The trailers for this were slightly misleading (or perhaps I was just distracted by our hyperactive 18 month old daughter, Georgina), I thought it was going to be a revealing documentary on those in this line of business and was prepared to be wowed by the uncanny resemblances. Instead it proved to be a tiring, badly acted, poorly executed, terribly scripted attempt to make something similar to 'The Office' or 'Extras', but it didn't work on any particular level.
The focus of the programme is Andy Harmer, the brains (hmm) behind Eastbourne's biggest lookalike agency, which is like declaring the seaside resort comes with a beach. Andy claims to be a David Beckham lookalike, which if you cover one eye with a hand and squint heavily with the other eye makes it seem more likely. But then again, I've seen so little of Becks since his retirement that it might actually be him pretending to be clueless in business, looking terrible in a suit and perhaps having eaten an unnecessary burger or two, rebelling against a lifetime of workouts and a wife so skinny that he can actually roll her up, put an elastic band around her middle and pop her under his arm like a map.
I had seen 'Dandy' a few years earlier. Back then, he was on Dragons Den looking for investment to establish a lookalike agency in Eastbourne. He enticed the dragons with a Captain Jack Sparrow doppelganger and an energetic spiel about corporate dinner parties. But Dandy and Jack were soon in the lift heading to the ground floor of disappointment. One feels for the chap resembling Sparrow,who probably had to remain like that for the entirety of the train journey home.
It was probably on that long trek back to the coast, consumed by rejection, that they were engulfed by the sudden realisation that they were on the verge of having to do some real work for a living, and that's when Dandy came up with a new and exciting business venture.
"How about a lookalike agency ....in Eastbourne!"Dandy no doubt remained in character whilst saying this, pulling a face and waving his hands around whilst drinking from a ceramic flagon.
The idea was gleefully commissioned by Channel 4, which at the time must have seemed like a sidesplitting idea (it appears that you can sell anything as long as you seem excited and talk for long enough). The channel has since issued a baffling description of this doomed project, referring to it as a "reality comedy hybrid", otherwise known to the rest of us as 'insipid shit!'
Let's be honest here, Gervais and Merchant have done it already, and to a very high standard, so why bother? The lookalikes weren't that wonderful, the scenes were so constructed you can see the girders, and the jokes misfired like a badly assembled gun. Like when Dandy had to inform a Rolf Harris lookalike that the demand for his services have ended, it was insensitive and tacky - even by my standards.
We did meet a reasonable Lilly Allen, a passable Gordon Ramsey and unbelievably realistic Cheryl Whatever-she's-called-this-week, the trouble was this Cheryl couldn't sing live. Now, I can hear some of you saying 'same as the real thing then'. Naughty readers!
Lookalikes is probably best summed up by Dandy himself who said "It's just the wrong side of wrong". He was referring to Croz Crossley who wanted to continue as Rolf Harris but he may as well been referring to the content of this series itself.
OH SHIT I'M 30
YouTube star Emily Hartridge turned her own particular brand of humour on the fear and confusion created by turning 30 into a new 6 part series from Channel 4. 'Oh Shit I’m 30' takes a look at this landmark birthday and explores it from Emily's own point of view. From the perspective of not being in a longterm relationship, to finding the perfect career, to low self esteem and having children. Hartridge is a pretty, witty, natural performer and although this programme is hardly going to change anybody's life, including its presenters, there's enough here to make it light, breezy and watchable.
Emily went off on a journey of self discovery, drawing her own conclusions on her existence, whilst leaving others in a similar position to herself to evaluate theirs. Emily realised that she's not having such a deep crisis as she first thought, although the thought of having children at the moment still throws her into an unparalleled panic. She adopted two urchins for the day and looked amusingly out of her comfort zone, and whilst trying to entertain the little pink balls of energy at an animal enclosure, she admitted to being bored.
The producer must have been struck by Em's carefree lifestyle and in a devious, but thoroughly amusing move, gave her one of those simulator baby doll thingys. The ones they foist upon wild teenagers, in case they feel the urge to reproduce as part of a 'career on the dole plan', which seems quite popular at the moment. Although plastic it basically does all the things a real baby does, including endless crying. I personally remember that like it was yesterday. Hold on it was yesterday! The sleepless nights, the rejected leftovers via various orifices, all add to the price for producing an adorable new life.
Em really isn't the mothering type, as witnessed when she turns the baby face down in the Moses basket and proceeding to take the added precaution of applying a large clump of duck tape across the mouth! I suspect that she already had all the answers to the issues she raised, after all it's clear that Emily is far from being an attractive airhead. Regardless, Oh Shit I'm 30 was a fun, enjoyable watch. The whole thing ticks over nicely, despite lacking deep examination on the milestone birthday crises.
BENEFITS BY THE SEA - JAYWICK
I was unlucky enough to catch yet another in a long line of dreadful reality shows, but, I freely and selfishly admit, that as bad as they are they usually tend to provide the most comic content on the box these days.
Benefits By The Sea follows the lives of residents in Jaywick, a one time favourite destination of many Londoners back when flares were still trendy. It has certainly deteriorated since those heady days and is now beset by a whole host of seemingly unsolvable problems, making the location perfect for this visually depressing piece of social commentary, one which flies in the face of 'so called' economic recovery and the Conservatives rallying cry of a 'fairer society'. The next time some slick suited over weight MP tells me that things are improving, I will tie him to a chair, provide him with a diet of chips and fizzy drinks and make him watch this seaside sob fest.
I was staggered to learn that 50% of residents are unemployed, 40% are unable to work due to health issues, leaving 10% to fight the 50% that are trying to avoid work for only a handful of jobs. No doubt most of those rely on holiday trade, but with it becoming a less attractive and more dilapidated location the good times now seem confined to the past.
