson, the self-professed mummy’s boy wins the crowd over with messy charm. He radiates the Churchillian ability to encapsulate Britishness, and I reckon he’ll win the thing. If he doesn’t, he should’ve.

This is a good watch.

If they offered a bigger prize than just the title – perhaps a meeting with The Queen or something similar to stick on their CV – and meddled with the format a little bit then The Speaker could quite easily become as well-regarded as that BBC behemoth, The Apprentice.

If only they’d lose the Snow Patrol from the soundtrack and stopped trying to play to the X Factor morons, they might mould a hit show from this concept.

Comic Relief – Thursday’s Celeb Specials

March 13, 2009

A celebrity double bill then, kicking off with Kilimanjaro: The Big Red Nose Climb.

In this one off charity special, Chris Moyles and his celebrity mates climbed a mountain for the Comic Relief cause. Viewers tuning in expecting to see Gary Barlow tumbling down a rocky scene, shattering bones with each bump, were disappointed – as all he did was complain about his back. Those who set Sky+ in the hope of seeing a naked Cheryl Cole bathing under a waterfall will also feel let down by the fact that all she did was worry about her make up and walk like an upright stick-insect, unable to move a step unless a flunky held her hand.

Aside from that, this wholly unremarkable show featured Denise Van Outen being her usual chirpy self, Ronan Keating sporting his curtain cut in a variety of different lengths, Aleesha Dixon laughing like a hyena one minute then sobbing the next and Fearne Cotton feeling peaky.

So not a particularly eventful feature, particularly considering the build up the BBC had pasted all over their magazine shows this week. In fact, it was such a non-event that they felt the need to feature three ten minute appeals in the one hour running time to get some money in, presumably to wake viewers up and remind them that this wasn’t just a complete waste of time.

Immediately following the monotonous trek, Comic Relief Does The Apprentice lifted the spirits somewhat. There was, admittedly, an issue this time round. The Producers filled the teams with funny people (or in Jonathan Ross’s case, people who think they’re funny), with only one business-experienced individual on either team.

Rather than cause no end of hilarity, this resulted in Jonathan Ross on the boys’ team going into overdrive and steering his team like some terrible, cheesy dictator, his team becoming instantly timid in the face of his gigantic salary and influence.

The girls’ team split into two camps, causing some friction and an underwhelming argument between Patsy Palmer and an underwear magnate, but aside from that they bumbled through just fine.

The best line of the night came from Jack Dee – at one point perfectly executing his comic timing to complain about the amount of seats in the boardroom, then retract his outburst like a small boy.

Enjoyable stuff and for a good cause – but the real thing is coming soon…

Horizon: How To Survive a Disaster

March 12, 2009

Apparently we’re all such sheep that, were a fire to rage through our place of work, we’d just sit idly through it as it licked at our bones – unless an influential individual told us to get out. Even worse: If your boss told you to stay where you were until they’d checked out the problem, you’d probably just stay where you were until they’d gone off and died of smoke inhalation, then sit there idly waiting for the flames to lick at your bones.

You mug!

This laziness in the face of danger was illustrated by the findings of the 9/11 investigation team, who discovered that a great many of the victims on that day decided, after the first plane had torn through their building and turned the very structure of the buiding to molten dribble, to finish off an email, have a chat with a colleague or pop to the loo before evacuating the building. It seems that modern panic in the corporate environment takes the form of a blank reaction – a wide open gormlessness in the face of certain death. Which is comforting.

Horizon’s terrifying ‘How To Survive a Disaster’ based its findings on, among others, facts gathered from the National Office of Statistics. They reckon that death from fire, suffocation and drowning aren’t quite as common as you might think and that, in fact, you’re far more likely to die from accidental poisoning or, even more worryingly, falling over.

Yes – slipping on something beneath your idiot shoes is a bigger killer than your humble road traffic accident. So get yourself to Clarks at lunchtime and buy something with a rugged heel. You’re playing silly buggers with your own existence if you don’t.

It gets worse. The likelihood of your getting stabbed by a marauding gang of hoodies, unless you live in Clapton, are pretty much miniscule. But we see evidence of this kind of death on the news all the bloody time, often over breakfast as we’re trying to retrieve a crust from a toaster with a wet knife, so our signals are crossed and mangled as to what’s more likely to cause our own personal extinction.

