Monday, 8 February 2010

CBB: Ending with a bang not a whimper

Last month I reported on the start of the last ever series of Celebrity Big Brother UK and now with the month long feast of television over with, it feels the right moment to consider whether it was any good. And to my surprise I'd say it was one of the best, and up there with the glory days of Jackie Stallone and Pete Burns. The omens had been bad with the calibre of celebrity being slightly less than you'd expect the average person in the street to have, but the production values were high, the celebrities turned out to be interesting and most surprisingly of all it wasn't particularly inane or tacky. As a result viewing figures were up, the show got some critical acclaim for the first time in years, and people are now even talking up the possibility that it may get a reprieve. What a change a month makes.

Against all odds the series said something important about the state of Britain today, although I'm not sure what. The first 'celebrity' to be evicted was a woman who was famous for having slept with someone who was rich and famous. She got booed. The winner was a bloke who was famous for having slept with someone who was rich and famous. He got cheered. It seems that it may be the 21st century but women who sleep with men for money are still despised and men who sleep with women for money are still celebrated as loveable fools. As I said I don't know what that says about society, especially when the most celebrated thing 6 out of the top 7 had done involved sleeping with someone who was more famous than they were. Although in their defence the glamour model most of them had been with had put it about a bit. Curiously the one who had been happily married all his adult life and who had never slept with anyone famous, relying for his fame on his ability to kick people off the football field and make straight to dvd films, was the only finalist to be booed. The world of fame is an odd one.

Probably the most jaw-dropping moment also involved infidelity when Stephanie Beacham, she of the posh accent and proper British manners, revealed she'd done Marlon Brando (I checked on imdb and it’d have been during The Nightcomers). After which she discovered she had more in common with brothel Madame Heidi Fleiss than she had thought as Heidi had also had an offer she couldn’t refuse. This was followed by a protracted head in the hands sequence where the dangerously stupid Nicole piped up with the useful addition to the debate of who's Marlon Brando? I despair.

Revelations aside the best element of the show was that the conflict was less contrived than usual. Last year we had professional annoying people like that bloke who sang Gangster Paradise and that women who played the roundy nurse in Dinnerladies. But this time the conflict arose naturally and was of the kind you expect to get if you lock a diverse bunch of people up in a room for a month. This resulted in some new conflicts, some perennial favourites, and the return of an old favourite. The new type of conflict was provided by Stephen Baldwin, described by one critic as looking like a serial killer who was wearing Alec Baldwin's face. Stephen was religious, very religious. Big Brother usually steers clear of religion to avoid offending the OFCOM generation, so seeing everyone deal with a God botherer was fascinating. In week 1 Stephen's Bible lessons were well-attended as every celebrity tried to show how tolerant they were. By week 2 only the dim attention-seeking winner was left to show an interest when his publicity agent convinced him, I presume, to pretend to have a divine revelation. By week 3 the news that Stephen had his Bible out cleared the room in two seconds flat. Best of all was the unravelling of his carefully contrived evangelism with him spending 12 hours a day preaching about salvation and the other 12 hours bitching, stirring up trouble and trying to start fights. It took until week 3 before anyone mentioned hypocrisy.

As regards BB's perennial favourite type of conflict we had another display of the intriguing sociological fact that if you lock people in a room for a month, the most important battle will be fought over the kitchen. This has been a feature of most recent BBs. Harridan Carole in BB8 ruled the roost with emotional blackmail and Rex in BB9 ruled with fine cuisine. This year we, bizarrely, had hard man Vinnie Jones mixing both techniques to arrive in the kitchen first, ban everyone from helping, then spend the rest of the time complaining that he had to do all the cooking. This source of tension led to the return of an old favourite type of conflict, the generation gap. With the housemates having a wider range of ages than has been usual recently, there was room for some teenage angst in the form of a grungey rapper called Sov, who was 24 going on 14, and who provided much delight as a classic rebel without a clue. All the talk of Brando had her wondering what to rebel against, seeing what you got, and finding that it was not cleaning the toilet. James Dean she was not and her sulky speeches about being too important to clean the bog probably didn't do much to help her future career.

Conflict aside, what made this series work was that the producers realized at a late stage that they could make the show fun again. And it usually involved simple things like Nicole being asked to insult everyone to win a prize and telling Ivana Trump she looked like a big fat orange, or the simple slapstick of dropping a custard pie on Stephanie Beacham's head. One moment though stands out this year as representing the very best BB can do, being a variation on a theme the producers discovered many years ago that arguments in which everyone is dressed up in silly costumes are funny. This year they discovered that the opposite is true, that funny stuff happening when everyone is dressed up in silly costumes is sinister. The situation was that the presenter Davina was put into the house for an hour dressed as a chicken. The celebrities, also dressed as farm animals, tried to catch her to find who was hidden under the costume. The result was disturbing. The closing sequence shown live on tv as the chicken is cornered and the animals led by a pig move in slowly was somehow funny yet the scariest thing I've seen in years, being part Animal Farm part Night of the Living Dead farm animals. It provided proof that the show can still be memorable and that maybe, just maybe Big Brother may yet live on for a while longer. Amazingly, I hope it does.

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