We met Disco Dave. A man in his 60's looking more in his 80's with a nickname from the 70's. At this point, for legal reasons, let me stress that Disco Dave should not be confused with Dave - The Disco, who is a legitimate DJ and entertainer from Berkshire (thank god we cleared that up). Disco Dave wants out of Jaywick, he's unemployed, semi dependent on marijuana and confides that he has had drink problems. So he's your ideal neighbour material really.
Disco Dave then explains the reason he is so desperate to move away, it is so no one knows his business. Well, apart from those watching that is! You know, the millions whom Disco Dave freely told about his personal issues. But who's going to remember that or write about it?!
Disco Dave heads off on the bus to view a house but has a hell of a job finding it. Finally, after walking for what seemed an eternity and lots of effing and jeffing all the way, he arrived at his destination. Tucked back off the beaten track, he stood looking across at a delightful white fronted house with a small garden. It wasn't long before he went inside to secure his fresh start in new pastures with the property manager, but he soon emerged to declare the journey was for nothing because the owner wouldn't consider a tenant who is claiming benefits.
Perhaps the gratuitous swearing up and down the high street hadn't made the right impression, or maybe the title of the show put the mockers on the move. Whatever it was, Disco Dave (he doesn't even wear a set of headphones) was heading back to a 'Ghost Town' just in time for tea. Yes, if he was remotely connected to the world of disco he would have suggested that tenuous link to the producer, but he didn't, so I think we can dispense with the Disco prefix and use the rather more conventional, non commercial name of Dave Hanmore. After all, one assumes it is on his birth certificate and would likely be more preferable when applying for a job, benefits or even a new rental property.
I'm making light of all this because the show was genuinely disturbing. It was grim, unsettling and demoralising to think that places such as this exist and that there seems to be no escape from the endless cycle of poverty. We are a nation of haves and have nots, of food banks and handouts.
But, having said that, my sympathy levels disappeared altogether when I was introduced to Tara. She too was unemployed, living on a limited income, but she bafflingly admitted to frittering away the bulk of the benefits on tattoo's. The most recent was on her head and says 'Confused.com' which even the most broadminded employer might struggle with during the interview process.
Benefits By The Sea was a programme of mixed emotions. Sad in places, annoying and frustrating in others. I doubt there are many 'Wish you were here' seaside postcards sold in Jaywick these days.
BAFFLING TV TRIUMPHS - GROUND FORCE
Back in 1997 a blip occurred in the British public's sanity. The normally rational masses of this green and pleasant land lost their senses without anyone providing a suitable explanation. Twelve million people decided it was a good idea to watch a programme about...... gardening. Every week.
Ground Force was one of the first shows of its kind to take monotony to new unexciting levels. The country's lounge lizards were being treated to the unprecedented sight of a man with the voice of Alan Bennett planting an herbaceous border near a pond. It became so much of a hit that people could barely contain themselves. Local Robert Diaz stores reached the point where the bricks bulged in the cement as the obsessed public squeezed in to fight over the last Alan Titchmarsh endorsed trowel.
Premiering on BBC2, but quickly flipping to its more dominant sister channel, Ground Force lasted an unbelievable eight years, and thanks to its unexpected success, propelled presenters Alan Titchmarsh, Charlie Dimmock and Tommy Walsh into household names.
Tommy Walsh was the salt of the Earth builder who thought braces were fashionable and wore unbearably tight shorts that gave him the equivalent of Cockney 'camel toe'. Charlie Dimmock was the bra less garden totty. Built like a brick out house, with hair like a ginger waffle, she was a viewing sensation for the allotment brigade. It was like watching a young Rupert Grint, complete with untethered breasts, scurrying around the garden, indiscriminately popping knackered looking bushes into the unsuspecting soil.
The final member of the team, Alan Titchmarsh, was the sniveling, ass kissing, sycophant gardner whose smarmy demeanour incited violence. He was particularly irritating when in the company of someone more famous than himself, so basically everyone got the treatment (oozing and fawning).
Together the trio traveled the country converting the humble home gardens of the nation into things of beauty with a single design. Slate, rocks, plants and water feature.
Every week ....slate, rocks, plants and a water feature. FOR 8 YEARS!!!!!
Once they had exhausted the possibilities at home the team went further afield on a series of jolly ups to do the sort of things pensioners do seven days a week, and especially on discount Wednesdays.
In the above episode, filmed in 1999, the crew jetted to South Africa to renovate President Mandella's garden from a discoloured patch of grass to a haven of peace and tranquility with a water feature and a discoloured patch of grass (well, you can't change everything on the pittance of a license fee).
Titchmarsh literally couldn't wait to see Mandella, but he consoled himself temporarily by visiting the prison he was held captive in for 27 years. His eyes lit up when he went in to a cell Mandella may have been incarcerated in. He nearly burst into flames when seeing the urinal bucket, although we were none the wiser if it was indeed THE bucket. If it had have been, I have no doubt Titchmarsh and his gang would have immersed it in a pond with a jet of water coming from within.
So, they did what they came to do and Mandella was introduced to the team. Tommy had trousers on as a mark of respect, Dimmock even popped on a breast hammock, but Titchmarsh .....he just couldn't refrain from his oily nature. He ingratiated himself to the point of serious injury and wouldn't let go of Mandella's hand. The President was attached to him for a distance of two meters before he eventually let go. Mandella smiled, but I'm sure he wanted to dunk someone in that water feature.
Why Ground Force became essential viewing for many still remains a mystery. It is the ultimate baffling TV triumph.
Until next week, I'll be watching...
Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter