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The concept of being flogged something, either through a visual or aural medium, is not a modern invention, with both the Roman Empire and Egyptian Civilisation making crude wall doodles and papyrus scrawls to promote their wants of the day. Whether they knew that their early trailblazing would pave the way for advertising behemoths such as Pharrell and McDonalds, Beyonce and Armani, and Shane Richie and Daz, is debatable.

As a kid, I was indifferent to the ad-break, with most features being laughably ill-thought out or playfully amusing. However today’s adverts frequently border on the pathological, the product of scientific calculations designed to establish how best to wedge their product into the viewer’s cognitive chamber. Think about the cheery whistle signalling the end of the McDonalds advert – a breezy, catchy and childlike number designed to promote feelings of innocence that will override the adult viewer’s natural fear of chronic obesity. Staying on McDonalds, the brand of childlike happiness is a constant: the Happy Meal, for goodness sake; the logo – an upside down smile; the bright and playful red-yellow colour scheme, now cynically supported by a blatant green ‘eco’ branding.

Do you need a bag today?

Serial offenders of appalling adverts include supermarket chains at both ends of the spectrum. With its upmarket packaging, M&S wants you to believe you are solid middle-class stock by buying so much as a bag of waxy pig sweets from its store. This image was elaborated on in the continued ‘not just any…’ campaign, where the camera slowly moved across zoomed images of bits of food tumbling about the screen, while a woman crooned about the produce, as if auditioning for a sex line. While M&S panders to foodie broadsheet readers, Tesco reaches out to the lower classes, its strapline ‘every little helps’ a barely-disguised pitch for those of breadline existence. The theme is reinforced by the plodding music and northern tones of Jane Horrocks, who many will remember as the equally annoying Bubble from the otherwise excellent Absolutely Fabulous.

I am often amused by the discussions that supermarket status promotes, with many friends openly fawning at the imminent opening of Waitrose in my hometown and extolling the virtues of Sainsburys, while thoughtlessly denouncing Tesco. Such views are testament to the power of advertisement, with the Observer Food Monthly taster pages sometimes giving M&S produce 1 star with the Tesco/Asda alternative receiving excellent reviews. The idea that Tesco is some kind of corporate Yorkshire Ripper is also far from the mark: if you think Tesco is a rampant pillager of all things local, then what tag should one affix to Sainsburys, M&S, Waitrose et al. Are they thinking of the community when they snatch local land and construct their monstrous complexes? Of course, such a simple accusation has missed the point: companies exist to make money for shareholders, if they are permitted by law to do this to the apparent detriment of local communities and businesses, then that is the responsibility of the lawmakers. The end.

Anyway, I digress. This blog post was never meant to occur. The offending adverts to which we shall soon consider came, lingered like an undetected puddle of cat wee beneath the family sofa, before evaporating into the recesses of the memory bank, never to be seen again. I could turn on the TV, safe in the knowledge that my general equilibrium would no longer be tested by those 30 seconds of unmitigated horror. Or so I thought. Last week, I was innocently minded my own business behind the ironing board, when I heard the sinister rallying cry – “Haaalifaaaax”.

ONE AH-AH…TWO AH-AH…THREE AH-AH

The Halifax advertisement campaign of 2010 and 2011 will be familiar to many: a bunch of jokers dressed in Halifax uniform pretend to host a radio show with ‘hilarious’ consequences. The charge sheet against those involved in these nuggets of televisual leprosy are numerous and may they forever be haunted by their collective aberrations.

Perhaps the most recognised advert is the ‘ISA ISA’ offering, where a gormless woman (perceptively described by a female friend of mine as “a lobotomised Count Dracula”) forges a link between a popular fiscal instrument and a frozen cube of water. Rapturous with her discovery, she nods her head repeatedly, her bug eyes overcome with delirium, before playing Vanilla Ice’s seminal 90s hit, ‘Ice Ice Baby’. Truly, she is my nemesis, someone for whom the word ‘ISA’ is akin to the meaning of life, the Holy Grail dangled in front of her vampirian features.

However, the clincher is the loose head movement circa 0:18 (see link below) as if she’s got a little bit carried away and decided to throw in some ‘what-you-looking-at-sister’ shit, or is alternatively deep-threatening thin air. After spending some time reviewing all 30 seconds of this affront to humanity, one starts to notice extra items of horror. Check-out the dude in the background from 0:15 onwards (link below). Look at the concern on his face as he squints at Count Von Count and the-poor man’s lurch, going so far as to pretend that he’s attempting to twiddle some dials to stop the horror show. Is he intended to be a narrative conscience seeking to redress the balance between omnipotent corporate juggernaut and poor consumer who has to sit back and swallow this kack? It pains me to say it, but I can imagine a corporate suit saying on first play that the advert’s too white, hence the inclusion of the background gent. Cynical? Possibly, although I recall my old law firm including a black businessman in its trainee prospectus when they didn’t have any ethnic minority staff amongst their 400 or so employees. Shocking.

Can I motorboat your grandma?

I can do no better than offer up an alternative dialogue:

“Wankerfaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaax……….

Bell-end1: You know people think this advert’s piss-poor and that I’m a bit of a wanker. Are they right?

Voice: Yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bell-end1: That’s a bit strong. I mean, I appreciate that it might not be to everyone’s taste, but a complete tosser?

Voice: Yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bell-end1: People can be so mean. I put hours of training into my ‘keys in the air routine’.

Voice: Yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bell-end1: Do you just say the same thing over and over again?

Voice: yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bell-end1: So if I say yeh-yeh-yeah to you, you’ll just say…

Voice: …yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bellend1: Wow! This is cool!

Voice: Yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bellend1: Yeh-yeh-yeah!!

Voice: Yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bellend1: Yeh-yeh-yeah!!

Voice: Yeh-yeh-yeah.”

And so it continues on loop until the ISA vampire crashes through the glass window and ruptures bellend1’s jonson during a savage, forced blowjob. Amen.

Bullet Time

Those familiar with The Matrix will understand the phrase ‘bullet time’. This was a tag used to describe the stylised slowing of an action sequence, with the camera circling an almost stationary object, while another object would pass by it, seemingly defying gravity. The effect was undeniably cool, and still is in the right circumstances. No doubt inspired by the antics of Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne, Halifax’s marketing team thought they would ramp their campaign up a notch and deliver their own brand of bullet time to the masses. Check out the slow nod at 0:13 – blink and you’ll miss it.

It’s hard to establish whether bullet-girl is worse than the ISA vampire, a little bit like arguing for Fred West at the exclusion of Josef Fritzl, however while the gormless knob twiddling is undeniably offensive, the head-shaking of the Count secures the win.

Whereas ISA saw only one member of backroom staff, on this occasion he’s joined by an invariable posse. Rather sadly, it seems as if he’s dropped the pretence of sabotage (or been coerced into conformity) and can instead be seen larking around for no particular reason. In terms of the rhythm of the performance, the blonde lady makes a fist of patenting a sort of shoulder shuffle, however she fails to make the beat which is a poor show considering the offering is light indie fare in the form of the Lightning Seeds rather than an Aphex Twin B-side.

