It seems, lately, that whenever a television show arrives promising a brave new format, my first thought is: “There’s no way I’m watching that.”
And I had it with I Can Hear Your Voice, BBC1’s latest Saturday night effort, hosted by Paddy McGuinness, where people lip-sync to someone singing in what may or may not be their own voice. The contestants and panel then have to decide if that person really does sound like Idina Menzel or if they’re more like garden foxes in mating season.
“There’s no way I’m watching that,” I said three weeks ago. Two weeks ago, I made sure I wasn’t busy at 7.45pm, and last week I went full hen-do as I settled in, squealing happily when the contestants began to belt out their very best worst singing voice. It is a fantastic waste of time.
Unlike most quiz shows – though I’m not sure this quite counts as a quiz show – this isn’t about showing off knowledge or skill. It is about looking the business and lying through your teeth. The singers get a backstory – a West End child star, a children’s entertainer – and they simply have to look believable. If they get far enough, they have to talk, to see if their speaking voice matches their karaoke pipes. Ultimately, it’s about whether they appear trustworthy or not.
Another of my favourite wastes of time, This Is My House, takes that further: four people walk around a home that only one of them owns, telling wonderful stories about why they have this vase, chose this painting or why they married this man, who has to sit there, straight-faced, as three strangers discuss the minutiae of their wedding day and what it is they fancy most about him. Brilliant.
It’s funny, isn’t it, that in this day and age, and you can see where I’m going with this, we’ve turned the ability to bullshit into a spectacle, something that we don’t quite know how to process. Are we amused? Are we confounded? Or are we just numbly dancing in our living rooms as someone stands next to Ronan Keating, butchering Life Is a Rollercoaster?
Emily Blunt: fear not, horror is back soon
The final trailer for A Quiet Place Part II came out last week, teasing the eventual release of one of the many big blockbusters that have been pushed back again and again by the closure of cinemas.
Alongside all that end-of-the-world-again tension, and Emily Blunt in a smock with a gun, it weaves in quotes about how the film is made to be seen in cinemas.
Horror films really benefit from public viewing, because it means you can’t wimp out and turn it off to watch the wedding episode of Schitt’s Creek, and because there is a deep pleasure in being terrified in a room full of strangers who have all signed up to be scared. The collective jump makes it twice as thrilling.
I only saw the first A Quiet Place last year, during a masochistic period of consuming apocalypse-themed fiction. It was oddly soothing to gobble up stories of disasters.
In March 2020, sales of Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, about the aftermath of an apocalyptic flu outbreak, rocketed, so clearly many felt the same. Now that some parts of the world are beginning to inch towards the light, I wonder if doom stories will hold the same appeal?
Edward Short: an endless saga worthy of a mini-series
There has been an update from Edward Short, the man who appeared in the “saddest ever” episode of Grand Designs, which documented Short’s dreams of building an art deco lighthouse on a rugged patch of coast in Devon.
The whole affair began in 2008 (and you can tell it’s from the olden days, because in the early stages of the project he said that he made his fortune in the music industry). It was supposed to take 18 months to build the lighthouse. The project is now into its third decade and has yet to be completed.
Short’s saga must be one of the most gripping and long-running on British television. The build ran into the kind of problems that often plague Grand Designs projects, but usually these homes are hit with one or two big issues rather than the full set of disaster cards.
Here, however, we saw rock that did not wish to be built on, terrible weather, safety concerns, spiralling costs, break-ups, meltdowns and the sudden need to build a driveway that looked like part of the M6.
“It was my overconfidence and arrogance that got me here in the first place so I’m doing what I need to do,” said Short last week.
He now believes that the project may be finished before 2022, at which point he will have to sell it, to pay back the enormous amount he borrowed to build it. Surely the inevitable end point is that within the next two years, this will be turned into an ITV drama, with Michael Sheen going full method to play Short.
• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist