Tag Archives: ITV

Why ‘Take Me Out’ is the most disturbing show on British TV

27 Jan

Take Me Out

There was a scene in the first episode of Channel 4’s excellent new drama series, Utopia, in which one of the main characters was tortured by having chili flakes, sand and bleach rubbed into his eyes, and then having one of his eyes popped out with a tea-spoon. It made for uncomfortable viewing, and yet I’d maintain it’s only the second most disturbing thing I’ve seen on British telly in the last fortnight.

Third, if we're including repeats of 'In The Night Garden'.

Third, if we’re including repeats of In The Night Garden.

What tops my list, I hear you ask? Take Me Out.

Take Me Out

For those of you with the dignity and self-respect not to watch this every single SaturdayTake Me Out is ITV’s 21st Century answer to Blind Date, the dating show in which young couples are hitched up and sent off on a date to a dream location. Except, actually, it’s less like Blind Date and more like a kind of bleak, post-apocalyptic breeding programme dressed up as light entertainment in the aftermath of a zombie epidemic or nuclear war in which 90% of men have died.

I've often wondered if it's a sequel to 'Threads'.

I’ve often wondered if it’s a sequel to Threads.

It’s hosted by Paddy McGuinness (who always comes across as the kind of man who would flirt outrageously with your girlfriend or wife, thump you in the back and say, “Only joshing!”, and then do it all over again, but more malevolently) and features a line-up of women aged between 18 and 30-ish who decide whether or not a single man is worthy of a date. If they like him, they leave their lights on, if they don’t they switch them off (“No likey, no lighty”). If, after several rounds of competing for their affections, the single man has any lights left on, he gets to choose who he takes on the date.

For the uninitiated, it’s pretty grisly, depressing stuff. The women fall into roughly four categories:

  • 40% young, white and blonde
  • 40% young, white and brunette
  • 15% young and black or Asian
  • 5% “kookie”

The men, in turn, fall into a similar four categories, with added sub-categories like “ridiculously buff”, “lower double figure IQ”, and “ironic hipster”.

Take Me Out

Needless to say, no-one comes out of this mess with their dignity intact. The man is invariably made to perform a ridiculous task (juggling, playing a musical instrument etc) or else look on in horror as they play a VT of his “friends” telling everyone how terrible he is with women, how smelly his feet are, or how many STDs he managed to pick up on a lads’ trip to Magaluf.

Most damning, for the women, is the “boo!” sound as they switch off their lights when it becomes clear the single man doesn’t earn much money, or isn’t the sort of gym-honed troglodyte who promises a life of brief excitement followed by serial infidelity, steroid-fuelled jealousy and possible domestic abuse.

“I go to the gym every day…”

(Lights stay on.)

“I’m a kick boxer…”

(Lights stay on.)

“I visit my gran every other day and twice on weekends…”


“And I work for a charity…”


“But the rest of the time I work for a large investment bank in the City of London. And I love driving my Lamborghini.”

(Lights stay on. Girls who turned their lights off look visibly annoyed with themselves.)

In between these rounds of self-abasement for both genders we see what happened to the couples from last week’s show. The running joke is that they’re sent to the “Isle of Fernando” – in reality some generic, vaguely upmarket Mediterranean holiday resort – but despite the sun, sea and sand it’s almost always the most depressing thing you’ve ever seen; like a 5 minute Ingmar Bergman pastiche, with piña coladas.

"I've nevvah played chess before. Have you?" "No, I nevvah." "I used to play Buckaroo and mousetrap when I was a kid but I nevvah played chess." "No. Me neevah."

“I’ve nevvah played chess before. Have you?” “No, I nevvah.” “I used to play Buckaroo and mousetrap when I was a kid but I nevvah played chess.” “No. Me neevah.”

Suddenly two people who were tossing out “witty”, innuendo-based one-liners with abandon a week ago are rendered mute or inarticulate. (Anyone would think they’d had a team of runners or line producers feeding them funny things to say back in the studio…)

A waxy-looking brunette from Braintree sits opposite a shaved gorilla from Eastbourne. Behind them, a turquoise swimming pool shimmers in the dusk, and as they sip champagne the sun melts, blood red, into the sea.

He looks at her across the table, flexes his oversized arms, and says, “I really like courgettes.”

She frowns, the fork paused near her lips. “What’s a courgette?”

He points to his plate. “That’s a courgette.”

Her eyes grow wide. She puts down her fork. “I thought that was a cucumber.”

And okay, so I’m not quoting from an actual date here, but that’s pretty much the level we’re talking. And usually, by the end of the date, Tasha from Braintree (who last week said she was fed up with “bad boys” and looking for a “nice guy”) has decided that Connor (who looks like a “bad boy” but who lives with his Nan) is a “bit too nice”, and that she prefers someone a little bit “rough around the edges”. Connor, meanwhile, hasn’t managed to process much more than the fact that Tasha has breasts, and thinks “romance may be on the cards”.

Back to the studio, where McGuinness compares the date to something terrible…

"That date were like the Hindenburg disaster. Full of hot air and screaming Nazis."

“That date were like the Hindenburg disaster: Full of hot air and screaming Nazis.”

Then it’s time to replenish his stock of crazy-eyed women, and another helpless chump comes dancing out onto the stage to the strains of Color Me Badd’s I Wanna Sex You Up. 

