Jerry Hall’s Kept

March 29, 2006

The poster you see above achieved a certain infamy after it was banned from the London Underground for being too racy.  The official explanation was that the Underground has a policy of not allowing adverts which feature people as sex objects.  I guess 12 semi-naked men, down on all fours, held on dog leashes by Jerry Hall qualifies.

The plot of the “reality” show is that 12 “unrefined” young American boys get sent to England to compete to be Jerry Hall’s “kept man”… the prize being $100K and other swanky stuff like a sportscar, a penthouse overlooking the Thames, designer suits, and so on.  Oddly enough, the men on the poster are not the men from the show (unless there was a second season I don’t know about), but they are similar, so you get the gist.

With each episode of the show, Jerry Hall (the Ex-Mrs. Mick Jagger, if you didn’t know) puts the boys through a new “challenge” designed to test their skills on gentlemanly pursuits ranging from cooking to polo to painting.  Oh yes, and runway modelling in underwear and swimming across the Thames in underwear.  It seemed to me the show had less to do with learning how to be refined, and more to do with satisfying the erotic whims of a middle-aged b-list celebrity.   Not that I’m complaining, mind you. ;)

It was interesting to look at the spectrum of guys chosen for the show.  Occupations ranged from model/waiter/actor to firefighter to unemployed.  Hair ranged from scraggly to shaved.  And personalities… Well, on the one hand you had Ricardo, a man so in love with his body that you wonder why he’s on the show.  He already has everything he needs: namely himself.  Ricardo was the archetypal example of that incredibly hunky guy you love to look at… so long as you never have to hear him speak.  I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but my personal experience backs it up… there is an inversely proportional relationship between brain and muscle.  Ricardo (and his “bro” Slavco, the other professional model on the show) were walking examples of the “standing around looking beautiful is all I know how to do” crowd.  They never said so on camera, but I’m sure when they were axed from the competition, they must’ve said, “I bet Jerry is a lesbian!  How else could she have turned down this”! (lifts up his shirt to reveal washboard abs).

At the other end of the spectrum, John was a squat, short pudgy guy with unkempt hair and terrible street style… who stayed on the show basically because he was so incredibly earnest.  You got the feeling he’d probably never even seen a horse, let alone played polo on one.  In many ways he was the “soul” of the show.  The guy who’s there to prove that it’s not al about looks, and if you try hard enough, you can overcome the odds.  Of course, he got axed too.

Ultimately, it came down to lanky, bookish, blond-haired Austen and class-clown Boston boy Seth.  I have to be honest and say that I was rooting for seth from the very start.  Of all the guys there, he was the one who really seemed not to give a rat’s ass about winning, and was just there to have a good time.  Maybe it was all an act, but it gave him an air of “reality” missing from the others.  Even though he screwed up at every turn, his sharp wit kept him in the game, and eventually won him the competition.  If Austen hadn’t been such a snooze around Jerry (apparently he’s as wild and crazy as Seth in real life), maybe things would’ve turned out differently.

In any event, it’s all over now. :(  What will I do with my Wednesday nights?

More info: Jerry Hall’s Kept

More info: Seth’s Blog


Berocca

March 27, 2006

This week in Paddington, it’s Berocca!  What’s Berocca, you ask?  Even though the poster makes it look like a tablet you add to water to create instant beer (Why hasn’t anybody come up with that one yet?), Berocca is in fact a tablet you add to water to make Tang.  Granted, it’s vitamin-rich Tang that they’re trying to market as an alternative to Red Bull, but it still looks like Tang to me.

The whole fizzy vitamin drink tablet thing is a rip-off from Airborne in the US.  I think Airborne is still “healthier” than Berocca, but instead of Tang, it tastes more like Fresca and tonic water.  Maybe if you stick one of each in a glass of water you’d get something approaching Sunny Delight… or maybe it would just explode.


Paintballing

March 20, 2006

In a country increasingly weary of guns, bombs and unminded parcels, it seems completely wrong to see giant semi-automatic weapons sitting on a table in the middle of Paddington.  Considering all the swanky, elaborate corporate-sponsored displays we’ve seen recently, it also seems remarkably cheesy.

Why is it that survivalist types always look like, well… survivalist types?  They say these paintballing things are popular with business-oriented “weekend-warriors”, but why have I never seen one of these booths staffed by someone in a suit (or heck, even a sweater and some khakis)?  These are people whose artistic abilities end at draping some army-surplus camouflage netting over two pasting tables and setting up a backyard patio canopy.  I mean, how did they even get into Paddington in the first place?  And who exactly are they expecting to sign up here?

