Top 10 TV shows of the decade – # 6
Big Brother (UK)
Surely this is blasphemy!? Having Big Brother on a list of the decade’s best shows is like reading an article about the top 20 albums of all time and seeing Eoghan Quigg’s masterpiece hovering around the top five. But this list is purely based on my subjective opinion – who else’s opinion would it be? – and I can’t allow myself to be elitist or churlish about a show I’ve devoted so much of my time to. Maybe you’re one of those people who spend more man-hours proudly telling everyone who’ll listen about how you’ve never watched Big Brother than the people involved in making it spent, well, making it. Perhaps you wear your BB-hatred like a badge of honour, joining every “I hate BB!” Facebook group you can find and letting everyone know you’ve got better things to do with your time, well whoopee-balls for you. Maybe I don’t like your face, but I don’t keep harping on about it. (I don’t like your face, as it happens. It’s too wide at the top and you’ve got a stupid chin)
Yesterday I disproved the theory that all reality TV is terrible, but I suppose I’d better explain myself. Firstly, Big Brother is always held up as an example of our decaying society, giving schoolkids ambitions that aim no higher than the D-list, but the existence of reality TV and celebrity culture are more of a chicken/egg thing, and it’s existence in recent years is down more to the technology being available to have dozens of broadcast quality cameras filming inside a house for months at a time, and to edit that footage into daily hour-long highlight shows, rather than society having only just reached its peak of wretchedness. This is just the natural way society has gone, in a world that suddenly went all small and viral, and kids wouldn’t all revert back to wanting to be nurses or policemen if you went back in time and assassinated Brian Belo.
Then there’s the well worn argument that everyone on TV these days is just a reality show winner or cast-off. What, like it was in the eighties? The period that’s supposedly the last era when anything was any good and where all the ironic student “ledges” come from? Pretty much everyone who was on TV back then, in prime time no less, came from either Opportunity Knocks or New Faces. Bobby Davro, Cannon and Ball, Lenny Henry etc. The comeback to that is “well, these reality people ain’t even talented.” To which I say; Bobby Davro, Cannon and Ball, Lenny Henry etc. Yes, there are more stupidly pointless people whose only real claim to fame is that they’re a prick, but there are more than four channels to fill with stuff, and who else are you going to get to present Quizcall, Dame Judi Dench? The day we see Sam and Amanda hosting the Oscars, then that point may stand up.
That said, a lot of the criticisms have been completely valid. Great swathes of BB have been awful, and the majority of housemates were vacuous morons who’d have sex with a cactus if they thought it’d get them a slot on Hole in The Wall. The public perception of Big Brother is of functionally-retarded people doing absolutely degrading shit to kick-start their fifteen minutes, and of the sort of people to whom the words “I’m mad me” or “I’m not bisexual, but I’ll probably almost definitely have sex with every man and woman in the house” are both wildly original and cause for them to set up their own Facebook fan page among their friends.
But – and here’s the kicker – amongst all of that, you also get countless moments of TV gold. Not every season is great, and it doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s fantastic. I’ve already covered the most recent season here and here, so I’ll go back and take a brief look at the previous ones, and what they’ve done, if anything, to propel Big Brother into my top ten. For clarification, I’m talking about the regular, non-celebrity version.
Season 3. The first one I watched. Tim’s hair-dye, Jade’s ‘ole, Alex’s dance. Com-pron-dey??
Season 4. Every bit as dull as it’s barely-remembered to be. The single highlight was sleep-talking Scott mumbling about “squatting over a mirror…looking at my bumhole.”
Season 5. For years, the benchmark BB. In an effort to avoid a repeat of the previous season’s snooze-fest, the casting looked for the first time towards the trademark lunatics that are now synonymous with reality TV, and was consequently the first of many seasons where the housemates split into two camps that spent their days aggressively warring with each other. In Victor, we had the first housemate who appreciated he was taking part in a gameshow, and knew exactly how to play, using the diary room as his personal promo-cutting booth, like a self-aware WWE wrestler. Victor, of course, was one half of the mighty Jungle Cats, who were part of Fight Night, the perfectly orchestrated attempt at creating hostility between the two factions, with a fallout was so bad – viewers called the police, and it was the top story on that evening’s news – that they could never dare to do anything similar ever again. Also great were the occasional manifestations of mild-mannered property developer Ahmed’s bouts of Ahmania, in particular his crazed matter-of-fact decapitation of a statue, after which he silently held the severed head up to the camera. S5 contained a shot that if it had been in a scripted drama, would have made it into the BAFTA highlight reel, with (as I’ve mentioned before) the post-Fight Night slow pan across the wrecked-up house with a gentle zoom on rebellious exile Kitten’s anti-war graffiti.
