Magazine article The Spectator

The Real Thing

Magazine article The Spectator

The Real Thing

Article excerpt

You were probably expecting me to watch Celebrity Shark Bait (ITV1, Sunday) but I didn't because I was feeling a bit 'been there, done that' and, short of filming the celebrities actually being eaten, I couldn't see how they could possibly have made it exciting. I expect there was lots and lots of build-up as the celebrities (Ruby Wax, Richard E. Grant, a couple of others you've never heard of) confessed how scared of sharks they were, followed by shots of them looking at fins in the water going, 'Ooh, er. No way am I going into the water with them, ' followed by scenes of them in the cage going, 'Wow. This is amazing. I'm in a cage surrounded by actual Jaws-style sharks.' Or was it even less interesting than I've just imagined?

What I have been watching a lot of is stuff about the hurricane because I love New Orleans, it's my favourite American city and it was at one time my ambition to buy myself a colonial mansion in the Garden District. I expect now I could probably afford one.

Hotel on Sea (BBC1, Thursday) is a slyly funny new spoof, fly-on-the-wall comedy series in the manner of The Office about an ailing, joke hotel in Blackpool called The President, with acting so deadpan and perfectly observed you could almost believe it was the real thing. Except you know it's not, obviously, because of characters like the duty manager who doubles up as a DJcum-transvestite entertainer in the basement bar (Kennedy's) that is so spectacularly crap that guests virtually have to be paid before they think of visiting it. Such people and places could never exist.

But they do. Alerted by the fact that no writer or actors were credited at the end, I double-checked in the Radio Times and realised that Hotel on Sea is in fact TV's first ever 'comi-doc'. The scene where the coach party of old ladies arrives and they can't get to their fourth-floor bedrooms because the light in the lift is broken and no one can fix it; the one where the Eastern European waitresses bitch -- with English subtitles -- about the stupidity of the new bow-tie uniforms they've been asked to wear to give the place a bit of class. It's all true.

Well, up to a point. The obvious question begged by this new genre is: how much of this stuff would have happened if there hadn't been a team of comi-documentary makers willing incompetence, mayhem and chucklesome antics on the hotel and its staff at every turn? It was produced and directed by a friend of mine, Jonathan Hacker, so perhaps I should ask him some time.

Medium (BBC1, Tuesday) is a watchable new American series about a pretty wouldbe lawyer (Patricia Arquette) who happens to be the most brilliant spirit medium ever. …

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