Tuesday 25 September 2018

Lookalikes: vision of television earing itself on the double

Lookalikes - (David Brent)
Lookalikes - (David Brent)

IT had been threatening to happen ever since the term “scripted reality show” entered the common, everyday conversation, and now it really has happened. Television has finally, incontrovertibly eaten itself.

Well, that’s an understatement. What actually happened was that television disappeared down the rabbit hole, ate itself, re-emerged shortly after and vomited violently. Craving a second helping, it slurped the slop off the ground and, pausing only to belch and wipe a dribble of sick from its lips, strode boldly forth, refreshed, renewed and ready to step up to the next level of reality TV evolution.

Future cultural historians will pinpoint the moment when the flimsy television universe folded in on itself like a gale-battered tent as 10pm on Monday, July 20, 2015, which is when Channel 4 broadcast the first episode of its new scripted reality-cum-documentary-cum-mockumentary-cum-sitcom Lookalikes, which focuses on the trials and tribulations of a celebrity lookalike agency in Eastbourne, run by a bloke called Andy.

Lookalikes is the knowing, nudging, winking, post-modern, meta, ironic apex of scripted reality television. “All these lookalikes are real,” reads an on-screen announcement at the start, “but some scenes have been produced for your entertainment.”

Which scenes, I don’t know. I don’t even know if the motley crew of celebrity sort-of-look-a-little-bit-likes know themselves.

It’s hard to tell whether any of them, and especially David Brent lookalike Tim, is entirely sure where reality (the real one, not the scripted version) ends and delusion begins.


Tim, who looks nothing like Brent but has the mannerisms nailed, could keep psychologists busy for years: a man who hopes to become a celebrity in his own right by pretending to be a real celebrity (Ricky Gervais) pretending to be a fictional character. He even chucks in his day job in an office that looks a lot like the one in The Office.

The agency is run by Andy, who doubles up as a David Beckham lookalike. Andy looks like David Beckham might look if David Beckham had let himself go to seed. Or if David Beckham looked like someone who isn’t David Beckham. Someone like Andy, maybe.

Andy has on his books a lookalike called Croz (eh?), who really does look like the celebrity he’s supposed to look like. Unfortunately, the celebrity he’s supposed to look like is Rolf Harris, whose last booking was by the police.

“I just don’t see a way you can come back into it,” Andy tells a crestfallen Croz, whose income is now falling faster than his crest. “It’s just too . . . on the wrong side of ‘wrong’.”

The agency is in crisis. Nightclub bookings for Andy’s troupe of comedy strippers The Chippendoubles have collapsed, because clients are fed up seeing the same five lookalikes for the last four years, so he has to raid the agency’s ranks for fresh blood.

Step forward “Ed Sheeran” (creepily uncanny), “Mr Bean” (just creepy), “Colin Farrell” (pretty good) and “Robbie Williams” (might as well be “Andy Williams”).

In desperation, Andy turns for help to Barack Obama lookalike Reggie, who he hopes to talk into taking The Chippendoubles on tour. Reggie, who you wouldn’t mistake for the President in a power blackout, is unenthusiastic. Then “Ed Sheeran” gets cold feet.

Luckily, “David Brent”, who knows a few moves, wiggles his bum into the breach. It all ends happily, with Reggie donning a pair of rubber Obama ears (I’m not joking and neither is he) and joining the gang on stage.

Lookalikes is funny at times. I laughed a good bit. But it’s also weird and kind of sad and a bit pathetic. In other words, compelling.

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