Weaver's Week 2015-07-19

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Big Brother

Yak butter is more palatable than this.


Big Brother

Initial (an Endemol company) for Channel 5, 12 May – 16 July

The annual summer of constructed reality began early. Big Brother took to the air in the middle of May, it's traditionally run from late May to August, this year's was the earliest start.

There were two unusual features about this year's Big Brother experience. First, they announced the contestants two days before the start. Viewers were able to form opinions about the lab rats right away, before they'd even stepped into the Elstree set. And second, they maintained the "Time bomb" theme for the entire series. Lab rat Simon Gross was evicted after about an hour, shown his "best bit", and then squirrelled away so he could return to the programme a couple of weeks later.

Apart from that, everything about Big Brother looked predictable. Indeed, everything on the surface was familiar to long-term viewers. An offer for a player to leave the house early (£50,000 to an odious ranting sexist in 2012, a brand new car to Jack McDermott in the opening week). A pair of twins competing as one player (Amy and Sally Broadbent follow in the footsteps of Jedward and Samanda). A black woman being voted out first (Adjoa Mensah this year's sacrificial lamb). Someone being removed for harassment (Aaron Frew, 'bye). The contestants hearing crowd reaction (see every year since about 2006).

But beneath the surface, something was stirring. There wasn't much confrontation. The lab rats were getting along with each other, smoothing over their differences. From time to time, they would tell the viewer what they were doing. "They want us to row, they want us to argue." The lab rats had grown insensitive to the producers' one stimulus. Whatever they did, the producers couldn't provoke a blazing row. Power had shifted: the lab rats had taken the upper hand.

Big Brother Amy and Sally Broadbent talk to Emma Willis.

Some producers are clever and crafty enough to use the material they're given; the sort of people who can make a door out of any sort of wood. This year's Big Brother producers chose to cut down a different tree. Nominations amongst the lab rats were "reversed": those who would have been evicted were safe, and those who were popular on set were up for the vote. The result? Goodbye twins. Exit Kieran McLeod. See ya Sarah Greenwood. Farewell Harriet Jackson, evicted without once being nominated.

Once upon a time, Big Brother was shared between viewer, producer, and player. Not this year; these lab rats were all sacrificed so that the producers could assert their superiority over player and viewer alike. A cohesive community was forming on set, one that would drift on in its own bubble whatever the producers threw at it. According to the producers, arguments and shouting are what the viewers like. But viewers didn't like.

And so it went on. Newbies have sole control of nominations (see the "State of Susie" from 2006). A day takes place backwards, from evening to morning (see the Lego task from 2010). A fake eviction (see every flippin' series on Channel 5).

Big Brother Nikki, Dopey, Thingy, and Shouty are not talking. This is a welcome move.

But this wasn't any fake eviction. No, this was the Fake Eviction From Heck. Marc O'Neill had arrived in the producer takeover, and insulted every other lab rat. Needless to say, he was thrown out at the first opportunity, only two weeks later. But he only went as far as the Sekrit Bunker, which we were promised would contain Big Brother legends. They could have had interesting players like Scott Turner. They could have had long-lasting players like Lynne Bruce. They could have had intellectual conversationalists like Marjorie The Chicken.

No, they went for the obvious. Brian Belo, regular on TV Burp. Nikki Graeme, too regular on Big Brother. Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace, plain speaking. And last year's "winner", who we cannot name for reasons. Just when we thought it was safe to go back into Big Brother, this turns up. Not content with ruining last year's series, not content with being cosseted to undeserved riches, not content with profiting from a suspicious phone vote, she has to come along here. As we said last year, go away, and never darken our column again.

Many other faces appeared for one day, and a few stayed in a "hotel" for the best part of a week. None of this helped us to know the 2015 lab rats any better: we viewers are asked to determine a winner from this year's cast. Showing twelve minutes of row between Mr. Belo and that other person will not help us.

Big Brother What do you think of the show sofa? Stuffed?

There was a year in a day task (see Christmas In July, 2003). One from the future (see Titan the Robot, 2010). One from the 1980s (don't see 1979-91), and one suspiciously like The Crystal Maze (see Channel 4, 1990-95). Exit Eileen Daly. Exit Jade-Martina Lynch.

And, over the garden wall, exit Mr. Belo because he cannot stand the torrent of lies, smears, and innuendo from last year's Annoying One and this year's wind-up merchant. Over 2000 people told OFCOM that they found the comments directed at Mr. Belo to be offensive, but the Junior Anti-Sex League said that "generally accepted standards" were not being broken. This is self-evidently wrong: so many complaints tells us that the "generally accepted standards" that OFCOM uses are a perversion of popular opinion (see the Week's review of Big Brother 2013).

