Sunday, 17 April 2011

'SING IF YOU CAN'; watch if you dare

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Do you remember Distraction, the Channel 4 gameshow hosted by Jimmy Carr, where contestants answered general knowledge questions while being distracted in painful ways? ITV have taken that basic concept and merged it with karaoke for new Saturday night series Sing If You Can, hosted by love-or-hate comedian Leigh Francis (as alter-ego Keith Lemon) and X Factor runner-up Stacy Solomon; a double-act almost as inept as Brits flops Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood. Lemon's is even less amusing when his dependency on crudity's removed by the constraints of primetime on a mainstream channel, and Solomon's speaking voice is a mostly unintelligible hitching gasp between keywords.

The concept behind the show is painfully simple: two bargain-basement celebrity teams compete in a variety of games where they must sing-a-long to songs while being put-off by silly distractions. To that end, Jodi Prenger (ironically the winner of I'd Do Anything) sang while covered in snakes; a crinkled Brigitte Nielsen sang while strapped to a rotating wheel having knives thrown at her (they all missed, unfortunately); Pineapple Dance Studio's Andrew Stone and Strictly Come Dancing's Brendan Cole did a duet while being vibrated and gunged (it's more wholesome than it sounds); and, uh, the blonde one from defunct X Factor boyband G4 sang while, um, balloons were inflated and popped.

It's TV for idiots, as you expected it to be. Even the studio audience didn't seem to be enjoying themselves, whenever you caught their blank expressions in the darkened background, listlessly holding studio-made banners expressing their support for the has-been celebs. Even a careful edit to ensure some reaction shots of people laughing or gasping didn't manage to convince you everyone watching wouldn't rather be elsewhere. What exactly is the point to it all? Who cares if the celebrities fluffed the lyrics or stopped singing altogether? That happened occasionally and never seemed to matter too much. Is is a thrill for viewers to see snakes and balloons bursting? I'm not saying silly gameshows need to have a point to be worthwhile, but it sure does help. There's nothing exciting or compelling about watching celebrities (most of whom were trained singers) do karaoke in less-than-ideal conditions. The singing didn't matter and most of the distractions were restricted by what can be achieved in a TV studio. It's hard to imagine what the games will be in future weeks -- other than variations on distractions involving water, gunge, vibration, spinning, circus acts, scary animals, and loud bangs.

Vernon Kaye was originally supposed to present this show, but looks to have avoided a bullet after ITV replaced him at the last-minute. It seems likely ITV knew the show was a stinker (soon to air alongside the all-conquering Doctor Who), so thought adding Keith Lemon would at least make it appear edgier, crazier and a more intentionally frolicsome. It would certainly have been even more boring with Kaye treating it like The Generation Game, but Keith Lemon just brings a different set of problems to proceedings. Francis's track record with comedy ('Bo Selecta!, Celebrity Juice) is puerile and sexual in nature, so Sing If You Can instantly reduces him to peddling a sanitized version of his act. And he's nowhere near as lovable as people believe him to be, on account of the fact he looks and acts like a creepy, grownup, mustachioed Cabbage Patch Doll.

But the real insanity comes from some ITV dope deciding that Stacy Solomon should present television because the public love her. In other words: she was voted I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here's "Queen of the Jungle", so it's their duty to fill the airwaves with as much Solomon-starring material as possible, because her millions of votes equal loyal viewers. It's "Operation Kerry Katona" all over again -- a habit ITV need to kick, as they just make themselves look unpardonably naff and self-obsessed. I'm A Celebrity's Shaun Ryder even appeared as one of Sing's "judges" here (a pointless X Factor-ish element of the show), together with erstwhile popstar Coleen Nolan (cruel compensation for axing her from Loose Women?) and comedian Dave Gorman (who should have words with his agent.)

Stacy's a decent singer and a memorable personality (enormous horsey teeth and a speech pattern that sounds like she's constantly out of breath), but that doesn't mean she'll be a natural presenting a TV show. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Stacy could barely read the autocue and had zero chemistry with Lemon, so was mostly relegated to reminding viewers that the celebs are making arses out of themselves on behalf of, well, their showbiz profiles... but also Teenage Cancer Trust.

Oh yes, the charity tie-in. In what soon turned into a Comic Relief appeal night, Sing If You Can spent an inordinate amount of time plugging Teenage Cancer Trust (along with Argos), and even played a five-minute VT about the charity's work towards the end. It's a worthy cause, don't get me wrong, but it was used almost as an excuse for the awfulness of the show. A calculated attempt to make viewers feel bad for hating a show that's just meant to be an hour of jovial silliness that's giving a potential £20,000 to a good cause. Well, by all means donate to Teenage Cancer Trust, but you don't need to watch Sing If You Can to do your bit in that regard.

16 April 2011, ITV1, 7.20PM