Helpful wanking

The problem with these types of adverts, of which Halifax is only a prominent example, is that while the corporate suits know its cack, they also know full well that the masses will buy into it, which in itself is a damning indictment of society. Among the key ingredients to such a campaign is an equal mix of the bland and the low-brow, with the sinister end-goal of befriending the viewer through familiarity. This allows the consumer to identify with the brand so that when he sees a Halifax sign, he’ll think ‘they’re OK’ when of course he doesn’t have the first clue about their corporate governance or ethical policy. Particularly galling are the attempts of banks to promote themselves as run by ordinary Joes (NatWest, say), which is about as convincing as The Daily Mail sponsoring a gay rights protest.

Much better, of course, are those adverts that don’t take themselves seriously, and are capable of tickling the ribs. My favourite advert of all time remains a Lockets advert from circa 1998, when some ruddy faced podger bleats about the merits of the upper class. The acting is exemplary and the lines magnificent. It was a sensation all around our sixth form, where a muted cry of “Daddy gave me this land” could invariably be found at the back of the classroom. Luuuuuuvely soft fillie.

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After the non-events that are January and February, what with everyone trudging around in a fog of overbearing depression, it is with great relief that the Cowboy finds himself inhabiting March, a month rich with high-end cultural offerings, including the Coens’True Grit, new Bright Eyes album The People’s Key and Martin Lawrence’s Big Mommas: Like Fathers Like Sons, the conclusion of a genre-defining trilogy in which Lawrence showed what could be achieved with a fat suit and some crude racial stereotypes. Just in case this isn’t enough to sate your creative appetites, we’re now well into the latter stages of Masterchef, a show that poses as many questions as it provides answers: will Greg Wallace literally cream himself while hoovering a note-perfect soufflé?; how long into each episode before John Torode implores [insert name] ‘to deliver on flavour?; can the woman responsible for the show’s voiceover take her husky delivery to the next level by moving down yet another octave? Exciting stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Pending my forthcoming review of the latest Big Momma instalment (now seen since first half of this list was posted – review to come), I have been ransacking YouTube’s archives for fleeting moments of joy from my favourite comedy shows. I’ve gone for the tried and tested ‘top-ten’ angle, so a lot of decent stuff failed to make the cut including, in no particular order of merit: Blackadder, The Fast Show, The Simpsons, Peep Show, The Day Today, The Harry Hill Show, Southpark and The Office (American version).

10. Yes Minister/Yes, Prime Minister [BBC]

Satire is one of the hardest comedy genres to pull off. When done badly, in can be smug, indulgent and seriously dull (anything involving Bird and Fortune). However, when tightly written and skilfully acted (Yes Minister and the subsequent Yes, Prime Minister), the result is a slow-burning pleasure, being both interesting and extremely funny. Most fans will pick out Nigel Hawthorne’s velvet tongued spin doctor (sorry, permanent secretary) as the show’s fulcrum, but I was always drawn to Paul Eddington’s excellent minister, Jim Hacker, a loveable buffoon who never seemed to know what was going on around him, a premonition of George Bush (“now watch this drive”), perhaps.  The link below finds Hacker PM eloquently dissecting the journalistic appetite in British shores, with ample support from his private secretary.

9. Beavis and Butt-head [MTV]

Few things are more pleasurable than crying with laughter, provided that the outpouring of mirth doesn’t take place at a funeral, hospital waiting room or in the midst of an anticipated sexual encounter. The first conscious memory I have of doing so was watching the credits to Beavis and Butt-head roll at the start of their four-year tenure on MTV during the early/mid-nineties. The opening credits, monotonous guffawing from Butt-head and pitch-shifting cackles from Beavis, captured the essence of the show: two illiterate juveniles getting excited by nothing. Their feature-length film – Beavis and Butt-head Do America – remains a personal favourite. The plot is, of course, ridiculous and gets under way with a character voiced by Bruce Willis (one of numerous celebrity voices) asking the protagonists to “do” his wife (as in murder), which they wrongly interpret as a chance to score, cue a surreal road-trip involving gambling old ladies, the Hoover Dam and The White House. As ever, the dialogue is delightfully silly:

“Beavis: Yeah. We’re gonna score.

Little Old Lady: Oh, well, I hope to score big there, myself. I’m mostly gonna be doing the slots.

Beavis: Yeah, yeah. I’m hoping to do some sluts, too. Yeah. Do they have a lot of sluts in Las Vegas?

Little Old Lady: Oh, there are so many slots, you won’t know where to begin.

Beavis: Whoa. Hey, Butt-Head, this chick is pretty cool. She says there’s gonna be tons of sluts in Las Vegas.

Butt-head: Cool.

Little Old Lady: It’s so nice to meet young men who are so well-mannered.

Beavis: Yeah. I’m gonna have money and a big screen TV and there’s gonna be sluts everywhere. It’s gonna rule.

Little Old Lady: Well, that’s nice.”


8. Curb Your Enthusiasm [HBO]

Current TV schedules are packed full of faux-reality shows, from LA puke-fest The Hills to television’s answer to Chernobyl, aka The Only Way is Essex. Other recent incarnations include David Crane’s Episodes, featuring his former Friends’ star, Matt LeBlanc, playing a parody of an actor not dissimilar in mannerisms to Matt LeBlanc. The blurring of reality lines is not confined to the small screen, with Jean–Claude Van Damme getting his art house game together in JCVD, a surprisingly enjoyable film where Damme plays a washed-up action star, ergo himself. This modern trend of celebrity parody owes a great debt to Larry David’s sublime Curb Your Enthusiasm, which follows the Seinfield co-creator through the daily grind of D-list Hollywood life. David is a revelation, disenchanted with the world and people that inhabit it. Where a ‘normal person’ will tolerate the disingenuous chat offered-up by till staff at a corporate coffee chain, David’s character refuses to accept the bullshit and openly challenges or undermines anything he doesn’t agree with. One of the greatest moments takes place where one player at an after dinner poker game fails to go all-in despite possessing an ace high. Appalled that no-one seems to be taking the game seriously, David playfully calls him a cunt prompting everyone to make their excuses and leave. Hero.

7. The Thick of It [BBC]

Often described as a modern re-working of Yes Minister (see above), The Thick of It similarly follows the inner workings of British government, firstly through clueless minister Hugh Abbot (closely aligned to Jim Hacker) and then through his inexperienced successor Nicola Murray, played as a ditsy, highly-strung career-female parody by The Day Today’s Rebecca Front. Both ministers are ‘advised’ by a ramshackle group of self-obsessed civil servants, an eclectic mix of lifers and youthful sycophants (stand-up comic Chris Addison). In terms of structure, the episodes follow a traditional set-up of a central farcical situation being handled by inept staff, thus building a gradual snowball of hilarity. Particularly enjoyable is Peter Capaldi’s demonic spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker, a globally feared bullocking machine whose authoritative presence perfectly exposes the political inadequacies of his charges. The success of The Thick of It is the marriage between note-perfect comedy performances (the actors also provide much adlibbed material) and the inspired writing of Armando Ianucci (Alan Partridge), Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show) and various other collaborators, including posh-boy stand-up and Jersey export, Will Smith. Some choice clips below from movie feature In The Loop.

6. Phoenix Nights [Channel 4]

“Keith Lard? Yeh, he got done for in’fering with dogs.” “He got off though, didn’t he?” “Yeh, you try getting an Alsatian to testify.”