And yet, despite all this, I find myself watching it every week. I think a part of me watches because it feels like the kind of show we should be watching in 2013 – all flashing lights, bright colours and enormous video screens, laced with a subtext of bleak, sexual desperation; The Year of the Sex Olympics for the Magaluf Weekender generation. I watch waiting for something to go catastrophically wrong, for the moment when a young couple, bloodied and clad in rags, come staggering out onto the stage, followed by a closing ring of armed security officers in black uniforms.

“It’s all a lie!” Screams the young couple. “There is no Isle of Fernando! They’re all dead! THEY’RE ALL DEAD!”

We hear a rattle of gunfire, and our screens jump to the test card. Minutes later, we’re back on McGuinness while the cameras try and film around the cleaners mopping the stage.

“And remember… No likey, no lighty… Single man! Reveal yourself!”


David Llewellyn is the author of six novels, most recently Ibrahim & Reenie, which you can buy here.

The Diabolical Schemes of Gary Barlow

18 Nov

So, last night I watched X Factor for the first time in about a month-and-a-half. Don’t know what it is, but this series really hasn’t grabbed me in the way previous years’ have. Usually I stay away until the sadistic – not to mention deeply unethical – audition stage is over.

I know, I know… “But that’s the best bit,” you’ll say. But the whole “Victorian asylum tour” vibe leaves me feeling grubby.

“That was possibly the worst rendition of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’ I have ever heard.”

Take this clip for example. Simon Cowell describes Cardiff auditionee Rachel as “rude, cocky, deluded”. Anyone who lives in Adamsdown – as I do – will tell you she is also mentally ill, and can be seen most afternoons staggering up and down Clifton Street, laughing to herself, or shouting at the people in Gregg’s. Now, while it isn’t for me to accuse Syco and ITV of ruthlessly manipulating and exploiting the mentally ill in the name of entertainment… Oh, wait. No, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

“La la la… I’m not listening… la la la…”

So in recent years I’ve found myself enjoying the live shows much more than the auditions, but this year… not so much. Maybe the format is tired. Maybe the judges just aren’t witty or ascerbic enough. Maybe Nicole Scherzinger’s brutal rape of the English language (“Shamazeballs”) makes me want to reach down my throat with a greased-up fist and pull out my own spleen. Who can say?

Seriously, lady. Sha-fuck off.

What struck me, though, while watching last night’s episode, was that Gary Barlow has one act left in the competition, and – inexplicably – it’s peachy Scouse club singer Christopher Maloney. For the uninitiated, Christopher was the guy whose first audition nerves saw him shaking like a Golden Pond era Katherine Hepburn, and who won the nation’s heart. Then, for reasons I couldn’t care less about let alone remember, he didn’t make it past “judges houses” but somehow got through to the live rounds. And he’s still there, after so many others have been booted off and turned into a cheap, Soylent-Green-style foodstuff for the cast of The Only Way Is Essex.

Look at them. These people would eat their own children if they thought it would get them on TV.

Christopher Maloney is a man out of time. Had he been born anywhere between 1935 and 1940, he would have been huge. Just a couple of years later, less so. Look at Tom Jones and Tony Christie. Tom was born 1940, Christie was born 1943, and if it wasn’t for Peter Kay most of you would never have even heard of Tony Christie. The world has not been kind to big voiced crooners this last, what… 40 years?

Especially ones who do this with their face.

Now, obviously, being over 28 years old Maloney is in a category the X Factor audience gives least of a fuck about, so it was always likely they’d be down to a single act this late in the competition, but why him? Well, here’s where I have a theory.

Gary Barlow, you see, is like the evil scientist in The Human Centipede. From day one he has seen, in Christopher Maloney, the potential to achieve something he could never do alone. He is out to create the most middle-of-the-road act the world has ever known.

This is the face of a madman.

Picture him pacing around the hospital bed on which – for no particular reason – Christopher lies.

“Oh, they accused me of being middle-of-the-road when Take That first took off, Christopher, but let me tell you… We were the Velvet fucking Underground compared to Westlife. It was Robbie, see? When you’ve got a wildcard in the pack, it taints the rest of the endeavour. How could I ever stake my claim on the very middle of the road when we had a crazy character like Robbie in the band? He had to go. But by then it was too late.

“He’d poisoned everything. No sooner had he left, than Howard grew dreadlocks, and Mark started getting ideas very much above his station. Before I knew it, we were doing Nirvana covers. It was insane. And when you’ve gone over to the far side of the road, there’s no coming back to the middle, no matter how hard you try.”

Christopher looks up at him, his eyes rheumy with the promise of tears, his bottom lip trembling like a plate of Liverpudlian blancmange.

“B-b-b-b-b-but what’s all this got to do with me, G-g-g-gary?”

“Oh, Christopher. Don’t you see? You’re my protege. The zenith of my dreams, my ambitions. The crowning achievement of my entire career. You, Christopher, are the most middle-of-the-road act the world will ever know. You have a big voice, but which carries virtually no genuine emotion. Though clearly batting for the other side, you’re non-threatening, and the grannies love that. By the time I’m finished with you, Christopher, you’ll make Richard Clayderman sound like Aphex cocking Twin.”

Anyway, to atone for all this, my next blog will probably be about Stavinsky and Holst. It’s all about the balance, people.