herald

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Boy band hits wrong notes

i'm in a boy band! (bbc2, sat) at water's edge (bbc2, sun)

"When you hear them say, 'We want to write our own songs', you know it's the beginning of the end," said Louis Walsh, his eyes twinkling with mischief, in I'm in a Boy Band!

This hour-long documentary attempted to do for bland combos of young men what the excellent BBC2 series I'm in a Rock 'n' Roll Band! previously did for blokes with electric guitars and crotch-crushing jeans.

That it never actually delivered wasn't the fault of Louis, who knows all there is to know about manufactured pop acts and can be brutally honest when his charges get notions above themselves. The above comment aside, he was barely consulted.

Nor, for that matter, was his most successful protege, Ronan Keating, who was limited to remarking that "we all thought we were superstars" after Boyzone's embarrassing debut on The Late Late Show.

The failure rests entirely with the film's makers, who seemed to wilfully ignore every opportunity for entertainment and insight that presented itself. Journalist Kitty Empire's observation, for example, that boy bands provide "a safe, clean, culturally sanctioned channel" for pubescent girls' rampant sexual fantasies was left unexplored, while the film's starting point -- that The Beatles were "the first boy band" -- was at best spurious, at worst stupid.

The Beatles may well, as music writer Alexis Petridis claimed, have been "the inadvertent template", in that the Fab Four, in their moptop days, ticked what would become the required boy band stereotypes -- ie, The Head Boy (John), The Cute One (Paul), The Quiet One (George) and The Wild and/or Funny One (Ringo).

But to claim a direct lineage between them and the heinous One Direction (pictured), thrown together by Simon Cowell after X Factor auditions, is insulting and ridiculous.

I'm in a Boy Band! was on firmer (albeit it only slightly) ground with The Monkees, represented by Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones. "The Monkees was not a band," said Dolenz, "it was a TV show about a fictitious band who wanted to be The Beatles. Then the fans said, 'We want you to become real', so we became real."

Even this, though, ignored the fact that The Monkees had some serious professional songwriting talent, such as the young Neil Diamond, in their corner, as well as natural ability (Dolenz and Jones were already established child performers before they were recruited).

Other than Keating, a couple of members of East 17 and The Bay City Rollers' Les McKeown, who trotted out anecdotes, there was a notable shortage of people who could talk about what it was actually like to be at the epicentre of boy band madness, so the film resorted to shoehorning in anyone and everyone it could think of, from The Jacksons to The Osmonds to absurd glam rock chancers Mud.

Repellent as they are, boy bands are a cultural phenomenon worthy of a decent documentary. But like a talent show wannabe without autotune, this one hit mostly the wrong notes.

BBC Northern Ireland is on a drive to boost its drama productions, which haven't exactly been littering the schedules over the last few decades. Frankly, it will have to do better than At Water's Edge, the first of two original hour-long dramas by new local writers.

Andrea Quirke plays Beth, a childless wife who decides to try IVF one last time. Her world is turned upside down, however, when her husband is involved in a car crash in which a woman dies.

It emerges they had a daughter together -- the product of a supposed one-night stand. After some soul-searching, Beth decides to take the little girl into her home, but then discovers her husband's relationship with this other woman was deeper than he'd let on.

Tepid and half-baked, it actually contained the line, "What happened to your going to India to find yourself?"



i'm in a boy band! HHIII at water's edge HHIII

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