It gets even worse. According to experts, when you’re in a disaster situation, your brain is too busy distorting time – slowing it down so that you can make use of the vital seconds you have before you potentially bite the bullet – to actually function properly. Focus? Goes out of the window. Performance? Not a chance. Coping mechanisms? They burst. Basically, when circumstances collide to place you on the brink of combustion, you’ll be stuck to the spot watching yourself disintegrating in slow motion. A cheering thought.

So what can we do to avoid calamity? The experts say we should pay attention to their safety gumph when on planes or operating heavy machinery. But considering we’re all going to freeze up and freak out anyhow, I can’t see the point of wasting your final seconds reading forms. The answer’s simple. Don’t panic – just answer your emails and act as normal. Everything will be fine.


Piers Morgan’s Life Stories: Katie Price

March 11, 2009

piers morgan katie price jordan

ITV is many things to many people, but mainly it’s just rubbish. ITV doesn’t give the world much these days, apart from the anomaly of Harry Hill and the occasional Al Murray moment. It’s the gaping hole in the middle of the schedule – a vortex where decent television simply doesn’t occur. It’s television for children and the elderly – bright, flashy and filled with hollow applause. If you find your brain actively engaged by ITV’s output, it’s a sure sign of mental decline.

Piers Morgan’s new show could only be an ITV product, with the third button being the key channel specialising in the kind of glossy dross he tends towards since being kicked out of publishing and having entered the light entertainment arena. When he was at The Mirror, Morgan was a forgivable prick – always managing to rustle up a twinge of sympathy because, for all his myriad flaws, at least he wasn’t the Editor of The Sun. But even in his early days he was caked in the slime of smug self-assurance and seemed to have smarm running through his innards like sap.

His Sunday evening Life Stories vehicle is way beyond the bland rubbish you might expect it to be. In fact, it’s so tedious and vacant, you could be forgiven for thinking your television’s vanished and been replaced with a vague space. You’d actually be better off staring at the wall.

Following on from last week’s episode in which we re-learned that Richard Branson is very rich and smiles a lot, on Sunday evening we were landed with a Katie Price sucker-punch. The show opened, as it does every episode, with Piers talking to camera (or someone just off-camera, to give it an air of reality) about how he wouldn’t avoid any issues and would ask the right questions in order to get us some really meaty answers. Katie, in turn, promised that she would give her all and reply honestly to anything Morgan could throw at her. It was as if, for a second, they actually believed they were about to make some proper television rather than get themselves messy in the overlit, sycophancy-session that followed.

The first topic for discussion was Katie’s apparent schizophrenia and the fact that she ‘misses Jordan’. She made it seem as though the identity she created purely to allow her to build her fortune – using tabloid tittilation and flesh-flashing – had substance. To blur the boundaries between Katie and Jordan even further, ingeniously merging the two personalities, she was then encouraged to show off her jewellery for the cameras like a blinged up material girl. But ultimately it was left unclear, the actual difference between the two. Was it the change of hair colour that signalled the change? Or the graduation from the showbiz pages in the tabloids to the OK and Hello spreads?

We moved on, the question unanswered. They discussed her husband Peter as openly as they could, with the poor sod sitting mere yards away in the audience, wilting bashfully. Throughout the show, Katie talked about Andre as though he’s the randy stalker she fellates out of pity.

‘I can’t have sex seven days a week’, she informed us. ‘so when he gets it, he gets it’. She talked about their shared, sacred moments of intimacy in the functional way you might ask a neighbour to feed the dog while you’re in Cromer for a week’s holiday. In the most non-erotic description of marital relations you’re ever likely to hear, she discussed their first moment of passion and how she stormed his hotel room after the I’m a Celebrity wrap party. He answered the door wearing only a towel, insisting he’d just got out of the shower and hadn’t expected her. ‘I give him a blow job in the toilet’ she declared, smiling at her killer punchline, to the joy of the audience and the sympathetic mugging of Morgan.

The show was interspersed with VT in which members of Katie’s family discussed her rise to fame. Piers’ voiceover could be heard over the top using phrases like ‘Britain’s first couple’ and ‘unlikely modern role model’ – unqualified assertions that slipped by unchallenged, reaffirming brand Katie and making the viewer implicit in the bullshit-flow. To give us a little bit of humanity, Katie’s mum, brother and sister spoke semi-candidly about her implants and how her investment in the chest-bulgers was born out of insecurity – but this wasn’t explored.

