Category Archives: ‘I’m Spazticus’

This Week in TV – 10th – 16th August

Here I provide a comprehensive list of the best of the coming week’s TV – as the Dragons return, David Walliams re-enters the classroom and puppets invade Saturday night.

Saturday 10th August

That Puppet Game Show

BBC1, 6:45pm

From the company behind The Muppets, Bear in the Big Blue House and Fraggle Rock comes the latest addition to BBC1’s (struggling) Saturday night line-up: That Puppet Game Show.

Over seven weeks, we will watch celebrities go up against each other in a series of madcap'That Puppet Game Show' - BBC1, 6:45pm challenges, overseen by That Puppet Game Show host, Dougie Colon (pronounced ‘Cologne’). Each game which the celebrities – including Gary Lineker, Claudia Winkleman and Jack Dee – partake in  will be looked after by a different expert. Jemima Taptackle is in charge of Sports, Science is with Dr Strabismus, Mental Agility is tested by The Amazing Ian, Nature is in the hands of Jake Hamilton-Jones, Music will be judged by Eddie Watts, and finally Amber O’Neill has Showbiz covered. In addition to the studio games, we will also see what goes on behind-the-scenes at That Puppet Game Show and become acquainted with the show’s producer, Mancie O’Neill and the big boss himself, Udders McGhee.

The celebrity who completes all of the challenges with the most points will win £10,000 for charity. The stars battling it out this week are Jonathan Ross and Katherine Jenkins.

I’ve only seen little clips of That Puppet Game Show and am eager to see how it’s received. Everything tells me that it will be a car crash – Time Out gave it a one-star review last week – but I hope I’m proved wrong. I suppose that after Don’t Scare the Hare (which was axed in 2011, just 2/3 through its run) we have come to assume that anything frivolous and involving non-human presenters is destined for failure. As I said, I hope I’m wrong.

Also today: We’re now half-way through, it’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (ITV, 7:00pm); the highly entertaining (well, in my unpopular opinion, anyway) I Love My Country (BBC1, 7:30pm); Michela Chiappa presents Made in Italy: Top 10 Classic Dishes (More4, 8:00pm); Radio 1Xtra’s Charlie Sloth and Sarah-Jane Crawford host The Urban Prom (BBC3, 9:00pm); and Oscar-winning epic, Braveheart is on Channel 4 at 10:50pm.

Sunday 11th August

Dragon’s Den

BBC2, 8:00pm

Minus the stationery-loving Theo Paphitis and logistic queen, Hilary ‘You Make My Foot Itch’ Devey, Dragons’ Den is once again open for business!

Of course, with two Dragons having left the show, we need two to replace them. So, joining Deborah,(L-R): Kelly Hoppen, Duncan Bannatyne, Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones and Piers Linney Duncan and Peter this series is interior designer and former WAG, Kelly Hoppen – who, since starting her business at the age of 16, has worked for the rich and famous, ‘jazzing up’ their yachts, jets and homes – and solicitor-turned-technology entrepreneur, Piers Linney, who began his business aged 13 (!) and has gone on to be one of those responsible for the rise of the Cloud.

Looking for investment in the Den – which has now been fitted with a lift – tonight are a former male stripper who tries to impress with his culinary skills and two Aussies with a tanning business. Collectively, they want over £800,000, but will any of the Dragons part with their cash?

Also today: Corrie’s Sue Cleaver, Olympian, Anna Watkins and This Morning’s Matt Johnson compete on Tipping Point: Lucky Stars (ITV, 7:00pm); Michaela Strachan, Colin Baker and Jane Danson are on the last in the series of All Star Mr & Mrs (ITV, 8:00pm); The Hairy Bikers’ Restoration Road Trip and Heston’s Italian Revolutionaries begin on BBC2 and More4, respectively (9:00pm); and there’s a repeat of Numb: Simon Amstell Live at the BBC (BBC2, 10:30pm), recorded at the recently-closed Television Centre.

