ITV WOS Wrestling – Review

New Year’s Eve saw ITV revive a nostalgic brand: World of Sport Wrestling. Those of a certain age will remember Saturday evenings watching Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks – and my personal favourite, who can probably take some credit for how I’ve spent my professional career hidden behind a mask – Kendo Nagasaki. It’s just dawned on me, my years chasing fame in Japan could be down to my first exposure to professional wrestling. The original WOS Wrestling was pulled in the mid-eighties, followed by Wrestling with Kent Walton. The question is: does the TV schedule have room for it today?

There was room for it back in 1988 when wrestling left our screens. Hindsight is 20/20 but producers must look back on that decision and kick themselves. A year later the WWE (then known as WWF) started its UK invasion. It grew so fast in popularity here, SummerSlam was held at Wembley stadium in 1992. Over 80,000 fans witnessed The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith take the Intercontinental Championship from Bret “The Hitman” Hart.

Had a channel retained UK wrestling, maybe the WWE would have had a genuine transatlantic rival. We’ll never know, but by passing up on wrestling, the UK television networks gave up all creative control. Vince McMahon designed the blueprint, defeated his only challenger WCW (ironically, they aired on ITV in the nineties), and every wrestling organisation since has fallen into line.

ITV clearly has been watching WWE. From the opening minutes of WOS Wrestling it becomes obvious. The set has good production values, without the scale of WWE. It’s a mix of their take on Gladiators and a clinical TNA set. The game changer is having Jim Ross on commentary. The voice synonymous with a whole generation of WWE.

ITV may have watched WWE but what follows is veiled flattery. Vince’s outfit has gone from the cartoony version of wrestling it brought to the world when WOS Wrestling ended in the eighties, through the adult-rated Attitude Era, to the PG and Reality Era. That current landscape means a pre-watershed wrestling show can survive on telly. During this evolution the term: sports entertainment was coined.

The problem with WOS Wrestling is how it tries to pay homage to the old stars like Big Daddy with constant reminders, evoking nostalgia, but accidentally makes one nostalgic for an antiquated version of pro-wrestling in the form of old school WWF.

Nowadays a wrestling show is all about the storylines and mic work. ITV went for the owner angle, a Mr Beesley that ran things. Okay, so we get a British Jack Tunney. Beesley’s “office” was propped with posters indicating it was just a spare room at MediaCityUK.

The first match saw Grado get screwed out of the WOS Championship by bad guy Dave Mastiff. This, in itself, was great. Mastiff was the clear heel, he had two henchmen in tow and he and Grado told a classic tale of favoured underdog holding his own.

Nowadays clear heels and faces are rare in professional wrestling, this throwback was fine and a necessity with a less savvy audience. What wasn’t great was the way Beesley said he couldn’t let a screwjob stand for the title and declared Mastiff would defend it at the end of the show against the winner of a Battle Royal.

Okay, anyone that was watched wrestling long enough knows that if a title (in this case, the only title) kicks-off a show, we’re not getting a clean finish. So the surprise was gone from the off. The idea all dodgy finishes will be challenged is flawed. The acting with Beesley was from a bygone era.

And that is WOS Wrestling’s major problem. It doesn’t know if it’s a programme that should be like its eighties counterpart, or one that can be compared to modern day WWE.

They edged toward the latter with a ladder match. Kenny Williams took the result, he looked better than the rest based on ability and aesthetics. But the other three, CJ Banks, Sam Bailey (not The X Factor singer) and Delicious Danny, all deserve a round of applause for pulling off a dangerous match with tea-time restrictions.

The other main standout – no, not El Ligero, although he was good – was Alexis Rose. She looked the part and moved around the ring well. WWE’s current British female wrestler is in the bad books. Rose would be worth a shot in their performance centre.

alexis-rose

The Battle Royal had a secret entrant (that joined late for no good reason). It was The new British Bulldog, the son of Davey Boy, now using his name with Jnr added. He didn’t progress to the title bout. Presumably, ITV aren’t confident they could tie him down should the show go fulltime so can’t afford to have a champion MIA.

Of course, Grado won the Battle Royal and then the title match. Classic babyface overcoming the odds in the end. Cheating never pays, kids.

ITV must have an eye on a permanent return, why bring back the title otherwise? Based on this, there is plenty of potential that deserves exploring but they need a creative team more akin to the modern era of wrestling. Without this, WOS Wrestling would grow stale fast.

Promising but work to be done.

6/10

(Follow @MrCliveBalls on Twitter. He points out, he is available to do creative work for Sports Entertainment outfits.)

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The Apprentice 2016 – Review

It’s that time of year the BBC find Lord Alan Sugar the nation’s best “entrepreneurs.” Or for the purposes of good TV, a selection of dimwits that promise to be mildly entertaining with the odd potential gem thrown in. The contestants are treated like schoolchildren (“Good morning, Lord Sugar.”) and he has his favourite headmistress and head boy to help.