Long before selling out venues across the land with enthusiastic renditions of family weddings and Teletext holidays, Kay could be found sipping pina coladas in the Phoenix Club as fictional social club owner, Brian Potter, a wheel-chair bound tightwad with delusions of grandeur. The success of Phoenix Nights owed much to the supporting cast, including chauvinistic bouncers Max and Paddy (“I wouldn’t mind ‘anging out of that”), mulleted DJ “Ray Von” and Potter’s social club nemesis, Den Perry (“like I say, she has got a cock, so you have been warned”). Classic episodes include a psychic evening hosted by Clinton Baptiste (“I’m getting the word…..NONCE”), episode 1 guest-featuring Roy Walker and racist folk-band “Half a Shilling” and the imported bouncy castle complete with an inflatable cock and balls. However, Kay’s greatest creation is the uber-anal fire safety officer, Keith Lard (played by Kay), who’s comic mileage is derived from a past charge of bestiality. Unfortunately the quality of the clip leaves a lot to be desired, but captures all the key dog-related quips. If you don’t own both series on DVD, get involved.

5. Knowing Me, Knowing You/I’m Alan Partridge [BBC]

It’s pretty difficult to write anything original about the Partridge character, widely-recognised as Steve Coogan’s finest moment, shortly behind balling Courtney Love and being blamed for the attempted suicide of Owen Wilson. That is a little harsh, perhaps, with Coogan having been in resplendent form of late, triumphing over Rob Brydon in Michael Caine impressions on The Trip (see below), and penning a pitch-perfect damnation of the boorish Top Gear in The Observer. Partridge, least we forget, was also the brainchild of Armando Ianucci, later creator The Thick of It, and celebrated stand-ups Stewart Lee and Richard Herring. Highlights from the show are numerous, with choice offerings including the Bald Brummies Against The Big Footed Conspiracy Party, the “cock piss partridge” car graffiti, not to mention the oft-quoted “monkey tennis” meltdown, as Partridge pleads, unsuccessfully, for a second television series before shoving a round cheese in a BBC executive’s face.  Give me a second series YOU SHIT.

4. Black Books [Channel 4]

The brainchild of Father Ted’s Graham Linehan and stand-up god Dylan Moran, Black Books was never going to be jostling with My Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and My Hero for the shitest sitcom in history award. Not content with a stellar creative team, it roped in Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig to be the (relatively) straight guys to Moran’s unhinged central character, Bernard, a bonkers alchy who runs a would-be pretentious second-hand book shop with a nihilistic attitude to its success, or indeed lack of. The show is brilliantly set-up, with Manny (Bailey) endearingly seeking to change Bernard’s lackadaisical ways, while Fran pretends to have similar intentions, despite being self-obsessed by her own neuroses and shortcomings.  The group have an excellent dynamic, while benefiting from line after line of fantastic writing, as well as the occasional inspired visual gag (the sweeping finger of dust shown in the clip below). As Masterchef’s Greg Wallace might say while motorboating a breast-shaped chocolate fudge cake at his favourite stand-up gig, “I tell you what, John, comedy don’t get much faaaaarkhan better than this.”


3. Flight of the Conchords [HBO]

Watching the first series of the Conchords’ eponymous TV series was a joyous experience, akin to the time when I innocently purchased a football magazine and found a dog-eared copy of Razzle locked in its laminated embrace. The show worked on numerous levels, mixing traditional structured plots with irreverent musical interludes. Cross-referencing it with Beavis & Butthead, it’s hard not to see similarities. Like MTV’s slacker delinquents, Jermaine and Brett suck at everything they do, only coming to life in the alternative world of their musical parodies, where real-life limitations are cast-aside in favour of surreal and outlandish riffings on hermaphrodite ladies, racist greengrocers and Ravi Shanker. It is these music features that lend the show its genius, with the music from the first series having – at the time of writing – racked-up over 400 cumulative plays on my iTunes. With lyrics such as “a kiss is not a contract but it’s very nice, just because we’ve been playing tonsil hockey doesn’t mean you get to score the goal that’s in my jockey” it’s hard to find flaws.

2. Father Ted [Channel 4]

It’s a toss-up for first place between this and Bottom, with only a gnat’s pube between the two. In the end, Bottom secured top spot because of the furious energy which carries the whole show, although the more I type, the more I wriggle with mirth at the images of Bishop Brennan, tearing down the garden screaming “Crilly!!!!!” (Father Ted Crilly to you and me), before bending him over and laying a slippery boot on his backside. Such is the appeal of Father Ted: off-the-wall humour, colourful characters glued together by a warmly dysfunctional household. The show ages remarkably well, no better evidenced by a recent showing of the viewer’s choice episode (Speed 3) on the Father Ted night a few months ago. Speed 3 is arguably the series’ finest hour, with a plot centring on a geriatric milkmen (Pat Mustard) who delivers his own variant on full fat dairy products during his early morning rounds on Craggy Island. Appalled by his antics, Ted brings Mustard’s activities to his superior’s attention, who sacks him shortly after failing in his attempts to steal some murky images of Mustard on the job from the parochial house. Cue a rip off from Hollywood blockbuster Speed, where Dougal (the short-term replacement milkman) must keep the bus above 4 miles per hour. As with the best comedy, the secret is the attention to detail, for example Mustard’s milkfloat being delightfully adorned by the stickers ‘Young Banger’, ‘Shit Happens’ and ‘Milkmen do it on your doorstep’. Gold.

1. Bottom [BBC]

Watching Adrian Edmonson ponce around on mind-numbing soft comedy and drama programs on the Beeb, it’s hard to recall the days when he boasted some comedy pedigree. While I could take or leave The Young Ones (his other notable success, also involving Rik Mayall), Bottom – in which he played the exquisitely named Edward Hitler – became a personal obsession and remains, to this day, the funniest thing I have ever seen. As the name implies, Bottom was as low-brow as it gets, a dismal record of the schemes and activities undertaken by two sad and pathetic desperados starved of sexual activity and with an appetite for casual violence. As with most successful comedy duos, the characters neatly dovetailed: Eddie, a loveable booze-hound prone to boats of genius but generally devoid of any mental acumen; Richard Richard (aka “Richie”, played by Rik Mayall) a deranged pervert and prodigious masturbator who wrongly believes himself to be a member of the English upper-crust. Throughout proceedings, they are joined by equally squalid associates: Dave Hedgehog, a short man with grey hair bereft of social understanding; Spud-gun, a gormless chubber with a monosyllabic delivery and Dick Head, a grouchy barman with a sensible name. Like ACDC, the formula for success is consistent, but what really makes it stand out is the commitment in the performances, with something happening at every moment. Classic episodes include a flutter on one-legged horse ‘Sad Ken’ and the triumphant Halloween episode (extract below). However, the funniest episode to my mind is Dough in which Eddie sets-up a money forging press in his bedroom, creating masterpieces such as the £27 note, in which Sylvester Stallone appears fisting old Mr McHenry from the Magic Roundabout. Classic dialogue below:

“Eddie: They’re the Queen’s jugs (in response to Richie’s query about the strange constitution of Eddie’s forged five pound note).

Richie: A. The Queen doesn’t have jugs, she’s royalty. B. If she did, she certainly wouldn’t get ’em out on the back of a fiver, she’d save ’em up for the fifty!

Eddie: If you have a look at my fifty, you may find it a bit more risqué…

[Richie glances at it and winces]

Richie: Eddie, that’s tantamount to treason!… She’s got three knockers!