Monday 12th August

Benefits Britain 1949

Channel 4, 9:00pm

In this three-part series, current benefit claimants agree to live life as it was in 1949, the year that the system was introduced.

The first episode takes a look at how the system supports the disabled, elderly and long-term sick,'Benefits Britain 1949' - Channel 4, 9:00pm and whether it needs revising. To do this, Craig (24), Melvyn (71) and Karen (54) all take part. Craig (pictured) was born with spina bifida, and therefore would not have been entitled to benefits in 1949 – but of course is now. He has applied for hundreds of jobs in the past few years, but with no success – but will his experience at a 40s call centre put an end to this? Meanwhile, Melvyn sacrifices his pension and is given his 1940s entitlement of just £38.48 – but, on such little money, he struggles and must sell a family heirloom in order to survive. Finally, Karen has worked all her life and opines that she should receive more help from the state. Whether she would have received it in the 40s, however, is a different matter.

Also today: Discover how the public contribute to the reduction of crime in Fightback Britain (BBC1, 8:30pm); Stacey Dooley travels to Peru for Cocaine Capital of the World (BBC3, 9:00pm); some of the most adventurous design plans which never came to fruition are revealed in Dreaming the Impossible: Unbuilt Britain (BBC4, 9:00pm); chef Gordon helps American guest houses in Ramsay’s Hotel Hell (Channel 4, 10:00pm); and the aptly-timed documentary, My Cyberstalking Hell: Liz McClarnon is on Channel 5 at 10:00pm.

Tuesday 13th August

On the Run

ITV, 9:00pm

Mark Williams-Thomas and Natasha Kaplinsky present this one-off documentary which follows the search for three wanted criminals as the police aim to bring them to justice.

The force’s methods for catching these criminals are revealed in the programme: the undercover stings and subterfuge, all to capture a burglar, violent escapee and sex offender.

Watch as the presenters reveal the operations behind catching some of our most wanted fugitives.

Also today: The first in the new series of Born to Kill? (Channel 5, 8:00pm) focuses on thief and murderer, Donald Neilson; Anita Rani presents India’s Supersize Kids (BBC2, 9:00pm), looking at the country’s obesity epidemic; Football, Madness & Me (BBC3, 9:00pm) follows a football team made up of players with mental health problems; and, on a thankfully far lighter note, Kirstie Allsopp: House Proud begins on More4 at 9:00pm.

Wednesday 14th August

I’m Spazticus

Channel 4, 10:50pm

Well if there’s one show I certainly didn’t expect to see back this year – with the possible exception of Gates or Kookyville (don’t remember them? Lucky you!) – it’s I’m Spazticus, a hidden-camera show which sees disabled actors play pranks on members of the public.

When the first series aired last year, after a largely'I'm Spazticus' - Channel 4, 10:50pm unremembered pilot from 2005, I was very critical  of it in my reviews. I disliked almost all of the first episode but began to warm to it towards the end and understand that, as it starred disabled actors, it wasn’t mocking conditions such as cerebral palsy and dwarfism – it was shining a torch on our perceptions of and attitudes towards the disabled. As I was told by one of the show’s stars, Simon Stevens, last year, though, I’m Spazticus isn’t out to change perceptions: just make people laugh. And I’m sure it’ll do the same this time.

I’m still not entirely comfortable with the title, though…

Also today: Brian Capron, Miranda Krestovnikoff, Shappi Khorsandi and Shane Lynch enter the kitchen for Celebrity MasterChef (BBC1, 8:00pm); Starlings star Lesley Sharp traces her family tree in Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1, 9:00pm); Emma Willis presents a new series of Girlfri3nds (ITV2, 9:00pm); Dan Cruickshank investigates Robert Warpole’s collection of art in Britain’s Lost Treasures Returned (BBC4, 9:00pm); and constructed-reality comedy series Boom Town begins (BBC3, 10:00pm). Funnily enough, the aforementioned Kookyville was a ‘constructed-reality comedy series’ – and I hated it…

Thursday 15th August

Paul O’Grady’s Working Class Britain

BBC1, 9:00pm

As anyone who has read just one of Paul O’Grady’s wonderful autobiographies will know, the comic  not only comes from a family of eccentric matriarchs but grew up at a time when the class system was very much still in place, and'Paul O'Grady's Working Class Britain' - BBC1, 9:00pm people who were working class were proud. However, that is no longer so: in recent years, the lines appear to have been blurred between classes, and status means less than it previously did.