Of course, they are Baroness Karren Brady, The First Lady of Football. That dour face trying to make us forget she spent years hanging about the Birmingham City team bus and footballer Paul Peschisolido out of her.

We also have Claude Littner, better known for the interview stage. Now he does that and the weekly observing. Mr Littner likes to play Good Cop, Bad Cop playing both roles himself. It keeps the contestants on their toes – volatile people in the mix tend to breed that response.

One thing that was clear during this twelfth series was the tasks have become worn out. 18 contestants were squashed into the process, giving the guarantee that some weeks would see multiple heads fall. Sadly, the mundane early running meant we didn’t care.

Sometimes they had to sell stuff, sometimes buy stuff. Sometimes run around, buy stuff, sell stuff, maybe design stuff, look for stuff. Talk over one another. Some stuff. All the time wondering if any of them know their stuff and realise they are becoming parodies of young upstarts.

Too many concepts presented the same challenge. The “Boat Show” episode, in essence, was no bigger stretch than any of the selling tasks (and most of them are). Even ones like designing jeans or “Corporate Candy” require the good old fashioned sell. And as they should, I suppose. Lord Sugar wants to make money and sees those that can shift stock and make profit as key to that business plan.

It’s also important to think outside the box. Not like the extremely hot Jessica Cunningham attempted on a few occasions. She liked to sprinkle in a few lies to shift product. But in her defence, she was the best seller, most engaging, and could think outside the box because her head is out of it. And it’s a bit cheeky of Lord Sugar to preach no lying then have the production team skirt over her history in the final five round-up.

 

jessica-cunningham
The Zany and amazing Jessica Cunningham

 

Yes, I’m talking about Jessica’s lap-dancing past. A top business woman who wasn’t scared to take on hard jobs on the way to the climax of the process.

There were notable characters this year, many for the wrong reasons. First to go wasn’t, it was Michelle; next up, Natalie Hughes – you wouldn’t hire her to answer phones; third, wet fart Oliver. Week four is better remembered for Aleksandra King walking away from the process. At that point, I could see why, I was close myself.

Highlighting the point was marketing guru Rebecca Jeffery in week six. The Mancunian proving Northerners aren’t made for the real city, especially when they have the personality of a wet flannel.

But finally, the show had some life come week seven and it was the boat show that saw two fall foul of the axe. It was a shame to see Karthik Nagesan lose his place, he was a true bit of energy. Sadly for him, and his team, he could run a team about as well as Samuel Boateng could follow instruction from the project manager. He joined him in a taxi the same week for this very reason.

Fiery Paul was axed the following week. He liked to kick-off to be fair. In case this was in any doubt (it wasn’t), he even got a bit aggy with Alan in the boardroom. And goodbye. You can’t bully the Sugar. You need to sit in the chair and laugh at his Christmas cracker one-liners.

Dillon St. Paul made it easy the following week for Al (totally dropped his peerage now). He compared his struggle as a gay man to that of women in the workplace. You could see Al’s face change. He hates an excuse. Suggs pointed out there were single parents in the room, Sofiane who had taught himself English and made a business from scratch, and Alana, who was just learning how to construct full and complete sentences in the boardroom despite the ability to be a catty bitch during assignments.

It was this week the eventual finalist, Courtney Wood, went from constant winner in the shadows to a standout performer. The challenge was designing a virtual reality game and even with his team against his input (apart from the giddy Jessica), he managed to design a concept that smashed the opposition.

Not long after we got the final five and it’s here the format of business partner as opposed to apprentice calls the show into question. Al must know what business he fancies beforehand and what he can’t stand. Why else would the always dominant Grainne McCoy fail to make the final two. Her idea was solid for the industry and no more far-flung than previous winner Leah Totten.

Thankfully this means Frances Bishop was also axed with her really original idea of making a TK Maxx for kids off the back of a few failed attempts she tried to bury beneath two relative successes. Maybe the idea was decent? She was just a walking migraine and hopefully the WAG (not a proper Premier League one, like at the best club ever Arsenal) will never be seen again.

So, Courtney looked favourite based on the principle. He was a novelty gift (tatt) designer, something Sugar knows inside out. But the Lord went for Alana and her cakes. Her big margins for profit must have tempted him. If years from now you’re eating an Alana cake in Costa, spare a thought for Courtney, who will still be designing a novelty personality for his currently bland character.

7/10

I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here 2016 – Review

I’m a Celeb should come with a health warning. Despite your best intentions, once you start watching, that’s you hooked for three weeks. What makes this the case? Pretty simple: Ant and Dec. Once again, their segues make the programme what it is, the best reality show on UK telly.