Eddie: No, that’s Bobby Charlton in the middle.

Richie: Are you insane? You couldn’t buy these under the counter in Hamburg!

Eddie: That’s the point, mate. The barkeeper will be so mesmerised by the classy erotica, I’ll have had ten pints by the time he realises how crap the squiggly lines are!”

Titbits

A couple of other choice highlights below, including Attention Scum by the League Against Tedium (aka Simon Munnery), Coogan and Brydon in The Trip and old Channel 4 favourite The Harry Hill Show.


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After the non-event that is January, what with everyone trudging around in a fog of overbearing depression, it is with great relief that the Cowboy finds himself inhabiting February, a month rich with high-end cultural offerings, including the Coens’True Grit, new Bright Eyes album The People’s Key and Martin Lawrence’s Big Mommas: Like Fathers Like Sons, the conclusion of a genre-defining trilogy in which Lawrence showed what could be achieved with a fat suit and some crude racial stereotypes. Just in case this isn’t enough to sate your creative appetites, the coming week also sees the return of Masterchef, a show that poses as many questions as it provides answers: will Greg Wallace literally cream himself while hoovering a note-perfect soufflé?; how long into the first episode before John Torode implores [insert name] ‘to deliver on flavour?; can the woman responsible for the show’s voiceover take her husky delivery to the next level by moving down yet another octave? Exciting stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Pending my forthcoming review of the latest Big Momma instalment, I have been ransacking Youtube’s archives for fleeting moments of joy from my favourite comedy shows. I’ve gone for the tried and tested ‘top-ten’ angle, so a lot of decent stuff failed to make the cut including, in no particular order of merit: Blackadder, The Fast Show, The Simpsons, Peep Show, The Day Today, The Harry Hill Show, Southpark and The Office (American version).

10. Yes Minister/Yes, Prime Minister [BBC]

Satire is one of the hardest comedy genres to pull off. When done badly, in can be smug, indulgent and seriously dull (anything involving Bird and Fortune). However, when tightly written and skilfully acted (Yes Minister and the subsequent Yes, Prime Minister), the result is a slow-burning pleasure, being both interesting and extremely funny. Most fans will pick out Nigel Hawthorne’s velvet tongued spin doctor (sorry, permanent secretary) as the show’s fulcrum, but I was always drawn to Paul Eddington’s excellent minister, Jim Hacker, a loveable buffoon who never seemed to know what was going on around him, a premonition of George Bush (“now watch this drive”), perhaps.  The link below finds Hacker PM eloquently dissecting the journalistic appetite in British shores, with ample support from his private secretary.

9. Beavis and Butt-head [MTV]

Few things are more pleasurable than crying with laughter, provided that the outpouring of mirth doesn’t take place at a funeral, hospital waiting room or in the midst of an anticipated sexual encounter. The first conscious memory I have of doing so was watching the credits to Beavis and Butt-head roll at the start of their four-year tenure on MTV during the early/mid nineties. The opening credits, monotonous guffawing from Butt-head and pitch-shifting cackles from Beavis, captured the essence of the show: two illiterate juveniles getting excited by nothing. Their feature-length film – Beavis and Butt-head Do America – remains a personal favourite. The plot is, of course, ridiculous and gets under way with a character voiced by Bruce Willis (one of numerous celebrity voices) asking the protagonists to “do” his wife (as in murder), which they wrongly interpret as a chance to score, cue a surreal road-trip involving gambling old ladies, the Hoover Dam and The White House. As ever, the dialogue is delightfully silly:

“Beavis: Yeah. We’re gonna score.

Little Old Lady: Oh, well, I hope to score big there, myself. I’m mostly gonna be doing the slots.

Beavis: Yeah, yeah. I’m hoping to do some sluts, too. Yeah. Do they have a lot of sluts in Las Vegas?

Little Old Lady: Oh, there are so many slots, you won’t know where to begin.

Beavis: Whoa. Hey, Butt-Head, this chick is pretty cool. She says there’s gonna be tons of sluts in Las Vegas.

Butt-head: Cool.

Little Old Lady: It’s so nice to meet young men who are so well-mannered.

Beavis: Yeah. I’m gonna have money and a big screen TV and there’s gonna be sluts everywhere. It’s gonna rule.

Little Old Lady: Well, that’s nice.”

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm [HBO]

Current TV schedules are packed full of faux-reality shows, from LA puke-fest The Hills to television’s answer to Chernobyl, aka The Only Way is Essex. Other recent incarnations include David Crane’s Episodes, featuring his former Friends’ star, Matt LeBlanc, playing a parody of an actor not dissimilar in mannerisms to Matt LeBlanc. The blurring of reality lines is not confined to the small screen, with Jean–Claude Van Damme getting his art house game together in JCVD, a surprisingly enjoyable film where Damme plays a washed-up action star, ergo himself. This modern trend of celebrity parody owes a great debt to Larry David’s sublime Curb Your Enthusiasm, which follows the Seinfield co-creator through the daily grind of D-list Hollywood life. David is a revelation, disenchanted with the world and people that inhabit it. Where a ‘normal person’ will tolerate the disingenuous chat offered-up by till staff at a corporate coffee chain, David’s character refuses to accept the bullshit and openly challenges or undermines anything he doesn’t agree with. One of the greatest moments takes place where one player at an after dinner poker game fails to go all-in despite possessing an ace high. Appalled that no-one seems to be taking the game seriously, David playfully calls him a cunt prompting everyone to make their excuses and leave. Hero.

7. The Thick of It [BBC]

Often described as a modern re-working of Yes Minister (see above), The Thick of It similarly follows the inner workings of British government, firstly through clueless minister Hugh Abbot (closely aligned to Jim Hacker) and then through his inexperienced successor Nicola Murray, played as a ditsy, highly-strung career-female parody by Rebecca Front. Both ministers are ‘advised’ by a ramshackle group of self-obsessed civil servants, an eclectic mix of lifers and youthful sycophants (stand-up comic Chris Addison). In terms of structure, the episodes follow a traditional set-up of a central farcical situation being handled by inept staff, thus building a gradual snowball of hilarity. Particularly enjoyable is Peter Capaldi’s demonic spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker, a globally feared bullocking machine whose authoritative presence perfectly exposes the political inadequacies of his charges. The success of The Thick of It is the marriage between note-perfect comedy performances (the actors also provide much adlibbed material) and the inspired writing of Armando Ianucci (Alan Partridge), Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show) and various other collaborators, including posh-boy stand-up and Jersey export, Will Smith. Some choice clips below from movie feature In The Loop.

6. Phoenix Nights [Channel 4]

“Keith Lard? Yeh, he got done for in’fering with dogs.” “He got off though, didn’t he?” “Yeh, you try getting an Alsatian to testify.”

Long before selling out venues across the land with enthusiastic renditions of family weddings and Teletext holidays, Kay could be found sipping pina coladas in the Phoenix Club as fictional social club owner, Brian Potter, a wheel-chair bound tightwad with delusions of grandeur. The success of Phoenix Nights owed much to the supporting cast, including chauvinistic bouncers Max and Paddy (“I wouldn’t mind ‘anging out of that”), mulleted DJ “Ray Von” and Potter’s social club nemesis, Den Perry (“like I say, she has got a cock, so you have been warned”). Classic episodes include a psychic evening hosted by Clinton Baptiste (“I’m getting the word…..NONCE”), episode 1 guest-featuring Roy Walker and racist folk-band “Half a Shilling” and the imported bouncy castle complete with an inflatable cock and balls. However, Kay’s greatest creation is the uber-anal fire safety officer, Keith Lard (played by Kay), who’s comic mileage is derived from a past charge of bestiality. Unfortunately the quality of the clip leaves a lot to be desired, but captures all the key dog-related quips. If you don’t own both series on DVD, get involved.

