Big Brother

Saturday, July 21, 2001 by

One of the best things about Big Brother is that the series is constantly developing throughout the run. The programme at the moment is perhaps unrecognisable to the programme at the end of May; the days of Penny and Stuart now seem so long ago, at times it’s as if they were in the last series. Of the remaining housemates this week, there have been changes from show one – Elizabeth has progressed from inoffensively boring to offensively boring (her “Who are Ant and Dec?” comment this week must surely see her go on Thursday) and Helen has gone from a fantastically funny individual who clearly had no chance of winning to a fantastically funny individual who has every chance of winning. This is a just reward for some of the great lines she’s supplied us with – Monday’s “cryptic” comments about what she’d like to do after she leaves (“S … ending in G … I-N-G off …”) were sublime.

It’s irksome, though, that the only thing that hasn’t developed this series have been the Friday night eviction shows. Now Richard and Judy have left This Morning, Big Brother seems to have taken over their mantle in producing watchably unwatchable, hugely embarrassing programmes. How is it possible to keep a house running 24 hours a day for nine weeks, and assemble 30 minute updates every day, yet make such a mess of an hour’s live telly?

Davina McCall is still a likeable presenter, able to appear totally genuine and excited over the most uninteresting events, but she now seems to be totally overawed by the situation. Too often she corpses at her own jokes, and rather pointlessly hypes up her ability to talk direct to the house – her unnecessary “I’m switching off now” comment after she’s announced the result every week is becoming immensely tiresome. Too often she seems to struggle for things to say; her comment this week that “it was the great Big Brother romance – and you’ve split them up!” was a case in point; we haven’t! The housemates nominated them for eviction, we just had to choose.

The 8.30pm programme is the most successful of the two Friday programmes, but it’s still hugely unsatisfying. The basic problem, and one that’s been apparent since the first eviction show in the first series, is that the programme rounds up what happened on Thursday, but doesn’t bother showing us bits from earlier on Friday. This makes a particularly awkward shift in the narrative, as we’re reliant on Davina’s quick summary (normally just “It’s been mad today”) to place the evening’s comments into context. It also means that this week’s programme made no reference to Elizabeth fainting, which surely counted as breaking news (those who compile the news for the BB text message service certainly thought so) and really needed to be addressed – if only to reassure viewers that she was OK. We didn’t get anything on Saturday’s omnibus, though – the only place on C4 to see Friday’s events – so presumably they thought this didn’t really matter, which strikes me as odd.

There are other problems on the 8.30pm edition (that message writer behind Davina and the guests that flashes up the nominees’ names, seemingly at random, but in weird patterns that make you wonder if they’re actually revealing the evictee’s name), but it’s at 10.30pm that the programme really starts to become toe-curling. The first problem is the crowd, and the second is the programme’s handling of it. There seems to be a nasty element to the crowd – presumably they’ve got to have strong feelings or they wouldn’t bother turning up – which becomes unsettling for the viewer; was it me or were there missiles hurled at Paul when he was walking through them? But if this is the case, why encourage them? With all the crowd control that they’ve hired, why does Davina still think it’s a good idea to thrust a mic at them? It’s a waste of time too as all they can do is either bellow “Briiiiiian”, or swear.

Then we have the evictees leaving the house, with the “countdown” that never ever works – on every single occasion, the command to “leave the house now” has been accompanied on screen by everyone hanging around waiting for the door to finally open. When they’re out, we see them stand there while everyone shouts at them to put their bag down – “Where? Just leave it here?” Can’t they leave it in the diary room or something and get someone to collect it? Then we’ve got the “quick words” from a close friend, which seem to irritate Davina who’s desperate to get them down the path and into the studio as soon as possible. Most of these “quick words” undermine much of the emotion anyway – Bubble didn’t need to know Chelsea had signed Emmanuel Petit the second he’d walked out of the house. Although he probably needed to know that more than what can be dubbed the “Trisha moment”, which is the regular feature on the programme where Davina says the most unnecessary, cloying thing that she can think of. This spot was, of course, instituted when Bubble was informed his (now unsurprisingly ex-) girlfriend might have been having sex with somebody else, as noted elsewhere on OTT. Since then, we’ve had Amma’s mum pleading her to give up being a lap dancer, and the news that Big G had dumped Helen, which was really none of our business; what goes on when they leave the house is surely not in the programme’s remit. This week Paul was confronted with “Helen Can Go To Hell” headlines, and had to comment, which seemed a bit harsh especially as the rest of the story was substantially less sensationalist than that line would imply.

The actual interviews with the housemates have been much too short as well, and the tone often seems misjudged; the likeable Josh, for example, was left to answer loads of questions about how he didn’t get on with Brian and Paul, which seemed at odds with Davina’s treatment of Narinder earlier in the run where she took on a “everyone loves Narinder” approach and let her obvious nastiness and aggravating personality go unchallenged. If anyone deserved to be put on the spot it was Narinder, and she was probably the only person who wasn’t.

There was a new way to keep us up to date launched on Saturday night, though, with the start of a daily series of live updates from the house; curiously launched in the week when the least would probably be happening. These are the simplest form of live update; they simply go over to the house for five minutes, and that’s it. There’s no introduction to put things into context; thus Saturday’s live update saw Helen with her face painted pink and materials for a party all over the house, but it wasn’t explained at any point why this was the case. We would have to wait until Monday’s edition to be told; similarly Sunday’s five minutes saw Dean, Helen and Brian sitting next to four pottery heads, with no explanation. If we don’t know what’s going on, what’s the point?

For an all-seeing, all-knowing operation like Big Brother, it’s amazing how little they want to tell us.


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