Oh, how sad I am that it has come to this.
Can we write it off now? Viewing figures sprinting precipitously down towards the 2 million mark and “flop” stapled to its forehead, Superstar is at this point, definitively, the least of all the Andrew Lord Eyebags Reality TV Talent Searches, and we’ve still got a week and 37 episodes to go. Argue amongst yourselves as you will about which is the greatest, but Superstar is clearly the dirt-worst. And I’m here to tell you why. You know, in my opinion and that.
1. The Scheduling
So let’s start off with the obvious one. The boss-eyed knock-on effects of the decision to air Superstar for 7 nights in a row (and then 3 more again after a short break for Celebrity Dancing On Ice) most notably include ; having an elimination at the start of the show (wrong) ; anybody with even the slightest hint of a life is forced to miss at least two episodes in the run, with no real chance of catching up in time before the next episode ; no time for filming of VTs, or Jesus Missions, or Celebrity Masterclasses, or EVEN A COMEDY VT AT THIS POINT ; accelerating the whole process to such a speed that you don’t have time to really relate to anybody ; dragging up the same talking point every 24 hours until it becomes tedious (NATHAN IS TOTES ARROGANT, EVERYBODY!) ; Mel C already clearly having to wear a dress backwards and pretend it’s a new dress because there’s no time for a researcher to at least run out to Primark because they’re already too busy trying to find nuclear strength painkillers for all the dancers the show burns through.
2. “Superstar Island”
Look, I’m not expecting opulence, but whoever was in charge of the purse-strings for the pre-live shows needs remedial lessons in budgeting. The whole spend was clearly hurled at a COMPLETELY pointless trip to Andrew’s House (/”Andrew’s House”. I half expected Sinitta to accidentally wander into shot wearing only Doritos, on a piss-break during X Factor filming), leaving nothing for anything else. The result? “Superstar Island” was basically an upturned shopping trolley in the middle of a flooded ditch, and contestants were told they were through to the Top Ten in some warehouse on an industrial estate. Compare this to the old days, where contestants were saved/rejected by being groped by BARROWMAN in the middle of an opulent party in the English countryside attended by Judi Dench, Barbara Windsor and a rogue Middleton sister. It’s just not the same. The show’s budget actually couldn’t even cover the cost of a proper trip to “Andrew’s House” given that the show made everyone ride home on the Megabus and called it a “challenge”. Don’t even get me started on that “music video” bollocks.
3. No Graham Norton
Look, I can’t bear Amanda Holden as much the next sane man. Or Les Dennis. But the woman is doing an adequate job reading the shitty dull script she’s been given. No, this is not a screed against Amanda, more a plea for Graham to come back, because clearly Old Eyebags misses him. We need a presenter who can relate to the contestants whilst also mercilessly taking the piss out of them. Who can randomly pop up playing a xylophone, and knows deep down the show’s a load of old campy twaddle held together on the hopes of tragic middle-aged gays and 13 year old girls who can sing every song from Les Miserables backwards. Who’s willing to admit when a mash-up is a medley, and knows how to prod Andrew into having a tantrum and then calm him down again later. There hasn’t been a greater babysitter on tv since the last time ITV2 showed Uncle Buck. This show NEEDS HIM.
Obviously criticising song choices on an Eyebags show is somewhat of a cliche at this point. Who can forget Sheila Hancock (more on her later) lighting into Pixie Lott? But at least most of the Marias, Nancys, Nancys and Dorothys sang songs that were meant for their gender. I know it’s the era of the Woman In Pop, but I should be hearing some poor bloke trying to honk his way through Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson (TWICE!), Emily Sunday, Rebecca HONKerson, or (Saints preserve us) telling us he is “TOYYYYYTAAYYYYYYNEEEEEEEYUMMMMMM!”. At time of writing, the show is at least broaching rock music, even if musical theatre remains more or less untouched. Sadly, said “rock” is taking the form of Nickelback, Stereophonics and (*bleg*) Mr Big. GET SOME MEATLOAF IN HERE OR GO HOME.
5. No Sing-Out
The Marias lined up like skittles to jauntily sing “So Long, Farewell” to a teary eyed departee as demented jaunty fairground music played. The Josephs bellowed about getting a show of their own as their brothers stripped them naked (in my head). The Nancys did some stuff with a locket that was kind of crap but it was passable enough. The Dorothys gave their shoes to Eyebags and then departed on a GIANT SILVERY MOON. Jesus? Wanders off.