In this documentary, Paul sets out to find some fellow working-class, hard grafters like himself, and prove that they are not simply a forgotten tribe. To do this, the actor and presenter looks back at his roots, growing up on the terraced streets of Birkenhead when people were working-class and proud, and looks at the decline of the mines and factories, and how that impacted on the workers. He also gets stuck in with a decent hard day’s graft in an attempt to rediscover that sense of community and pride which has for so long been lacking.

Also today: My Dwarf Family (ITV, 9:00pm) follows three families with achondroplasia; film Bridget Jones’s Diary (ITV2, 9:00pm); and Crazy About One Direction (Channel 4, 10:00pm) meets lots of teenagers who are…well…crazy about One Direction.

Friday 16th August

Big School

BBC1, 9:00pm

Written by and starring David Walliams, new sitcom Big School centres around the staff at Greybridge comprehensive.

When French teacher Mrs Kent dies, the flame-haired Miss Postern (Catherine Tate) replaces her –'Big School' - BBC1, 9:00pm and catches the eye of Chemistry teacher, Mr Church (Walliams) and PE instructor, Mr Gunn (Phillip Glensiter). She, however, does not gain much approval from no-nonsense headmistress, Ms Baron (Frances de la Tour), who dislikes Miss Postern’s unorthodox teaching style – which includes translating will.i.am’s name to will.je.suis.

Other familiar faces popping up during the series include: Stella star, Steve Speirs as Geography teacher, Mr Barber; Getting On and The Thick of It’s Joanna Scanlan as lesbian Drama tutor, Mrs Klebb; and floppy-haired BT ads star, Daniel Rigby as incompetent Music teacher, Mr Martin.

As we join the staff at Greybridge in the first episode, Mr Church is handing in his resignation, after his students and colleagues have finally worn him down. However, on seeing Miss Postern, he withdraws his resignation and decides to stay. It soon becomes clear that Mr Gunn also have eyes for the new arrival, though, so Mr Church takes advice from one of his students, Manyou, to woo her. Let’s just say that Manyou’s advice would more likely be carried out by someone like Ashley Cole…

Catherine Tate looks set to be the stand-out star of Big School – from what I’ve already seen, she plays Miss Postern perfectly and I’m sure hers and Mr Church’s ‘will-they-won’t-they’ relationship, intertwined with the love triangle involving themselves and Mr Gunn, will be a treat to watch.

Also today: Chris Packham presents The Burrowers (BBC2, 9:00pm), looking at animals living underground; north-eastern comics Sarah Millican and Chris Ramsey, and circuit favourite, Abandoman, join the regulars for the last in the series of 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown (Channel 4, 9:00pm); films Troy (ITV2), Sense and Sensibility (More4) and He’s Just Not That Into You (E4) are on at 9:00pm; and, as he prepares to hit road again next year, there’s a repeat of Lee Mack Live (Channel 4, 10:00pm).

Are you particularly looking forward to any of these shows or is there something else from the world of TV which you want to have your say about? Feel free to comment below or tweet me –@UKTVReviewer.

Image credits: That Puppet Game Show – Thanks to BBC and Guy Levy, ©BBC; Dragons’ Den – Thanks to BBC and Andrew Farrington, ©BBC; Benefits Britain 1949 – Thanks to Channel 4; I’m Spazticus – Thanks to Channel 4 and Zeitgeist Television; Paul O’Grady’s Working Britain – Thanks to BBC and Johann Perry, ©Johann Perry; Big School – Thanks to BBC and Des Willie, ©BBC.