We're now almost two-thirds through the series, and everyone who has left has been thrown out, or is a woman, or black, or both. Big Brother has massive and very visible problems with its diversity – or its lack thereof. The Channel 5 edits were clearly slanted in particular directions: encouraging the lies spread by The Annoying One, focussing on the nonsense spewing from Mr. O'Neill's orifice. Producers were guilty of double standards: they accepted "she hops from bed to bed" as a nomination reason, while prolefeed show Bit on the Side praised men who do the same thing.

Finally, Mr. Gross leaves again, followed by Mr. O'Neill, again out at the first possible moment. Harry Amelia Martin lost the vote in the final week, followed by Sam Kay in yet another manipulation by the producers.

Big Brother Emma Willis made the best of some very bad angles.

By this time, any pretence that this was a fair contest was fading. Was this their plan all along? Or were the producers making it up as they went along? We simply cannot tell. The producers had given a very good impression of not knowing their elbow from other parts of their anatomy. They'd given a good impression of altering their plans to produce the results they wanted, however rubbish this would be for the show as a whole.

Not in their plans was a reduction in the series length. The series was billed to run for 72 episodes, concluding on or about 22 July. By overwhelming demand from the viewing public, this year's series was truncated, shortened, chopped, and came to an end last Thursday. The champion was Chloe Wilburn; she took £116,100 from the overall prize fund, plus £5000 from tasks in the final week.

The other finalists – Matthew Clarkson and Nick Henderson came sixth and fifth, Mr. McDermott fourth with almost £30,000 courtesy of some incomprehensible fiddling with the prize pot. Danny Wisker came third, and Joel Williams second.

Big Brother

It is clear that the Big Brother production team had a vision of what they wanted this series to be. They have succeeded in making that series. Cheap. Unimaginative. Nasty. Repetitive. Living in the past. Not properly thought through. Gave the appearance of being fixed, or fixable.

A show that was absolutely no fun. Watching people shout about eggs is not fun. As someone infinitely more successful would say, "this is exhausting". As someone a bit more successful would say, "this is pointless". If we wanted to see a bunch of idiots shouting at each other from two inches, if we want false accusations of criminal behaviour, Channel 5 can bring back Family Affairs. The acting's better on Family Affairs.

Most tellingly, Big Brother had scraped the bottom of the barrel and had no new ideas. We would like to give a review of Big Brother 2015, but we cannot. The series was in thrall to its own history, mystique, and mythology. Viewers were denied the opportunity to make the choices we wanted. Harriet and Jack and the Twins in the final? The viewers wanted it, the producers didn't, and in this world, the producers rule. Big Brother in 2015 was not allowed to stand or fall on its own terms.

The producers wanted to make a cheap and unimaginative series, and by golly they succeeded. We have a little more about Big Brother in the next review.

Celebrity Love Island

Love Island

ITV Studios for ITV2, 7 June – 15 July

Celebrity Love Island was made for ITV in 2005-6. As the name suggests, it involved minor celebrities, who were invited to pair off for our viewing pleasure, and given something to do during the day. A vapid programme, we remember it mostly for producing about 2.5 million joules of activity, enough to keep humans going for almost ten hours. (See the Week of 23 July 2006).

After nine years off our screens, the format came back to ITV2, with a few differences. It wasn't going to be set on the far-off destination of Fiji, but in the somewhat closer confines of Malaga. They still need a daily satellite link-up, but the time zones are far less troublesome. The contestants are no longer celebrities, and they no longer claim to be celebrities. And the host has been replaced, with Caroline Flack from TMi replacing Fearne Cotton from Top of the Pops. (At least until they replace her and Reggie with Shannon Flynn and Cel Spellman.)

And! There's no sign of Patrick Kielty. Result!

Celebrity Love Island No shirt? No tie? No service.

Now, we had planned to watch more than two-and-a-half episodes of this programme, but we found ourselves falling asleep early and often. Love Island still has no energy, it's still wallpaper television.

Quite the best part of the programme was the narration. Witty, waspish, delivered in a sweet Scots accent. The Fabulous Iain Stirling adds commentary and tells us what's going on – especially the parts where contestants are out of shot, practising their yoga.

But the more things have changed, the more they've stayed the same. Love Island is still rampant, unapologetic, in-yer-face heterosexual propaganda. It is a show where men are men. It is a show where women simper and swoon. It may be that this column moves in different circles, but we have trouble believing a group of 12 completely straight individuals. This felt strange in 2006, now it feels false and fake and put on for the ITV2 viewers.

Worse, Love Island was blatant in its patriarchy. Let us bring in the Bechdel test, proposed by artist Alison Bechdel. It's passed when two named women have a conversation between themselves about something other than a man. On the episodes of Love Island we saw, every single conversation between two women was about men. A prime-time commission that does not pass the Bechdel test? Quite remarkable.

One of the advertisements in that show was for a friends website. That had women associating, doing fun stuff together, having lives, without a single man in sight. The show doesn't pass the Bechdel test, but the commercial just might? Strange days indeed.