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“There are two types of people in the world – winners and… I don’t know how to say the word, I can’t say it, and I won’t say it.”

– Ian Stringer, Series 4 contestant, who didn’t even make it past the third week. LOSER.

“The spoken word is my tool. I’m a terrific conversationalist and raconteur with incredible charisma. I’m priceless, absolutely priceless.”

– Raef Bjayou, Series 4 contestant, offering a masterclass in honesty. Raef was last seen serving undercooked venison to 90s R & B has-been, Michelle Gayle, on Celebrity Come Dine with Me.

Of all the reality entertainment vehicles that have sullied our television sets in recent years, The Apprentice serves up the most consistent stream of inspired goon-comedy; a yearly round-up of delusional gobshites hell-bent on charming a craggy old man with little more than their falsified CVs, and a breathless ability to talk bullocks on demand. Now in its sixth series, the Alan Sugar vanity juggernaut shows no sign of losing its relentlessness, with a BBC2 spin-off show following each weekly episode, a regular features magazine and – I shit you not – an official soundtrack (killer tracks include “The Boardroom” and “You’re Fired”). Simon Cowell eat your todger off.

Shut your faarkahn maarf

Donald Trump working his sex face

 

The Apprentice started its immortal being in America under the stewardship of touped business icon Donald Trump. As soon as the ratings showed Trump was on to a winner, opportunist BBC commissioners clambered aboard the band wagon and swapped a dodgy barnet for a shoddy beard in the form of professional grizzler, Alan Sugar. Not content with one sour-faced bandit, the Beeb allocated him two pessimistic wingmen: Nick Hewer, a vacuum-faced Widow Twankey, whose timeless pursing of the lips is able to convey a thousand double entendres; Margaret Mountford, a bushy haired prude who thinks she’s one step above the Daily Mail, but secretly reads it on the bog when no-one’s looking. The current series of The Apprentice has seen Mountford leave to pursue a Ph.D in papyrology, thus prompting rabid fawning in the broadsheet press over her assumed colossal intellect, when the reality is that she’s got no mates.

Hewer exhibiting his tight Widow Twankey game

The secret of The Apprentice’s longevity is its ability to appeal to the middle-classes, with those who would usually shun The X-Factor regularly tuning in to see Frances suggestively inform the contestants that “Sir Alan is ready to see you now” (“lord” doesn’t trip of the tongue quite so nicely). While the tasks occasionally require a modicum of intellectual acumen, the savvy production team retain an eye on superficial titillation, personified by ‘Frances’ herself. A little research reveals Frances to be a sexed-up version of Sir Alan’s authentic secretary, Frances Penn, who, according to the oracle that is the Daily Mail, is “not really front of house material”, or, to use the vernacular, is a bit of an old munter. Despite the physical charms of the new Frances (a blond young actress called Samantha), Sir Alan insists that she use the name Frances on the show, apparently so he didn’t get confused when making that crucial two second phone call, or – more likely – because girls with free bus passes give him the horn.

Even when I’m sleeping, I’m not really asleep

As much as I enjoy Nick Hewer’s edgy off-camera eye squints, The Apprentice truly comes to the party when the contestants have license to freestyle into the camera about their egos, and there is no finer opportunity to do this than at the beginning of each series when the audition tapes are replayed in all their unflinching horror. While some canny long-game operators exercise admirable restraint and refer only to their killer drive and unquenchable hunger, the majority serve up a barrage of outlandish boasts and self-congratulatory hand-jobs. Despite the colossal volume of knob-jockeys that have appeared on the show since its inception, the prize for the biggest bell-end in the history of bell-ends goes to current incumbent, Stuart “The Brand” Baggs.

Stuart "The Brand" Baggs - possibly the greatest tool in the world

When I think of Baggs, I like to think of a fat snotty kid in a school blazer getting beaten like a ginger step-child outside the school lockers, with the action set to a backing track of raucous children chanting “Ballbaggs” over and over again. At the end of the beating, the young Baggs will struggle to his feet and goad his tormentators with petulant proclamations that he’ll one day be a millionaire, before being sent tumbling again with yet a further flurry of impeccable knuckle action. In my historical utopia, this would happen to Baggs every day of his life, in some sort of poetic justice Groundhog Day set-up. Why the loathing, I hear you cry? Roll the tape:

The problem with Baggs is the absence of a redeeming feature: if he were simply an earnest caricature who comes across as a tosser, I’d just add him to the list of annoying reprobates that dominate the legal profession. However, Baggs clearly relishes being a wanker – check out the moment at 0:03 where he snorts the air triumphantly, utterly captivated by the process of packaging the next diatribe of bullshit to be delivered from his cakehole.  He looks like a cock, too, a kind of devilish mash-up involving a hedgehog and Peter Jones with just a suggestion of a young Jim Broadbent. In his audition tape, Baggs waxes lyrical about how phenomenally interesting his life is, but fails to expand on what exceptional activities he gets up to in his spare time. On closer inspection, Baggs was right to gloss over the detail, as all he does is masturbate excessively. Check out this effortless early morning hand-shandy:

Get on your knees and tell me you love me

Bodger

The sight of Baggs rustling away beneath a duvet gave me an idea to revolutionise The Apprentice boardroom experience: instead of a formal suited firing squad, why not an early morning raid into the contestants’ bedrooms? Imagine the possibilities: Ruth Badger spread eagle over her inadequate single bed hideout, comatose and waking only to hear Sugar’s parting cry of “you’re a total shambles, you’re fired”; Raef proudly waxing his eyebrows only to be rudely interrupted by Hewer’s piercing gaze from around the bedroom door; and, of course, Baggs frantically trying to retrieve his M&S y-fronts from the carpet floor, while simultaneously masking his raging boner. I can almost smell the ratings.

Badger

Amongst the corporate buzz words, one-upmanship and ego joisting, The Apprentice does supply moments of comedy gold. My personal highlight remains Michael “I’m a good Jewish boy” Sophocles getting a verbal spanking from the former Spurs chairman. Sophocles’ first error, apart from having a ridiculous surname, was to go full retard on his CV, describing himself as “a good Jewish boy.” While Sugar took umbrage at the blatant pandering to his genetic make-up, Sophocles dug himself an even deeper hole by displaying a blissful ignorance of the Jewish methods of food preparation:

I’m conscious that I want people to read this while Ballbaggs is still in the house. With Sugar frothing with excitement at the prospect of firing him, I have to concede that time is of the essence, so on that note I will sign off. In the spirit of silliness and little more, I have put together a few spin-off suggestions for Apprentice alumni (see below) and left you with Raef ‘s best bits. Hate Baggs, love Raef. I can sense a T-Shirt campaign.

The Assprentice

1. Margaret Mounts Ford – Fed-up with the emotional trauma of the menopause, Margaret decides to recapture her youth with a bold page-3 style calendar, featuring images of her riding a range of Ford motorcars from yesteryear.

