Dick and Dom in da Bungalow

Saturday, January 7, 2006 by

Watching a much-loved television programme slowly go off the boil, slipping further into irrelevance with each passing week, is not just a singularly depressing experience. It’s also a hell of an exhausting one.

The amount of energy it takes to repeatedly tune in out of the belief things will improve, the quantity of emotion you invest in willing a revival of fortunes – these are considerable sums, upon which you rarely get any kind of return. Then there’s the number of hours from your life you’ll never get back.

Thankfully, where Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow is concerned, all such tribulations have been avoided. No, in this instance the much-loved programme in question turned turkey just like that. On the precise moment it returned for its present (and final) series, in fact. Having concluded business in blistering fashion last spring with Dick giving birth, live on air, to a dozen or so Muck Muck babies, the show took a long summer break only to resume in September a fading wisp of its former wholesome self.

Admittedly notice had been served that changes were afoot, principally the participation of a “celebrity” Bungalowhead in a programme that had been conceived – and always prided itself – as being a star-free zone. At the time no real reason was given for this decision; indeed no reason has ever been given for such a drastic inversion of the winning format. Still, at least the advance warning meant there was time to steel yourself for the sight of a decidedly new model Bungalow. What there wasn’t time to prepare for were all the other changes which only manifested themselves as the first show of the new series unfolded. And which, sadly, have continued to manifest themselves ever since.

All of the above would undoubtedly amount to far less had this writer not, 12 months ago, hailed Da Bungalow as “the best children’s show of all time.” Quite. But at the time it was, and the significance of such an unqualified declaration inevitably colours every sentence of this review. There’s no reason to deny otherwise. The closer you allow yourself to get tied up in something, the more friction there is when you want to move apart.

At the same time, it’s worth considering one of those television truisms that passes unchallenged through history but rarely seems to hit home. And that is, revamping a long-running programme only works if done with confidence and panache, and if the point of the overhaul is immediately and overwhelmingly obvious to the viewer.

While it still possesses a kind of panache, Da Bungalow is certainly no longer as confident as it once was. Moreover, the point of the overhaul wasn’t obvious then and it still isn’t now, other than to boil all it down solely to someone somewhere suddenly saying “get celebrities onto that show”. Which, given it didn’t need celebrities and never has done, was misguided in the extreme.

A number of factors came into play that first weekend of the new series. Jettisoning the show’s second hour on Sundays didn’t bode well, especially as that edition had always been more freewheeling and deserving of 120 minutes than its Saturday counterpart. As it’s turned out the Sunday show remains the stronger of the two, but more thanks to the inferior quality of Saturday’s efforts than any of its own wildly demented if strictly pre-recorded endeavours.

As for Saturday itself, it was really a case of change for change’s sake. The all-out free-for-all Muck Muck fight at the end was replaced with an unnecessarily fussy gameshow pastiche as if it had been decreed that “winning” Da Bungalow required some empirical evidence of competition rather than an amusingly arbitrary amount of slop. Given all the kids now had to do was commit themselves in the last 10 minutes, this virtually rendered redundant the need for anyone to gain points throughout the programme. Hence the basic structure of the whole thing building to a climax, went to pot.

On top of this came one too many games that were just that bit too disorganised and self-indulgent; the wrong characters given too much airtime (the Prize Idiot) while the right ones were reduced to cameos (the Cat); and less time given over to idle bantering with viewers via phone-in competitions.

The main bugbear, though, remains the involvement of celebrities, and not just because precious few of them have been any good. Having them present has reduced the Bungalowheads to mere supporting players behind the hosts and the guest. It’s limited the amount of interaction they get with Dick and Dom, and hence limited the amount we get to learn about them. Meanwhile Dick and Dom perhaps inevitably spend most of their time concentrating on doing business with the celebrity, thereby further overshadowing the kids. No wonder it takes so long on (the celebrity-free) Sunday to get things going and settle back into the old formula of the two hosts as irascible big brothers to their cheeky younger siblings.

Frankly, this litany of complaints hasn’t rendered Da Bungalow entirely unwatchable, though on a few occasions the mere introduction of the special guest (Paul Danan, Tony Christie) has prompted at least one viewer to switch off. Then again, if the show was entirely unwatchable at least we’d be spared the effort of sitting through it every weekend waiting for the flashes of inspiration and genius which assuredly do turn up. Eventually.

Above all, back before the days when celebrities were involved, it didn’t matter so much if a Bungalowhead played up or wouldn’t co-operate or didn’t “get it”, because Dom (invariably) could shout them down, tell them off and make a virtue out of reasserting his authority. But neither he nor Dick can treat disobliging personalities the same way, so when one of them turns up that’s more or less it for the entire show. A write-off.

None of this probably counts much to people who’ve only just started tuning in. Indeed, it probably counts for even less now Da Bungalow is on BBC2 on Saturdays, where it will stay until the end of its life, unlikely to attract any new viewers or garner any more troublesome headlines. It’s the latter that probably means most to the present CBBC mafia. “Next week we’re on BBC3, then BBC4, then probably all the way to BBC10, then that’s it, finished,” cracked Dom on this morning’s show. “We’re not bitter!”

This time last year OTT speculated that Dick and Dom’s profile “could very easily now go one of two ways: either flourish into that of multi-talented entertainment personalities or evolve into that of two tiresomely ubiquitous celebrities.” In fact neither has happened, the failure of Ask the Family effectively removing any fear of “handing the pair a joyless omnipresence” but also conspiring to reveal them as just as fallible as the next kids presenters trying their luck at mainstream telly.

Come Easter they, and Da Bungalow, will be gone forever, and this writer will probably be missing them terribly. For now though, it’s hard not to conclude the series is ending at the right time. Just not in the right way.


Comments are closed.