In Christopher Nolan’s head-wrecking new blockbuster, Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio assembles a crack team of specialists to engineer a heist that takes place inside someone’s brain: Ocean’s Cerebellum, if you like.
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With the canny abolition of just one apostrophe, Five have appropriated Don’t Stop Believin’, the half-forgotten Journey maxi-ballad that became an unavoidable global smasheroo after being featured prominently in the debut episode of Glee last year (you’ve heard it even if you think you haven’t – it’s the one that goes “on and on and on and on”).
The result is the cheerfully craven Don’t Stop Believing (Five, tonight, 7pm), a nationwide talent search to discover the UK’s most Gleeful song-and-dance troupe. The prize? A record deal. It might sound like another repeat order from The X Factory, but whatever low-rent stops exist at Five have emphatically been pulled out to try to make it a hit.
An appealing trailer – featuring dozens of all-shapes-and-sizes singers in primary-coloured pyjamas mashing up various karaoke touchstones in an a capella style – looks like it cost more to stage and film than the entire current series of Live At Studio Five. And while the actual competition might be limited to six Sunday night shows, the relentlessly upbeat, cheerleading spirit will permeate Five’s entire output for the rest of the summer, with bite-size performances by various “Don’t Stop Believers” threaded throughout the schedule.
The idea seems to be that whenever you guiltily tune in for your CSI: Miami fix you’ll also get a bracing shot of choreographed uplift. Repeatedly experiencing a doo-wop version of Take On Me will presumably encourage you to associate the similar happy-clappyness of Glee with Five instead of its actual home, E4 (where it has easily overtaken Skins as the channel’s most popular offering). Most executives would be content to simply slipstream the Glee bandwagon. Five apparently want to hang up their own Magic Tree and grab the steering wheel.
Will it work? Since Don’t Stop Believing is live – a laudable, if surprising, decision, considering how many retakes are required to craft Glee’s musical sequences – we’ll just have to wait and see. But compared to some of the ill-qualified judges we’ve seen lord it over other such contests, they’ve at least assembled a decent crew to arbitrate.
Emma Bunton is nominally in charge, and her default setting of unthreatening sunnyness should help put any nervous choristers at their ease. The formidable Anastacia – patron saint of hen nights everywhere, and current holder of the Steamy Windows award for Most Teeth-Rattling Vocal Impersonation Of Tina Turner – brings a touch of industry heft, having sold 20 million albums, as well as some useful American-accented glamour.
Holding up the British end are Tamzin Outhwaite and Duncan James, both multi-talented entertainers with recent experience over-emoting on the West End stage (in Sweet Charity and Legally Blonde, respectively). And signalling that Five might also have an eye on the rapidly maturing High School Musical fanbase, they’ve recruited Chucky Klapow – holy backflip, Batman! – the enthusiastic fellow responsible for creating all those energetic HSM sequences involving cartwheels down school corridors and rhythmically bouncing basketballs in gym halls. (Don’t smirk: Klapow won an Emmy for his High School Musical choreography.)
So they’ve assembled a sturdy enough framework for the show, and sunk a lot of money into marketing it. But what about the actual talent? Five years ago, the idea that there were teens genuinely obsessed with singing and dancing anywhere outside the brainwashing confines of a stage school appeared highly unlikely. Now, though, instead of hanging around in feral packs outside Spar swapping football stickers and casually intimidating passers-by, young hoodies are apparently channelling all that angry hormonal energy into blistering displays of improvised street dance and formulating innovative four-part harmonies for 1980s’ rock ballads. (The latter can sometimes represent an insurmountable challenge – Britain might be broken, but often their voices ain’t.)
Five has been spotlighting some of the competing groups in the past week, and they all seem unquestionably committed. Tonight’s first heat features the kids from Singer Station in Alexandria near Glasgow, a particularly persuasive mix of spirit-lifting performance and hard-scrabble backstory.
There’s even an exchange programme, of sorts: concurrently with the main competition, Bunton will be assembling a supergroup of singers to fly over to the US to represent Britain in a proper Glee-style competition.
Apparently there are Don’t Stop Believing pods travelling around the country as we speak, ready to capture your solo singing audition just as soon as the microchip has been subcutaneously inserted at the top of your spine (that’s a joke. The microchip goes in your arm).
If, like me, you fell for Glee despite having a desiccated black fossil where your heart should be, it was most likely because the dementedly life-affirming musical numbers were punctuated by some smart, often prickly drama. However calculated Don’t Stop Believing might be, by focusing wholly on the singin’-and-hoofin’ dimension, it still risks reaching dangerous levels of non-cynicism that could irreversibly damage our national psyche in the long-term.
So do your bit to Keep Britain Snidey by cackling up your sleeve at the names some of the hopefuls have gifted themselves. Seriously, it’s like the world’s worst brand-values brainstorming session on Junior Apprentice. Guys! Girls! Just call yourself something straightforward! Not Eschoir, The ClasSix or – and I have no idea why this one makes me giggle so much – Dice.
After an illuminating set of Hollywood-focused genealogical digs, Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC One, Monday, 9pm) returns to UK celebrities for a new nine-episode series. It kicks off with the unstoppable Bruce Forsyth, a man who could teach those Glee whippersnappers a thing or two about being an all-round entertainer.
After his supporting role in last week’s very peculiar Cutting Edge documentary, Living With Brucie, the ever-dapper Forsyth throws himself whole-heartedly into finding out the truth about his great-grandfather, after receiving a letter from America from a woman claiming to be a long-lost relative.
As the investigation takes him from London to New York, Forsyth has to contend with rumours that his great-grandfather might have been married to two women at the same time. Presumably he didn’t realise that you get nothing for a pair. Not in this game.
Damien Love is away. Graeme Virtue talks TV every Wednesday morning on Radio Scotland’s MacAulay & Co.