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‘I’m Spazticus’ – Episode 1.4

After four nights of causing controversy and offence but undoubtedly entertaining, I’m Spazticus finished its run tonight and it was much like it has been for the past three: peppered with humour, but mainly heaped with damp squibs.

‘VICTIM DISCOMFORT’

The ‘victim discomfort’ was particularly funny tonight, both in the ‘Police Parade’ and the ‘Blind Date’ sketches. In the former, a woman had to bend down in a police parade in order to ‘blend in’ with the other participants – three dwarves. To top it all, she was all but forced to deliver the line, “Why do you put your pornography so high on the shelf?” That was actually really funny. Elsewhere, a blind man went to a restaurant and told his waiter – Sean – that he was expecting a blind date to turn up. If the date was attractive, Tim (the blind man) told Sean, he should recommend the Chef’s Special, otherwise he must recommend the pork. Put it this way: there’s no way Sean could have recommended the Chef’s Special.

DÉJÀ VU!

That’s all that I found funny about I’m Spazticus tonight, unfortunately. I think the problem with this series has been that a lot of the sketches became repetitive and predictable – ‘Dwarf Punch Sandwich’ and ‘Talking Guide Dog’ spring to mind. There really was a sense that once you’d seen them once, you’d seen them a hundred times. There was simply next-to-no variation between one instalment and then the other, it’s a case it déjà vu a lot of the time.

Whether I’m Spazticus will get a second outing on Channel 4, I have no idea. Personally, I wouldn’t be bothered either way. If it returned, I’d watch it but if it didn’t, I wouldn’t mourn it. Still, it’s got people talking!

Twitter – @UKTVReviewer
Also, keep up-to-date with the latest TV news, reviews and interviews at www.thecustardtv.com, where some of my articles will also appear.

‘I’m Spazticus’ – Episode 1.3

Love it or loathe it, I’m Spazticus has people talking. Those who love it, I’m finding, do so simply because they find it funny – it has nothing to do with the disability aspect for them, I think. However, those who loathe it are tending to find it offensive and unfunny. I don’t love it, I wouldn’t even say I particularly like it, but I no longer loathe it either.

MAX & TANYA

There were two sketches in particular last night which I found very funny. Firstly, there was the opening one which saw Max, the dwarf, back in his role as a guard standing outside a public toilet, preventing people from going in. It wasn’t the sketch itself which I liked, there was just something funny about him standing there and declaring to a woman he was refusing access, “It’s a bit of a humdinger.” No? Is it just me that found that funny? Oh well.

My favourite sketch of the episode and indeed the series as a whole, without a shadow of a doubt, was a trailer for a Channel 4 documentary following a dwarf called Tanya Lee Jones who was looking for love. We saw clips of her telling bemused men about her pole dancing and, best of all, “I don’t shave down there ‘cos that makes me look legal.” However, the punchline and the one thing from I’m Spazticus which has genuinely made me laugh out loud was the title, revealed at the end of the trailer: Midget Jones’s Diary. Just inspired.

FUNNY?

I suppose once we’ve got over whether I’m Spazticus is offensive or not (I’ve decided that it’s not), the next question is, is it funny? Well…no. Apart from a couple of sketches in each episode, I haven’t found much to laugh at in this show. True, there are some skits which don’t have strong premises, and there are others which do…but aren’t executed well, therefore leaving their potential unfortunately unfulfilled.

WRONG DIRECTION

I can’t help thinking that I’m Spazticus might work better as a sketch show rather than a ‘hidden-camera’ one. After all, it is the sketches which I think mainly work best: the ‘Fenton!’ one which I mentioned in my last review and the spoof of the Class sketch from The Frost Report were great and don’t use hidden-cameras.

If I’m Spazticus continues after tonight’s final episode – which I doubt it will – it should really concentrate more on scripted sketches than improvised hidden-camera pranks.