2. Hewer or lower – old school Saturday night entertainment where Nick wears a smoking jacket, pouts into a camera and asks game show contestants whether his next move will be to purse his lips higher in seductive approval, or lower in abhorrent disgust.

3. I’m a Jew, get me out of here! – Controversial race-led focus on the popular reality TV show. Michael “I’m a good Jewish boy” Sophocles joins the other camp members as the series begins its miserly occupation as the nation’s favourite watercooler topic. To make matters interesting, however, instead of saying “I’m a celebrity get me out of here” to end the horrors of a bush tucker trial, Sophocles has to drop his pants and prove his Jewish credentials.

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Models of the Universe

“I don’t know what to do with my arms. It just makes me feel weird and I feel like people are looking at me and that makes me nervous.”

Tyra Banks, presenter of America’s Next Top Model

For the past few months, I have lived as a self-imposed blog pariah, a decision taken with the best-willed intention of working on a script for a new darts video, although a paltry return of five thousand words to date is testament to my inability to write for more than five minutes without flicking over to YouTube to watch monkeys spin basketballs while discussing the finer points of The New Testament. During my exile, I have felt the twitch of my fingers when watching pieces of televisual leprosy such as Piers Morgan Interviews… and Michael Winner’s Dining Stars, a show so horrifically offensive that I was screaming for Loose Women after ten seconds. If Winner ever graced my dinner table with his smug leathery features, I’d push him to the floor and fart on his face for an hour, maybe stopping for a cup of tea midway through to cool down my raging arse cheeks, before starting the final push.

However despite these few moments of weakness, I have been true to my word; that was until I had the misfortune of stumbling across the season 13 finale of America’s Next Top Model. Oh. My. God.

He-Man, you Skeletor

By the Power of Tyra

When Clare casually changed the channel to ANTM, I naively thought little of it. At the very worst, I imagined there would be some quality bronzed tail to lust over, particularly as this was the final, the wheat having long been separated from the chaff. Imagine, then, my disappointment when our contestants were unveiled: Nicola, a flame-haired homage to Skeletor specialising in ‘having issues’ and looking needy; Laura, a good-time southern gal who enjoys crying, talking about her grandma and has more than a passing resemblance to the fantasy lovechild of Courtney Love and Pete Burns. Rightly or wrongly, I instantly rooted for Laura, maybe out of perverted admiration for her porno trout-pout, or for the simple fact that she was the least likely to be rescued by Bob Geldoff before the end of the show. As it transpires, Skeletor won sending out the positive message to American teenagers that if you can see your ribs and hip bones when standing in front of the mirror, you are – apparently – beautiful. Work it, girlfriend.

The director of aesthetic

Jay Manuel in his Sunday best

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before the crowning of the winner, our would-be models were obliged to participate in a television commercial and photo shoot for CoverGirl magazine under the savvy tutelage of butch British fashion photographer Nigel Barker, and fruity Canadian creative, Jay Manuel, a man so gay he makes Liberace look like a Grade-A poon-handler.

According to his website, Jay, or “Mister J” to his friends, is the self-styled, “director of aesthetic”, a creative maverick who’s, “counsel and talent is sought by celebrities, photographers and advertising executives the world over”, a claim which looses all credibility when his biography later lists an appearance on the aforesaid Loose Women as a career highlight.

I'm a Barbie Girl, in a Barbie world

Like all other style gurus, Jay is big on irony and seldom appears on camera without looking like a complete bell-end. Key to his appearance is a territorial silver quiff (inspired by Flash Gordon), svelte physique and a more-is-more attitude to make-up, all of which, when mixed together, creates a wax-work drag Ken doll suffering from a tragic case of premature greying. Seriously, if you flipped him over and pulled down his pants, I guarantee you would find a “return to sender” message from Madame Tussauds branded onto his waxy hairless backside.

Damn right, it’s better than yours

Laura levitating on a trailer

While Jay was busy telling the models how fabulous they were during the commercial shoot, philosopher Nigel took a more introspective angle during the photography session:

“Nigel: [click] What are you thinking about?

Laura: [posing] Milkshakes.

Nigel: [visibly annoyed] Most people would say I’m thinking about my boyfriend, a holiday I had; those are the things that trigger emotion.”

Maybe Nigel wells up whenever he reminisces about donning his Speedos in the Med, but it doesn’t do the trick for me. Back at the film set, nice-guy Jay moved in for some stinging criticism of Skeletor’s vocal tic:

Jay: Now here’s the problem: when you deliver the lines the way you’re delivering them, it comes off like you’ve lived this privileged life [Jay is sliding his shoulders from left to right at this point in true Whitney Houston what-the-fuck-yo-looking-at-sister style] and you really don’t care about CoverGirl Lashblast.”

Come on, Jay, look at the poor girl, all she wants is a fucking Big Mac.

Jay:[ to the camera] Her [Skeletor] performance level was low, a little unlikeable, a little snooty, and that’s NOT what CoverGirl is about.”

Amen.

Queen of Sheeba

Following Jay and Nigel’s good-cop, bad-cop routine, our girls could have been forgiven for thinking the worst was behind them as they dreamt wistfully of boys, teddy bears and milkshakes on the flight back from Hawaii. However, no sooner had they arrived back at their luxury pad were they greeted by our feline host: the plastic-fantastic, weaved-wonder of the world – Miss Tyra Banks.

Tyra’s credentials for the job rest on her modelling career, which began in the 11th grade and finished in 2005, since which she has forged a career for herself as a poor man’s Opera, riding high on her self-promotional soapbox on imaginatively named chat show, The Tyra Banks Show, featuring the slogan, “every woman has a story…and it happened to Tyra too.” Hey, Tyra, my mum once played chess in the jungle with a baboon. Oh, you did that too? Awesome.

Up to this point, Tyra has been conspicuous by her absence but, sensing the end was nigh, she decided to show America what they had been missing and came to the party in her own imitable style:

[Girls run down to the front door of the house, following a totally unscripted knock on the door from our Tyra]

“Girls: Wahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha [hysterical screaming]!!!

Tyra: How you DOING?!!!!??!!!

Girls: Good!

Tyra: Good!

Tyra: Excited?

Girls: Excited!

Tyra: Yo ready to work it? Make some smiiiiles with yo eyes? [major head sliding going on at this point.]

Girls: YEH!”

As the camera panned away from the conversational groundhog day unfolding at the front door, I swore I could see an apparition of Jesus weeping on one of the floor tiles. Either that, or the show was beginning to play tricks with my mind.

Roll up, roll up

As the minutes ticked by, it was becoming clear to me that the whole thing was a well-scripted and meticulously choreographed freak show. My suspicions were finally confirmed during the blockbuster runway scene, as colourful wankers emerged from stage left and stage right without any explanation or purpose at a rate of knots.

Super Freak, Super Freak

First out was our hero, Jay, (“Ok, girls, there’s gonna be so much going on here, it’s gonna be INSANE!”), and some ridiculous individual called, Ms Jay Alexander (though a dude), who was wearing a yellow floral sarong fastened just below the nipples, a yellow cardigan and an orange bandana, all the while pouting like Rick James. A pithy caption said that Rick was a runway trainer, but save for a two second cameo before the show, he was holed up in his trailer rehearsing Super Freak for his tribute show, leaving Jay to direct proceedings on his own.