6. Lack Of Eye-Bags
It seems odd to say it, because he’s present at all times, but damnit there is JUST NOT ENOUGH ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER IN THIS SHOW. He is the lynch-pin around which this whole thing turns, and I feel slightly bereft that he is only being in-my-face fabulous about 60% of the time. I mean, occasionally they take him out of shot to focus on an actual CONTESTANT. This never used to happen. He always used to be hovering in the corner of shot, huffing, puffing, and grimacing like a demented sex-pervert. Even BETTER were the occasions when he actually liked something and he started jiggling up and down like an orgasmic Mr Toad. No, aside from those weird bits where the contestants enter his mystery dell to receive their pre sing-off advice (what IS that bit incidentally? Where did they find it?) his role in the show is sadly perfunctory. He’s even sat at the X Factor table with the other judges like a NORMAL MORTAL. Andrew needs to be elevated on his golden throne, accompanied by thunderstorm sound effects, and yelling “MASH MASH MASH” at all times. Every episode needs something on par with when someone changed the melody to Gethsemane and he FLIPPED HIS SHIT.
7. The contestants are all good
Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t (entirely) a “oooh don’t we all love a Kitty Brucknell style comedy trainwreck” point. And I’m glad that Andrew doubling down by calling out 80% of the cast of The Voice as being out-of-tune and offensive to the curse of his perfect pitch has been vindicated by most of the cast being strong, polished singers. But they’re all…a little too polished and professional. They all, even “Baby Jesus” (“Baby” in the sense that he’s more or less the same age as previous House Mother and grizzled showbiz veteran Steph Fearon), feel like they’ve been around the block and honed what they can do down to a point. Where are the Jessica Robinsons? The Abis? The Bens? The Niamhs? The people who are just coming into what they can do? It all feels a bit pat, and lacking in danger. Most of the performances have been professional and pleasant enough, but it doesn’t feel likely we’re going to get a moment like when Dani cut loose in the Sing-Off or when Rachel WENT LIKE RACHEL or when Keith Jack was randomly good once. More’s the pity.
Let’s be honest, even the Andrew Lloyd Webber fans amongst us. Jesus Christ Superstar has about 10% of the cultural penetration (ooh err) of even the most niche of the previous productions cast (HINT : It’s Oliver! and even then Nancy is a great big “tart with a heart” archetype anyway). Most people could hum the chorus of the title song and that’s it, and if you asked them the plot, they’d just go “…it’s the Bible isn’t it?”. Which means we don’t really know what we’re looking for in a Jesus. Unless…we’re actually looking for JESUS, in which case good luck. Mainstream religion has spent 2000 years trying to define Jesus and it’s still stuck on “does he think gays are teh ick or not?” so I don’t think noted theologians like the Vicar Of Dibley and Melc are going to get us any closer, no matter how many times they say things like “Jesus was focused”, “Jesus wasn’t the sort of guy to stand with his hands in his pocket” and “Jesus would never drive a Honda Accord”.
9. Lack of Camp
Musical theatre is camp. Half the contestants (at least) are gay/bisexual/”I just fall in love with people”. You’re casting OUR SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST for an Arena Tour co-starring a Spice Girl and Chris Moyles. You need to do better than Amanda Holden walking two steps down a staircase flanked by a couple of Lacoste models. It doesn’t need to be the technicolour eye-violation of the Dorothy or the Josephs, but zhush things up a little for Jesus Christ Superstar’s sake. When you’re being out-homo’d by Tipping Point with Ben Shepherd (Sample dialogue : “the tip’s just creeping over the rim!”), you have to question your A-Level Drama choices somewhat.
10. Uninspiring Judgery
Let’s be honest, Bill Kenwright and (maybe) Zoe Tyler aside, the judges on Andrew Lloyd Webber shows have always been amazing. Crazy pervert Barry Humphreys. Crazy pervert Denise van Outen. Crazy pervert David Ian. BARROWMANs both regular and Diet. Keeper of the keys of truthiness Sheila Hancock. Forever performing her new single, it’s CHARLOTTE CHURCH! Even Cameron Mackintosh turning up in a huff for two weeks only to shit all over everybody had a certain charm. Sadly, this year’s judges are not in that vintage. It’s probably because they’re having to churn up new things to say every night, about people whom there’s not very much to say about in the first place (even if the scheduling was germaine to recapping I’m not sure how much material I could get out of, say, that one who looks a bit like Mr Bean). But I couldn’t really tell you what each judge is there for, apart from maybe Dawn French being a mother figure, with undertones of incest. I think Donovan might be trying to be the bitchy gay one whilst, technically speaking, being hetero. God knows what Melc is doing. We NEED to know Sheila Hancock’s opinion on Rock Music whilst Denise van Outen eyes up the line-up for a mistress and Diet Barrowman jabs a pen into the ether STAT.
11. SPECIAL SURPRISE EXTRA 11th REASON WHO DEFINITELY WASN’T MEANT TO BE HERE ALL ALONG, NO SIR, JONATHAN ANSELL
Why was literally the entirity of the first three weeks of this show about Jonathan Ansell? WHY?