Holy glitterballs Strictly is back, glitzier and shinier than ever, and incongruously beckoning in the long winter nights with enough fake tan to drown a bull elephant. But before we get to Deborah Meaden there’s the unfortunate matter of the host with the least to consider and here he comes doddering on his ancient hoofers, John Logie Baird’s crash test-dummy and now television’s very own Dignitas experiment good old Brucie.
Forsyth soft-shoe shuffles stoic co-host Tess Daly into his arms and she recoils slightly from the heady fumes of embalming fluid as he proceeds to bastardise carefully scripted bon mots that dribble from his mouth like a split colostomy bag.
I’d like to declare it’s nice to see him but my mother told me never to lie and judging by the spite and vitriol on Twitter I’m not alone in having my toes curled to the very soles whenever the decrepit old goat fluffs, stammers and falters across our screens. The Beeb are perfectly aware of our feelings on this - the Forsythe saga - but seem to stubbornly adhere to a ‘if bad is good then awful is social media gold-dust’ way of thinking. Because these days in the multi-media age reaction is everything. Being talked about is the be all. It’s the same depressing strategy that’s kept Mark Lawrenson in a highly paid job for decades but you have to wonder why, if outrage and negative attention is so cherished, they don’t just go the whole hog and recommission all the utterly shit sitcoms they’ve spunked out in recent years.
No matter because once the tinfoil-chewing introductions are over it’s time for the beautiful people, an array of dancers so chiselled and perfect you suspect they’ve been knocked out by a Mattel production line. A nation of porkers shovel in their takeaways from their sofas and eye them suspiciously, projecting mild self-loathing towards the teeth and tits and plastic abs and wondering if there’s any point in venturing to the gym with Christmas looming in the near future. We then patiently endure a flawless number from these mutants, a routine they could probably do in their sleep – do mutants sleep? – before finally the star turns are unveiled. Except of course there’s no mystery here as we’ve all been privy to this year’s line-up weeks in advance. In fact it’s been impossible to avoid pictures of Rachel Riley and co preened and sequined right up to their coiffered hair spouting predictable guff in the tabloids about how this is their dream gig.
Acutely aware of this the Beeb unsuccessfully attempt to derive an hour of fake drama from revealing which professional dancers these celebs will be paired with, an expose that might work if we gave a flying fuck about more than maybe three of the former.
So it is that sixty minutes of primetime – the launch of a terrestrial channel’s flagship programme no less – is reduced to primitive matchmaking. And from this another thorny issue arises.
While ITV broadcast deluded auditions from genuinely mentally challenged folk for everyone’s amusement – a modern-day Bedlam – Strictly portrays itself as an altogether classier form of entertainment. It’s just frothy, light and harmless fun right? But beneath the veneer there is something deeply unedifying about witnessing them so vehemently attempt to break up marriages and families purely in the name of headlines and ratings.
You think I’m joking? I’m really not.
Married glamourpuss Rachel Riley is left with firmly betrothed James Jordan, Anton De Beke – who you’d happily encourage to escort your grandmother to bingo – and a hot new Russian fittie with burning eyes and loins. Even his name – Pasha – evokes seduction. Guess from this trio who she’s paired with?
The same juvenile ploy is enacted upon mother-of-two Abbey Clancy and while Riley’s husband probably gnaws his fingers to the knuckles back home poor Peter Crouch is rendered cuckolded in the studio whilst Tess Daly gleefully and heavily hints at the potential for extra-marital mischief between his beloved and a lycra-clad stud. Trending on Twitter is one thing but the real payload comes from engineering page one scandals. Meh, it’s only celebrities though so it doesn’t really matter. Hey Tess, how’s Vernon these days? Still keep his phone under lock and key?
Elsewhere the other pairings are just as predictable as the novice or less-well-known of the hoofers pay their dues with the no-hopers while the big-hitters fail to hide their relief at being matched with those with actual promise.
Watching this launch I couldn’t help feel I’ve seen it all before and that’s because I have. Last year, the year before that, and so on. The makers of the show may herald it the biggest and brashest yet but don’t believe the hype because Strictly is annually a straightforward rehash of itself with each star filling an allocated role and the same narrative arced to a conclusion only with different faces. Even the judges appear to be getting bored of the whole tiresome charade with Bruno veering ever more into a Ron Manager pastiche whilst Craig phones in his villain act with a suppressed yawn.
There’s a cornucopia of perving naturally, with plenty of eye-viagra for the middle-aged men who have slumped into a Saturday night ennui, ceding the remote control to their better halves in exchange for a bit of Match of the Day later and the faint hope of a half-hearted blowjob. Of these the aforementioned duo of Riley and Clancey stand out, both exceptionally attractive, one exceptionally stupid. Riley however may be fit enough to make me howl at the telly like a banshee but there’s a definite smugness there – as if she’s nailed cold fusion rather than earn her living turning cards like an erudite dolly dealer on a mid-afternoon snooze-fest.
The resident MILF meanwhile is breakfast presenter Susannah Reid. Dear lord it’s as if scientists have plumbed the depths of my 14 year old mind ten minutes after I first saw The Graduate.
For those favouring GILFs we have ‘Bond girl’ Fiona Fullerton. Forsythe and Daly diplomatically gloss over the fact that she’s done precisely fuck all else since the mid-eighties by mentioning she’s a Bond girl many times over. “So you were in a hot tub scene with Roger Moore”….”Tell me more about that hot tub scene”.
For the female demographic there’s always a sporting beefcake, in this instance ex-England rugby star Ben Cohen. On first evidence he has the buns to elicit a million oestrogen-fuelled Facebook statuses and the personality of a radiator.
The good-looking male soap star role is filled by him off Hollyoaks. He’ll do well and he patently knows it.
He’s swiftly followed by controversial fan of fur Julien Macdonald who agreed to participate to show people that fashion designers can be fun and like glamour. I’m still picking my jaw off the floor at that shocking revelation.
Then there are the oddballs and quirky choices. This time out we have two Widdecombes in the form of that dragon bint Meaden who trundles down the stairs and goes all menopausal over a handsome bloke being contractually obliged to embrace her. After flapping like a leper’s eyelid on a windy day she exits to be replaced by Venessa Feltz, a woman who’s so ugly she looks exactly like Vanessa Feltz.
Booked as the comedy villainess who will gradually reveal a softer more vulnerable side there is a major flaw in this particular plotline due to the fact there is no pantomime in our loathing of Feltz. We just hate her full stop.
So the scene is now set for another thirteen weeks of carefully choreographed – in every sense - sequins, glitter, Cha-cha-chas, and nauseating mentions of ‘journeys’.
Will I be watching? Perhaps. Anything is preferable to witnessing charisma-vacuums openly mock the mentally ill on the other side and who knows, there might even be a half-decent Match of the Day on later. Keep dancing? Yeah go on then. It’s not nice but it’s nice to see it.