Marc Wootton first came to prominence in Channel 4’s ‘reality sitcom’ My New Best Friend. Easily the most underrated reality show of the decade, My New Best Friend followed Wootton in a variety of guises as he spent an entire weekend attempting to wind up willing members of the public. If the contestants could successfully convince their nearest and dearest that Wootton was, indeed, their titular best friend, despite ever escalating embarrassment and irritation, they would receive a £10,000 prize.
What made the show such a revelation was that, rather than celebrating greed and deception, as many similar shows of the era seemed to revel in, the show clearly portrayed such shameless acts of desperation as shocking and depraved. The contestants chosen were far from innocent parties. Driven solely by avarice and self importance, these people were ripe for ridicule, and Wootton certainly made them sing for their supper in a manner most deserved.
The problem with Wootton’s subsequent work, however, is his choice of targets. Take 2005’s High Spirits With Shirley Ghostman. With Wootton cast as the titular Ghostman (who appears prominently in La La Land), a transparently fake Derek Acorah-esque ‘medium’, the stage was set for a perfect puncture of the despicable culture of exploitation surrounding so-called psychics. However, the show instead chose to hoodwink and mock a variety of professors and psychologists, all of whom were self proclaimed sceptics. These people were already disbelievers and, as such, had no agenda to uncover and nothing to lose. Why waste such obvious potential for something so utterly pointless and trivial?
Unfortunately, La La Land is more of the same. Even worse, far from being the fearless trailblazer that confronted the cynicism of reality TV culture in My New Best Friend, Wootton now appears to be content with shamelessly ripping off the work of Sacha Baron Cohen, in particular, last year’s mock-doc Brüno.
La La Land follows three typically twisted Wootton creations as they attempt to seek stardom in Hollywood: Ghostman who, forced to flee Britain after pretending to communicate with the deceased spirit of a kidnapped child, then hiring a hit man to kill her, is desperate to find success across the pond; Gary Garner, first introduced in My New Best Friend, a witless cockney geezer with no formal acting training, history or, indeed, ability; and, finally, Brendan Allen, a pretentious, self-regarding, pot smoking documentary maker with no original ideas.
As usual, the series is presented as a mock documentary, with Wootton performing in character in allegedly real-life situations and attempting to embarrass everyone in the vicinity. His ability to not only remain in character throughout, no matter how potentially dangerous the situation, but also to improvise and conjure humour on the spot, is nothing short of astonishing. It’s unfortunate, therefore, that such genuinely jaw dropping talent has been wasted on a show with nothing of interest to say.
La La Land seems unsure of its modus operandi, at times acting as a satirical exposé of the superficiality of Hollywood, at others as a scornful mocking of the desperation of fame seekers, but mostly as a chance to laugh at Americans because, obviously, they are all gullible and stupid. The problem, of course, is that all of this has been covered with far greater success by innumerable films and TV shows since the dawn of time, most recently in the aforementioned Brüno.
Regrettably, Wootton has nothing new to add, other than to relentlessly play the idiot. Which, after the first episode, is an act that grows increasingly tiresome.
With regards to Brüno, what’s staggering and, frankly, unforgivable is just how much Wootton appears to have cribbed wholesale from it and, to a lesser extent, Borat. A scene in which Ghostman attempts to find the whereabouts of an adulterer, and ends up simulating sex with the air, is almost identical to the scene in which Brüno performs sex acts on the spirit of his deceased boyfriend.
Similarly, the scene from Borat in which the eponymous oaf attends a dinner party and embarrasses his hosts by forcing them to empathise with ridiculous and imaginary Kazak customs, is also seemingly borrowed, but for much more distasteful ends.
In a particularly low point, Brendan blacks up in order fake a documentary involving Barack Obama’s “tribal” cousin (dear God…) living with an entirely Caucasian American family. As with Borat, Wootton tries, but ultimately fails, to reveal the assumed hidden racism inherent within the average American household. He attempts to do this, however, by performing some of the most offensive and indefensible ‘comedy’ in recent years, as Brendan’s tribal character speaks in incoherent incantations and, as a formal greeting, smears the blood of a dead mouse across the family’s forehead. There are attempts to justify using the most grotesque stereotypes for cheap laughs towards the end of the episode, but it simply doesn’t wash.
Offensiveness aside, the fact that he feels the need to go to such ludicrous extremes to make the simplest of points is, sadly, indicative of the piece as a whole. Equally, as with High Spirits, Wootton chooses all the wrong targets. When, for example, Ghostman attempts to commit fraud with an unwitting hotel customer’s credit card, or when Garry persistently aggravates a professional cameraman attempting to make an honest living, no purpose is served other than to humiliate innocent participants with absolutely nothing to gain.
There are some enjoyable moments, such as Garry’s attempts to get cult director Tommy Wiseau to invest his film budget in scratch cards. However, they are few and far between and, sadly, are certainly not enough to prevent La La Land from being a considerable and troubling misuse of an extraordinary talent.
The disc comes with a director’s cut of episode 3, featuring an alternative storyline involving Brendan’s attempts to fake a documentary about a wild bird on the rampage in downtown Los Angeles. Why this was removed is a mystery, as it is easily more enjoyable than the final, broadcast version, but such a decision is clearly in keeping with the many other unfathomable choices made throughout the series.
Also included are three deleted scenes, including Garry visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame and travelling in several taxis, and Brendan’s attempts to raise funds for his documentary by pawning shop bought jewellery. None of these are particularly humorous, and their exclusion is completely understandable.
The final feature is a slightly longer version of Garry’s show reel.
In conclusion, an average haul for a below average series.
La La Land is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.