The answer to this question can be found on their signage, which touts paintballing as the perfect compliment to “Stag and Hen Parties, Birthday Parties, and Corporate Events”.  On the other side of the booth, creepiest yet is an ad for “Kids Parties”.  I quote: “A Whole Day of Paintball Action.  Suitable for children from the age of eleven.”  Eleven?  Hey Timmy, stop aiming that at your brother!  Oops, too late.  Continuing: “Bring any number of guests, from one to the whole class.”  Whole class?  What the hell kind of grade schools do they have over here?  Well, we were going to go the the aquarium, but they were remodeling, so we’re all going to dress up like white supremacists (note the ethnicity of everyone on the posters and manning the booth) and mock-kill each other in the woods.  Nice.


Bargain Hunt

March 14, 2006

This is my “other” favorite game show on British TV.  Two teams (consisting of two people each) are given £300 to spend at an antiques fair (read “flea-market”).  Each team has an expert to help choose their three items.  Each team has the ability to swap one of their bought items for something chosen by the expert.  Finally, all the items are then sold at auction, and the team with the highest profit wins.  Simple enough.

But it’s Tim Wonnacott (pictured above), the irrepressibly crusty (and undeniably flaming) host of this show that keeps me watching.  He is the Emiril Lagasse of antiquing.  This man can find amusement in just about anything.  Especially Victorian match-strikers and paperweights.  But more than that, he’s a caricature of what you’d think a British antiques expert would be like.  He’s like Truman Capote.  So over-the-top, you’re sure it must be an act, until you realize it isn’t, which just makes it all the more fascinating.

I have to say, that’s one of the great liberating things I’ve noticed about Britain… with so many people from so many places and so many regional subcultures within Britain itself, there really is no one “accepted behavior” we all have to follow.  In some ways, the more eccentric you are, the better.  And Tim Wonnacott is the poster boy for the National British Eccentrics Union.  He wears flashy bow-ties that would make Tucker Carlson envious.  He fusses and preens over junk antiques like they’re all on loan from Buckingham Palace.  And best of all, he grits his horribly British teeth in disgust when he sees the players choosing a sure-loser.

Since this is the kind of game show you can’t really “win” (ie: there’s no big cash prize; you’re competing just to compete), the players have a lot of fun, mucking about with the experts, and consequently making some of the worst choices you could possibly make at an antiques fair.  If it’s hideously ugly and falling apart, it’s bound to catch someone’s eye on this show.  And they’ll proclaim it “lovely!”  Cut to Tim, grimacing.  Usually, it’s not a matter of making a profit, but of somehow (usually luck) managing to lose less that your opponent.

Every so often, one of the pieces actually sells at auction for a lot of money, and you have to wonder what idiots are buying this crap.  And then you remember you just saw two idiots buying it 20 minutes earlier in the show (albeit for less money).

More info: Bargain Hunt


Deal or No Deal

March 14, 2006

… or as I prefer to call it, “The Box Show.”  I understand there’s an American version of this show now, with a bald-headed Howie Mandel as a host.  Howie Mandel?  He’s still alive?

Anyway, the Box Show is hands-down my favorite game show on British TV.  Here’s how it works:  A contestant randomly opens 22 numbered boxes, each containing amounts ranging from 1p to £250,000.  As more boxes are opened, their chances of winning the big money go up or down via process of elimination.  The last box they open is the amount they walk away with.  Meanwhile, intermittently throughout the “game” a telephone on stage rings and the mysterious unseen “banker” will offer a sum to the player to stop playing and quit early.  This is there the show gets its name.  “Deal or no deal?” is this show’s equivalent to “Is that your final answer?”  So the challenge for the player is, do pay it safe and potentially miss out on a big win, or do you risk it all and potentially walk away with nothing.

It sounds fairly boring on paper, but it’s actually quite addictive for three reasons.  First, no two games are alike.  With 22 boxes to open in random order, that means 22!(factorial) combinations, or over a Million Million Billion combinations (for those of you not familiar with factorials).  That’s a lot!  So, every show is very different.  Second, there’s Noel Edmonds the host (pictured above) who has an amazing ability to be caring and snide at the same time.  You have to be to say things like “Either you made a prudent choice… or you just threw away a life-changing sum of money.  How do you feel about that?  Nervous?”

