Big Brother

Friday, July 27, 2001 by

What will be the lasting memory of Big Brother 2? No overwhelming moment of high drama, no intense, carthatic confrontation or resolution – the only fireworks were those let off outside the house, which the contestants gawped at before dutifully scurrying back inside on their masters orders. A few snippets of dialogue – Helen’s, “I like blinking, I do”, Stuart’s, “This is not your turn to speak” – will perhaps be the only real lasting record of nine long weeks of live television. It feels like it’ll be very easy to forget this series and that maybe just a matter of days are all it will take before thoughts of that ridiculously over-furnished house in Bow will have evaporated. Which perhaps isn’t such a bad thing – why bother to remember a series that really hasn’t come anywhere near as close as its forerunner, let alone Celebrity Big Brother, in giving us consistently exciting, imaginative telly?

I’d had trouble reacting positively to this series from the outset. My somewhat naïve expectations that this batch of housemates would set about exposing the mechanics of the show within 10 minutes of arrival quickly translated into a lingering frustration – why must they be so persistently docile and compliant? Don’t they know it’s all set up? Why aren’t they climbing on the roof or throwing cake at the cameras? The extended coverage on E4, and the live feed on the Big Brother website, hinted of moments when the group did sit about eagerly discussing which member of the Channel 4 staff they hated, but of course these were never shown as part of the main coverage – and it was ludicrously optimistic of me to hope they would.

Instead, it felt like C4 still wanted to sell the programme as a quasi-fictional tale of lives and loves and enmity, and they seemed far more desperate than last year for some neat fairytale consummation or evil dénouement. On the evidence of the nightly C4 shows, all contestants were malleable enough to appear conversant with this agenda, so viewers were left with easily pigeonholed, two-dimensional cut-outs. Bemused by their behaviour and the way events were being presented on TV, a mixture of factors led to the most intriguing characters being booted out early. It was still possible, however, to predict the final three as early as the first week. Not a good sign.

The final week’s coverage usefully highlighted some of the entire series’ flaws – and its often only half-realised strengths. The completely pointless five-minute “live” updates continued, presenting the four remaining housemates in mystifying circumstances, their attire unexplained, motives unknown, conversation irrelevant. As the previous reviewer noted, if we don’t know what’s going on, then what’s the point? However a simple strategy could have been developed to ensure that, come 10.30pm and C4 was live in the house, we found Big Brother proceeding to speak to the contestants delivering some order or advice. We’d then see their immediate reactions – and a quick five minute “task” ensued, or simply an instruction to go here or do that, anything which could have justified the existence of the link-up. So what if they got wise that something was happening every day on the dot of 10.30pm? As it was another opportunity was wasted; and, worse, the following night’s full-length update more often than not failed to even touch upon these isolated conversations we’d been presented with 24 hours earlier.

Big Brother 2‘s fine track record for technical incompetence remained consistent to the end. Thursday night’s “surprise” eviction could have been the high point of the entire series – catching the contestants almost completely unawares and forcing them to react to an awkward, perplexing proposition. But never mind our sensing that Elizabeth would be the one to walk, clumsy camerawork meant that we’d enjoyed a dramatic close-up of her face seconds before Davina announced her name, ruining any tension that had already been cooked up.

Helen then started screaming with joy and Brian ordered her to be quiet – to let the mother and father of the house mark the occasion with a solemn embrace. It was downhill from there – the usual gaffes and glitches accompanied her eviction (that door still not opening), and Davina floundered helplessly trying to stir the most buttoned-up member of the house to confess to how she really felt. We also had the tasteless spectacle of yet more “have you seen the tabloids?” which cued more embarrassing exchanges between subject and partner – though perhaps Davina for once realised the pointlessness of the display when she too wailed for the pictures to be removed.

Why did the phone lines then stay open? It seemed underhand to infer that an extra day’s voting – in theory to let all those who nominated Elizabeth to win could try again – was valid, or it would somehow lead to a more fair end result. As it was there were no surprises. Dean was next out, his relative articulacy in the interview chair utterly flooring Davina who scrambled to pad out the rest of the yawning 60 minutes by giving out the phonelines over and over again, and dementedly running inside and outside until looking on the verge of collapse.

Somewhat fittingly, more technical problems and bad floor management meant both these final hour-long eviction specials were required watching for all the wrong reasons. Davina’s treatment of victorious Brian was particularly painful – when contemplating the prize money she ordered him to “spend it!” in contrast with last year’s charity giveaway. Holding the final interview outside was never going to work; what was the rationale for trying to interrogate the winner of Big Brother 2 in front of a baying horde of several hundred? Even the closing few seconds seemed botched – shutting off the lights in the house, which worked so well last year, were spoilt with the sound of crude soundbites echoing all over the title music.

So we made it to the end, but only just. The format lurched dangerously throughout thanks to it remaining so remorselessly passive. The whole emphasis of any future run should be on deliberately creating and rigging situations rather than any kind of “experiment” of observation. If that means lifting the veto on plotting nominations, or asking viewers to phone for the housemates they want to stay in – and other ideas expressed on OTT in previous weeks – then bring them all on. Let’s overhaul the dodgy sequencing, hamfisted editing and pointless narration (Marcus: “Dean is called to the Diary Room”. Big Brother: “Would Dean please come to the Diary Room”) as well. The E4 coverage, despite train sound effects, did at least place events within a legitimate timescale.

It won’t be long before the ex-housemates, slumped with a bottle in a random London wine bar, take to wishing strangers “hello” and “goodbye” in utter desperation. I’ll drink to that.


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