Ah September. The time when TV columnists make statements like "Oh wasn't August's TV just RUBBISH?... but now there are proper things for you to watch" when you never actually realised that there was actually a difference. In fact I might as well reveal to you that all we've got between now and the end of the year: adverts for Argos, Christmas in November, the Party Conference season and rather f*cked up perfume adverts for Eau De Toilette. Roll on Santa.
Yesterday there were two shows that led to pointless widespread discussions about what it all means: Red or Black (the new Simon-Cowell-Gameshow-Without-Simon-Cowell) and the premiere of The Jonathan Ross Show, both on ITV no less. I was a bit confused about the whole debate about this new Simon Cowell thing to be honest. Since when does it matter that he has launched a gameshow when gameshows are generally completely different than his talent contests? Well five minutes into watching Red or Black it became strikingly clear why. His new show, where contestants guess the outcome of successive stunts in the hope of getting closer to a million pounds, fits The X Factor bill very much. Here's why:
The. Feeling. That. You. Cannot. Look. Away: I'm not saying this because of the high octane drama and the emotional intensity.. nah... its the fact that every twenty seconds the music needs to be ramped up and the cameras need to zoom into a fireball, or the inners of someone's eyeballs. For 60 minutes (plus the half hour extra finale of course) all you get with the music and the camera work is NWAH *edit* NWAH *tears* NWAH *pathetic voiceovers* NWAH *lasers* NWAH *flapping hands*. It didn't work alongside the adverts, which consisted of hair foam that manages to kill 99.9% of nits for school children.
The pointless interactivity: Okay fine TV needs to apparently feel more dynamic for the youth of today to keep their attention and as well as make it feel compatible for their lifestyle, but the way it has been used for the show just feels like a marketing department's wet dream. "YOU CAN PLAY ALONG ON THE WEBSITE!" shrieked Ant repeatedly. From the users taking part online Ant was then able to reveal things like whether the men had more luck than the women, whether dogs were having more fun than cats, whether people managed to get to the third ad break without wanting to commit suicide... all stuff that seemed to be as factual as the statistical claims of toothpaste and well-known hair conditioners.
The heavy use Ant and Dec: who are exactly the same now as they were in 2004.
The feeling that the entire thing might be possibly a little bit fake: Hello Simon Cowell's lawyers. I'm not going to dwell on here because I don't want my arms cut off, but the feeling that everything might be a little wee wee bit too constructed comes through in terms of the contestants who are in it... But obviously not I don't believe that point at all its all lies and speculation blah blah blah blah libel libel libel let's move on...
But for me, the biggest, and the most unsettling sign that this was a Cowell programme through and through was the undeniable theme throughout that this is a show about the ordinary person, trying to 'break through' to a better life. I mean, I don't want to go all 'political class' on your ass, but there's this undeniable feeling from The X Factor that it tries to create two levels of society. There's us, the unfulfilled and generally unhappy Tesco-shopping proletariat, proud to be waving our hands in unison for twenty eight minutes in an empty car-park, who are desperate, DESPERATE to improve our lives via. a quick-fix and.... THE TALENTED ELITE - who all arrive in flashy cars, have a life of unlimited money, don't mix with 'the common people', have a tank load of talent and most importantly, live a life of respect.
With Red or Black, the way it has been constructed has been exactly the same, but instead of talent being the major driving force that can lead us to a better life, it is money. Cold hard cash. There's scenes of thousands of people excitably filling exhibition centres whilst assistants shout at them like cattle, periods when cameras zoom into various certain body parts with their face enthusiastically describing their desire of breaking through, no more suffering with a normal life. After the first challenge (which consisted of two stunt bikers, one representing those who chose red and one representing those who chose black, launching themselves towards two polystyrene barriers that continued to get lowered until one of them failed) the cameras then promptly zoomed into the cold, disheartened faces of those who didn't get it right - shots of them depressingly admitting that they have to resort to their unhappy 'status quo'. Then there are scenes of jubilation and screaming for those who chose the winning colour, followed by interviews where they state that this is their chance to buy happiness, including the words of one man that "This is the first time that I've felt like a winner in my entire life."
This is all just weird and relentlessly depressing, and becomes moreso when you realise how much this means to some people taking part. Whilst in The X Factor some people want to win the competition because they feel that they ought to, with Red or Black some people say that they have to. There's this short but distressing scene when a woman outside Battersea power station admits that this game means the life for her means that she can "buy rent, or buy food."
We've gone beyond the world of winning dodgy fridges and a trip to Rio... Sad isn't it?
Moving on... the second thing on the discuss was off course Jonathan Ross... leaving the BBC apparently in a pit of controversy after Sachsgate and starting on ITV after an apparently multi-bijizzion pound deal that might be the end of him as we know it... apparently.
So did it work? Meh. If you like him you like him, if you don't you don't. The show is exactly the same (bar the commercial ITV set), the guests are the same (the American actress who doesn't seem to know whats going on, the big UK talent who hasn't got that much to say), there's still the feeling that it is all being made up as it goes along, food is randomly still incorporated for no apparent reason and the performance at the end is entirely forgettable as you have passed out on the sofa from either being drunk or bored.
In good news though there's now a wee break due to adverts. GET IN.
Follow Scott Bryan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/scottygb