However it’s the third reason that really makes this show a winner: the contestants.  Or more accurately, the Britishness of the contestants.  They bring with them their sob stories, their life histories, their collections of good-luck charms.  They’re widows, IT geeks, unemployed pensioners, you name it.  And they all seem to believe there’s some pattern to the randomness.  I have yet to see the game where someone just opens the boxes in numeric order or from left to right.  Even though statistically you’d be no better or worse off.  They all go with their kids birthdays or what have you.  There is a slight advantage (in theory) to this.  They all assume that the “banker” can be swayed by sentiment.  I’m not sure that’s the case.  Although he canbe swayed by your perceived willingness to stay in the game to the end.  So, there is a bit of Poker-bluff psychology there (which not enough people on the show exploit, if you ask me).

Even though the “banker” is never seen, he in notorious for making pithy comments about the contestants.  So much so that I wonder if, like Homer, he’s actually a committee of pithy Brits rather than a single person.  No matter though.  Like I said, it’s the contestants that make it worthwhile.  And what you have on screen is like a crash course in the psycho-dynamics of greed.  With each “deal” offer from the “banker”, you can see the little wheels grinding away in their heads.  “Nervous?”  And that’s great entertainment.

More info: Deal or No Deal


Blood Brothers

March 14, 2006

NOTE: The photo above isn’t from the London production, but from a regional theatre production.

Blood Brothers is another uniquely British musical that hinges on two things: class and superstition.  In a nutshell, the plot is: A lower-class single mother in Liverpool with too many kids can’t make ends meet.  Family services is threatening to take her kids away.  When she learns she learns she’s pregnant with twins, she doesn’t know what to do because she can’t provide for both children.  The upper-class woman she cleans for can’t seem to get pregnant, so she offers to take one of the twins as her own, and no one will be the wiser.  (Her own husband has been away for 9 months.)  As the story progresses, the upper-class woman gets, well, freaked out by the proximity of the real mother of “her” child, and does everything she can to separate the two families, particularly exploiting the mother’s superstitious nature by predicting death if the twins ever find out about each other.  Despite these efforts, we watch the boys grow up, from grade school to high school to college and adulthood, and of course they keep running into each other.  Ultimately, a woman comes between them, and the lower-class brother, desperate and criminal, goes into a jealous rage and holds the upper-class brother at gunpoint.  Police intervene, and just as their mother shows up to reveal that they are in fact twins, the police open fire, killing them both (thus fulfilling the prophecy), and the narrator rhetorically asks, “Was it superstition that killed these brothers, or that thing we’ve come to call ‘class’?”

Great material for a musical, eh?  Actually, the show’s been running for 23 years, so they must be doing something right.  This is a musical from a time of “topical” 80’s musicals.  Think Evita and Les Miserables.  Unfortunately, it was also the beginning of a time of “spectacle” Llloyd-Webber musicals (Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Starlight Express), and the relative simplicity of Blood Brotherswas lost on most audiences who wanted to see flying chandeliers and helicopters.  It took another five years after it’s initial (failed) debut to find an audience.  I’m guessing that Reganomics and Thatcherism helped out a bit.

All that having been said, how was the show?  Pretty good overall.  The songs were Sondheim-esque.  Snappy, memorable and well integrated into the plot.  The performances ran the gamut from excellent to laughable.  At the excellent end of the spectrum was Maureen Nolan as the lower-class mother whose ability to appear outwardly cheerful and inwardly depressed was quite amazing.  Less amazing was Sarah Hay as the paranoid upper-class mother, who seemed far more paranoid than the plot required. 

The two “brothers” have a difficult acting task: going from age 8 to age 30 in the course of an evening.  It’s hard to keep a straight face when you’re clearly in your 30’s and you’re jumping around on a sofa wearing a schoolboy’s uniform and screaming, “Mommy, I want to go play with my friends!”  There’s something downright Michael Jackson about it.  All the same, they both do an admirable job, given the material.  I wonder what it must be like for these actors to have to regress into “childhood” seven times a week.  Their significant-others must love it.

The only other regrettable aspect of the play is the narrator, who wares a rumpled Reservoir Dogs black suit, and unfortunately only speaks in verse.  He lurks about the set and occasionally comes forward to act as the Greek chorus, usually reminding us that regardless of the happy moments on stage, doom is waiting around the corner.  During the performance I saw, there were titters throughout the audience whenever we saw the narrator, because we started anticipating his next gloomy message.  It was a little overkill.  Any more, and he should’ve just been wearing a hood and carrying a scythe.

All the same, it was a good show, well worth the price of a half-price ticket.


BT Broadband

March 13, 2006

Nothing too exciting this week in Paddington.  Just a kiosk with laptops, hawking BT Broadband.  I think the guy on the right was homeless, and was just looking for a place to sit.