Even in its revival, Love Island felt like a throwback to a bygone era. It appears harmless, but beneath the veneer are some rancid attitudes that this column doesn't share.

By contrast, Big Brother has trappings of modernity. It looks like it's novel, it passes the Bechdel test in the first minute. But this year's series felt out of kilter. They hadn't learned their lessons from the failures of previous years. Indeed, we were being offered more of the same rubbish we rejected last time. Big Brother went for its core constituency, its comfort zone, but alienated them by being so tedious and repetitive. If Love Island was an out-of-touch uncle sleeping off a heavy lunch, Big Brother was a child waving its fist at the audience, screaming at us because it had had too much ice cream earlier.

Celebrity Love Island To be fair, the programme was beautifully shot.

There we thought we'd leave it. Let Max Morley and Jess Haynes swan off with £25,000 each as the winning couple, hope that Love Island never darkens our screens again. Or if it does return, know that we don't have to review it. But the producers had another trick up their sleeve.

Something that has never worked on television, and won't work here. The producers decided to re-enact the final of Shafted. To repeat the final of Golden Balls. To replicate the climax to The Bank Job. Force the finalists to decide whether to share the money, or to try and shaft each other out of it. As might be expected, this was sprung on the players. It made for some cringe-tastic telly as Caroline tried to explain how winning might equate to not winning, and explained the details in detail.

It felt as natural as a lump of metal flying through the sky. As natural as vegetarian bacon. As natural as a glucose oxidase reacting in a vacuum. It confused the end to the series and might have led to "we've spent six weeks watching this, and no-one wins any prize? WTF, ITV?!"

This Week and Next

Production of The X Factor was held up while the judges had an ice cream fight.

Hoopla You wouldn't catch Gary Barlobe doing that, would you?

BBC2 opened its "Quizzy Mondays" (a rubbish title, as one of the shows is puzzle not quiz). University Challenge opened with a win for Peterhouse Cambridge; they scored 185 to Glasgow's 155. Glasgow were represented by Andrew Davidson, Vitali Brejevs, Evelyn McMenamin, Ollie Allen. Mr. Brejevs (a student from Latvia) confused the host by giving the original Russian name of some music, rather than the translation on his card. Paxman and his researchers showing their limitations, there.

Glasgow may have suffered from a harsh adjudication:

Q: Named after a French physicist, the Law of Malus says that the transmitted intensity of light passing through two ideal polarisers varies as what function of the...
A: Cosine.
(No, I'm afraid you lose five points.)
...Varies as what function of the angle theta between the respective planes of polarisation?
A: Cos squared theta.

So the square of the cosine is right, the cosine is wrong. Harsh; we don't know enough optics to say if it's fair. If we wore glasses, we'd be looking over the top of them.

Peterhouse were represented by Thomas Langley, Oscar Powell, Hannah Woods, Julian Sutcliffe. Most of the online comment was abusive and unprintable; most of the rest asked "why does Peterhouse have a crown on the desk in front of them?"

University Challenge A crowning performance?

A question difficult enough for Only Connect, where the Cluesmiths (Mick Hodgkin, John Tozer, Richard Heald) beat the Operational Researchers (Paul Allen, Alex Hill, Clare Lynch) by 27-20. The difference arose in the Sequences round: the Cluesmiths got all of theirs on the second clue, the Researchers took an extra clue to confirm their hunches. The programme showed its broad range, going from ABBA songs and foods that aren't what they claim to "All the world's a stage", words symbolised by Roman numerals, and excuses given by train companies.

Our question of the week is the pictures of tea. Other people's question of the week was "why is Victoria standing behind a podium at the walls?" Being the superstitious sort, she wanted to conceal Barbara for as long as she can, make sure young Coren Mitchell had as much privacy as possible. We respect Victoria's decision.

BARB ratings in the week to 5 July.

  1. The Eastenders remains top of the shows, 6.8 million viewers. Celebrity Masterchef was top game, seen by 4.4m.
  2. Low scores across the board: ITV had The Cube (2.8m), Catchphrase (2.35m) and The Chase (2.3m).
  3. Mock the Week (1.64m) pipped Catsdown (1.56m) and Big Brother (1.46m). All were beaten by the football World Cup third-place play-off (1.92m).
  4. A League of Their Own remains the top non-PSB show, but only just – 740,000 leaves it a little ahead of Love Island on 705,000.
  5. The hottest day of the year on Wednesday gave Pointless on Challenge its top audience of the year, 147,000 people thought the 7pm transmission went well with salad for the tummy and an ice pack for the head.

This week, we welcome a new run of French Collection (C4, weekdays), the foreign antiques show. ITV2 has repeats of Ninja Warrior UK (from Tue) and Safeword (Thu) may or may not be game. The final of Prized Apart next Saturday is followed by 5-Star Family Reunion, in which Nick Knowles brings the Pearsons of Essex together once more.

Photo credits: Initial (an Endemol company), ITV Studios, BBC, Granada.

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