Ever since Charlie Brooker unleashed the undead hordes on the Big Brother compound in Dead Set, it's been hard to take the concept seriously. Especially since Charlie's zom-com finally managed to visualise most people's desire that the set be locked down and all the cameras switched off, leaving the housemates to get on with it.
And yet here we go again, as another minibus full of minor celebrities pulls onto the lot at Borehamwood and vomits its contents into the house. This year, keen to maximise the value of their white elephant investment, Channel 5 has apparently pulled out all the stops in an attempt to attract the highest calibre of famous names. Even the TV ads, which feel like they've been running since my Christmas tree went up, make a point of certifying the housemates as 'proper celebrities'. Although given that Amy Childs and Kerry Katona are portrayed as arbiters of what constitutes a proper celebrity, I'll take that promise with a pinch of salt.
With so many celeb-reality formats clogging up the networks, sourcing the necessary 'talent' must be a thankless task. I imagine that there's a whole subspecies of barely recognisable names held in some sort of holding pen, like beagles in an animal testing lab. Every time a new show is lined up, the runners are sent into the cages to round up a dozen test subjects, throwing them back once they've been voted off.
It's nice that they opened up with a pause before announcing Brian Dowling as the host, as though that was supposed to be some sort of surprise. Brian's still trying to portray the inmates as jetsetting A-listers, in spite of the fact that most of their "designer bags" will have been picked up on Romford market for twenty quid.
It's always good to have some pneumatic blonde starlets in the house, and here we get two for one. It's like the January sales here on Big Brother.
Getting things off to an epic start is Natalie Cassidy, best known as Sonia from EastEnders. But I'll always remember her as someone who naively opted for a boob job, when there were clearly more pressing matters for her surgeon to focus on. According to Marcus Bentley, Natalie also has a successful theatrical career, having tackled Chekhov and the Vagina Monologues. She's going to experience a whole different kind of talking cunt on this show. She's barely had time to look around the faux-Alpine chalet before Big Brother invites her into the diary room for a secret mission. She'll be taking regular instructions from the big guy in her earpiece, issuing her with regular tasks. And each time she fails, one of the housemates will lose their luggage.
If you're a Hollywood producer and you need an erratic lunatic, but don't fancy haggling with the insurance company over Gary Busey or Tom Sizemore, you could always ask Michael Madsen to get involved. Most people know him as Mr Blonde from Reservoir Dogs, which explains why he's decided to bleach his hair for the occasion. He makes a duff joke about blondes being stupid, which Brian fails to comprehend. Maybe that old cliche needs updating to reference Irish ex-trolley dollies instead. There was a time when Michael was considered a bit of Hollywood rough, now he's just plain rough. Picture Johnny Vegas doing a piss-poor impression of Clint Eastwood. Under Big Brother's instruction, Natalie tells him she loved him in Free Willy. Please God don't let him take that as a come-on. There's a really awkward bit where Madsen asks her "how'd you get this gig?" Fuck Big Brother's secret mission, Natalie knows that the real challenge here is to avoid revealing how the 'stars' get roped into this car crash.
Star number three has sung with Tina Turner and danced with Britney Spears. But since we're talking about Andrew Stone from Pineapple Studios, this could just be his way of telling us that he got Just Dance for the Wii at Christmas. He's died his hair, put on a load of makeup, and turned up looking like all three members of Human League fell into Seth Brundle's matter transporter. He says "cream rises to the top". So do turds. My favourite moment is as he reaches the top of the stairs and screams "I love you" to the crowd, as three hundred people collectively check their watches.
It's always good to have some pneumatic blonde starlets in the house, and here we get two for one. It's like the January sales here on Big Brother. Kristina and Karissa Shannon were both Hugh Hefner's girlfriends, which means they got to live in the Playboy Mansion and take it in turns to change his bag. They tell us that when they got to the mansion it was "like a breath of fresh air." But I don't suppose Heff opens the windows very open. Kristina and Karissa are identical twins (an observation made by our helpful host), and it's true - they're impossible to tell apart, right down to their horrendous nose jobs. Genetics are a wonderful thing.
Frankie Cocozza is the next housemate, who manages to just recycle the same "shag birds" bullshit he trotted out for his VTs every week on X-Factor. Grinning from ear to ear, he tells us "I've been a bit naughty, drug wise", which I guess means he started cutting it with detergent before handing it around. He's still wearing those filthy drainpipe jeans and rocking a hairdo that, in a certain light, gives him a look of Rita Fairclough. Not sure that's what he was going for. Meanwhile, in the house, Natalie is scoring an early victory by breezing through her task. And for all their talk of bringing a breath of fresh air into a house, Kristina and Karissa are pulling a face that suggests that their immediate vicinity smells more like burnt nylon.
Denise has a well documented history with drugs, so expect Frankie to stick to her like a damp Rizla.
At last, someone who's famous for actually being good at something - it's gay rugby player Gareth Thomas. His introduction is very matter-of-fact, and he doesn't exactly seem like a barrel of laughs. Equally dull is Nicola McLean, a glamour model and the sixth runner-up on series eight of I'm A Celebrity... I know, heady heights. We already have two topless blondes in the house, so a third is hardly going to win this series any diversity awards. Apparently she once had a spat with Natalie Cassidy, so that's going to be fun. Big Brother wastes no time stirring the pot, encouraging Natalie to repeatedly tell Nicola "I'm totally cool with you being in the house." She's won a few soap awards, so we shouldn't be surprised that she can sell a lie. But if you ever find yourself playing poker with her, listen out for when she calls you "babes". That's her tell, right there.
Kirk Norcross is our next housemate, and describes himself as "a bit of a donut", so don't be surprised if Krispy Kreme sue for defamation of character. His goals are to party and have a laugh, and his expression is similar to that of a Red Setter trying to solve the Times cryptic crossword. His ex-girlfriend, and former contestant, Amy Childs gave him the sound advice that he should "live each day like you don't know what's going to happen." As opposed to real life, where everything comes with call sheets and production notes.
In a dramatic change from the previous housemates, we're now introduced to Georgia Salpa, a glamour and lingerie model. Well, she is brunette after all. She's got a cracking rack and would look like Kim Kardashian if the latter hadn't been constructed in a laboratory. As she descends the staircase into the house, Kirk and Frankie have an unspoken moment, like one of them just called shotgun telepathically.
Natasha Giggs says "You may know me best for having an affair with my brother-in-law Ryan Giggs." What the fuck else would we know her for? Her album of acoustic guitar solos? Selling Tupperware door-to-door? It's not as though she comes to us with a string of accomplishments to her name. She's going to miss her kids while she's in the house, but it might be good practice for the inevitable custody settlement after that acrimonious divorce.
Marvin Dawkins is our next former celebrity to be thrust back into the limelight. Don't worry if the name means nothing to you, it's Romeo from So Solid Crew. He tells us he had "a few solo top ten hits." He actually only had two, but I'll forgive him for fudging the specifics. I mean, it's not like music stars have ever given a shit about chart placings. Natalie's still gamely playing along with Big Brother's excruciating task, almost drawing the line when he instructs her to tell the Playboy twins that she also modeled for the UK edition of the magazine. They might be as thick as a pillow sandwich, but even they struggle with their 'convinced' face.
And now it's time for our final housemate - Denise Welch. She tells us in all seriousness that "after Coronation Street, there's no higher pinnacle for an actor". Which must come as a crushing blow to the likes of Ben Kingsley and Ian McKellen who've presumably squandered the rest of their careers. Denise has a well documented history with drugs, so expect Frankie to stick to her like a damp Rizla.
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