Twitter – @UKTVReviewer

Also, keep up-to-date with the latest TV news, reviews and interviews at www.thecustardtv.com, where some of my articles will also appear.

‘I’m Spazticus’ – Episode 1.2

I’ve been looking forward to writing this one again! Channel 4’s new hidden-camera prank show I’m Spazticus continued tonight and it still seems to be splitting opinion, as opposed to sides.

THE TWEETS

I tend not to go on Twitter to see what people are saying about a show I’m going to review, out of fear I’ll be influenced by others’ views, rather than just expressing my own. However, after I’d uploaded my review of I’m Spazticus last night, I did go on the site to see what the reaction was. Immediately I saw many tweets from writer Jonathan Harvey saying he didn’t like the show and didn’t really find it funny. Now, Jonathan wrote the quite risqué and rude Gimme Gimme Gimme – which confirmed my point that I didn’t have to be a prude not to like I’m Spazticus.

I then received a tweet in agreement with my review so I knew I had struck a chord with some people. However, I woke up this morning to find that I had also received a tweet from Simon Stevens, the man with cerebal palsy who starred in the sketch I mainly objected to in my review last night – the one focusing on an identity parade. The main reason for Simon’s tweet was to clarify that I’m Spazticus isn’t here to change perceptions but to simply create comedy with disabled people being prominent. The reason I said that the show is out to change perceptions is because I read an article in which blind actor and I’m Spazticus star Tim Gebbels basically said he had plans to stop people being “scared” of disability. That is where my misconception stemmed from and I’m sorry that I got it wrong. I told Simon that the first episode simply didn’t appeal to me and perhaps I’d become more of a fan when I watched tonight’s instalment. And I’m pleased to say: I am warming to it.

ONLY A SLIGHT DISCOMFORT

I certainly didn’t feel the discomfort that I did when watching the first episode. I mean, I cringed a little at the sketch involving Tim Gebbels attempting to hand over the Olympic torch to a woman who’d had her hands amputated but that was the intended reaction, wasn’t it? I’m sure I’m Spazticus is meant to make the viewer cringe a smidgen in places. It definitely became more obvious to me by watching tonight’s show – and by receiving Steven’s clarification earlier – that the comedy stems from the able-bodied ‘victims’ of the pranks’ reactions, not the performers themselves. I liked Max – the dwarf – pretending to be a guard, it was just as funny on this episode as it was on the first. Also, Tim – the blind performer – having his letter read out by a bemused man at his door, revealing he had a series of STDs was very good and I felt so sorry for the woman who thought actor Peter Mitchell being stuck in his wheelchair in a tree after an alleged parachuting accident was genuine and was at pains to get help. I mean, seriously: who would believe that that was a real incident if they saw it in the street? Apart from that woman, of course.

THE WEAKNESSES

There are still some weaknesses to I’m Spazticus, however, I feel. The sketches in it make me raise a smile but seldom laugh. I think if it hadn’t been for the creators tapping into the niche of disability in comedy, it wouldn’t stand out in the prank or hidden-camera show genre.

Some sketches are dragged out, too. Take the ‘Gnome-o-gram’ skit, for example. That was a brilliant visual joke when it started but became quite monotonous when we kept revisiting it to find that not a lot had changed. Ditto for the ‘Fenton’ sketch which ended both last night’s and tonight’s show by lampooning the infamous ‘FENTON!’ YouTube clip. In these, we see one of the I’m Spazticus performers racing after their dog (or in Tim Gebbel’s case his ‘Guide Dwarf’…don’t ask). Last night, we only had one but tonight we had two versions of this. When I first saw it in the opening episode, I found it funny. When I watched it in tonight’s show, though, I thought it was a little less funny as it didn’t differ a lot from the previous one. The one saving grace with it ending tonight’s show was that it had a twist, with Tim chasing after his aforementioned ‘Guide Dwarf’…and then dropping the C-word at the end! I didn’t expect that!