This is even more highlighted in the 2016 version of the classic show. To put it bluntly, everyone was too nice. That’s what happens when they “smash” (sorry, Dec) the Bushtucker trials each day. Hunger usually creates those hangry moments that make for good telly.

The only conflict this year came from Homes Under the Hammer’s Martin Roberts. First, he sparred with legend Danny Baker, then Larry Lamb. The rest of the time he was seen as a harmless idiot. He definitely was an idiot, maybe not so much harmless. It’s shocking the public voted so many off before him.

Danny Baker went first. Either a victim of people assuming he’d be safe and not using a vote or decades of dividing opinion. Thankfully Martin Roberts didn’t make the final, as feared. Even if he had, I’m a Celeb participants only remain in the public eye for a week after the show.

It begs the question why people join for such short exposure. Baker said it was his favourite show and final swansong. But why did Sam Quek, an Olympian, need to be on? To get her in the public’s conscious. She’s no longer just a gold medal hockey player. She’s a gold medal hockey player, one-time underwear model, fourth placed jungle contestant. Oh, and she’s an “elite athlete”, just in case you missed one of her many reminders.

Nor is Ola Jordan just the dancer that’s married to an asshole. She’s now the dancer that’s married to an asshole that drank smoothies made of bugs.

Carol Vorderman was a big name but it’s difficult to see if this was a benefit to her career. The Countdown days can no longer be dined out on. She came across as aloof at times, a woman happy for casual dating and stories of cringe experiences.

There was a Diversity member, Jordan Banjo, who helped raise his troupes profile and formed a strong unit in camp with the lads. They were headed with former footballer Wayne Bridge, taking over the Jimmy Bullard role. Surprisingly, Bridge managed to avoid injury and while he’s been away John Terry hasn’t shagged his wife.

If Larry Lamb was the father figure, Adam Thomas was the livewire kid brother. His big brother “comedian” Joel Dommett, a likable chap but would wear thin after a while.

The girls saw Lisa Snowdon prove age hasn’t touched her, but could also have turned her into a nation’s sweetheart. She was sorely missed in the challenges and for the group’s cohesion.

Scarlett Moffatt, the Gogglebox star, is the centre of this year’s controversy. Online, people claimed she was being fed lines for the diary room. At first glance, it sounds ridiculous but there is a definite difference between her language when she was in camp and her reflective mood. In her defence, all members that have been evicted claim she is bright as a button.

It’s hard to say if the challenges had been upped this year. We’ve become desensitised to watching bugs and penises being eaten. Wayne Bridge dodging an alligator was eye-catching but then you realise it’s been well-fed and appeased.

As soon as Adam was chopped, placing him third, the stage was set for the expected Scarlett win. If she benefitted from more screen time, it’s because she’s been more entertaining. She took to the throne, crowned Queen by the last year’s winner Vicky Pattinson.

You probably can’t remember her reign but something tells me Scarlett Moffett might be around to stay.

8/10.

The Grand Tour: Launch Review

After a failed season of Top Gear, the self-proclaimed (kind of, subtly) “Holy Trinity” of Clarkson, May and Hammond faced an easier return. Expectation has been replaced with comforting relief. The Grand Tour was promoted as a different beast to their former show, well, it isn’t. But this isn’t a bad thing.

The show’s premise is the trio will tour the globe, hosting from a tent. The reality: Top Gear on steroids. Arriving to a Burning Man style concert in an American desert, it’s clear the show has jumped up a scale. Everything’s bigger, including the presenters’ waist lines. Inside the tent (picture the Top Gear studio but with a screen displaying the background in lieu of an aircraft hangar), Clarkson corrects Americans on the correct name of car parts and we’re away.

First segment, they take to the track. It reminds us this is a car show. And who doesn’t like a 950 horse power Ferrari? Nobody that is watching this show. Throw in a McLaren for good measure and it’s clear these big kids have been let loose on big kids’ toys. Albeit, electrical engine toys . . . in a drag race (note the Clarkson-esq pause).

That soon becomes a classic drive through the hills, which May can’t participate in because his Ferrari isn’t licensed for road use. Classic stitch-up, break for a pause, back to the studio. All very Top Gear, but better than Top Gear.

Cars are still put through their paces on a track for testing. An Ebola shaped track, no less. The BMW M2 is the debutant, paving the way for a new (old) regular feature to commence. What it does is give something scarily like a proper review of the car, making it almost feel like a classic style car show.

Of course, the Ebola Drome needs a timed lap. Enter The Stig. Well, almost. Enter The American (NASCAR’s Mike Skinner). Unlike The Stig, he is all chat when behind the wheel.

