John Walker's Electronic House

Unscripted TV Part 1 – Idol Rip-Offs

by on Jul.19, 2007, under The Rest

The term “reality TV” in the UK just about begins and ends with Big Brother. Shows like Pop Idol are more traditionally considered game shows in our primitive culture. But the US has solved this with the delightful term, “unscripted TV”. The sad truth is, I’ve found myself increasingly compelled by the genre, midway between honest enjoyment and morbid fascination. I cannot watch the British equivalents – they’re so watered down and under-produced that the attraction, the ridiculous scale and overblown presentation, is entirely gone.

American Idol

I’ve never managed to go beyond the first couple of audition rounds, and that’s telling. America’s most popular show is entirely reliant on the depths of mediocrity that more normally embodies British competition. Finding pleasure is tough. Those that are of any standard are tiresome poppy crap, mimicking the tiresome poppy crap that bloats the charts. Those who are there because they’re “wacky” get far too much attention, while just sucking. The only pleasure comes from those who believe themselves in the former category, but belong in the latter. Watching the over-confidence crash and burn is excellent. But only excellent until you start to feel really dirty, revelling in the disappointment of others. Once these people have been filtered out, it just becomes a tedious karaoke show, and completely unwatchable.

Next Best Thing

Winning for its title more than anything else, this is a peculiar American Idol rip-off is a mix of a celebrity look-a-like contest and impressions. To succeed, you have to not only look like your chosen celebrity, but sound like them. Which is utterly idiotic, and hence quite fun. The coincidence of not only happening to have the same shaped head as someone famous, but the same larynx, makes a mockery of just about everything. And yet, there’s some surprisingly good talent. But again, as the format dictates, it’s only the audition rounds that count for anything. Here laughing at the hopeless feels a lot less cruel. Generally they’re people who have been told by their mates that they look like someone off the telly a few too many times, and have bought into it, resulting in some hopeless floundering on stage. But once someone’s successful, you’ve seen their act. Watching the guy who looks and sounds like Howard Stern look and sound like Howard Stern for a third time – not so much (even if his second appearance had him point out to a large audience that this was NBC directly ripping off Fox). And so it ends up being stand up vs. singing, and thus like every other show.

Last Comic Standing

The last of the American Idol-styled shows I’ve been able to tolerate takes the format to stand up comedy, which is something I’m much more at home with. Rounds were set across America along with Canada, Australia and the UK. And what a deeply peculiar programme. Rather than being for purely amateurs, the contenders range from lunatics who lined up for two days before filming, to people with failed sitcoms in the 80s. I first realised something was up when Arj Barker contended in the UK round. A man I’ve seen on TV, especially Edinburgh shows, a lot. Then it became more apparent that many of the competitors were long-established stand ups, taking part purely for TV exposure. This clearly confuses the producers of the show, now in its fifth season. It’s churned out successful comics who have gone on to TV careers and so on. But it’s starting with successful comics who have had TV careers and so on. So they begin to claim that their show will find the Best Stand Up In The World – a ludicrous claim since any currently highly exposed would obviously go nowhere near a talent show. In the end, the show is destroyed by trying to do far too much in 43 minutes, with each of the early episodes featuring not only audition rounds, but the regional finals in front of an audience. This means that you get to see approximatedly twenty seconds of each act, and thus get nothing of their skills and talent.

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