So, I enjoyed tonight’s show a little more but I still think it’s got a little way to go before it can fully establish itself. I hope it can – it has potential.

Twitter – @UKTVReviewer

Also, keep up-to-date with the latest TV news, reviews and interviews at www.thecustardtv.com, where some of my articles will also appear.

‘I’m Spazticus’ – Episode 1.1

As part of their ‘Funny Fortnight’, Channel 4 have commissioned a four-part series of I’m Spazticus, which originally piloted in 2005 as part of Comedy Lab. Now, I didn’t see the pilot so had nothing to compare this opening episode to. I did, however, have reservations.

POLITICALLY CORRECT?

For one, how the hell did the title make it past the censors? Very few comedians nowadays would dare utter the word “spaz”, so derogatory a term is it. I’d just like to clarify that I’m not complaining about the lack of usage of this word – I think it’s offensive, too. Therefore I was dubious about the show itself as this word – as is palpable – appears in the title.

It’s quite difficult to write this review as I feel as if I’m treading on eggshells: can I say this? Can I say that? Is that the politically correct term? I don’t think the creators and stars of I’m Spazticus had these fears, however, as this show is quite in-your-face and they don’t let you forget what their aim is – to change people’s attitudes towards disability and make it less of a taboo subject. Did they succeed? My opinion is no.

BLIND MAN’S BLUFF

I mean, there were some funny sketches in this episode, such as the one in which a blind man received a delivery of a dog which he thought was his beloved Blackie, who had apparently been stuffed after its death, only for him to be told what had actually been brought to him was a stuffed golden Labrador. This man also reappeared later in what was my highlight of I’m Spazticus – a skit in which he walked into a roller-blind shop called ‘We Love Blinds’, claiming that he thought it was a dating agency for blind people. When he walked into the shop, you could see the joke coming a mile off but it still worked really well.

UNCOMFORTABLE VIEWING…BUT NOT IN A GOOD WAY

Anyway, that’s enough of what I found good about I’m Spazticus: it’s now onto the bad. I’m afraid I found a lot of the sketches very repetitive and dragged-out: I ‘got it’ within the first ten seconds of a sketch beginning – it didn’t need to be dragged-out for a further two minutes or more. God only knows how this is going to be spread out over four consecutive nights!

And then, there are the sketches themselves. There were two in particular which I took umbrage with: one involving a ‘Street Dance’ in which a dwarf, an amputee and a man with cerebal palsy all busked in the street in front of stunned onlookers and another which saw an able-bodied man partake in an identity parade with three other men who all had cerebal palsy. I have to say that I found both of these very uncomfortable to watch. I don’t want to come across as a prude – I’m seldom prudish – but there was just something about these two sketches in particular which didn’t sit well with me. As a viewer, feeling discomfort can be a good thing: it can sometimes get you involved with the programme, make you laugh and cringe in equal measure. Take The Office for example: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant tackled subjects like ethnicity and disability in that show and I think it’s the only comedy which can actually have you watching through your fingers yet be hilarious at the same time. I’m Spazticus, however, didn’t do that – it just made me feel this discomfort without any of the positive connotations. Clearly these two skits in particular were created in order to challenge the viewer’s conscience, to make them really consider whether they were laughing at or with the performers. Unfortunately, this failed because, if you’re like me, you weren’t even laughing in the first place.

‘I DON’T THINK THIS WILL HELP’

Channel 4 has a certain reputation for pushing boundaries and challenging its viewers but I think there are aspects of I’m Spazticus which take this too far. I’m not denying that the intentions of the programme are good – I can see why they want to change the public’s perceptions towards disability and why they’ve chosen this way to go about it but, if I’m being honest, I don’t think the end product will help their cause a great deal.

There’s more I’m Spazticus tomorrow night at 10:35pm on Channel 4. Until then, though, you can follow me on Twitter (@UKTVReviewer) or stay up-to-date with my reviews and those of others, as well as TV news and interviews at www.thecustardtv.com.