As for the runway models themselves, this was a predictable mix of the two finalists and rejected contestants from earlier in the series. Added to the cauldron, was a hint of Z-list celebrity in the form of Bria Murphy aka the ‘daughter of Eddie Murphy’ (genuine caption). As Bria ‘worked it’ on the runway, we were treated to a picture of Eddie himself, looking pensive on the front row, perhaps pondering how he went from being the future of the Hollywood box office to banging Mel B.

Please give generously

The fashion equivalent of going 'full retard'

The unveiling of the winner was a routine affair, with the judges chewing the fat before calling out the finalists to deliver their verdict. Much to my disappointment, Jay Manuel was deemed surplus to requirements, with Rick James wannabe Ms Jay Alexander stepping into his dainty shoes. To be fair to Rick, he didn’t disappoint, identifying Laura as having a “money face” (surely a pornographic euphemism) and taking his place on the panel wearing a shower cap and what can only be described as a pair of prosthetic bullocks on his shoulders, all the while gurning like a chemically wired freshman. With reason having been lost long ago, it came as little surprise that his conservative dress choice failed to receive even a passing comment.

As our judges returned, I waited, armed with my flashy NatWest maestro card, for a number to appear on the screen so that I could sponsor Nicole with food parcels for a month. Tyra, however, had other ideas, dispensing with foreplay to swiftly crown Skeletor the season champion, cue much weeping and Tyra giving Laura one of the most patronising, insincere pep talks ever recorded on camera (I’ve posted the link to the final part below. Check out the drama at 6:25 shamon. Horrible).

Searching for a one-liner to do justice to the offensiveness of ANTM is nigh-on impossible, although if I tipped-off the Daily Mail, I bet they could do a good job. First time for everything…

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Masterchef

Does Masterchef make you horny? Not a conventional chat up line or opening gambit but stay with me on this – I need your help to clear up something that’s been bugging me for the past year. During this time, I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time wondering whether I am alone in deriving unbridled pleasure from watching John Torode’s culinary gushings on Masterchef. I sincerely hope not because if I am, you, the esteemed reader, has been missing out on one of life’s great gifts; only marginally less fabulous than the prospect of a reality TV show where gangs of formless jewellery laden chavs with tattoos of baby names etched on their ball sacks are forcibly wanked-off by their own grandmas as punishment for their pointless existence.

Welcome to my world. But before you rightly express outrage at the notion of sadistic granny porn, allow me to clarify: the knuckle action, which I imagine taking place in the basement of Channel Five’s studio, would of course be censored. The show’s money shot would be the post wank interviews where each spent oik is subjected to a one hour interrogation of character. Cue sheepish viewing of the floor and general weepiness interspersed by cries of ‘don’t you fucking dare tell Sasha about this’, and ‘but she’s my gran, bruv, innit’ or something.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Masterchef recipe (shit pun: check) despite the pilot having been broadcast during the Jurassic period, allow me to explain: the series has moved on since the days of Loyd Grossman, a man who, when he spoke, sounded like an American dalek sucking turds up his backside. Compared to previous incarnations, the new (and thankfully brief) Masterchef is a slick animal keeping you drawn in by getting rid of the chaff early on in proceedings. Each week sees the Beeb gather a handful of amateur cooks supposedly focused on becoming the next Fanny Craddock or, God forbid, Ainsley ‘Jazz Hands’ Harriott. I say ‘supposedly’ as seemingly each episode contains at least one middle-aged fishwife who continues to grin dementedly without opening her mouth when told that she hasn’t made the grade, until security have to remove her from the kitchen.

Each of the early episodes begins with a mystery ingredients round where our frankly indifferent contestants are given a limited range of basic food stuffs with which to give Torode (JT) and his Shrek-a-like sidekick a culinary hard-on. Most of the resulting dishes look like something a toddler could have knocked up, but Shrek and JT, nice guys that they are, offer abstract terms of encouragement, citing ‘a good idea of flavour’ (flavour, as we shall see, is everything for JT) or ‘a real hunger’ (oddly, quite a good idea in a cooking program) before banishing three amateurs back to their starving families, where they can shelve their feigned interest in Nigella Lawson’s cooking abilities, and watch HD close ups of her tits instead.

For the victors, JT’s silver tongue awaits. The next round sees each prepare their very own three course meal using whatever ingredients they want. Apart from human bones, I would imagine. Or monkey semen. As the tension builds, JT and Shrek sit down to chew the fat in the style of two pot smoking frat boys discussing expectations for their next lay:

‘Shrek: I don’t know about you, John but if Roxanne pulls all her ingredients together, she’s really going to be pushing my buttons.

JT: I agree, but at the moment I’m more concerned with Aleesha. She showed us in the first round that she can present well, however at this stage of the competition (beat) she simply HAAAAS to deliver on flavour.

Shrek: Good point, John.’

(Camera zooms in on JT who nods half-heartedly indicating life, despite his eyes appearing closed. Camera pans to Shrek who momentarily gurns whilst raising a solitary eyebrow, presumably an attempt at conveying an uncertain grimace.)

At this point, I think we should consider our judges. JT: Refined Australian accent; thatch of brown hair; looks a bit like Alan Duncan – fruity Tory MP and panel show whore – less the brown hair; shark eyes; bizarre ability to draw out the words ‘has’, ‘needs’ and ‘must’ beyond their natural end; smug but endearing. Shrek: rotund orphaned Mitchell brother, but cuddly, like a man sized tickle me elmo; basic working class London accent which goes all dirty and Frank Butcher when he utters the phrase ‘floats my boat’ at least a million times per episode; loves a good underdog and triple chocolate puddings that will increase his BMI and cause a tingle down below.

The cooking’s incidental, really. If you follow it, you won’t learn anything. I promise. All you see are the ingredients and then the finished product, sandwiched between flashy camera shots of Shrek groping his own chin. Personally, I spend the time trying to work out who’s worked up the most embarrassing hot flush or river of sweat which dribbles, almost unnoticed, onto a plate of glorified fish and chips.

Come the hour of judgment, JT and Shrek defy convention by standing up to eat. You almost want someone to make them eat off the floor like dirty animals, but no-one does. The fools. (Interestingly, you can discern the class divide between JT and Shrek from the way they take the food from their cutlery. JT carefully loads his fork, ensuring that the correct balance of food is present in order that he can deliver a reasoned verdict, stares at said loaded fork with his dead eyes, before finally digesting and removing the fork from his gob in one seamless movement. Shrek, on the other hand, goes for the ‘i’m not sure when i’m next going to have a feed, so i’m going to fill my boots here’ mentality. Making a mockery of JT’s foreplay, Shrek treats his fork like a JCB, closes his eyes (not sure what that’s all about) and piles a mother load of produce into his cake whole. The most concerning part of the performance is the tortuous process of waiting for the fork to be regurgitated. When it does finally appear, it’s akin to watching an anaconda spew up an antelope.) Provided you haven’t fallen asleep by this stage, you’ll get to hear JT deliver his patented ‘shopping list’ verdict:

‘JT: The basil (beat), the coriander (beat), the garlic (beat), the flaky texture of the haddock (beat), the decadent use of truffle oil (beat), the mange tout (beat), the salt (beat), the pepper (beat)….the get the fuck on with it.’