Another area that wasn’t dwelled upon was a bizarre and remarkably awkward sequence in which we seemed to hear something about sexual abuse. It was so strange I had to rewind and check I’d heard right. When talking about her first, apparently unsavoury modelling shoots she said ‘worse things have happened to me’. Then, when Morgan asked what she meant, she expanded with the gnomic: ‘in a park’. She then began to yelp a little before composing herself and saying ‘just some weirdo in a park’, alluding to sexual abuse with the scantest details, garnering sympathy from the audience for something they probably weren’t even sure they’d heard right. Watching this weird little sequence felt grubby for multiple reasons, none of which I can quite place.

After superficial discussion of her disabled son, reality television and wealth, the conversation was wrapped up. The promise of depth and insight went sadly unfulfilled. But there was no room for disappoinment. If you’d tuned in to a show like this and found anything profound within, you’d have the mental faculties of a child or an infantile pensioner.

So I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting.

Newsnight Review

March 9, 2009

Newsnight Review

Resisting the urge to watch Newsnight Review is futile. There’s something mesmerising about a handful of gasbags who’ve nothing better to do on a Friday evening than slam a ballet or mock a blockbuster and I always find myself roped in, even sticking around while they throttle an interpretation of an opera I’m never, ever going to see, no matter who interprets it.

Maybe it’s the in-fighting when two critics disagree with one another I enjoy. It could be the lengths they go to in proving their put-down prowess or, more likely, it’s the fact that they get themselves so worked up over artistic works that they come across to the viewer as, in equal measure, smug, fussy, pretentious, pompous and – half the time – wrong.

Let’s have a look at the major players:

Wark, Kirsty

There are other presenters, but Kirsty is the key head honcho and she is the only one with the power to utterly silence the mob. Her Scotch drawl is familiar to all and despite the fact she sounds and looks like a shaved and lazy sheep, everyone fears her authority and respects her space. A consummate professional.

Morley, Paul

One from the old skool. An ex-NME writer who made the inevitable transition to the broadsheets years ago but still harbours the belief that he’s on the cutting edge of opinion, even though he writes stream-of-consciousness reviews of Franz Ferdinand records for The Observer Music Monthly for middle aged mortgage brokers to read over muesli. Despite that fatal flaw, he always seems to praise the right things, and I admire his choices in buttoned-to-the-chin Urban Outfitter jackets which hide the fact that his face is almost completely forehead. I’m on his side, usually.

Marina Hyde

Her name says it all – sounding like a Chris Morris parody of a Guardian journalist. But look again – she’s real! Marina excels at being snooty about nothing, pointing her breadstick nose at low-culture, snorting like a hooray-Henry at the vulgarity and then summing it up in a badly-judged, empty soundbite. Despite a highly presentable byline pic, she actually has a small, sneering triangle for a face which points up at the light fittings, apparently sniffing them for traces of shit.

Tony Parsons

It’s all been said before. Google him – I can add nothing more to the mix. The market for Parsons-criticism is over-saturated.

Germaine Greer

Personally, I think she gets better as time goes on. She appears to care not one jot if she upsets anyone and constantly makes statements designed to piss people off. Only the other week she incorrectly asserted that ‘women aren’t as good at comedy as men’, and she spends the latter part of her career making these sorts of sweeping generalisations unapologetically. The fact she doesn’t mean half of them only adds to the fun.

Kwei-Armah, Kwame

Sometimes he presents and sometimes he’s on the couch. Despite being a youngster, comparatively, Kwame comes across as the wise old man of Newsnight Review, managing to balance his judgements against those of the others whilst resisting the urge to steamroller his co-critics – quite unlike..:

Eshun, Eko

…who is painfully watchable in his childlike over-enthusiasm. Whenever Eko’s presence is announced, I’m simultaneously horrified and excited as he’s a terrifying mixture of the drunk at the party who can’t shut his face and a rampant toddler charged with E numbers. In some ways it’s irritating that he interrupts the likes of Neil LaBute when he’s saying something smart but at other times it’s wholly satisfying when he shuts that vicar from The Communards up with his high pitched ejaculations.

Eko is Newsnight review incarnate – an over-opinionated speed-freak in conversation only with himself, unable to relent when challenged and permanently seeking to promote only his own point of view. He stamps his feet and actually sticks his hand up when it’s not his turn. He’s like those kids at school who were desperate to answer every class-question and if the attention’s not completely focused on him, he gasps and whines like a trampled puppy.

*   *   *

So who would you like to see on the Newsnight Review couch? Or would you like to see it set ablaze and dropped from the schedules?