The Celebrity Brain Crash replaces Star in a Reasonably Priced Car but turns out to be a gag about stars dropping dead on the way to the show. Sadly, the trio can’t see the future, and the otherwise decent joke fails when a “dead” Carol Vorderman is spotted in the audience. It’s kind of distracting when she’s currently in the headlines for getting massages on the most viewed TV show in Britain I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

Part two of Porsche vs McLaren vs Ferrari concludes with former F1 driver Jérôme d’Ambrosio performing timed laps after the lads couldn’t split the cars. The winning car doesn’t steal the show, that’s reserved for Clarkson, May and Hammond’s gag should Clarkson’s McLaren not be the fastest.

The verdict is The Grand Tour is an overriding success. Already it all feels familiar but somehow fresh. Those that mourned the loss of Top Gear, rejoice. Get an Amazon subscription and enjoy its rebirth.

10/10

 

 

 

 

Big Brother 2016 Review – Review

Before we head into Celebrity Big Brother, let’s look at the regular version. I say regular, that implies it is for regular people. People off the street, plucked from obscurity in the elusive chase for fame. Those days have long since passed. Now it is a junkyard for people on the fringes, of those on the fringes, of fleeting fame. Failed “reality” TV stars that try to make it on an original reality TV pioneer.

The problem is, Big Brother is now a modern reality TV show. It feels part scripted with “contestants” too aware of the medium. Craig from Season 1 had no idea what being in the house meant. The players of 2016 haven’t got a game plan to win, they have a career path that are attempting to manipulate with TV time.

Emma Willis is the face of this charade but her stewardship is equal to Davina’s from the original and light years ahead of Brian Dowling’s failed effort. Like Davina McCall, she appears to love the show and is absorbed in the characters. She adds warmth and familiarity. But as good as she is, if the show failed in between her live shows, nobody would enjoy her.

This year the feel of the entrants made it worth sticking around. Despite being an ensemble of people already used to media exposure, the balance of fame-seeking and genuine personalities shone through.

Welsh girl Lateysha Grace sums this up best. She came across as a slapper on MTV’s The Valleys. Acting the promiscuous tart she took offence to being labelled as in the house. And rightly so. Judging her on her views and actions in BBUK, she was down-to-earth and lovely.

So why knowingly play a role using her real name, for just five minutes of fame?

It undermines her true self.

Her only cracks came when she was tactically booted. As a single parent, she felt her reason for winning had greater validity. Lateysha still needs to learn one important lesson: Life owes you nothing.

Her axe wielder was eventual winner Jason. His presence, made the belief the whole thing could be rigged gain credibility. In an early “twist” there were two houses. The Others occupied a secret home alongside the main one. Jason spent days going on about an ex he couldn’t possibly do the Big Brother experience with. Guess what, she was part of The Others and soon joined the main cast.

A similar plot occurred with geezer Chelsea and kiss-and-tell Jayne.

This wasn’t real people showing the diversity of the British public. It was pure, pre-ordained, entertainment.

But it survived the cynicism – just.

Other standouts were Jackson. He had more voices than tattoos; came from the street (but was actually a model); fell in love with a posh bird he made out was a fairy tale dream. Being BBUK, she complied and the fairy tale came true.

That’s when Georgina wasn’t dictating to Jackson. But her harshness was a defensive mechanism. In a house of frauds, she displayed true emotions. I hope for her sake, Jackson proves himself to be genuine.

Proving BBUK can always provide a disillusioned, despicable human, we met Laura Carter. A woman who described herself as “an established actress” before entering the house. If that’s true, I’m Barry Norman.

She’ll be remembered for sleeping with Marco Pierre White’s immature, overactive son. Pretending she is vulnerable but savvy. Pretending she had a long lost love. Pretending she wasn’t selfish or self-centred when she embodies both those evils.

Andy was the “intelligent” addition. Proving that repeatedly saying something, doesn’t make it true. Pretty fun watching him not know how many make a baker’s dozen. In the kingdom of the blind…

He got engaged on the show, when during a task, his boyfriend entered the house for an overnight stay. While it provided a touching moment, it shows how far the show has fallen from the original social experiment. A founding rule was: No contact with the outside world.

Now they get news updates and Tweets read to them and hands in marriage.

Ryan had a love affair with fan-favourite and runner-up, Hughie. The former was a scouser playing for the cameras. The latter an intriguing Irishman, that came in, broke taboos and stereotypes, and allowed a heart of gold to shine through.

He was easy to disagree with, at times. But “real” people show all sides and all shades. It’s proof the makers of Big Brother can go back to basics and bring in the general public. Real is more explosive, more engaging.

Big Brother shouldn’t be a retraining school for failed reality stars. It should be relevant. Right now IMDb don’t even add new series to their page.

Go back to basics, BBUK or face extinction.

5/10