Season 6. This season took its cue from the success of S5’s casting by amping up the crazy and bringing in housemates with the most potential for fireworks, which quickly resulted in an unspoken, but uncomfortably obvious racial divide. Another fantastic year, S6 had some of the all time great contestants, like mouthy Science, the utterly fantastic Derek Laud, and all time Queen of Big Brother, Makosi. Makosi was Victor v2.0 in terms of appreciating it was all a game, always on the look-out to stir things up and create a bit of drama, even if that meant a fake-pregnancy storyline after a fumble in the pool. These tactics resulted in a bizarrely hostile post-eviction interview from Davina, who momentarily forget it was just a game, and treated Makosi like a Nazi war criminal. Makosi proved she’s still got it with her cameo at S10’s finale consisting of the words “I was born on a battlefield…” Don’t ever change, baby.
Also notable were lovestruck Craig’s painful forbidden feelings for none-more-straight lad’s lad Anthony, which tipped over into near-rape when Anthony’s apocalyptic drunkenness gave Craig an opportunity to awkwardly blurt out the things that were dancing around inside his mind, and to paw Anthony’s half-naked body like a Japanese train-perv. There was also an incident with a wine bottle that I took as inspiration for Frantic Planet: Volume II, and my personal highlight of Kinga’s confused reaction to Derek “seeing” a monkey in the ceiling struts. “Ooh, look at his little face!”
Season 7. After the greatness of the previous two seasons, seven marked way too much of a swing towards crazy people and “look at me!” shriekers. This was the first season where the pantomime crowd aspect was amped to insane levels, after the chant of “Get Grace Out!” was heard, and reacted to, by the house. From this point on pretty much every housemate who leaves the house does so to a chorus of sex offender-level hostility, as though an admission from the audience that while we’re watching, we despise anyone who’d have the gall to enter, so that makes it alright really.
With Pete, they had a winner who’d been pre-ordained since tumbling down the stairs on his entrance to the house, although the true winners were the viewers who got to see indescribably arrogant tosser for the ages Sezer’s shock at being eliminated early. Shahbaz’s (actual) mental breakdown made the usually confusing first week unusually entertaining, albeit for the wrong reasons, and Aisleyne’s quote of “Where’s Leroy?” in reference to black housemate Jonathan is a line I still use to this day.
Season 8. The obsession with casting shits, sluts and show-offs was at its peak in S8, but in the history of BB-thickies, Brian Belo was unique, in that his stupidity was genuinely funny and oddly charming, rather than “SHUT THE FUCK UP, YOU KNOW FRANCE ISN’T IN LONDON!” The diary room scene where BB consoled a crying Brian may be the best thing to come out of that season, other than Jonty. Jonty is the only genuine eccentric they’ve ever had, despite audition tape boasts from every housemate that they’re just mad, and all their friends totally agree, Jonty was a truly British legitimate oddball. Whether that manifested itself as deranged scary-voiced conversations with his ever-present stuffed monkey, or casually stripping naked in the bathroom and leaning on the wall chatting to lovely, lovely Kara-Louise with his helmet out like it was the most normal thing in the world, Jonty is the most pleasingly unique housemate there’s ever been. Witness this video of his laugh, which is absolutely insane, and makes Biggins sound like a stony-faced 1950s librarian.
Season 9. For me, a series highlighted by the crazed Scottish shrieks of a blind man who was a magnet for anything being thrown through the air. In fact, Mikey was at the centre of many of S9’s memorable moments, from getting caught washing his genitals in a drinking mug, to maniacally stalking through the house with his long, saladfingers splashing in a cup of water with the sinister threat to late-risers of “Cups o’ water…it’s cups o’ water guys.” Mikey’s apex was reached during the talent show task, a night marked by the growing looks of silent horror on the faces of the other housemates as the, at that stage, sweet, harmless blind guy, performed an incredibly offensive comedy routine that culminated with a punchline about getting his guide-dog to go down on the women of the house. In Darnell they had the most conflicted, complex housemate of any season, and Rex was a comedy bad guy worthy of any scripted show. This season was the best in years, as the production crew finally realised that the way to get an entertaining series is to ditch the twists, just leave the housemates be, and let people be people. This was taken further with S10, which went on to be the best season yet.
So there you have it. It’s not even that my BB love is my secret shame, because I hold no shame, and it’s not a guilty pleasure, because pleasurable as it often is, there’s no guilt. Besides, can you say you’d put together an honest, from the heart top 10 filled with nothing but highbrow critic pleasing stuff? You may have cocked a nose at the subject of this piece (or said “Fuck me, that’s longer than the bible, who does this pretentious turd think he is?” and closed the tab immediately) but deprive the last decade of BB, and you’re depriving the world of amazing televisual moments.