Wednesday 21 February 2018

Last night’s TV: Red or Black

Simon Cowell’s latest creation made the making of a millionaire seem like one of the most mundane tasks imaginable says Diarmuid Doyle

Not many people remember Judith Keppel these days.

Back in 2000, Keppel was the first winner of the top prize on the UK version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Over two nights, she battled through 15 questions, made clever use of her lifelines and took one or two chances before successfully answering the final question: Which king was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine?

Her victory was a memorable event for everybody who tuned in that night. On a human level you were glad for anyone who won a million pounds, but you also recognised the skill, effort and nerve Keppel had to put in to win the million. It was an amazing achievement.

Fast forward 11 years and we have Red Or Black? (ITV1), Simon Cowell’s latest entertainment, which has been running every night since Saturday and has so far made millionaires of four people. The latest came last night when Yorkshire pig farmer Darren Thompson took home the big prize.

Darren seemed like a genuinely lovely fellow and it was a nice moment when he won. But the show itself is a fiasco, a loud and ill-conceived mess which has managed the not inconsiderable feat of making the creation of a millionaire seem like one of the most mundane tasks imaginable.

It has lost two million viewers since last Saturday night, when the presence of The X-Factor helped boost its ratings. And it has been mired in controversy over making a millionaire out of a man who had served a five-year-jail sentence for beating up his former girlfriend. Despite all the bad publicity, Cowell claims that it will return for a second series.

It’s hard to see how he will win those viewers back. The show is like one of those ready meals which makes you feel full for about 10 minutes before you realise that there was no substance to it at all and that you are still starving.

Its main problem from a viewer’s perspective is presumably what made it so attractive to Cowell: it requires no effort or skill whatsoever to win the million.

It’s all about luck, about being fortunate enough to choose whether red or black will come out best in a series of tasks and contests over which you have no control.

This is amusing for a while, but quickly loses its lustre. Viewers prefer to see somebody sing for their supper, to know, as Judith Keppel did, that it was Henry II who was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine. A show in which the dumbest kitten - miaow once for red, two for black - has the same chance as its owner of bagging a million pounds has a limited shelf life.

Viewers are treated like morons sometimes, but with Red Or Black? they seem to have said enough is enough. Hopefully, Simon Cowell – in America for the launch of The X Factor there this weekend - is listening.

A similar hostility to the vacuous and insubstantial may have been behind Jedward’s abject failure to justify their status as favourites and win Channel 5’s Celebrity Big Brother, which ended last night. (If you have Channel 5, and the stomach for it, the non-celebrity version of the show starts tonight).

Some of the coverage this morning is describing Jedward’s loss and Paddy Doherty’s victory as a shock, but anybody who tuned in regularly over the last few weeks won’t be surprised at all.

Like Red Or Black?, James and Edward can only be enjoyed in small doses, and three weeks of non-stop exposure to them seems to have been enough for everybody, housemates and viewers alike.

Before the evictions last night, the seven celebs left in the house voted on a series of “awards”: Jedward were the overwhelming winners of the most annoying housemates gong.

Long before the end, the shine wore off them, and they seem to have started annoying viewers as much as the people they were living with.

In the end, they didn’t even manage second place, which went to Kerry Katona, who spent the last three weeks rehabilitating herself very convincingly with the British public.

The rejection of Jedward was no surprise for a second reason too: they don’t win things. It’s not in their dna.

They were gone from The X-Factor long before the final two years ago; they came eighth in the Eurovision Song Contest in May. Now they have come third in the one test you might have expected them to win.

That it was Doherty who came first was telling. Although he was there because he was the star of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, he is a personality rather than a celebrity, somebody who is substantial, interesting, easy in his own skin and hardened by life’s experiences.

Jedward by contrast don’t do interesting. They don’t really do sentences. When they emerged from the house last night to be interviewed by Brian Dowling, who appears to have turned orange over the last few weeks, they managed not a single interesting reflection on their time in the house. Everything, everybody, was “great”, “fantastic” “fab”.

The people around them should reflect on how unfab they’ve become. Simon Cowell is not the only X-factor judge with something to think about this weekend.

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