Last Saturday offered up perhaps the strongest Saturday night schedule since – well since Doctor Who was last on frankly. But a single good programme does not a schedule make, and the second episode of the Timelord’s fourth series was just one component of what turned out to be a cracking TV evening in.
Anyway, we’re not here to talk Doctor Who, nor praise Pushing Daisies (which was great, but derivative) so let’s instead turn our attention to the very welcome return of the ratings behemoth that brightened the evening some time after the Doctor popped off from Pompeii, and just before Anna Friel got killed again.
You may scoff, but the new series of Britain’s Got Talent is a massive shot in the arm to the ailing to TV Talent show genre. I recently had the dubious pleasure of watching again the highlights of 2002’s Popstars: The Rivals. You may remember this was the series that launched Girls Aloud, sunk One True Voice and featured histrionics, tears and a contestant admitting live on television that he was two months too old to be in Pete Waterman’s band – perhaps he’d caught sight of the sheet music for “Sacred Trust” and “Shakespeare’s (Way With) Words” (never trust a song with a parenthesised title).
Anyway, aside from the constant blubbing, the other things that I noticed about Popstars: The Rivals were a) how cheap it looked (you can clearly see that a number of the auditions take place at the bottom of a flight of stairs in some dingy hotel room); and b) how lacking in wit the whole production was.
By contrast, Britain’s Got Talent is a fantastically surefooted series. The use of those bullet-time swoops is a bit dated, as are the shots of the queuing auditionees collectively asserting that their town has talent. These are all weary cogs in the talent show machine, as are the ubiquitous and much commented on back-stories for the most heart-warming candidates. It’s just that here they are deployed with a deftness that is a million miles away from – for example – the awful and mean sequence in the last series of X Factor in which an overweight auditionee and her similarly large family were cut to the The Flumps theme tune.
There are a few factors that I think make Britain’s Got Talent work. First of all there is Simon Cowell’s finely tuned sensibility for great light entertainment television. With the aforementioned X Factor you sense the format is no longer a challenge to him, so he is happy to let it atrophy. Here, everyone seems to be on their toes, most notably with the editing of the audition days, which is both brilliant and refreshing. The usual American Idol / X Factor arc of a run of bad auditions followed by a flurry of great acts to lift the judges’ spirits isn’t so obviously applied here.
Thankfully there is also a lack of the type of butchery that we’ve seen in other series, in which shots of judges obviously hewn from different times and places are cobbled together to approximate an exchange between a member of the public and a member of the judging panel. Although I can’t substantiate my claim, I sense Britain’s Got Talent‘s care and attention is in some way due to Cowell’s obviously genuine interest in the project.
So factor number two is obviously Ant and Dec. This is now the best vehicle for the twosome’s talents. Here they freewheel, empathise and muck about in a way that after all these years still seems refreshing. They are superb at assessing a moment and understanding how it likely play once its left the edit suite. They judge immaculately when to play up to the cameras and when to fade into the background to allow the on-stage talent to strut their stuff.
Which brings us to the final factor. I’ve always felt there is something innately narcissistic about wannabe pop stars. Fairly or unfairly, these people seem to me to spend little time worrying about their craft, and lots of time trying to wrinkle their nose like Emma Bunton does in pop videos, style their directional hair like Pete Docherty, or approximate in the vaguest sense the vocal gymnastics of a singer that they like to think of as a “diva”. I can’t in all honesty claim that there isn’t some talent or effort involved on the part of successful X Factor auditionees, but to me it’s all a means to an end, with the actual singing being a distant second to the adulation.
By contrast, Britain’s Got Talent offers us people who genuinely love their act – they must do, as some of them have clearly taken years to perfect it. Years of tedious, boring practice, which doesn’t afford them any opportunity to look at themselves in the mirror and assess their progress towards looking like someone cool. Indeed, in most walks of life, many of these people are underdogs – their dedication to unfashionable pastimes demands it of them. Dog training, contortionism, or singing “Pie Jesu” will win few friends out among the hoi polloi, but, as we heard from one contestant, it will invite bullies to single you out.
This then is why Britain’s Got Talent is great; uniquely among the current crop of Saturday talent shows, talent transcends all fashion and clique, and the meek and the geeky have as much chance of winning as the glamorous and the confident. All in all, it makes Britain’s Got Talent the most heart-warming show on television.
We’re delighted that Jack is doing some writing for Den Of Geek, especially as we happened to be fans of his book…