They’re not even celebrities, Pamela Anderson is nowhere to be seen and Brian Dowling looks like a lonely pub quiz master, but at least there’s one saving grace for FIVE - 'Big Brother’s Bit on The Side' with the lovely Emma Willis.
We’re crowded around a TV set in Belsize Park tuned into Channel 5, it’s the 21st century’s equivalent of listening to Radio Caroline under a duvet. What’s happened on this bizarre televisual programming service since the Spice Girls cut its ribbon in the 90s? Has anybody watched Channel 5 since that day? Apart from the odd serial killer bio in the middle of the night, one of those cheaply made Wikipedia bash-outs where they slowly zoom in on a rapist’s monobrow whilst thumping the bass keys of a piano as you humbly nibble at some cheese on toast.. Apart from that and low quality footage of nocturnal car chases, no.
So Brian Dowling pops up on the screen, plodding out the Bond-esque revolving-blade iris of a Big Brother stage set. Brian's voice is too booming, too Homebase instore radio, there’s no variety in volume, no tone, and it’s very very autocue. But let’s give Brian a chance, it’s his first go at professionalism after all and he’s presenting in the footsteps of a demi-god, the TV decathlete Davina McCall.
Roll in the first CBB contestant, Kerry Katona, Jade Goodie’s successor but lacking in positive energy, an abrasive and really quite boring character in the soap opera of British celebrity but a woman who refuses to budge. Like limescale on an unloved gravestone Kerry Katona by default belongs in the tabloids now and we just have to open our mouths and take a bite of the turd. She’s got rid of the drab feel-sorry-for-me-please hair and opted for something quite animalistic, quite Robyn, quite queer, but she looks more like Julie Walters in a Shane Meadows musical. And she can’t walk in heels. Really can’t. I could do better than that in my mum’s at the age of six.
Then comes Tara Reid who’s obviously short of work, and horrifyingly - she can’t speak. Drugs? Nerves? Surgery? Ultra Violet? Twitter explodes with confusion and finally settles on one point - it’s fucking scary. We’re so used to Tara as this two dimensional Maxim pin-up, pushing her air-brushed breasts out of an ivory corset, that it’s strange to see her walking around, to be reminded that she’s actually a living organism. And if she can’t talk at least she can walk. Massive heels, no problem. Tara Reid’s no face of Iceland, she knows how to make an entrance. Brian makes another boo boo by mentioning her recent marriage and you can almost hear the deflation of adolescent boners around Britain. Rather than remind us of Tara’s cinematic achievements, like Cruel Intentions or The Big Lebowski, the focus is stupidly on her minor friendship with Paris Hilton, and we find ourselves unwillingly comparing these shoddy contestants against real towering celebrities.
Next up is Darren Somebody. A tubby egotistical PR personality who talks about himself in the third person and seems to think he invented the concept of media. It’s that awkward notion where someone who has worked behind the scenes in an industry reveals that all along what they’ve really wanted is to be the face of it. But he’s not famous is he, nobody knows who he is, and the crowd’s unanimous booing reflects this, steamy civilians' breathe in the cold night air shaping a giant “W H O ?”. Embarrassing.
Then Sally Bercow arrives and it’s a welcome change. Refreshingly she knows how to dress nicely and present herself. Even better - she can talk audibly and she has a classy hairstyle. Liberal Britain, intelligent viewers and the post-Davina die-hards all place their bets on this one, but as history tells us - the demure contestants never win.
Then there’s a male model who looks like a pissed-off window-cleaner. Another housemate who isn’t a celebrity. They don’t even show us any of his shoots, just their own little Channel 5 shoot in which he does that silly double denim trend from last year. “Pose for the cameras” yells Brian, “this’ll be easy for you, Ooh he’s really getting into it now!”, but he wasn’t, he looked quite gormless really, it was just another moment where Brian clinged to the autocue completely irregardless of what was happening around him, a moment where Davina would have just linked arms and rolled with it. Actually you could sense Davina taking a quiet sip of her wine in the Home Counties at that moment, unsure whether to feel smug or slightly saddened, slowly crushing a Dorito against the roof of her mouth.
And the show finishes, immediately sweeping into its spin-off ‘Big Brothers Bit on the Side’.
This show, the replacement for Big Brother’s Big Mouth, is impressively svelte. Emma Willis is clearly a professional, instantly at ease she knows how to hold an audience and is ready to catch anything that is thrown at her, be it a sticky question, a clever one-liner or a bag of flour, even when heavily pregnant. Alex Reid proves himself to be a good quality panelist, displaying elegant self-control and taking the program seriously. And then they brought Lauren Harries on, an incredible personality who we really don’t see enough of on television these days, so bravo to FIVE for that journo-pleasing touch.
Whether Celebrity Big Brother will hold our attention for its duration remains to be seen. Of course some of the cheaper women’s magazines can’t afford not to write about it, but the show may suffer due to lack of engaging celebrities. Jedward are the biggest stars, which itself says a lot, but they’re still better in small doses. Kerry Katona is more interesting on the page than on the screen and what’s left - a bunch of people who are either uninterestingly obscure or unable to speak? There’s Lucian from Corrie and there’s that girl from TOWIE, and no doubt they’ll be married before Remembrance Day, but really the show needs more young contestants.
SO. Channel 5 has a big show on its bill now. What they need to do though is stuff the schedule with other good stuff before and after each BB episode. And that doesn’t mean OK!TV with Jeff Brazier, that doesn’t mean irreverent celebrity shows staffed entirely by former Big Brother contestants. FIVE needs to think of something original, something truly enjoyable, something addictive and sexy - and they needs to get it on air quick. FIVE needs a signature show, a Big Breakfast, a Deal or No Deal, an Apprentice, anything - otherwise Big Brother will very quickly become nothing more than an overly-prepared party that everyone left too early. For now Britain has lifted its embargo on FIVE, we’ve dragged our mouses and selected Maybe. Now let’s see if Channel 5 has what it takes for us to click Attending.