Double Take

Monday, April 21, 2003 by

In a recent interview to promote the series, Double Take creator Alison Jackson claimed the show dealt with “our fixation with celebrity and celebrity culture, and how we tend to believe in things through a set of images, rather than knowing the real situation… I’m interested in the fantasies we build up in our minds, and think are true.” In other words, cutting down to the actuality of the lifestyles of the famous rather than their carefully crafted public image.

Which sounds fine for a one-off such as the 2001 retrospective show that won an innovation Bafta. Unfortunately for the concept, a six part series was commissioned, of which this was the last, and then with much publicity put smack in the middle of BBC2′s Monday night Comedy Zone. This in turn degrades the idea suggested by Jackson that viewers might think this is actual covert film of the real-life celebrities in question, as every preview has nevertheless referred to the lookalikes and “satirical” nature.

Oddly for such turbulent times, satirism on TV itself is pretty much dead in the water at the moment. Stuck between Mark Thomas‘ hectoring and Rory Bremner’s sudden attempts to prove how left-wing he is, everyone, including Double Take, much prefers the broadest of strokes. It’s hard to imagine anyone watching the first sketch, in which a poor George W Bush lookalike turns over from CNN onto cartoons, thinking “Bush is simple! You’re right! What a clever observation!” – especially as the same central idea now seems to comprise the act of what seems like the majority of stand-up comedians. Regardless, the very next sketch sees Tony Blair being photographed in Army camouflage gear. So he’s visibly supporting war, you say? Later on there are references to the government obsession with spin, the Queen’s relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles and David Beckham’s style icon status, all of which have long been picked over. We’ve come a long way since That Was The Week That Was and Peter Cook’s MacMillan impression in Beyond the Fringe represented a breaking down of the barriers with regards to mocking the Establishment, but it feels at times here that the only political points being made are those that are most readily crowd-pleasing.

Worse in a televisual sense, this image, surely intended on paper for a few seconds – immediate impact, the satirical suggestion is made, out again – lasts fully 45 seconds. It’s not even a sketch – there’s no development in the idea at all, just a photographer and the Blairalike. Long sections cut down on filming time, yes, but watching the show back on video, this was one of many occasions where the viewer could press fast-forward without having to worry about missing anything of significance. Despite what Jackson seems to suggest is the best way of approaching the show, viewers would be left wondering why it couldn’t have been tightened up in the edit. At one point there is a juxtaposition of Osama Bin Laden and a belly dancer. This lasts for 70 seconds and has no point whatsoever. The 11 O’Clock Show wouldn’t have accepted that idea.

Oddly, for a show that prides itself on its lookalikes, a surprisingly high amount don’t actually look that much like the person they’re supposed to be, even with the faux-poor quality film stock which is probably meant to disguise this. For all the camera shows, the same person could have been portraying Sir Alex Ferguson and Jeffrey Archer and could make a bit on the side as Charles Hawtrey, while a Chris Evans lookalike appears in two sketches, long after the man himself has arbitrarily given up his status as our leading TV entertainment figure. Maybe they just couldn’t find a Robbie Williams. In one bizarre sketch a man in a fairy outfit prances about in soft focus for a good 45 seconds, and no indication is ever given to who it’s supposed to be. Elton John? Wrong hair. Christopher Biggins? Hardly a contemporary reference. Hold on, is it just Matt Lucas in a wig?

To its credit, the idea of this being covert footage is put across well technically – sketches are filmed through windows and behind or over the top of objects, while the supposed cameraman’s hand appears in shot on one occasion. But all the technical jiggery-pokery in the world can’t overshadow the idea that the few sketches that rouse original interest – four Saddam lookalikes discussing what they’ll do next, for example, or Michael Winner shouting at a waiter in what seems to be an arbitrary generic angry voice, much like Bremner’s early attempt at Peter Mandelson where he admitted he didn’t know what the then spin king looked like but knew he was from the north and thus did him in a Yorkshire accent – aren’t actually funny. The number of Queen-related situations don’t count among these – not only did the Royal Family spend most of the last decade seemingly trying to prove they could outdo any satirist, but the idea that they were untouchable has been eroded by everyone from Spitting Image, who genuinely did receive tabloid indignation when they dared to mock the monarchy, to every two-bit comedian who picked up on Prince Charles’ horticultural and architectural preferences years ago. In that context, the Queen in make-up seems like just a desperate attempt to grab headlines. Even the series trailer featured an obvious joke relating to the implacable nature of Sven Goran Eriksson, in which he was supposedly seen dancing in a lift. Really, what’s the point of billing this as some sort of breaking down the walls of image if the sketches therein have no point?

So, have Jackson’s ideals hit the target? There’s no question that it aims to show that real life and public imagery can be wildly different, but instead of using this to an great effect it instead chooses to focus on the most hackneyed of “outrageous” comedy convention by getting its lookalikes to act either in an exaggerated way towards or in a polar opposite way to the supposed image, while at the same time trying to make it humorous. This is Double Take‘s great failing – it works as a plausible modern art video installation, but not from an audience tuning in after Never Mind the Buzzcocks or before Shooting Stars. In trying to separate the spin from reality, all that it has achieved is proving why these public faces work so well – because the reality wouldn’t.


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