OK, I invented the last bit, but after a while it becomes too much. The beauty of the shopping list technique is that it can be used positively or negatively. To conclude on a positive note, simply add ‘all of these ingredients are bursting with flavour and, as a whole, it works beautifully’. Not too impressed? Why not add ‘it’s just too overpowering and confusing, and the end result is a mess, quite honestly’. There, piece of piss.

Shrek has a few more tricks in his armoury, perfectly happy to deviate from the script when his senses take a pounding. Put a distinctly average chocolate ice cream in front of him and the result is alarming, yet strangely captivating:

Shrek: aaaaaAAAAW [Shrek’s legs quiver, as if he’s received a cheeky knee trembler]. Hahahaha [genuine belly laugh]. I can’t believe that. What flavours! I don’t give two hoots about you’re Cajun salmon risotto. You can cook, don’t worry about that, son. I’m not sure about you, John but that certainly floats my boat. Where’s the cheeseboard?’

Seriously, if you’re a lonely old lady itching for some action, give him a caramel Vienetta and he’s yours, scout’s honour.

Like my attitude to the cooking, I couldn’t give a shit who wins. It’s all bollocks. Try and think back to any winners from the show who’ve achieved anything in the cooking game, come to think of it, try and name me a winner. No Wikipedia allowed. There, you couldn’t do it.

In the end, the only winners are JT and Shrek, with their post-Brokeback Mountain mix of light sexual tension and perverse mannerisms, laughing all the way to a chocolate coated bank. Long may it continue.

14 January 2009.

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 “When Ray sings, music itself throws up. Not just a bit, like when you unexpectedly bring up half a gobful of baby sick and have to swallow it back down, but a lot. When Ray sings, music buckles in two, swings its jaws open and unleashes an unprecedented jet of acrid vomit. And it doesn’t stop vomiting until strips of stomach lining are hanging off its teeth and it’s spat its own ringpiece out like a hot rubber coin.”

– Charlie Brooker on Ray Quinn, X Factor runner-up 2006.

Life can be divided into two neat sections: before and after Big Brother 1, the moment when reality TV invaded the nation’s living rooms, and has remained there ever since like an undetected puddle of cat wee stagnating behind the DVD player. We have Big Brother to thank for cultural landmarks such as the sight of Keith Chegwin’s shrivelled jonson in The Naked Jungle, Paul Dannan’s career-ending of an ended-career in Love Island and – from the Big Brother archive itself – Kinga raping a poor wine bottle in BB6.

However the undoubted star of the reality stable has been the X Factor, an indestructible programme that seems to have occupied our screens for almost as long as Brucey, including its previous incarnation: Pop Idol. I’ll admit to having dabbled with the X Factor from time-to-time, much in the same way as many otherwise law-abiding citizens will smoke a reefer every once in a while. Prior to the experience described below, my memories of the show were neither favourable nor adverse, a shrug-of-the-shoulders nonchalance would be the first sensation that I would experience whenever the topic was raised in casual conversation.

This all changed on Sunday, my X Factor version of an alcoholic’s moment of clarity. Having watched the excellent first episode of BBC One’s Life on iPlayer, my casual channel-hopping led me to the scene of the crime, ITV – X Factor results night. Firstly, I was surprised it was being shown on a Sunday, as my memory told me that the entire show took place on a Saturday night. Fair enough, I thought, ITV’s not exactly a hot-bed of telly gold so I wasn’t going to begrudge them stringing it out over two nights. As I got settled, Dermot O’Leary appeared before my eyes, doing his usual inoffensive piece of presenting, and I noticed a seismic change in my mood. Whereas once I liked Dermot’s regular-but-slightly-geeky-guy shtick, I had become annoyed at his mere presence. Several second passed before I realised what it was: the skinny tie, a male fashion accessory only marginally less offensive than a Lyle & Scott jumper, or one of those cardigans with the Donnie Darko rabbit. Dermot, shame on you.

Once the anger had taken a hold, nothing could stop it. I was psychotic and vengeful with a thirst for violence. The judges – none of whom have ever done anything to offend me personally – became sinister representations of a culturally bankrupt society: Cheryl Cole, national treasure convicted of racial assault and married to a footballer with a penchant for mobile phone abuse; Dannii Minogue, a has-been piece of tail and unmitigated pop failure; Louis Walsh, a beady-eyed, rubber gnome whose sole contribution to the show is to look sad and say, “well, Dermot, it’s a very hard decision”; and – finally – Simon Cowell, the modest media mogul who calls his company Syco, apparently a play on his own name (but with the “y” replacing “i”, for obvious reasons), and a man who boosts a rack that wouldn’t look out of place in a copy of Razzle.

The performances for survival didn’t get much better, either. First up was scary female three piece outfit, Miss Frank. Not content with having the worst band name in history (at least Mystique made sense) they made a charge for worst band in history with some gash big-band number, which they tried to “make their own” with some cringe-worthy rapping (I say rap – it consisted of one member saying the same words over and over again at a speed slightly faster than traditional singing). Next was a pleasant looking chap called Danyl who it turned out could sing, but spoilt it by jumping around a lot and smiling nervously, as if he needed the bog really badly.

As the judges were asked for their verdicts, I turned to Clare and said, “watch Louis look upwards, roll his eyes, and say that it’s such a hard decision while not blinking”, before he duly obliged, in pantomime fashion. Such a prediction would normally have provoked a smug reaction, but no smile formed and I instead felt hollow at the predictability of it all, a sensation that was heightened when Simon began speaking, his eyes dead like a zombie and his mouth offering tried and tested comments, the sign of someone desperate to be elsewhere. I then realised that this was the problem with the X Factor: it has become a cliché: the Big Momma with the best voice who never wins; the crap band who stay in long after the joke ceased being funny; the boy and girl who look like they should be in Hollyoaks; the precocious youngster which makes Cheryl/Sharon cry. Simon and Louis have seen them all. Enough is enough. It’s time for change and we – together – can make Saturday night TV a better place and put a smile back on Simon’s leathery face. Here are some of my suggestions.

1. “The X & Y Factor” – the show controversially ditches singing in favour of biological debate. Kinga makes a guest appearance as the chairman, leading the mixed panel of judges and contestants through a history of genetic exploration. Chico returns to make a surprisingly moving speech on how we – the human race – should be wary of playing god through science, before flashing his pecs victoriously and shouting “Its Chico time!” Critics the world over rejoice.

2. “The A Bomb Factor” – topical one-off special designed to raise nuclear awareness across the globe. Each contestant is asked to sing a song in some way relevant to the issue. Guest act, The Cheeky Girls, kick things off with a playful nod to their past, “Touch My Bomb” before the contestants reel off a string of covers, including “Sex Bomb”, “Mr Bombastic” and “Mardy Bomb”.

3. “The Max Factor” – back stage, the remaining boys have their members touched up with expensive foundation by a Hollywood make-up artist. As the show starts, they are forced to stand behind comedy cardboard cut-outs, each with a special hole through which they dangle their stylised equipment for the panel’s approval. Cue much laughter and Carry-On gags.

4. “Factor Ten” – For the show’s grand finale, the contestants are whisked off to Death Valley in the height of the American summer. Each is forced to sunbathe wearing five pairs of jeans and a puffa jacket, protected only by an Asda own-brand suncream. Last one left alive wins.

Anyway, just ideas at this stage but I think some of them have legs, which gives me an idea for a bad taste spoof called The X Ray Factor, but I think I should stop there.

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